Northern Kerrandi, Northguard Castle,
Late Spring, 13th Day of Promised Journeys, 4,028th Cycle
The sun-kissed walls of Northguard Castle stood in stark contrast against the unwelcoming sight of the Gray Sea to the north.
The castle sat on the edge of a precarious cliff overlooking the vast Gray Sea that never seemed to have any color to it, even during the warm summer months. It was well known that even in summer, the water rarely became warm enough for a man to survive in if he ever found himself falling into its bone-chilling embrace.
And except for the occasional whaling ship, fishermen rarely plied their boats in the Gray Sea.
Northguard Castle stood watch over the northernmost territories of Kerrandi. For the less than five hundred men who called the castle, home, theirs was a dangerous job of keeping the ever encroaching Asgars, barbarians from the Northern Reaches, from invading Kerrandi.
The men were named after the castle they served in: Northguards.
When the caravan passed through the castle’s stout wooden gates, Trylos went to speak to Commander Voors. Ezra walked up to where Javis lay on a wagon. The sellsword, who days before, had been wounded by the rabid bear Wildclaw was busy inspecting his bandages.
“Looks like you’re healing well,” Ezra said.
“Thanks to you, I’m alive.”
“In a day or two, you’ll be well enough to take on another bear or two.”
The sellsword shook his head. “I’ve had enough bear fighting to last a lifetime,” Javis said. “Besides, you’re the one they’re calling Bearslayer, not me. First, an owlbear, then Wildclaw? I think it’s your bear-hunting days that are not over yet, my friend.”
“Stop thief!” a soldier yelled.
From atop a set of stone stairs leading down into the courtyard from a nearby tower, Ezra and Javis saw a slim roguish man dressed in leather armor break free from his captors and began to run across the battlement. The man had a dagger in his hand, one he had stolen from one of the guards.
A guard tried to tackle the man. But the thief was much too agile. He easily moved past him and leaped down onto the roof of the smith’s workshop when he saw several guards blocking his path on the castle’s battlement.
Ezra looked to where Trylos was busy talking to the castle’s commander. The commander was shouting for his men to stop the thief.
They tried, but every time a Northguard got close enough to the thief, he would simply side step, shove his way through, or jump over and under an obstacle which made it difficult to capture the elusive rogue.
Ezra made his move.
He ran up a nearby steps which led to one of the castle’s battlement. Once at the top, Ezra spotted the thief running across the other side of the castle. Two Northguards tried to stop him but the thief simply slid on the rampart between the two startled soldiers. Once past them, the thief jumped down onto the stable’s roof and then jumped across onto another rooftop as more guards joined in trying to apprehend him.
Ezra anticipated the thief’s next move. He raced across the battlement and jumped down onto the smith’s rooftop barely avoiding falling through the thatched roof. He then grabbed hold of a rope used to raise heavy equipment up to the battlement and swung across to land on the rooftop where the thief was about to leap down onto a pile of hay.
The thief was startled to see Ezra suddenly appear in front of him. Ezra simply smiled and grappled with him.
“Let go of me!” the thief ordered while trying to break free of Ezra’s vice-like grip.
Ezra didn’t say a word as he roughly pushed the thief over the edge of the roof. The thief landed on the pile of hay below. Northguards quickly surrounded the thief, their halberds at the ready.
The thief brushed hay off of his hair and looked up at the smiling half elf above him. “You’ll rue this day,” he said. “I swear it!”
“I’m sure you’ll have plenty of time in the castle dungeon to plot your revenge,” Ezra returned with a smile.
By the time Ezra stood back on solid ground, Commander Voors had the thief removed and placed in a prison wagon bound for the Terraien.
“What was his crime?” Ezra asked the commander.
“Renard? Stealing from the armory and kitchen,” Commander Voors said. “It’s the third time this year he’s done it. We’ve captured him each time, but as you can see, he is rather difficult to detain for any great length of time.”
“What will become of him?” Ezra was curious.
“He’ll be brought before the King’s Magistrate in Terraien and most likely hanged for his crimes.”
The commander regarded the half elf for a moment. “I hear you are a Warden,” he said as he and Ezra started walking into the castle.
“I am my lord.”
“Are you working for Master Trylos?”
“I am not employed by the caravan master,” Ezra said. “I offered to help guard the caravan, and in return he offered to take me to Terraien for free.”
“Yes my lord. I have business there with His Grace and the Council of Wardens. As you know, we recently left Northpoint. Hiram Mirth, the town’s appointed leader, asked me to deliver a to His Grace and to visit the Golden Valley on another matter entirely.”
“What is the news from Northpoint?” Commander Voors asked. They both were in the commander’s council chamber. “We rarely receive news from other parts of the kingdom. We did, however, recently heard that orcs have been seen in the North. If this true, this is dire news indeed. Orcs and their vile kind have not been seen in Kerrandi for nearly two thousand years. Not since the Rift War when they first entered our world.”
“It is true my lord.” Ezra said. He then told Commander Voors about all that had transpired in Northpoint. He especially told him about the dragon Clipwing.
“It’s difficult enough protecting the kingdom from Asgar raiders,” Commander Voors said. “Now orcs as well? Perhaps the gods have been displeased. If only there were other dragons around to help protect our kingdom.”
“I’ve heard about these Asgars,” Ezra said. “What are they like?”
“Savages, the whole lot of them! If it weren’t for the Northguards, the Asgars would have swept into Kerrandi long ago. Our women would have been raped, our homes burned, and our children slaughtered or taken as slaves.”
“What do we know about their lands? Their strengths? Their weaknesses?”
“Not much. No one has ventured into the Northern Reaches and returned to tell us anything. Years ago, five adventurers stopped by Northguard Castle and said they were heading into the Northern Reaches. They were never heard from or seen since.”
“Perhaps a Warden can succeed where others have failed.” Ezra said.
The commander chuckled. “Then you are either the bravest or most foolish Warden I have ever met. I thought the Wardens were supposed to protect the Tri-Kingdoms from outside threats, not start wars.”
“Our task is ensure the safety of the Tri-Kingdoms. If that means eliminating the threat before it strikes, then I believe that is what must be done.”
Commander Voors gave a hearty laugh. “I like the way you think! Ah, if only His Grace had more Lords like you, Kerrandi would not need to ally itself with Galowen nor Paelas. Kerrandi would be the greatest kingdom in all of Terramyth!”
A young servant boy stepped out from out of the shadows and poured chilled mead into cups.
“I’ll have to introduce you to my daughter, Kara.” Commander Voors said. “She’s due to arrive sometime tomorrow. You remind me of her. She is a half elf like yourself. I met her elven mother in Court when I became a Knight. Kara hates the capital and prefers to stay with me here during the summer months. Her mother remains in Terraien to handle the affairs of our estate.”
“Pardon my saying so, but doesn’t her presence here cause a…well, a distraction?” Ezra asked uncomfortably. “I noticed that Northguard Castle has no women living in it.”
Commander Voors raised one eyebrow. “I admit she does, but she prefers to spend most of her time in the seaside part of Northguard, only entering the main castle grounds when she goes for an occasional outing. Besides, Master Trylos does more than simply lead caravans laden with goods along the North Road. Before winter each year, he brings in whores to help get my soldiers through the long winter, if you will.”
Ezra frowned. “I see. Well, Trylos is certainly a resourceful half folk, isn’t he?”
Commander Voors walked up to a nearby window overlooking the dull, somber waters of the Gray Sea. Far to the north, he could just see the edges of the vast ice floes that, during the winter, make their way to the rocky crags below the castle to recede back again to the north during the warmer months.
“Did you know this castle has stood here for over a thousand years?” Commander Voors asked out loud. He sounded like a sage about to teach a classroom full of uneducated young minds. “My father and his father before him served as Commanders here. They both have done their service to the throne of Kerrandi, ensuring that no Asgar arse ever touches it.”
“You come from a loyal and honored line of commanders, my lord,” Ezra stated.
“Yes, and I intend to serve my time by making sure that the sworn oaths my father and grandfather took shall not be broken.”
“When I speak with His Grace, I will be sure to tell him of your loyal service,” Ezra said.
“I have no need of accolades,” Commander Voors intoned. “What I need are more men! These walls will not hold out against an army of Asgars should they choose to wage a bloody war against us.”
“You want to me to let His Grace know that you need more men?”
Commander Voors walked back to the table where Ezra sat. He drank deeply from the cup in front of him.
“Tell His Grace that four hundred and fifty-six soldiers, smiths, and servant boys cannot defend an entire kingdom. We need at least five hundred more. A thousand would be better!”
“I will certainly let His Grace know of your request for more men and supplies.”
“Well if you’ll excuse me,” Commander Voors said. “I have castle business to attend to. Some parts of the battlements are need of repairs. And the stabler keeps asking for better horseshoes.”
“A Commander’s work is never done,” Ezra said.
“Indeed,” Commander Voors said as he walked out of the room.
For the remainder of the day, Ezra walked about the castle grounds. As a Warden who always seemed to be traveling from one place to another, Ezra never knew what a settled life was like, even if it meant living in a castle like Northguard. Despite his curiosity, he wondered what it would take for him to give up his solemn vow to serve the Tri-Kingdoms as a Warden for life.
After finding a piece of dried meat and an apple to eat, Ezra made his way to the archery field where he earlier saw several Northguards practicing with the long bow.
After nearly half an hour of watching the archers practice, he decided to find Trylos when a man dressed in green and brown dyed leather approached him. The man was nearing his prime, given the amount of gray hairs that was beginning to appear above his ears. A scar ran the length of his right face from forehead to chin. He wore leather gloves and carried a short sword as well as a long bow. A quiver full of arrows with white fletchings was visible on his back.
Ezra excused himself and tried to walk around the man, but the man stopped him from leaving.
“You’ll excuse me, ser” the man said. “but I’ve been hearing that you’re the one they’ve been calling The Bearslayer.”
Ezra stood his ground. “They call me that. I don’t.”
“And they say that you killed an owlbear with a single arrow, while on the move no less,” the man said unbelieving.
“No less,” Ezra simply shrugged.
“Well, I think you’re a liar,” the man said. “No one can make that kind of shot, excepting perhaps the great Ranger, Hawk Banegray. And he’s long been put into the ground by a mountain giant.”
“One hundred silver says I can,” Ezra offered. “And pray tell me the name of one who doesn’t believe in the truth told by those who clearly have more brains than balls to risk calling me a liar to my face.”
“I am Dhorgan Skyson, Master Bowman of Northguard Castle.”
Ezra wasn’t impressed. “Well Dhorgan, step back, watch and learn. And be a good lad. Start counting those silver coins for me. I’d like to buy some more arrows from the castle fletcher before I leave.”
Without hesitating, Ezra move walked up to the archery field and had everyone move away. He then took off running as fast as he could, parallel to the targets. He quickly nocked an arrow, picked a target dummy which already had an arrow sticking out from the center target, and fired.
Before Ezra could even stop running, the arrow sped to the target dummy and buried itself in the very center of its chest, splitting the other arrow in half.
The whole shot took less than six seconds.
The gathered soldiers cheered while Dhorgan Skyson, Master Bowman of Northguard Castle, without uttering a single word, dropped a full coin purse in Ezra’s open hand.
By late the next day, Ezra sensed that something was not right in Northguard Castle.
Curious, the half-elf Warden found and asked to talk to Commander Voors who was in the middle of meeting with his officers. Dhorgan Skyson was among them.
When the guards at the door finally let Ezra into the room, Ezra asked what was amiss.
Commander Voors looked as though he had suddenly aged ten years. “My daughter Kara has been captured by those bloody Asgars!”
“What proof do we have of this?” Ezra asked.
Commander Voors showed him a letter stained by blood. The Commander said a severed hand had been sent along with the letter and shot over the battlements and into the castle. A ring, Commander Voors recognized as belonging to one of his daughter’s personal guard, was on one of the hand’s finger.
The letter stated that Kara was being held in the hills to the west. If Commander Voors pays the Asgars in the amount of ten thousand gold coins, his daughter would be released unharmed. It further stated that if Commander Voors foolishly chose to send a small army of men in hopes of rescuing his daughter, she would be butchered immediately. The letter ended by stating that the gold must be delivered before three days or she would be killed.
Commander Voors told everyone assembled that he, nor the castle, had that kind of money. And if His Grace were to hear that he had sent Northguards to their deaths to save a daughter that should not even be staying at the castle, the king would then have him summarily removed from his position.
“Allow me to send a dozen of my finest bowmen to rescue your daughter,” Dhorgan offered. He looked to Ezra and smiled a crooked smile. “We’d have her back before sunrise, my lord.”
“I cannot risk having my daughter killed,” Commander Voors said. “And His Grace would forbid it. I know he would.”
“I have a suggestion, my lord,” Ezra said. Commander Voors offered for him to go on. “Perhaps one can succeed where a dozen would not.” Ezra made sure to look at Dhorgan when he said that.
“What are you suggesting?” Commander Voors asked.
“I’ll go,” Ezra said. “I can quietly enter the Asgars’ encampment, find your daughter, and return her safely back to Northguard Castle. Did she travel alone?”
“No,” Commander Voors said. “She traveled with a retinue of three personal guards and her maidservant.”
“Then perhaps I will free the guards first and have them fend off the Asgars while I personally see to the safety of your daughter and her maidservant.”
Dhorgan stood from where he sat. “And what if your heroic, albeit foolhardy attempt, fails?” Dhorgan said. “You would risk my lord’s daughter just to prove yourself some kind of false hero?”
“Dhorgan, that’s enough,” Commander Voors uttered. “I am willing to have Ezra save my daughter rather than ensure her death by sending more men out there.”
“My lord,” Dhorgan began. “Do not concern yourself with what His Grace would have to say. Rather concern yourself with the welfare of your beloved daughter.”
Commander Voors looked to his officers then to Ezra. He turned back towards his officers. “Leave us.”
“But my lord—” Dhorgan began to say.
“I said, leave us!”
When the officers had left, Commander Voors walked up to Ezra. “You are certain you can bring my daughter safely back to me?”
“I can, my lord. And I will.”
Ezra Two-leaf (Half-elf Warden)