The stinging pain of poison entered her bloodstream.
"Hold on Keshara! Hold on!" Phylym cried to his lover as he held her hand in his.
Her eyes told him that she was coming and going between the world of the living and the realm beyond. She had given birth to a child not even two days ago and was in no condition to travel, but they had no choice. They had to flee now or be at the mercy of the fanatical mob.
The coach rattled as the steel of the carriage wheels rumbled across the cobbled road. They had escaped the city of Empyrea in the Eastern Reaches, and Phylym believed they were going to get away unscathed. They had reached the carriage that waited for them outside the city walls and as she climbed aboard Keshara was struck by a bolt as she entered. It was an ambush, Phylym had been betrayed.
The driver pressed the horses onward crying out into the darkness of the new moon night, "Git’up! Yah!" The snap of the whips sounded sharp in the clear night sky.
The physician tended to the injured woman as the coach rambled wildly down the Kingsroad. His steady hands and calm demeanors were no match for the rough road nor the haste with which the driver employed on the horses.
"Hold still damn you!" the physician cried out to the woman as he tried to remove the bolt from its position in her lower back.
He wrangled her as she thrashed from the pain, trying to find a position amicable to the removal of the entrenched bolt. His blood soaked hands gripped the shaft of the bolt while he made a slight incision where the head of the bolt had opened up lodging itself beneath the flesh. A flash and a bang rang out on the side of the metal shell of the carriage. The report of muskets and twang of bolts rained down on the fleeing coach.
"Goddess save us!" the physician shouted as the boom of artillery could be heard in the distance.
Keshara’s screams rang out as he cut into her and removed the bolt from her spine. Her legs had already gone limp, creating more of a problem for the struggling doctor. He placed her flat on her stomach in the seat of the carriage and bandaged the wound. The physician’s labored breathing and doubt-ridden eyes gave Phylym little hope. The physician looked at the man sitting in the seat of the carriage. He held his newborn son in one hand and his lover’s hand in the other. The look of horror on his face spoke volumes as he watched his lover writhe in pain.
"The bolt is removed, but I fear the poison has already entered the bloodstream. She is in the hands of the Goddess until we reach the Eternal City.”
Phylym knew they weren’t going to reach the Eternal City. By now an entire host of Fae stood between them and the city of Formene. The carriage would be intercepted by the armed forces of the Fae within minutes. They had crossed the border under the veil of the night, but they had also sparked a massive rebel force to mass along the borders of the Fae Kingdom.
Legions of the banal folk had rallied and now marched behind the banner of Empyrea. The zealotry of their leader, the Ensí Ubara Tutu, had forced Phylym’s hand, and now the overwhelming majority of mankind was now in hot pursuit of his small family. The mob had turned into an army and the hunt was on. He had broken his people’s most sacred law, he had lain with one of the Fae. This sent the entire city into a frenzy and Phylym, once an esteemed member of the Council of Overlords was now public enemy number one. His actions had sparked a rebellion against the Fae King to which he would plead for amnesty. It was a royal mess he had gotten himself into.
The Fae King was not likely to receive him with open arms. Making matters worse Phylym had received reports from his contacts in the Eternal City that Queen Boánd had passed not two days prior to his escape from the belly of the dark tower in Empyrea. His only hope was that Keshara had been right, that the Fae King would see reason and shield them from the darkness that followed.
Another shot rang against the iron side of the carriage, bringing Phylym back to reality. He peered out of the slat in the carriage door. The mist was thick, but he could still see the shadows of the Aélfen mistwalkers covering their escape. Keshara’s kin had been instrumental in his designs. Phylym could not believe their resolve. His gut twisted into knots as he watched them fall to his people’s bolts and bullets. They gave their blood in return for his safety. As he fled with his injured lover and a new born babe in one arm he began to truly realize what was wrong with his own people.
“Phylym..." Keshara muttered. There was a faint smile on her lips and her eyes seemed to recognize his. The physician monitored her closely.
"You’ve come too early! We must be quiet! My father has yet to go on his hunt."
Her smile beamed like the full moon and Phylym’s eyes filled with tears.
"She’s hallucinating. It’s a side-effect of the poison," the physician stated. "Her sense of reality is fading."
"I know," he responded to the Physician. "I know sweetheart," Phylym spoke softly to his lover.
Phylym knew exactly where and when she was in her poison-induced haze. He handed the child to the physician and gripped her hand. He peered into the windows of her soul and joined her in the moment.
"I’ve found a way out of the village so that we won’t be seen. Will you come with me, my love?"
She smiled again, blood began to soak her gums and teeth, "Yes..."
Phylym choked on his words, "Keshara please hang on. Please."
Another blast shook the carriage, this time much louder than a musket shot. The horses whinnied and slowed down, changing direction. Phylym shook himself back to reality.
"Arcane Artillery!" the coach driver shouted from the front of the coach.
Phylym opened the door and climbed out onto the side of the carriage. Behind them, he could see the shifting shadows of the Burugaz engaging the mistwalkers. Further in the distance, he saw the blue fire of arcane cannon shot exploding against the trees of the Vale. The horror of what was happening shook him to his core. All of this death and destruction because he had chosen to love. The world had truly gone mad.
He climbed into the driver’s seat and looked ahead clinging to hope that at least his child might find safety. Out of the mist came forth a multitude of Fae warriors their armor shimmering in the starlight. They were a beacon of justice in a dark night. To the people of the Vale, this was undoubtedly a welcome sight. But to Phylym it was yet another armed force blocking his path, the path that led to his lover’s salvation.
At the head of the Fae’s armed forces was the Fae King Dagda himself. Atop his fabled manticore, he strode fearlessly towards the onslaught of man’s hatred. The creature roared piercing the ears of all within several miles. His armor glowed brighter than all in his host, like a lighthouse on stormy shore. The horses began to slow and Phylym began to feel all hope disintegrate within him. His heart dropped into his stomach as the King raised his steel encrusted hand into the night air. Phylym watched as the god-like king dropped his hand, a command Phylym knew all too well. Hundreds of Fae leaped from their positions of attention and charged forward to the carriage.
The earth shook and the sky burned with hot blue fire as man and the fae would clash under the stars once more. Phylym closed his eyes as the charging masses closed on them. Seconds passed and all Phylym felt was the rumbling ground beneath them. The air around him whipped and whirled as the Fae warriors charged past the carriage. Phylym opened his eyes. The Fae army had passed, and now only the King and a light retinue of guardsmen remained in their path.
Phylym hopped from the driver’s seat down to the ground and put his hands in the air. While limping he called to the King, “Mercy my lord! My lover and child are in grave danger!”
The King looked at him for a moment, “Why have you fled your brethren Sky Man? Do you not take up arms against the throne?”
“I do not!” Phylym shouted to the Fae King.
“How might I believe you? Perhaps you are an assassin sent here to drive a blade through my chest? If that is the case then draw your blade Sky Man!”
The King’s words were rich with power. It was as though the air bent to his will and command. Phylym’s knees trembled as he stood in his majesty. Before Phylym could respond he heard the words of his lover come from inside the carriage.
“By her Grace, we are born ... By her Grace we live ... By her Grace, we are saved…”
“By her Grace, we are freed,” Phylym finished.
The King’s eyes widened, “Have you one of my people with you?”
“I do majesty, the mother of my child.”
“So it is true,” the King muttered.
From out of thin air, a woman appeared beside the King. “It is a trick your majesty, the Empyrean people despise the people of the Vale.”
The woman appeared to be one of the Aélfar, and yet something about her made her seem much older. Phylym had heard the stories from Keshara of the Moon Priestess, but he never thought she was real.
“Guards, assist the wounded!” The King commanded as he stepped down from his saddle and walked towards the carriage. Phylym could barely breathe as the fabled King of the Fae walked towards him. The physician emerged from the carriage holding the child and handed him to his father.
The guards entered the carriage to assist the physician. King Dagda walked towards Phylym and looked into the eyes of the infant. He was wide awake but silent despite the chaos that surrounded them. The deafening sound of cannons, muskets, and clamoring of swords would have made any child cry.
“A child of both bloodlines,” the King said under his breath before looking towards the stars on the horizon.
“Your majesty?” Phylym questioned.
Dagda walked past the man and directed his attention to the cries of the Aélfen matron inside the carriage. Phylym followed. Dagda’s personal physician was attending to her now.
“Majesty she has little time, but her will is strong. If I can get her to Dinas Affaraon she might have a chance.”
Keshara looked up at the King, her eyes portrayed all he needed to know. In them Dagda saw a familiar soul, the soul of his mother, and every mother across time, harkening back to the beginning.
“Take care of him, your majesty, he will bring light to this world and the next.”
“He shall not want for anything,” Dagda said to her. “Now rest child of the moon, your lover and child will remain safe. You have my word.”
Dagda urged Phylym to board the carriage and before closing the door he looked once more at the child. The door closed and Phylym could hear the booming voice of the King, “Get this carriage to Dinas Affaraon, YAH! Kingsguard to me!”
The shouts of battle began to fade in the distance. The physicians spoke about Keshara’s condition and Phylym sat in shock, holding the fearless infant in his arms. Phylym looked down into the baby’s eyes and wondered just what it was that had moved the King.
As they reached Dinas Affaraon Keshara’s condition had worsened. The physicians spoke as if she would not live. Phylym tried to follow them, but he had to tend to the child. He was surrounded by those who wished his kind dead. To make matters worse his child was no more accepted than he was. His heart was breaking. How would he raise this child without her? He had no more knowledge of child rearing than he did of the machinations of the stars in the night sky. It was a mystery to him. He looked into the child’s eyes and saw the same magic he saw in Keshara’s eyes.
One of the midwives and a physician approached to take the child, Phylym looked to her, his eyes welled up and the child began to cry in his arms.
“Let me take him, your lover needs you now,” she said.
“Come with me,” the physician said.
She took the infant and rocked him gently, “There now young one, rest in my arms. Your father has to tend to your mother.”
The midwife began to sing to the child as Phylym hurried along. Phylym could hear her as he left the room,
O’ sleep little babe,
Share rest with the sun.
Your mother the moon,
Watches from her silver chair.
Sho been sho lo lo,
Lula lo lo.
Her words sent a feeling of calm down his spine as he left the room. He would need that calm as he entered the hospice where they had taken Keshara. There he saw her laying on pure white linen with only a flicker of life left in her. He could tell she knew he was there, even though she barely moved. She smiled at him as he approached her bedside. A priestess of the moon stood beside her, a sure sign to Phylym that not even her people’s mystical ways could save his lover now. The moon priestess began her benediction.
“By the light of the moon we are born, and to that light, we return. Our light returns to the place of its birth and joins our ancestors to provide light for future generations. As above so below,” said the Priestess.
It was at this time that Phylym knew he should be pleading for the life of his lover. Surely the physicians, the mystics, someone could do something, but there was no more fight left in him. His heart filled with guilt and he hung his head before his lover
“Why do you burden yourself with such guilt my love?”
Phylym looked up and saw the faint color of purple in his irises of his lover’s eyes. He was overwhelmed by her courage.
“ I am sorry Keshara, I have failed you and our son.”
Keshara lifted her hand and cupped his face, “You have not failed moon of my heart. Our son is safe, as are you. You will watch over him as he grows from babe to child, to strong and powerful man. He is the answer to all our prayers, both your people and mine.”
“But I have no way of knowing how to raise a child. I am a craftsman, I work with wood and metal and stone, a child is…”
“You will carve him as you do a stump of wood, you meld him as you do a soft heated metal, and you with shape him as you do a stone. Let your heart guide you in this, and you will not fail my love. My mother has told me it will be so, she is here with me now. Can you feel her?”
Phylym could not, his heart was stricken with grief, and he felt as though the walls that kept him standing were crumbling. He sobbed.
“I am sorry my love, but I cannot.”
“Close your eyes and listen to her.”
Phylym looked into his lover’s eyes for the last time before closing his own. Keshara sang to him in her native tongue, ever so gently her voice crept into his heart and soul.
“Can you feel her now? She is here and she has something she needs to say to you, my love.”
Phylym felt his grief begin to wash away, and a feeling of hope and joy came upon him like a sudden rain on a sunny day. His last tear fell from his cheek and he began to smile, his eyes still closed. In his mind’s eye, he could now see Keshara, her arms were open and he embraced her.
“I must go with her now moon of my heart. Watch over him as she watches over us and you cannot fail. You will always be with me and I always with you. Take care of our beautiful Phaero.”
She faded away from him, and as he opened his eyes she was gone from this realm. Her eyes closed and her body limp. He thought he might burst into tears right there, but the calm of what he had just experienced stayed with him. He got up, kissed her forehead and said his final goodbye to the only woman he would ever love.
He left the hospice to tend to his son. He found her nursing him. She handed him the baby and looked at his tiny son. In his eyes, he saw a familiar sight. In there, somewhere was his beloved Keshara. He vowed to himself, this time, he would not fail.
The reports had come in from the towers of observation; millions of creatures were on the move. Every manner of animal, from every corner of this derelict land. The land around the city seemed to ripple like the surface of the water after the casting of a stone. Ensí Ubara Tutu had watched this intently each annual cycle. Time had slipped away since the Empyrean fleets were scuttled on the shore. His people were now marooned on this awful slab of rock, with only their faith to guide them.
“It has been ninety-five cycles since we were led here. Ninety-five cycles since we journeyed across the void, at your behest prophet. You promised us this land, the land of the ever young, and yet here we suffer, here we age and wither and decay,” said Ubara Tutu.
“The ways of our father are not to be questioned Ubara, you above all should know this.” said a voice from the shadows. The disembodied voice, made the air feel heavy around Ubara. It was the voice of the prophet.
“I was a member of the court, a general. I had a life beset with riches, with women. Everything I desired was at my fingertips.”
“It was a charmed life to be sure, but hollow. A wealthy life is a dead life if the spirit lies in decay. The father gives you purpose, gives you focus,” said the voice.
Ubara remembered his old life with a lingering sense of fondness, something he had thought he let go centuries before. He was just as the voice said, a hollow man, whose pursuits grasped as mediocrity. That was until he and thousands of others had seen the light of the prophet.
Ubara and thousands of others came to the sudden realization that the ancient legends of their people, of their origins, were true. The land of Adam, the first man was real and they were going to be the ones to reclaim it.
“We were meant for such great things, and yet here we stand, at the mercy of the demon king. I, the one the father entrusted with his sacred task, stands begging at the scraps from Dagda’s table.”
“You have come further than all who have come before you. Even Dagda trembles at your name, you who broke the veil and shroud. You who broke the spell.”
They had done just that, they had discovered what was undiscoverable. What even the Fae thought was impossible. They had broken open the gates of Eden. They had come in haste fleeing persecution of their beliefs in their homeland of Sumer. The King had seen this prophet as a challenger to his rule and had declared all followers of the prophet as heretics. He employed the ancient laws, and appointed a Lu-Gal, an inquisitor whose sole purpose was to cleanse the people of the unclean thoughts. No matter how many were arrested and cast into the dungeons, more rose to take their place. The prophet’s word spread, convincing the people that they would reclaim the land of the progenitors from the Tuatha Dé of ancient legend.
“You outsmarted the Lu-Gal, you stole from the god-King and you lived. You will stand over Dagda’s corpse and laugh,” said the voice.
Ensí Ubara Tutu was convinced of the righteous crusade. He was converted in glorious purpose. He led those who believed out of Sumer on a three hundred year journey across the void to Tír na nÓg. They followed him across many foreign lands until they reached the skies of their ancient homeland. They crushed all who stood in their way, enslaving, and destroying worlds.
“I still remember their voices. Full of cheer, they rang in the cold night air. They had found the land of their ancestors. The prophet was true to his word and I, Ubara Tutu, was a hero, to be enshrined in the annals of our people’s history.”
Before long their spirits were crushed. Something had gone horribly wrong, as each of their airships began to plummet onto the shores of the ancient kingdom of the Fae. Much was lost in the fiery wreckage, in truth too much. Their invasion was over, and none, not even their fearless leader had any idea how. The once proud people had little choice but to rebuild their former glory in this foreign land, as refugees. That was how he chose to spin the catastrophic loss they had incurred, and instead of admitting that his people had the intent of invasion, he explained to the Fae King that they were religious refugees, fleeing the horrors of the inquisition. It worked and in Ubara’s opinion Dagda seemed unable to detect his deceit.
Ubara looked out upon the city of Empyrea below. Their dark and sprawling city was the only way to access the Great Expanse, a land to the east of Dagda’s Kingdom. The main tower atop the grand ziggurat scrapped the skies. Still, it felt paltry when compared to the memory of the towering ziggurats of his homeland.
Ubara watched the natives moving through the brush and trees below. Each one of them was an unclean blight on this, the fabled land of his ancestors. He despised everything about their way of life. Their customs, their culture, and their song. It was all refuse.
‘Disgusting, putrid filth,’ he said.
For almost a century the idea of cohabiting this land with the Fair Folk had grated on his nerves. He was an Empyrean Magister. A sorcerer of immense power with an extensive knowledge of the arcane. He had risen through the ranks conquering land after land in the name of the god-King of Sumer. It was through these conquests that he was granted the title of Ensí, a Magister of Conviction. The Order of the Ensí was a select group of magisters who led conquering forces into foreign lands.
“Atlanteans have knelt before me, Egyptians, all manner of men have succumbed to the force of the magisters.”
Throughout all their conquests the Empyrean people had never failed to claim their prize. Not in the thousands of years since the founding of Sumer. Not once had the bloodline knelt to a foreign ruler, not to the Atlanteans, not the Old Kingdom, the Sumerians were supreme. Now he stood on the precipice, being humbled, brought low by the Fae and their magic. He had had no recourse; his position had been weakened by their meteoric descent. He had suffered attrition unlike any other Ensí in history. So horrendous was his failure that he had even suffered deserters under his command.
‘Deserters!’ he thought ‘They desecrate all that make us great. They turn their back on the Ur-Nammu.’
“Your failures have made you stronger, like coal pressed into diamond,” said the prophet.
It was one of the greatest offenses among those who followed the prophet.The only sin more abhorrent to the Empyrean way was to lie with one of unclean blood. In his tenure as Ensí, he had seen his flock commit both.
“It is not the force of man that makes him strong. I did not bring you to the land of the ever young for your strength. Facing Dagda in open combat will only serve her will, not his. It is the guile, the cunning of mankind that makes you powerful. It is the ability to twist the truth and make it serve your own purpose that makes you valuable to the father. This is how you will defeat him, this is how you will achieve great wonders,” said the prophet.
Even after ninety-five cycles in this land, the memory of his failure still haunted him. Between the deserters and those lost in the wreckage, the Ensí had lost two-thirds of his host. Historically Empyrean forces had succeeded with less, but he no longer felt so empowered by his people’s legacy. The fault was his own, he had grossly underestimated the power of the Tuatha Dé. He could still vividly remember the balls of fire as they rained down from the sky. One after another vanishing before his eyes. The hulls of the vessels were ablaze in red-hot flame. Thousands of lives lost second after second.
“Not with force…” he muttered. “My hubris was what killed my own people.”
He could do nothing to preserve their lives. They had been led astray as they traversed the void. Ubara did not know who to blame, but in his heart, he had believed that the Prophet had led them to this fall as a test of faith. Now it was becoming clear, he had not heard the prophet’s word as clearly as he believed.
“I watched as they slammed into the shore in fiery balls of fury. The screams of innocent children, the horror. It wasn’t until I saw the last of the vessels crash to the earth that I realized I had failed. Do you remember it?”
The voice was low, it grumbled deeply, “The path to victory is lain with the bones and the blood of the faithful.”
All told the expedition had lost most of the armed forces, and what little remained were women and children. Though many valuable constituents remained, the success of their conquest had been dealt a serious blow. Not one of their vessels had remained intact after the crash. There was no hope of a return journey back to the old world. Furthermore, the casket of arcane relics burnt in the wreckage. He felt as though his arms and legs were amputated with cold steel.
“Then the demons came. Came to mock, to jeer, to show us our place.”
“It is the greatest fear of the weak willed. Those mediocre minds know nothing, their only recourse is to mock those who reach for the stars as your people did,” ensured the prophet.
“How do we stand against such power and hope to win? The very land we stand on curses us makes us weak, strips me of my true potential. As I am now, here in this city, I am incomplete. I can no more defeat the pix of the wild than my Burugaz could all those years ago.”
He was referring to his people’s first encounter with the Fae. It wasn’t long before the Tuatha Dé knew of their presence, the crashing vessels could be seen across the entire Fomorian Valley. The first fae his elite Burugaz, had come across were a flock of curious pixies. His champions were securing the perimeter of the crash site when a swarm of pixies set upon them. The sudden movement of the pixies spooked the commandant of a small scout force. The commandant ordered his magisters to conjure an arcane shield. The pixies sailed towards the scout force and upon impacting the shield were instantly obliterated. Like the lights extinguished in the skies above only hours before; the diminutive creatures fell to the ground their bodies nothing but smoking husks.
Within seconds, the air around the scout force began to heat up, and a great howl came from the forest around them. It was as if the land itself knew of the intruders, acting like a fever fighting an infection. The scout force fled in terror, the foreign world set upon them in a matter of minutes. Animals, plants, and sentient creatures came from every direction surrounding his men. The fallen scout force was later found by a roaming patrol. When they brought the corpses before the Ensí, he opened the veins of the fallen commandant. He could taste the fear in the blood. A fear that no Empyrean warrior had ever felt before. By ingesting their blood an Empyrean magister was able to see into the memories of the fallen. It was one the many gifts an Ensí had at his disposal. The Empyrean obsession with maintaining a pure bloodline had wielded a wealth of useful abilities.
The blood of the fallen told Ubara that this land held a power beyond any his people had conquered before. He knew that the remaining assembly was going to be inadequate. He could not conquer this world with outright force. He would need to be patient, the prophet had a plan.
“Then he came to me, his armor shining in the sunlight. That smug grin and that arrogant saunter. Granting me, Adam’s chosen amnesty. I stood and shook the hand of the demon that laid low my lord, our one true god. How can he now, after such failure still believe in me?”
The show of force that Dagda brought to bear was impressive. It drove fear and doubt into the heart of the Burugaz. The Tuatha Dé King assured Ubara that he wished there would be peace between their people. Dagda had decreed that the Empyrean people were welcome to settle in the lands east of the Vale of Enon.
“With a bent knee, I accepted terms of surrender to the demon. To be mocked behind my back by my own people, my loyal overlords,” his voice was rich with sarcasm. “They’re all seditious halfwits. They call me a fool.”
“They will fall in line when you ascend to your rightful post. But you must trust in my guidance if you are ever to be Adam’s sword in these dark times. In order to accept the gifts our father offers you, you must first have been stripped of your pride, your old ways, you must become surrendered unto his will and his way.”
Even more than this, Ubara now knew that his people’s ancient legends were shadowed in falsehoods. His people were soundly defeated by the Tuatha Dé and their Goddess in the first age, and his people did not leave to explore the realm of Tír nam Beo, they fled, as cowards do. His faith was shaken, but he remained steadfast in his conviction that the prophet would lead them to glory, he just had to remain faithful in the father. He would need to learn as much as he could and use cunning to supplant his enemy.
“Why now do you show yourself? After ninety-five years of silence do you come back to me?”
“It is not for you to ask why,” said the prophet. “These are celestial matters, far beyond logical comprehension, you must trust in faith to be your guide.”
This answer did not sit well. An entire generation was born and had died in this foreign land; yet the Ensí lived on, cycle after cycle. His focus fixed on rebuilding his conquering host and completing his quest, faithful in his tasks, watching his people suffer and yet he was awarded no more understanding than a fly has. Regardless of his disappointment, the prophet’s words rang true, he must continue on.
“The achievement of great things is built with sacrifice,” Ubara said to himself. “What would you have me do?”
The skyscraping black tower looked out upon the landscape. The dominions of the Fair Folk sprawled out before his eyes. From the Ancient Heights to the Shimmering Peaks the peace of the Tuatha Dé mocked him. The Ensí was detached from the resources that made the Empyrean people a force. The same force that had made countless cities kneel before the Crest of Conviction. He was stranded in a foreign land. A land that he had promised his people he would subjugate. Throughout the cycles, the Ensí had been foiled by one thing after the other, as if the land itself had cursed him. His only ally was his dogged persistence in the belief that it was his destiny to rule this land as his ancestors did.
He cringed and shouted from his view atop the sky tower. "Damn the blight upon this land." Of course, few if any could hear him from his raised vantage point. He turned, his cape flapping in the summer wind. He returned to his study and began to pace. His thoughts raced.
’How much longer must he endure this? How much time must he cower in his tower before he could shove a hot iron rod down King Dagda’s perfect throat? The Fae King had been persistent. Each year the King sent an invitation to attend Dagda’s Conclave and each year the Ensí had burned the invitation. Alas, the invitations still came year, after year, after year.. The Ensí glared at the invitation on his desk. He imagined it was Dagda, his mindset aflame by his anger. He had met with the Fairy King on only three occasions in the ninety-five cycles that the Empyrean people had been refugees. Each time the King begged him to bring the Empyrean people into the fold, to join the Fae Kingdom. Perhaps Dagda thought there was hope in this cycle.
“You must go to Dagda, under a banner of truce. You must make him believe that you are his most loyal servant. That you are the leader he craves, the one to lead mankind. The one to redeem it.”
“You would have me crawl so low?” Ubara’s voice was wreathed in fiery malice.
“It is not I who call you to your purpose. You will do this or you will perish here. A failure, no son of Adam. Need I remind you of whom you serve?”
“You do not,” he paused. “But I will need you here, in the flesh If I am to convince the overlords of the viability of this plan.”
“So be it. I will fill them with righteous terror. Then I shall call to you when you arrive in the Eternal City. There you shall be made whole, there you shall see the true power of Elohim.”
The words clung to his mind, but the heavy air had left his study, the voice of the prophet had left him. He wrung his hands while pacing. His sacred undertaking was in shambles, but he was not yet defeated. The mission to invade and find the well of souls had been an utter disaster, but he still had a trick up his sleeve. They would have to rely on the wisdom of the Ensí, and the divinity of their blood laws. The mixing of pure blood with a native race was forbidden. If his only recourse was to join Dagda, and subvert his rule from within, then his people would have to follow him. Perhaps this distraction could help improve morale. His people were restless and he was losing their fealty. Still he feared the dilution of their sacred blood. Of all of the exiled tribes, his people maintained the purest link to the men of the first age.
The blood of the banal folk of Tír na nÓg was as mixed and putrid as he had ever seen. The world was devoid of order; the races were plentiful and diverse. It sickened him to the core. It brought to memory the traitorous villain Phylym.
The memory of the oathbreaker made his rage boil over. A tempest buried within him began to come forth. His hands clenched, and from his straining muscles emanated a dark black energy. The energy pulsed with his labored breathing. The atmosphere around him snapped and popped as it cooled becoming frigid. The glass of water on his desk froze solid and shattered. The metal walls glossed over in a crystalline frost. The walls began to wail as the stress of the energy taxed them beyond their limits.
Ubara could not hear the knocking upon the chamber door through his cantankerous rage. Suddenly in walked a servant girl carrying the latest reports.
"My Lord Ensí," she spoke.
Before she could finish her sentence, the cold gripped her body. Her silken clothing freezing stiff, her eyes grew wide as he turned and their eyes met. The reflection of her fear fed his animosity. This frail, clueless slave girl had no idea of the stresses he faced. Infected with a horrendous anger, he reached out his hand; from afar he gripped and snapped her neck. The crunching sound elated him, calming his nerves.
The frailty of the slave girl’s neck delighted him. There was something in that crunching sound that was even more important, it spoke to him. In his time here he had observed the native men of these lands. They were broken, lawless, and without discipline. This girl was one of the native beast riders in the Great Expanse to his eastern borders. She had been kidnapped by his shadow warriors and forced into his service. The Senarran people were undoubtedly related to his own people, perhaps deserters from a time millennia ago. If so, he could possibly convince them to join his cause as he had done with the ManKing of the Ironwood decades before. Perhaps his weapon had been staring him in the face for centuries. This would be no easy diplomatic task. The history between the Senarran and the Empyrean peoples was bloody. However, it may be his last and only hope to redeem his legacy.
As he pondered the viability of such a campaign he picked up the correspondence dropped by the slave girl, her skin now turning bluish white. He brushed the back of his hand against her cheek and soft lips. He grinned, “Such soft, sweetness. She never knew the horrors of the world, not as I do.”
Ubara opened the scroll, it was yet another invitation to parlay with King Dagda.
“So be it, Demon. I will attend your heathen festival. I will join your wretched alliance. I will twist the necks of the councilors that have sought to wrest power from me. I will bring those who have turned their backs on their sacred duty to justice. And for my grand finale, I will stand above your bloody corpse and watch as my men tear down your throne."
A beggar stood before the oaken door to a quaint cottage nestled in the hills south of the Eternal City. He was weary, thirsty, and stunk worse than the ass end of an ox. Centuries had passed; in truth millennia since he had been called into service. Thus, he had fallen into slumber in the arms of the forest. The wandering beggar had traversed the realm of Tir na nÓg since the first age. He had retreated from the affairs of the world for so long that it had forgotten him. To the rest of the world, he was a simple beggar; one of the faceless always present and yet never noticed. To the common folk his existence was an enigma buried deep within the traditional songs:
Beware the wandering beggar,
The one who bears no name.
He is ever present, and yet never seen,
When you meet him, what will you glean?
“How short the memories of mortals are,” he lamented as he knocked on the door. In this age, few remembered his deeds. “How could they forget the deeds of Falbanach the cunning, Falbanach the wise?”
His voice was dry and cracked as he complained. The children of this age had chosen to forget the legends and deeds of Falbanach. He wondered had his haggard visage left its mark on tradition? In his day when a beggar came calling it was customary to invite them in and grant them the hospitality shown to a King.
The door opened and behind it stood a young woman. She was one of the banal folk, the descendants of Adam who had been stripped of their magical essence. She appeared surprised, undoubtedly by his horrendous stench, but then her manners were revealed.
“Pardon me, my lord! Please come in,” she pleaded as she took him by the hand leading him inside.
‘Perhaps they have not forgotten all,’ he thought to himself.
The young woman bade him sit while she fetched him some water.
“Blessings be upon you child,” he said as he sat.
His bones creaked as he set his staff aside. The woman brought him a wooden bowl filled with clean water. He took the bowl and quenched his parched throat. His eyes scanned the room. It was well kept and smelled of fresh bread and roasted chicken.
“Again Blessings be upon you.”
“Please have another,” she rushed towards the quill to draw more water. “We had hoped for a visitor since we saw the first of the pilgrims yesterday morn, but none of them stopped to rest. Seemed strange to me, travelers are always welcome here in Freehold.”
She handed him the bowl and he nodded.
“After all, you never know when Falbanach might grace your home,” she smiled. “Are you feeling peckish?”
His eyes widened. “Falbanach you say?”
“Aye, I thought everyone knew of the wandering beggar. You must have come from the western reaches, haven’t ya?”
He decided to play along, “Aye, near Freeman’s Wharf.”
“Well don’t the fishermen tell the old tales anymore?”
“I’m afraid they don’t quite hold them in the same regard fair maiden.”
“Shameful if you ask me,” she sighed.
He wondered how the people remembered him.
“Perchance a young maiden might entertain this old man with such a tale?”
Her grin stretched from ear to ear, “I’d be delighted.”
“The ancient tales speak of a wanderer, a spirit that takes the form of a beggar. This beggar travels far and wide. He uses his magic fingers to pluck the strings of destiny, making them bear music unto his ears. They say the strings sing of a sacred child.”
“A sacred child? What child?”
“Well none know for certain, some say he looks for a child who bears the blood of both Adam and the Goddess. Others say he seeks the one who would unite the banal tribes and redeem us from the sins of our fathers.”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t quite know what to believe. My father used to tell me that the beggar hasn’t been seen in centuries. That he had long left the world and only exists in the songs of the bards,” she paused. “Still it is known that if Falbanach graces your home, prosperity follows. That’s why you still see travelers treated with such care. Especially those who journey to the Whispering Hills for Midsummer’s Eve. Are you making the pilgrimage?”
He nodded, “Are you?”
“I’m afraid not, this year my father and brothers must mind the fields. It saddens me. I always do enjoy the merrymaking and the tales, oh the tales,” she stopped. “Forgive my manners, here I am babbling on and you must be dreadfully weary. Please take rest here for the afternoon.”
“Your kindness is well received fair maiden. I will rest for a spell and be on my way.”
He lay back against the cool stone wall and closed his eyes. He didn’t know how long he had rested before saying farewell to the banal woman and her family. Time passed differently for him, he was not bound by the chains of a linear existence. He had wandered throughout time for so long, that he would have to adjust if he were going to make a difference.
He stopped, “Maiden, I thank thee for your hospitality once more. It is good to see that the children of this age have not forgotten the old ways.”
He took her hand and muttered inaudibly. The maiden’s eyes widened with amazement, for now she knew that her inclinations were correct.
In return for her kindness he had left her a gift. Unbeknownst to her he had plucked the strings of destiny and heard the song of her family’s future. What little they had they had given to him, and he wished to return the favor. Using his mystic talents he made certain that their fates, no matter how small would be bountiful. He smiled as he saw her future descendants. They would swim with ease in a world that would struggle against the current.
Falbanach awakened from its inner thoughts as daybreak crashed into his eyes. The sunlight illuminated his hooded figure. There he stood with a hunched back; eyes pierced through the mysteries of the world. Although he stood in plain sight near the traveler’s pike, he went unnoticed by the many pilgrims. He watched intently as they passed him.
The world had grown foreign to the ancient sage. He had seen the centuries come and go. He had seen the world change. It was once a beautiful voice that harmonized with the song of creation. Now it seemed that the once glorious past had its course set for certain destruction. He had fought in the great war of the first age to cleanse the world of Adam’s corruption. Yet he saw the lessons of that tragic time had fallen into distant memory as he had.
Man had destroyed the beauty of the old world with their incessant need for more power. In their untamed lust for power, the race of men had committed a violent and heinous sin; the rape of their own mother. It was amusing to him that these mortal beings believed that the morning dew was a gift. They did not know the droplets of water were the evening tears of their mother who wept for them. Falbanach felt an unholy grief, a longing for the old world as his eyes scanned the horizon. Even those who had been created to defend the world from mankind had fallen short of their charge. The Fae were meant to keep this world pure of man’s corrupt nature, and Falabanach had seen no evidence that they had succeeded. Tír na nÓg still reeked of man’s sin.
In the midst of the whispering hills, beams of light were glistening as they struck the morning dew. Hundreds of thousands were traversing the trails to the sacred shrine. The majority were clueless to the pretense of this sacred celebration. He knew from their thoughts, that spilled out of them like water from a broken dam. None knew the Goddess as they should and yet still they came from every corner of Tir na nÓg.
The regal wings of the Tuatha Dé Fae beat against the morning breeze. The stoic looks of the Kentáros punctuated the joy of the morning as the centaur herds galloped at a brisk pace. Their massive hooves tore the grass and sod to shreds as they moved. The heels of the colossal Jótun pressed into the soft earth. Their stature unsurpassed by any of the races of Tir na nÓg, even the majestic dragons of the north. All manner of folk we’re making the pilgrimage from countless leagues in every direction.
The collective amnesia of the common folk seemed to diminish the former glory of the sacred day. He wondered if they still named one to the order on the final eve of the festival. Or if the joining still occurred as it did at the end of the first age. He recalled the end of the rebellion, the fall of the Old Empire, and the exodus of the progenitors. It was then that he and the four other generals of the Golden Fist were victorious. They were the instruments of her will and had won the war in her name. After the bloodshed had ceased, they were made the first of the Order of the Derwyddon. There sacred duty was to hold vigil over her children, protecting the Fair Folk and Mankind alike.
He approached the hallowed ground where the Goddess had made her promise. The hills surrounding the shrine still gleamed with the essence of that magical day. He still remembered with perfect clarity the day when the Goddess bestowed her plan for a new Eden. It was here that her power was in full force. Here all manner of creature, fae or banal could commune with the Goddess. This was where he should feel her presence the most, where he would find the answer to why he had been woken. Still he felt strangely disconnected, apart from her grace. Alone amongst a sea of unbelievably naive children.
His hope sunk until a glimmer of light shone over the Shimmering Peaks striking a white river stone. The wanderer bent over to lay a gentle hand on the stone and in an instant felt a tremor within its memory. The being, which had touched the stone before, had been touched by the Goddess herself. The power emanating from the rock, was untamed, perhaps even unknown to the one who held it. It was an omen, a sign of something on the horizon that would shift the balance.
This seized his attention, for amongst this rabble might be the child he had sought for so many years? He had always thought that the Mark would present itself in a more profound way than through the voice of a stone.
Could she or he be here? Falbanach had heard the call. The voice of the Goddess was irrefutable.
“Could it be? The omens weren’t evident, the stars weren’t in the proper alignment. The Redeemer, the one who could cleanse the sins of mankind, it couldn’t be...”
He had dismissed such premonitions before, in his age-long search for this sacred child. This was markedly different. When a stone committed a destiny to memory it was irrefutable evidence of a power that should not be ignored. Whether this individual was indeed the one he had sought was irrelevant. This stone sang the song of a being with such fantastic potential. A being of such power could bring forth a future wrought with tribulation if left to its own devices. Falbanach had not come across it’s like in centuries. The prophecies of the Oracle Pythia spoke of this being, a Redeemer and Falbanach had been charged by the Goddess herself to find this child. He or she could be on the path to the Festival of the Goddess. But how was he going to find this child? Adam’s corruption had spread throughout this realm, diminishing his connection to the ancient power of the Order. He wouldn’t be able to find this child through his power alone. He would need the help of the Oracle.
Why now? What storm was on the horizon? The wandering beggar stood feeling the weight of his yoke grow heavier as centuries upon centuries of seemingly endless wandering felt as though it could possibly draw to a close. He was tired, he was weary, but he must continue on.
The steel hammer struck the cold iron nail repeatedly. Phaero drove two more nails into the oak board meant to patch the leak in the roof of the bakery. The sun was beginning its descent beyond the horizon, and within the next hour night would fall. Phaero had worked on patching the leaky roof all afternoon. The smells of the bakery made his stomach growl for hours now as he worked tirelessly. He wanted to finish the job quickly so he could get home and pack for his departure to the Whispering Hills. He stopped for a moment to wipe the sweat from his brow. His lean frame braced against the building. He was an impressive specimen, especially for a half-breed. It was as though he were built for this job. He had inherited his father’s muscular Empyrean build. When mixed with the height of his mother’s Aélfen ancestry, became an intimidating combination.
“Are you almost done up there halfbreed?” The Baker inquired from below.
Phaero was used to the slurs. His kind was often mocked and cursed by the Tuatha Dé within the city. It didn’t seem to matter much to them that his father Phylym was the royal craftsman. Not to mention Phaero was the treasured ward of King Dagda.
"Yes sir, just a few more patches and I’ll be on my way," Phaero replied.
"Good, I’m tired of the racket!" Phaero could hear him muttering to himself as he walked back inside. "Damn soulless banalfolk."
The fair folk of Formene held a long-standing disdain for mankind. Despite his mother’s native ancestral link to the Vale of Enon, he still was tainted in their eyes. The banal folk were more akin to a beast in their eyes. Over the years, he had learned to pay no attention to their bigotry. His social stature was as high as could have hoped to achieve. He didn’t want to risk all his father had worked so hard for just to rectify the slight of a bigot ridden baker.
As he finished hammering he overheard the clack of hooves on the cobblestone streets.
“You know that it can still feel everything you are doing to it right?”
The voice was unmistakably his best friend Jemresh. Jemresh was a faun from the Greatwood Forest to the north of the city of Formene. Legend had it the Faunus were carved from the wood of the Greatwood trees by the Goddess. Their appearance seemed to lend credence to the legend. Jemresh himself had skin as hard as oak and was covered in a mess of moss and leaves.
"What could a homeless entertainer possibly know about carpentry?" Phaero retorted.
They were an odd species to most. A race of forest dwelling beings who built no homes and raised no crops. They created nothing but the sound of the wind through their pan flutes. Within the Greatwood they were highly revered as the Shepherds of the Forest. Contrarily in the faunus that had chosen to live a city life were seen as a freeloading nuisance. The faunus had an incessant desire to sing made them ideal entertainers. It was their propensity for drinking that made them ill fitted for other lines of work. Phaero paid that little mind, Jemresh was his friend.
“Besides, I don’t hear it screaming. Perhaps this board came from a faun that had a little too much to drink,” Phaero jabbed.
“How could you hear it with those spear points!” Jemresh retorted.
“I’ll have you know Aélfen ears are well known for their keen sense.”
Phaero hopped down from the roof, disregarding the ladder. The drop was nearly two lengths of a man, yet Phaero’s lean, muscular frame landed with the grace of a cat. Jemresh always felt that Phaero’s physical talents were wasted on carpentry.
"I’ll never understand why you chose to be a craftsman. Why not an adventurer?!"
The baker had emerged at the sound of Phaero’s drop from the roof.
“What’s the racket out here halfbreed?!”
Phaero turned to the baker, “All finished Sir. Come time for the next rain there won’t be a single drop getting through.”
“It had better be that way half-breed, if not the Baron. Who mind you is a dear friend of mine, and he will certainly hear about it.”
Phaero had finally had enough from the loudmouthed, pompous fairy.
“I’ll be happy to come back and make any necessary repairs, sir. It is my duty as one King Dagda’s royal craftsman.”
The baker shocked by the young half breed’s retort shuffled his feet moving back inside. Phaero, breathed a sigh of relief. Jemresh began to chuckle.
“How long have you wanted to say that?”
Phaero laughed, “Damn wingers. The all think themselves a part of King Dagda’s family. They’re little better than cave imps.”
“Can’t say I disagree with you, but who cares? Let’s make off and get a pour over at the Flightless Owl, they’re breaking open a case of the festival ale!”
The two took off down the cobblestone streets, racing through the alleys. The streets of Formene were bustling with preparations for the festival. Many within the city would be leaving in the morning to set up shops and tents. It was imperative for merchants to claim prime real estate for the festival. MidSummer’s Eve wouldn’t be for another ten days. Phaero and Jemresh would be leaving in the morning. The pair were to assist the Master of Ceremonies with the construction of the festival grounds. Phaero would be building the field for the tournament of champions. Jemresh would be playing the pan flute during the Starlight Promenade on the night of lovers.
By the time they had reached the Owl, the tavern was overflowing like the suds of a freshly poured ale. The two pushed their way through the crowd towards the bar. The Owl was in the wealthy western quarter of the city. The usual patronage of the Owl were merchants or members of the Seeley Court. Although the boys were both servants in the Seeley Court, they were not usually permitted to visit such establishments. But, tonight they had been invited by the tavern’s owner. Phaero had built the casks for the brewmaster on the condition that he and Jemresh could take part in the uncasking.
Commissioned by the Master of Ceremonies, the brewmaster had crafted a ceremonial ale. Fate had it that Phaero and Jemresh were going to be the first among millions to taste the sacred drink. The patrons were dressed in fine thread coupled with the scent of perfume. The experience was overwhelming to the boys. Being adolescent and elated by a sense of adventure were awestruck by the spectacle.
The tavern had its usual Tuatha Dé crowd, as well as a number of foreign merchants and aristocrats. Phaero and Jemresh felt sure they’d be ridiculed by someone. As they reached the bar, Phaero spotted the brewmaster. He was a portly, red-faced Tuatha Dé whose passion was creating finely crafted spirits. His boisterous voice was easily heard over the sounds of the bard’s singing.
“Phaero my boy! You’ve made it!”
Florian Vinecup wasn’t like the majority of the Tuatha Dé. He was often too drunk on his own spirits to concern himself with anything other than the pursuit of pleasure. He took out a couple of tall blue glasses. Phaero nor Jemresh had never drank from such finery.
“Now prepare your tongues boys, this is my magnum opus, my masterpiece. It reminds me of the tales of old. Tales of Victory! Tales of Kings and Heroes!”
The ale was dark, red, and bubbling as it poured into the glass. The two took their glasses and raised them.
“Enjoy boys, the Midsummer festival is upon us!”
Phaero looked at Jemresh.
“To the Goddess, may she fill our hearths and warm our hearts!”
From across the tavern, a pair of blue eyes watched the pair. Phaero noticed them straight away. It was a young Tuatha Dé whose eyes seemed to be devouring him from afar. Phaero was by no means as suave as his friend Jemresh, but the drink worked on him and he felt it might be fortuitous to at least give it a shot. Phaero walked over towards the young fae beauty and introduced himself.
“Was I mistaken in believing that your eyes were calling to me?” he said as she giggled. “I’m Phaero.”
“You weren’t,” she said coyly. “I was intrigued by you. You’re different, something strange, am I right?”
Phaero wasn’t sure what to make of her. She was Tuatha Dé, and yet she openly flirted with him, a halfblood craftsman. She was no doubt a noble, and most likely forbade from interacting with his kind. Phaero didn’t see anyone with her though, perhaps she was different. He decided he no longer cared, tomorrow was his name day, and tomorrow he would be a man in the eyes of the fae. Phaero was sure he needed to perform a minor miracle in order to keep her attention. She was stunning and would surely draw interest from many of the fae nobles that frequented the Flightless Owl. Phaero looked around him quickly, and then settled in, sitting at the table with her.
“Have you ever heard the true sound of crystal?” he picked up her glass. It was empty. He closed his eyes and gently rubbed the stem of the glass while whispering to it. At first she looked at him as though he were mad. Then it began, the notes danced off the edge of the glass, and frolicked into her ears. She smiled.
“It’s beautiful!” she exclaimed. “How did you..?”
“Peasant Magic,” said a voice that came from behind them. “He’s a craftsman. Half-human to boot, and he shouldn’t be using said magic. Not here, not in the presence of such a lovely young creature.”
Phaero instantly knew the voice and stood up. “Prince Aengus, I…I didn’t think...I.”
Aengus laughed heartily, “Calm yourself, Phaero. I only meant to tease, not to startle you. Relax yourself, enjoy your time here. Goddess knows you’ve earned it with all of the work your father throws at you. Rest assured I know the difficulties of living up to your father’s reputation.” he paused and Phaero relaxed, and sat back down, though it was obvious that he had been embarrassed by the Prince. “Who is this beautiful creature?”
The prince bent over and kissed her hand. The young fae noble woman was now enraptured by the presence of Prince Aengus. It was no surprise to Phaero really, the Tuatha Dé were an aristocratic maze of social climbers. They all sought to raise their station, and no doubt this noble woman was no different. It was a constant thorn in his side, always present in their social sphere, and yet forever invisible. He wondered, would he always be such a social pariah.
“If you will excuse me,” Phaero said before getting up and walking away. The two Tuatha Dé barely noticed his exit. As he rejoined his friend Jemresh at the bar he simply shook his head.
“Well isn’t that just the way of the world?” said Jemresh.
“Let the wingers, have the wingers, the Goddess provides us with more than just their kind. I’ll find my love at the festival, I can feel it.”
The two went back to their merrymaking, tonight was their night. The city of Formene was their playground, and tomorrow they would embark on a journey neither of them could have ever imagined.
The tavern filled with song, laughter, and the aroma of ale. The bard’s fingers skillfully picked the strings of his guitar as his lips told of the legend of Belothar. The tables were full as men gambled and wenches opened cask after cask of ale. The bard lamented the tale they had all heard before.
A mere man,
With a strong back and an iron will,
Did take upon himself the fate of us all.
Belothar the man,
Belothar the hero,
Belothar was but folly and foolery.
At the main table sat a hulking man with a busty, lewd wench on each of his knees. This man knew the lesson of the bard’s song well. His boisterous laugh filled the room as his two companions sang the local drinking tune. His towering frame rose up from the seat a woman on each arm as he spun them around. The harlots’ dresses swayed in the tumultuous tornado that was the man’s drunken celebration. The bard had begun to play a new tune. As the crowd began to sing along, the gargantuan sang with them.
Let the songs be sung!
Of hearth and home.
Tell of the feats of heroes,
The ale will flow,
The women will blow,
And the seeds shall all be sown.
The large man’s laugh roared through the tavern. His name was Yaegar and he was the Defender of the Realm, the head of King Dagda’s kings guard. He raised the yard to his lips and chugged, before slamming it down on the table. Ale splashed on the wooden floor in a fit of drunken glory.
In this tavern nary a soul was pure. It was the most unsavory of establishments in the eastern quarter. More commonly it was known as the thieves’ quarter and for good reason. Few dared walk the eastern quarter at night. Yaegar was not intimidated by the streets in the least. He had grown up here. Still it was rare for a knight to be seen in this particular tavern; especially a knight of his stature. Most knights would be disbanded, or more likely banished from the realm if found here. Not Yaegar, he was the commander of the knights and member of the King’s council chamber. His position afforded him a great many advantages. Yaegar himself forbade his knights to enter taverns such as this. They were representatives of the royal court and should act as such. For Yaegar rules were meant to be broken.
The eastern quarter was his home. It was in taverns and boroughs like this where he had made his way. He had ascended to this position through grit, brawn, and sheer luck. His childhood was mired in filth and hardship. Now he was a champion of the highest order, a member of the royal court. Yet he still had a penchant for seeking out the undesirable and seedy areas of the world. In this den of thieves he was truly at home, at peace. It was his status that afforded him the ability to climb the rungs of society in both directions.
Tonight he didn’t care about the rules, tonight he drank. He had come to meet with Feorn and Dofaar. His two companions were the best kind of scoundrels. They had all known each other since childhood. Together the three had terrorized the streets of Formene. Equipped with the brains of the twins and the brawn of Yaegar they were unstoppable. The twins were Aélfaren, a race of people that hailed from the Vale of Enon. Their complexion was like pale blue moonlight. Their eyes were reddish, resembling a feline’s and their ears came to a sharp point. The twins were two of the most wanted thieves in the great city of Formene. Both of their heads were prized at two thousand gold pieces. Their latest offense, the theft of a Baron’s prized stallion.
It was Yaegar’s duty as the Defender of the Realm to turn them in. But the twins had saved his hide more than once. His loyalty to the order of Knights was superseded only by his blood oath with the twins. His own knights had pulled him from the fire many times, yet none held his trust more than the twins.
Yaegar put his arms around the twins and walked them to the bar. He called out to the bartender’ "Three yards of your finest mead!"
The twins smiled.
"What’s the occasion Yaeg?” Dofaar inquired.
Yaegar handed them a bottle each and pried the cork from the bottle with his teeth.
"Gentlemen. Tonight we celebrate! Because in one week’s time, we will be at the MidSummer’s Festival."
The three grinned, and in unison tossed back a long gulp of sweet aromatic mead. "May our purses be lined with the gold of a thousand clueless pilgrims." Feorn chuckled.
Feorn and Dofaar were always present at the festivities. Stealing from pilgrims year in and year out was what kept their pockets lined. This year was no different, save one thing. This year the three of them were planning a big score. The plan was to steal the newly forged sword, named Honor’s Call. It was forged for the Baron of the East Quarter. The name of the blade was ironic considering the Baron was one of the most corrupt people in Formene. The three of them had grown up in the East Quarter, one of the most poverty stricken areas in the kingdom. This year the boys were planning to take from the wealthy bastard and give it back to those who truly needed it. This was going to be no small task. Traditionally private knights guarded the Barons of Formene. However this year, King Dagda had informed Yaegar that there would be need for additional security. He had declared that the barons would be guarded by the Tuatha Dé Guard. This meant that Yaegar could do little to help the twins without exposing himself.
Managing the security of the festival brought its own challenges. Yaegar was responsible for the entire Tuatha Dé Guard, during the festival. This would require careful planning to prevent the twins from being caught. The three sat down at a table and began to scheme.
Yaegar spoke, "I will be running security for the entire festival this year. So I will only be able to keep the Tuatha Dé Guard off your case if you behave."
Dofaar let out a sarcastic laugh, "We’ll be in and out faster than you can finish that cask of ale."
"Is that so?" Yaegar replied.
Feorn tapped him on the shoulder. He had moved from his seat in front of Yaegar and had pilfered the coin purse off of the hulking man in an uncanny amount of time. He jingled it in front of the great knight’s face and laughed.
“I think we’ll be able to lift a blade from a ridiculous old fop like the Baron.”
Yaegar grinned and sat up quickly. His foot swept the legs of Feorn out from under him. Yaegar snatched his purse back as Feorn hit the ground with a thud.
"You see Feorn, the convoy will be guarded by five of my best men. I know you’ll have to be slicker than that."
Feorn smiled as he got up dusting off his jacket.
"What would you two do without me?" Yaegar lamented, "Honestly I don’t know if you’d even be able to feed yourselves."
Dofaar and Feorn looked at each other and smile.
"Well we could always take your money the honest way," said Dofaar.
Yaegar raised an eyebrow.
"And what ’honest’ trick do you have up your sleeve, this time, Feorn?”
Feorn pulled out a wooden cup and lightly tipped it over onto the table exposing three wooden dice.
He looked up at Yaegar with a wicked grin.
"Why we let the gods decide of course."
Yaegar looked on and let out a booming laughing. The brother’s joined in. Their laughs filled the tavern as they continued on.
The night was decadent, full of debauchery and vice. Yaegar had lost several times now to the twins, and he had washed down his failure with the sweet sting of mead. Yaegar approached the bar in search of more ale, by now he was well on his way to blacking out and forgetting a great deal of the night.
Yaegar called to the barmaid, “Ale!”
An elderly man with a large beard, sat at the other end of the bar from where Yaegar stood. He too was drowning in liquor. From Yaegar’s vantage he looked like a war veteran, probably a survivor of the Ironwood rebellion.
“Where do you hail from Old Timer?” Yaegar called out to the old man.
The old man did not respond. Yaegar moved closer. “Old man, where do you hail from? I have not seen your grim face before, least not in Formene.”
“Nay you haven’t,” said the old man. “We Ironwood don’t much care for the fae, nor their pets.” His voice carried a certain disdain, a disdain that Yaegar did not appreciate.
Yaegar strode up to the man and gripped him by the scruff of the neck. “Pet you say?”
The old man looked at him defiantly, “What’s the matter boy? Too much faery shit in your ears? Word is the son of Winguric Ironwood wades in the King’s Royal Shit for fun these days.”
Yaegar was taken aback. He did not know this man, yet this man had intimate knowledge of him. Knowledge he had worked tirelessly to erase, to forget. Yaegar looked around, luckily none had noticed his interaction with the man, despite his loud insinuation.
“Now you listen here, and you listen well old man, unless you want your head split like a melon. I don’t know what you speak of, nor whom you are referring to. There are no sons of rebels here, now begone.”
He tossed the man from the seat and kicked him in the hind quarters. “You can cover up the past, but you can’t cover the smell of your shit as easily. The past always returns to haunt us.”
The man left the tavern and stumbled into the night, leaving Yaegar with a sick feeling in his stomach. He wondered was this just a chance meeting with a drunk war veteran, or was this something else. The drink began to cloud his judgement. He heard the twins call to him from across the tavern, and he returned to his merrymaking, all the while the thought tugged at the back of his mind. Did the man really know his most well guarded secret?