Meet Will from Abanard (Part 1)

Will rode into the small costal town known as Wet Walk around early evening, the sun would be on its way down now, but Will couldn’t say for sure as it was covered by a thick layer of grey clouds. The town had been extremely prosperous at one time when Abanard was much younger, as a result many buildings had marbled facades and statues of fish and mermaids were scattered along the main road. 

The city had only the one main road, The Wet Walk aptly named after all the rain it saw, but was second largest port on the western shores of Abanard. Maiden’s kiss was the first, of course. It was, as usual, raining. It was only a light dusting but it coated the marble buildings and cobbled roads in a wet gloss, like the trail left from a slug. Wet Walk had moved on from it’s glory days trading spices and cloth from the southern realm and sending back the stones mined in the north. Wet Walk was still a fishing town, but no longer was it a port that traders visited if they could avoid it.

It was now known to be a smuggler’s hub.

Will was no smuggler, but he was little more than any other slug that traveled through the town. He wore rough spun travelers clothes, a blue tunic under a dark brown cloak to absorb the rain. He had been here a few times, before always for the same reason. Gold. He had a little on him, but his pocket felt heavy from the weight of the coins and his throat was rather dry. 

He stopped in front of the Thirsty Lion, a large two story building with marbled columns rising from the ground up to support the second story landing. There were a few hitching posts for travelers off to one side where he tied his big grey mare.

“I won’t be long Walder.” He said to the horse, patting him on the head. “I’ll get a drink for you too.” He left his things with Walder, after taking his sword belt and buckling it on. He was glad for the weight of steel on his side. He wore a long sword and a southern gladius on his left hip in addition to the twin daggers that crossed at the small of his back. The daggers weren’t attached to his sword belt and hardly ever came off his back. 

Will pushed the cold iron doors open and stepped into a lively room. The room glowed with fire light, coming from candles and a large fire raging int he middle of the room.There was a bard in the corner belting out a song about a Misty Mountain. Women sat with men, boys sat with women, and girls sat with men. Ale and water covered the slick marble floor. Will couldn’t help wondering how such a wonderful building ended up as a tavern. 

Off to the side, almost lost in the revelry of that days work was a wooden bar. It’s dark oak almost fit in with grey shinny color of the walls and ceiling. Will made his way there, avoiding a particularly drunk youth stumbling out the door, and finding himself a seat at the bar. 

The bar man was at the other end of the bar, white sleeves rolled up to his elbows, leaning on the counter talking to a pair of well dressed men. He looked down at Will and gave him a look that told Will he wasn’t a particularly hard worker. After finishing up his conversation he came down to WIll. 

“What can I get you?” 

“Two spirits.”

The bar man, pulled out two bottles from the cabinets under the bar top. One was a clear color the other a rich amber. “Which will you have?”

“The dark one.” 

“You expecting company?” asked the barkeep pouring the amber colored spirit into two glasses.

“One is for my horse.” Will said after draining the first cup.

“More?” The barkeep asked gesturing at Will’s empty cup.

“No, I don’t think Walder will be drinking his. He is a horse after all.” Will had discovered that if you show up with two swords and act just crazy enough to make people think your unstable but still capable of using the steel you carry, that generally you get better service. 

Four promptly poured drink later Will was feeling very good about himself. He had been watching the wooden door in the back of the tavern for some time now and had decided it was just about time to go over. Most of the usual crowed had arrived. Cold Foot Joe, Hairy Harry and Newt the Noble to name a few. Newt was the one Will had been waiting for and so he paid the barkeep and headed to through the old wooden door. 

Behind the door was a stairway leading down. The smell of ale and sweat was thick in the narrow stairway. The steps were slick, the water from previous patrons boots pooled on each step. The decent itself was dark but at the bottom, perhaps fifty feet down, light spilled up into the dank entryway. The sounds of merriment and drinking echoed in the small stone way. Will made his way down, feeling the effects of his spirits much more now that he was up off the bar stool. He placed his hand on the wall to guide him. When he reached the bottom, he was surprised to see the amount of people that had already arrived. 

Besides Cold Foot Joe, Hairy Harry and The Noble, Will saw the Grail brothers and Bizarre Bertha, a rather hairy woman who totted an axe and was known to wear full mail. Will made is way giving a few cursory nods to the patrons that he did know as he made his way to the bar top below the bar. “The amber spirit.” He told the barkeep who had been watching him approach.

“You fightin’ or gamblin’?” The man asked as he poured the drink. 

“Both.”

“Well I’ll be damned. Ain’t you the Wanderer?”

Will drained his glass and proceeded to tap it’s rim until the barkeep took the hint and poured him another. “Well I’ll be damned. Will the Wanderer.” Said a gruff voice from behind him. A large hand followed quickly slapping him on the back. “I thought you was only gonna fight in the circle. I thought we was below you.”

“We can’t all have what we wish.” Will didn’t turn to speak to the man, he knew him well enough and didn’t need a reminder of the man’s ugly face.

“Its good to see you, though I’ll bet some of the other fighters aint all to happy to see you. Suppose you heard Newt was coming?”

“I was just going to go talk to him actually.” He threw a couple coppers on the bar top and headed off to find Newt leaving Big Bill to chat with himself. The lower floor of the Thirsty Lion had once been a brewery, it had since been cleared out and turned into a make shift arena. The fights held weren’t technically illegal, but but beating another person senseless with a blunt weapon was illegal, the Thirsty Lion got away with it by saying it was just another bar fight. The gambling just happened to break out along with the fight. 

A Chapter from Abanard (Part Two)

He moved with no purpose, he had no destination in mind but he found himself out of the keep and in the city. The sun was low in the sky, its normal radiance turned a mellow shade of orange. Fishermen passed him by smelling of sweat and reeking of the day’s catch. He wanted to head home but didn’t want to put on his happy husband face. If it was a peach pit in his stomach then surly the rotten fruit was his marriage and the the tree it grew on the weakness of the crown he served. He couldn’t bare to serve a fool and hated to see his wife childless and alone.

His feet stopped when he reached the fountain of Delilah, a life size statue of shaped white marble. It stood as part of the divide between two pools of water. The first over five feet above the larger pool below. Water cascaded from Delilah’s eyes as it flowed from the top pool. The fountain sat in the center of the Eastern plaza most known to be used by the common folk. Cliff found a seat on the edge of the lower pool watching as the crowds moved by. 

“Warden Stoneyard, lovely evening isn’t it?”

“Lady Dunella, what brings you into the city?”

“Same as you.” She said with a smile sitting down next to him. She wore the clothes of the common folk, brown pants and a brown shirt with a head band that covered the pointed tips of her ears.

“It’s strange to see you dressed so modestly.”

“A bold statement from such a well mannered man. I’m sorry to disappoint.”

“My lady, I only meant that you wear the clothes of a street merchant.”

“No harm, Warden. I know my normal dress is nothing more than eye candy for King Troy.” She gave him a small smile. The two sat there for a long time watching people come and go, one woman had gotten a late start on her washing and was just finishing up in the upper pool that fed Delilah’s tears. In the morning both pools would be packed with women furiously working the dirt from their families garbs. Cliff could feel the life flowing around him. Not through him, he dealt in death not life. He was different from those around him. A boy walked by carrying sacks of flour on his shoulder, a future baker no doubt. Another walked with his father, net in tow.

Cliff carried nothing with him that sustained life, the product of his work was left behind him in a trail of red death. He often thought of life as a fishermen, teaching his sons to sail in Dino’s Bath and returning home every night to his wife and daughters, but he was living the life he was supposed to live. There was nothing that Cliff could have been better at and nothing he would have been happier doing.

That didn’t stop the loneliness from slowly killing him.

The crowds dwindled and the sun faded. Cliff enjoyed the quiet companionship, he could sense that Dunella felt as he did. They were both outsiders here, Dunella as incompatible with those around them as Cliff was, her people far away across the sea.

Cliff hadn’t liked fighting with the elves during the rebellion. They were rigid, cold, pale and ruthless but Dunella was warm and soft. Much of the court mistrusted and loather her and her sister and their high favor with the king. Mostly because they had risen to their place through bedsheets rather than birth or politics. 

By all accounts Dunella had stayed away from the lusty loins of the king. Still the rumors swirled and while there was no doubt that Dunella’s sister Kyrtaal had captivated Troy’s body it was whispered that Dunella held sway over his mind. If the whispers were to be believed then Dunella ran Abanard. Cliff chose not to believe it.

Dale was still the King’s personal aid. The man who ruled while Troy had his way with Kyrtaal. Dale of course, was the whisperer secretly throwing slander on Dunella’s name. Cliff looked over at her, young and beautiful, so full of life. Whatever slander had landed on her could not stay there for long. “How did your order come to be?” She asked in her smooth high voice. 

“Do you know the story of Delilah?”

“She is the lady the statue was made for.

“Its a tribute to Dino’s daughter, the most splendid maiden to ever walk the lands of Abanard. And walk it she had. Delilah scorned Dino by refusing to marry until she had seen all of Abanard. Dino reluctantly agreed but declared that she must not sit a horse, ride a wagon or be born by the strength of man or beast.

She and her companions walked for five years until she had seen the lush forrests of the South, the sandy beaches in the west, the plains of the North and the marshes of the east. She had climbed all the mountain ranges and crossed Worker’s Walk with the traders and kissed the lord of the port giving name to Maiden’s Kiss. The water that gushes from her eyes are her tears, for when she returned from her journey Dino had died from an illness. 

The knights that travled with her became the first wardens. That is why wardens wander the lands serving justice as they see fit.”

“Such a sad story, Warden. Perhaps you can tell me a happeir tale next time.”

“Sorry to have kept you, my lady. I must be getting home, my wife will be worrying about me.” He stood up and extended a hand to Dunella. 

She smiled and let him help her to her feet. At first she didn’t let go of his hand, she held it, looking away at the city then she turned to him. Her violet eyes fixed on his, “Thank you for the history lesson.” then she gave him a soft kiss on the cheek and turned heading back toward the keep where she and her sisters kept their quarters. Cliff couldn’t help watch as she walked across the now vacant plaza.

A Chapter from Abanard (Part 1)

Dino’s Minor glowed on its hilltop. The golden sandstone catching the light, holding it and then creating its own soft golden luminescence. The city, the largest in the Abanard, has been the home of Kings since the first rose to power. Dino himself had united the golden plains of the North with the thick forrest of the South. 

Cliff felt the weight of ancient years as he passed under the statue of Dino guarding the Southern gate of his city. The pale marble brought over centuries ago from the elves before the words grew apart. Dino’s statue had passed the test of time, twenty feet high, long beard and hair flowing, his great sword rested point down into the earth with the hilt rising almost up to his chest where his great marble hands rested on the sword. The late summer sun igniting the east side of his face. He rode by, his red cloak flowing behind him, the hunt completed and justice brought to the people. 

He stabled his horse then made his way back to his home. He could report to the Lord Warden later, now he wanted to see his wife. 

She must have seen him coming from their south facing window; she waited for him in their arched doorway, the green door thrown open behind her. She was smiling. Cliff hadn’t been away very long in comparison to his other ventures but Margret felt a change in the air and she had feared for her husband’s life. But here he was smiling just as much as she was. 

Cliff had spent the past weeks in brothels and taverns surrounded by wanton women lusting after him, seeking to draw out his weakness to poison his strength. He had stayed true and now he saw his wife, beautiful blonde hair, rosy cheeks, full red lips shaped into a perfect smile. She hugged him in the doorway, not letting him go, not that he tried to escape her grasp. He held her tight, his tired body rejuvenated by the feel of her. 

“Your safe.” She said. Cliff squeezed her tight for a half second in response. “I always worry when your away. How did everything go?”

“The murder was caught and the Wardens brought justice to the wetlands of the Northwest.”

“You had to go that far? I thought the killer was in the plains.” They had released each other and moved into the old home of Cliff’s family. Officially it was a home for the use of the Wardens, but Cliff’s family had occupied it for many generations, passing from one Warden to the next in his family line. The place was made of the same warm sandstone as the rest of the city. Rough golden stone covered all the walls with thin thatched roof above their heads. The mild climate in the Northeast left the people with little more than light showers to worry over, it never froze and hardly ever matched the heat of the plains. 

“The killer was moving from town to town very quickly, never staying more than a day.” She put her arms around him again, embracing him. 

“When do you leave again?” She asked squeezing him tight. 

“I haven’t gone to see the Lord Warden yet.” She gave him a big sappy, loving smile that only a wife could give after getting her way. She kissed him on the lips, soft at first then harder.

Cliff had never been happier to be back in Dino’s Minor. Often he felt as though he left to go deal with the lowest of people only to return and find that the capitol was actually home to the true scum of society. “I have to get going the Lord Warden will need my report.”

“Why don’t you stay in the city?” She said rising from the bed half covering her naked body with the light furs from the bed.

“I haven’t been lucky enough to be stationed here.”

“They’ll never give it to you, your too talented to sit around dealing with petty thieves. Besides your happier out there.” Her voice was pained by the time she finished the last words. 

“That’s not true, I’m happiest here with you.” He gave her a naked body a squeeze then donned his mail and sword belt. “I’ll be back soon.”

“Why don’t you be the new master of arms?” She asked, “Wilson is far to old for the position.”

“I’m not the best teacher.”

“You can’t let one bad apple spoil the good, not everyone can be a Warden.”

The words stung Cliff, not because they were said with venom or hate but because they weren’t true. The one apprentice he had been given could have been a Warden. In fact in the last year with Cliff he had become a better Warden than half of the legion. Then Cliff had failed. “I can’t do it.” 

He left her there, wrapped in furs with tears in her eyes. She knew he would be gone within a week.

The streets were thick with people so rather than taking the main road up to the keep Cliff made is way back out of the city then to one of the postern gates on the east side of the city. The gate was known as Darla’s Gate, named after Dino’s wife who now stood, as beautiful as the stories told, in stone over the gate. Dino watched over the city and Darla watched over Dino. Darla’s Gate ran straight to the keep and was kept free of common folk allowing for swift passage to and from the keep. Dino had had it built so he could reach his queen faster when he returned home.

The road was made of grey stone and the buildings that walled it in on either side were made of the same material. The only part of the city that wasn’t crafted from sandstone. The road was short leading directly into the side of the hill Dino’s Keep sat on there it turned into a tunnel diving right under the city. 

Cliff walked along the torch lit passage having left his horse at the Warden’s stable. As he moved along he couldn’t help but think about his wife. He did want to be with her, but he didn’t want to stay in Dino’s Minor and there was no place for her among the Warden’s Legions.

The fire light moving along the wall flickered in his eyes as he moved through the long tunnel. It was empty no noise other than the scraping of his boots on the stone floor. A faint whistle passed through the tunnel, late summer winds moving the last lingering warmth on its way. The torches hesitated in their duty as the wind went by giving Cliff a chill. At the end of the tunnel stood a grey staircase spiraling up into the keep, it was built right into the stone innards of the mountain. Winding up into the heart of the keep it was nearly five hundred feet of stair up to the top.

Cliff came out through a side door of in the courtyard. A guard stood on duty, but the man knew Cliff and let him pass undisturbed. The little garden in the center of the courtyard held to the last green life of the summer but much of it had already durned to the lifeless tan of waterless leaves. The sun shinned down from above and the high walls of the keep kept the wind out. He made his way across the courtyard and into the keep where he went to the Warden’s Tower. The guard at the door to the Lord Warden’s solar bid him wait while he announced Cliff’s arrival. Moments later he beckoned him in. A fire burned in the hearth despite the heat of the day, sitting in front of the flames sat Joel wrapped in furs. “I can’t seem to shake this chill.” He said to Cliff.

“My father always said that age is the true champion of death.”

“Ha! If only he fought for us.” Joel’s eyes sparkled but that was the only part of him that gave off a hint of life. His lips were thin and pale and his skin hung off of his old bones like clothes left to dry. “The killer?” He wheezed.

“Brought to justice.” 

“And the lands? What of them?”

“The people are still angry about the outcome of the war and the lands still haven’t recovered. Times are tough in Abanard for anyone trying to make an honest living. The countryside is full of thieves, murders, and bandits. I came across a group of raiders just west of the Northern Marshes.”

The Lord Warden let out a long sigh. “If only Old King Rob had lived forever. King Troy has not half the wit of his father.” 

“Age wins again.”

“An unfortunate truth.” He paused to look at the fire then turned to a servant who stood behind him and called for water. The servant, a young man not yet old enough to be a squire rushed off. “I am worried that these bandits may be more than they seem. I think that the rebels may be uniting again taking on bandit garb as a guise.”

“That is a bold statement. The bandits I came across were nothing more than farmers who lost their farms and families during the war.”

“Reports from the plains say there is a significant sized host moving east.” Joel said grimly, “Burned towns and sacked cities.”

“The rebels never attacked the commoners before, they fought for the them against the King and Crown.”

“And now they are desperate, they have thrown away their values and spit on their own pride.” Joel’s face had turned a shade of dark red, he didn’t look half as old as he had five minutes ago. “Anyways, I’m thinking of sending you, wait for the next report then take a small force and ride hard to their location. I want you to harry them while we  mass a larger force.”

“Yes, Lord Warden.”

The servant returned with a jug of water, it was far too large for the young boy who was doubled over with the weight. “Dismissed.” Joel said. Cliff turned to leave but the boy had stopped in the doorway grumbling to himself. He then turned to head back out. “Not you, you half wit!” Yelled Joel, rage still giving life to his old blood. The boy nearly dropped the jug he jumped so bad. Cliff took the water jug from him and poured a glass for the Lord Warden. 

The boy gave him a look of gratitude and lowered his head in respect moving to hide in the corner of the room. Cliff left the old warden and the young boy, his stomach a sour mass resting in his belly. He felt as if he had eaten  the rotting pit of a discarded peach by mistake.