The Sellsword: Chapter 1
Daylight faded away as it had the day before. Many of the patrons rose from their chairs, gathering what items they came with, and stumbled out of the tavern doors. The man sitting in the corner did not move. Everyday he sat at the same table waiting for posts. Today – nothing. Yesterday - nothing. Work was hard to come by in Curagoth these days. Kvalis’ war with Vaaloria had left the realm tired; the riches were gone, many fathers and sons claimed by the sword, and the death of King Rogo humbled the once great nation of Kvalis.
Still the sellsword sat… waiting. The candlelight flickered in the dark, dancing across the man’s armor. He took drink after drink of his ale with a quizzical look about his face. The sellsword was no older than twenty and five, however the scar and some visible wrinkles on his face said otherwise.
“Hey, Garin, it’s closing time,” the barkeep said. The man in the corner lifted up his head in acknowledgment, “Aye, just let me finish off the flagon.” The barkeep nodded in agreement and went about his business gathering all of the mugs to take down to the river for cleaning. “Maybe I should leave this whole damned place,” Garin grumbled to himself before he took the last drink. He pulled himself up from the chair and walked sullenly out of the Weeping Tavern past the giant Willow Tree of which the tavern was named. Garin set up camp just outside the walls of Curagoth making a small fire and wearily laying down.
Before long, Garin drifted into a different realm, the one that plagued him most. Instead of being at the Battle of Nordar Bridge, he watched the Vaalorian man-at-arms and cavalry storm Curagoth and take the keep under the cover of darkness. Garin was just another man in the crowd when the executioner raised the axe and bringing it down with such force separating King Rogo’s head from his body with one stroke.
Garin awoke once again to the sun shining on his face. The day felt strangely the same. Garin stretched out, ending with a giant yawn, tied his wolfskin cloak around his neck once more and made his way to the Weeping Tavern. Today was going to be different he thought.
Soon Garin was sitting back in the corner with his customary flagon of ale. “Hey Garin, how goes it today?” The barkeep said. “Days have been better.” Garin grumbled. “Of course they have… did you hear that a road is being built connecting Curagoth to Vaalnor? From what I understand it is to suppress rebellion.”
“Who would want to rebel? Everything is great now, no food, no money, hell, I should be thankful there’s still ale.” Garin said shaking his head. “Besides, who’s going to rebel? The great houses folded after the death of the king. The Vaalorians are holding King Rogo’s only son as a prisoner, there is not much we can do.” The last few rays of light and hope in Garin’s eyes seem to fade away as he finished speaking.
“You just need a little work to get your spirits up. There is always hope son. Pray to the gods for the answers.”
“The gods… pfft. I prayed and prayed and what happened? We won nearly every battle and still lost the war and now our freedom. Our identity was lost… mine as well.” Garin slammed his cup down on the table, rose, and walked out of the tavern before the barkeep could reply. Those Vaalorian bastards! One day, One day everything will be made right.
It was nearing midday. The sun settled overhead, the heat rippling off the ground, as Garin walked the cobblestone streets of old Curagoth. Some of the buildings were blackened by recent and not so recent fires while others were crumbling. The streets were filled with debris, worn holes, and puddles making the street look more like a privy. Times have changed.
Garin finally arrived at the northern gate, standing on the beginnings of the King’s Road. He stared blankly at the sky, just over the tree line, when something caught his eye. In the distance he could see a figure running towards the city in an awkward manner. Someone must be injured. “Help!!!” The woman cried out.
In no time at all she was clutching Garin's surcoat, leaving smears of blood where her hands had been. “Help! Please Sir!” Sir... I guess they still think me the knight. “Please Sir... m-my son... m-my husband!” The woman was sobbing uncontrollably, grasping the surcoat tighter, and nearly pulling Garin on top of her.
“Ma'am, calm yourself. What of your son and husband?” Garin said seemingly unmoved by the woman's plea.
“The Man-wolves! The Man-wolves attacked us!”
“Man-wolves ma'am?” Garin muttered, unable to hold back a skeptical smirk.
“Yes, the damned beasts of the Black Ridge Mountains. I do not jest sire. Please hear me, my son and husband were ...”
“Taken, yes. Hmmm, and you are in need of help?” Garin looked over the woman once again. She wore a white blouse and a yellow skirt that went down past her knees. Her hair was a mess with a small spot of matted blood where she had been struck. The woman’s eyes were a light brown color, the same as her hair.
Garin’s first thought had absolutely nothing to do with her looks however. Ask for the money now or wait? Money is always best sooner than later...
“I can pay”
Ahh, did not have to ask. “How much can you pay my lady?”
“One hundred gold pieces my lord.”
One hundred pieces!. Garin's eyes widened and his hands trembled. “I'll do it.”
“Can we leave tomorrow? I want to leave as soon as we are able.” The woman said as she forced a small pouch into Garin's hand.
“What's this my lady?”
“Ten gold pieces up front and please, no more 'my lady,' my name is Claire.” She gave Garin a faint smile.
“Well Claire, I am Garin.”
“Garin? Not Sir Garin?”
Depends on who you ask. “Yes, I am a knight.”
“I can escort you to the tavern. There should be an open room.” Claire nodded and they were off, going back down the cobblestone road of which Garin came. Few words passed between them until they arrived at the tavern.
“Barkeep!” Garin shouted. “Are there any rooms open old friend.”
“For you? No. For the lady… I’m sure we can come up with something.” The barkeep said with a gentle smile. Claire followed the barkeep up the stairs and into a small room with one lit candle mounted on the wall. The room was modest, though it had a feather mattress with no sign of fleas. “I bid you a goodnight ma’am.” The barkeep said as he exited the room closing the door behind him. Before long, Claire had curled up on the bed and passed out from exhaustion.
As the barkeep made his way back down the stairs, he saw Garin helping himself to a cup of ale and sitting at his table. “Barkeep, can you spare a moment?” Garin asked.
“Well it is getting dark but if you need an ear…” The barkeep said as he pulled out a chair across the table from Garin.
“John, when you look at me now, what do you see?” Garin asked knowing the answer.
John smiled, “That’s the first time you called me by my name since the war Garin. I was beginning to think you forgot.”
“I forget nothing friend. The Battle of Nordar Bridge…”
“It is over Garin. We did what we could. The Vaalorians were routed in battle marking a great victory for all of Kvalis. How were we to know that they took to the sea and landed near Curagoth? It wasn’t our fault.”
“Wasn’t our fault…” Garin mumbled.
“You want truth Garin? I can give you that. You are a shell of the man you were. Other then your appearance, you are broken inside, moreso than many of us, moreso than me. We were all there.” John said sincerely.
Garin’s eyes dropped back to his cup. He’s more right than he knows. “You’re always right John, though I might just prove you wrong this time.” Garin said giving John a faint smile trying to believe his own words. “Now tell me… you ever heard of these Man-wolves before?”
John shifted his weight with a disdainful look. “The Man-wolves eh? Many stories have reached this tavern. I hear they are survivors of The Cult of Alistair. Some say they eat people and others say that they can turn into beasts.”
“Wait… The Cult of Alistair? The ones our ancestors dealt with over a century ago?
“The very ones. Alistair was never found.” John remembered. “You are not seriously thinking about going with this woman back into Black Ridge Mountains are you?”
Garin only smiled and it said enough. John already knew. “No need to worry about me. I should have died so many times before. Say a prayer for me if you think it will help.” Garin said as he sat the cup down and let out a forced laugh.
“I will friend. If I were a bit younger, I promise I would do more than that.” John said as he looked down at his hands noticing new wrinkles that could not be rubbed out, though he stubbornly tried.
“I have no doubt in that John.” Garin said as he took another drink. “Tomorrow is going to be a long day...”
“Aye... Garin, before you go I want to tell you something my father once told me. When I was but a child I was constantly afraid that my father wouldn't come back from the king's campaigns. One time, before he left, he sat me down and said, “Son, every man has a destiny and the gods don't take men until their works are done. Mine are not finished... but when they are done with, I will accept my fate with dignity and honor. All men die John. The Cycle of life will claim us all one day… but make sure that day is of your choosing and no one else’s.””
“How did he die?” Garin questioned.
“He gave his life for his king, to his first love, Kvalis. The way he chose… on the battlefield.”
“What does this have to do with me John?”
“Enough Garin, when you risk your life be sure it’s on your terms and not over a few gold coins that cannot replace any man, woman, child, or friend.” As John finished speaking, his eyes met Garin's .
“I will heed your warning.” Though I’m still going. It’s not all about the money… With John’s story lingering in his head, Garin rose to his feet, and walked past John putting a hand on his shoulder. “Can I stay here for the night?” John only nodded. Garin made his way up the creaking wooden stairs and found the first empty room. He took off his surcoat along with his cuirass and finally the chain mail. Shortly after, Garin was laying on the bed wrestling with sleep while thoughts consumed him... Maybe John is right. This quest might be suicide. Can death be worse than living? Maybe I will find out why I am still alive… It's not all about the money... right? What am I supposed to do?