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 The Legacy

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Gabriel Faith

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Posts : 22
Join date : 2010-03-09
Age : 31
Location : Vancouver

PostSubject: The Legacy   Fri Aug 12, 2011 10:20 pm

See this now, see it very well. A lone wanderer dressed in ebony, and traveling beneath the stars, his destination is lost somewhere, at some time...

"Promise me," said the man, dying.
There had been a skirmish of some sort, a raid by highwaymen, and their presence left behind only in the aftermath. High above, the summer heat flickered as the air filled itself by the waves of ember, caused by the remains of a smouldering wagon. Debris scattered along the entire field. Barrels had been emptied, boxes once filled with precious luggage now replaced by nothing. There were a number of bodies, but some mutilated beyond recognition. No doubt the missing dead were amongst the casualties of the enemy.

It seemed fitting that would be silence at the peak of such things. Perhaps the dead understood this, in the hollowed grounds of cemeteries, even the vast sea that bore sunken ships and rusted armors. The smell of it was not unfamiliar to me, the sight of it more so. It felt eerie at times, alive in the midst of a battlefield, surrounded by the dead and dying. Still all the magic in the world could not account for the event that had transpired, long before my own arrival.

"Take him. Promise me." repeated the dying man. "Please."

No further than a dozen yards, surrounded by the faded leather armors and spears of the militiamen, was the only survivor of this event. Another tragic casualty born from the causality of conflict - that of another lost child. At times of war, it is said that kings and queens gain neither land nor glory, but only the tears of widows and the cries of lost children. On a long enough basis, even the most resolute heart shares a mere fragment for pity, nothing more nothing less.

"Fortune has blessed him." the man said, his words fading into whispers.
"I make no promises." I replied.
"The others...will not take him. Winter is coming...please...take him." he begged again.
"Damn you, stranger, will you agonize a dead man?" snapped one of the militiamen.
He took a step forward, then froze when he caught my gaze.
"I make no promises." I repeated. Turning to face the militiamen, I said, "The Nine Hells has a place for those who break promises. I am no oathbreaker."

Within his arms, trembling from the cold, the child began to stir and cry.

***

The sound of children's laughter was distinct in the air. Along the horizon, the snow capped peaks of the distant mountains glistened beneath the bright sunlight; everything was clear within this place, enough for one to breathe the mildew off the air itself. The cold had been less sharp than before, but stung the edges of my lungs nevertheless.

My eyes followed the source of such laughter. A group of young children, dressed thickly in furs and wool and linen, chased each other amongst the slight incline of a nearby hill. One of them stood out from the rest, his hair an auburn mess, which contrasted the fair colors of the other children. Too, it seemed, he stood taller than them and though his stature spoke of leadership there displayed none. Close by there came the sound of dogs. In this region, it was commonplace for families to raise dogs to share the warmth of their campfires at night.

The boy turned and glanced over towards me from where he stood, the alertness clear in his grey eyes, spotting me beneath the glade of the tree I stood by. I estimated that he would be no more than ten years past his birth day.

"Are you hiding, stranger?" He called out in his sharp voice. "What are you hiding from?"
"The sunlight." I replied, flatly.
The boy tilted his head. "Are you a vampire?"
I shrugged. Once, perhaps, I had been.
"What are you hiding for?" the boy called out again. "Come out and play."
I shook my head. There was a disappointment in his eyes.
"What's your name?" He asked, politely as possible. I did not wish to frighten him, but his naivety was touching almost. "I'm Merrick."
I studied him for a moment. "I go by many names." He laughed at this, the youth still in his tone. "But you are not unfamiliar to me."

He seemed to recognize me then. It showed from the integrity to his eyes, curiosity even, as he gazed towards me. For a moment, he took a half-step and stumbled downwards. Even for his height, the snow reached up to his shins, and for a boy his age he was remarkably tall.

By the time he rose up again, I was already gone.


***

A windmill stood in place of a former birch tree, its axles turning against the draft of wind that caught in the sails of its arms. The design of it was distinct for the countryside, sturdier and more efficient than most. Strange engravings etched along the stone base, and each one bore the curves of Dwarven runes, perhaps charms dedicated for its structural integrity. Though Dwarves were rare despite the mountains in the distance, it seemed likely that annually a group may wander and trade their skills for goods and treaties.

Already the autumn season had cast an earlier arrival of dusk, spreading violet-pink curtains over the sky, and if one were lucky enough even an arctic light or two. Where a small region of trees had stood, there now were fields teaming with barley and rye, larger and more spacious than years before. The harvest this year allowed the village to accept new members into its group, allowed the farmers to pay their taxes to the local collector, and celebrate in time for the spring festival. The year before had been rough. According to the locals, the barley tasted finer in the ale this year than any other, the bread loaves more filling than ever.

I cared little for the celebrations of peasants. Theirs seemed to be a ritual of its own, beginning with mild banter, peaking with cheer and libations, ending with a solemn rest and regular work the following dawn. In time the colored banners would be removed, and the flower wreaths swept away, returning the village to its natural state. However, though I cared little for it, the culture surrounding even the most trivial of events were fascinating in a childish sense.

The loud clamor of drums, cymbals and flutes shook the streets. Fresh baskets of apples were handed out to children, who chased each other in fresh dyed tunics and dressed, flowers braided in their hair. Stalls were erected by merchants who traveled to hawk their wares as far as the distant baronies and estates. Amongst them there were bards, who sung songs that felt new to me, though the wit to them was not. A wedding feast was held, and having been invited for a mere gift dowry, I sampled the harvest sparingly. The wine was bitter, but the cheese and bread shed all concerns.

When the time came for the ceremonies to end, when the bridesmaids would undress the bride to consummate her husband, I turned to leave. By chance, I encountered the groom, no more a young man in his teens. Our eyes met briefly and for a moment, he stopped and turned, calling out inaudibly as he did. The grey pupils, wide with surprise, said all I needed to hear. By the time the guests dispersed, I was already gone again.

A moment of nostalgia caught up, when I recalled the similar rhythm of drums and the clashing of cymbals at my own wedding. I recalled that hunchbacks danced at mine for luck, and old crones wove braids in my hair and hers. There was little wine back then, but a great abundance of herbal tea and fresh carved venison. A man sang songs in a tongue that has been forever lost, and with its disappearance, my knowledge of it as well. I recalled that once she was all that I ever loved, my son as well. Now it seemed I can barely recall her name, and when I forgot their faces, the centuries of mourning came to an end as well.

All that was a long, long time ago. A time when the world, and I with it, was still young.

***

There had been a battle here upon this field, smoking pillars spreading towards the approaching night sky. Once there had been a small keep here, its outlaw baron rooted from his keep, and sentenced to hang before the next dusk. The effort in claiming it had been ferocious. The siege itself had lasted for almost nine entire weeks, a vicious volley of ballista and catapult fire, shaking the valley with the cry of battle in odd hours.

When at last the baron had made his mad charge, there had been time to lay a trap in wait. Surrounded by the gathered forces of the local regent, as well as conscripts and sellswords, the campaign reached an end when with the combined attack of cavalry and infantry obliterated the former bandits. At dawn, the field would be littered with freshly skewered heads, a warning to all that would consider banditry in this region.

Already the celebrations had begun, with the sound of music and feasting echoing throughout the hills. The camp followers would find themselves busy with food preparation, perchance better than to tire themselves in the arms of soldiers. Throughout the hills were innumerable specks of campfires, like sparks spread over the dark. It would be difficult not to find company amongst comrades and women this night.

"You know, I saw you at my wedding, milord." said the man climbing up the hill before me. "You were there at my youth, on that field."

My eyes glanced down towards his approach. The climb itself seemed treacherous, and without the eyes of an elf or seasoned explorer, he may well twist his ankle on the roots that jut out over it. He exhaled heavily, panting from the weight of his cuirass, which was coated in dirt and debris. I had seem him within the ranks behind the vanguard, bravely clashing with the outlaws. No doubt he had followed the rallying recruits as they crossed into the village.

"Who are you?" he asked, the alcohol in his breath. "Please. Tell me who you are. I wish to know"
I turned to leave, and stopped when I heard him draw his blade, whining in the air.
For a moment, there was a tense silence before I glanced over at him past my shoulder. I saw the anger in his eyes then, the questions that he wished to ask, hoping for the answers that he lived so long to hear. When I felt the tension shift towards despair, I moved on.


***

The cold of winter returned after a snow storm that lasted for a week. Beneath the glade of a nearby tree, I watched children at play nearby the renovated windmill. This year I learned that the wooden arms were to be replaced by a set of fresh timber supports, reinforced by bands of iron; a design that has spread from a gnomish inventor across a distant continent. The harvest has since been providing, enough for the village to prosper from the approaching winter games.

Far away beyond the hills, the keep beyond the mountain pass created steam, poured fresh from the ironworks that had been built along those valleys. The abandoned Dwarf mines had been adapted as a historical site, which would eventually be monitored by the nearest Dwarf clans for study and research. Soon the presence of Dwarves would be present, their skills coming in handy with the iron prospects, enough to establish trade relations permanently. In time the quality of their crafts, combined with the rich veins of iron, would provide indefinitely for everyone.

It seemed so long ago that a hamlet once stood where this large trade outpost was. Once, so long ago, the winters were harsh and the roads plagued by bandits exiled from the distant kingdoms to the south. Now it seemed that life has continued for the better, and though the graves of the first generation are lost, in time their legacies are remembered around them. The laughter of children seemed more frequent, and the merriment of mortals present always.

"It is you." said a voice behind me, raspy with age. "Yes, I've seen you. In my dreams and nightmares. You."

When my eyes glanced past my shoulder, I faced an old man, wrapped in furs and wool and linen. His grey eyes seemed milky and dim. The skin hung from his cheeks, like wrinkled pages of a book. The lines on his flesh were as many as that of a leaf. Beneath his arched back, his scrawny hands clasped a smooth oaken cane.

"There is no mistake about it. The black wanderer. The stranger." He added, stopping just behind me. "You never answered me on that hill, but...but you speak. I recall that you speak."
"That I do." I replied, flatly. For a moment, he almost appeared to collapse from shock.
"Then speak with me. Who are you?" He asked again.
I shook my head. "I go by many names."
At this, the old man laughed, then coughed a little. His eyes were hard, and his body though small, shared many hardships. "Are you Death? They said you saved me, now will you take me away?"
"If that is what you wish."
"I...I cannot stop you it seems." said he.
"No," I replied. "But it is not my place to judge your life, only you can."
"You speak true."
"There is only truth," I said. "It comes with age, I suppose."
"Yes, yes, age dwindles a man's patience."
I shrugged. "Perhaps strengthens it. You did not come here for riddles, Merrick."

The old man widened his eyes, staggered for a moment, and gathering his footing upon that hill there was only silence. He breathed against the cold of ice, the air stinging his lungs, but reminding him that he was there.
"I have lived a good life, lord Death," he replied, abruptly with a smile.
"I go by many names. That is not one of them."
"No, no...but I have lived, you see, and I have loved and lost and loved again. To whom do I owe my thanks?" asked the old man.
"Fortune smiled upon you. It does not smile upon you often, but it has." I spoke back to him. "Perhaps then you are blessed, perhaps not."
"Has it been the same for you, old friend?" he asked me in return.
There came another silence, and one that I could not break, save from him.
"No, it hasn't has it?" He added. "But you have been kind to me, and I wish only to repay your kindness, no matter the cost. Do join me, milord, see the life I've led."
I shook my head. "There is no place for one such as I."
"There isn't?" Asked the old man. It was a rhetorical question. "No, but you see, milord, I have simply lived and you have as well. Fate is not always kind, and we do not always find the things we seek, but...but I have. You will as well."
"Perhaps." I said. "Perhaps so."

The two of us stood on that hill for what seemed like forever. When at last the laughter of children died down, Merrick turned to face me once more. His expression was solemn, humble for a man his age, no more no less.

"Will you promise me but one thing, milord?" asked the old man.
"I make no promises, lest they be broken." I replied.
"Yes, yes, but still..."
"But nothing." I interrupted him. "Farewell, Merrick, that is until we meet again but alas! That seems doubtful, like promises, but between you and I there is certainty that it is possible nevertheless."
"Aye, you speak true, milord." said the old man with a smile.

He watched me as I left that time, as I had done so many times before. I wondered what coursed through his mind. An acceptance for what cannot be seen or controlled? Or contemplation for what will come to pass? One thing is certain that I saw in those grey eyes. There was a fondness for the changing seasons, like life and death, perhaps to dream of distant spring. No, Merrick knew that he would not live to see it again.

***

It was a Friday, as the day is called, when I watched a faraway procession take place. The noonday sun was high overhead, the clouds cotton white and numerous; songbirds chased each other in play, flowers bristling along a hill of grass and graves. A large group of mourners were present, their clothes smooth and clean, and the quality of the fabric having improved each year. A series of stone steps has been placed upon a once treacherous hill, devoid of jutting roots and sudden slopes.

Stone houses stretched along a paved road, in place of old straw huts and hovels of clay, and far away in the farmlands were cottages made of wood and brick. Surrounding the hills were fields of barley, wheat and rye. Chickens, cows and other livestock echoed from far away ranches. I watched a wagon teamster tip his hat to another passing wagon train. Colorful banners flickered against the walls of two story buildings. A large stone wall replaced a wooden stockade in this township.

The family of the departed spread flower petals along a wooden casket. Incense burned from a small bronze urn, the trail of smoke intended to guide the spirit towards the heavens. People wore black clothes as dark as pitch; men wore no hats, and the women only veils. Only the children wore ordinary colors, perhaps to lighten the significance of death with the light of youth.

Beneath the glade of a willow tree, I watched the procession take place away from the sunlight. My thoughts were not of anything specific, just the act that transpired then. One of the mourners, a young girl no more than ten, turned towards my direction. She slipped from the company of her parents and walked slowly towards me.

I noted she had grey eyes, like the clouds of a gathering storm. Her hair was auburn, and her height was tall, straight. There was curiosity and mild awe from what she saw, a stranger in her eyes, returning the gaze wordlessly to her.

"It's you, isn't it?" she asked me with a smile. "Grandpa used to tell us stories, about an angel, a knight that saved him as a baby."
I said nothing, listening to her speak.
"He told us stories about you, black as night, but calm as a shadow." The expression faded from her lips. I sensed that the loss of the departed returned to her then. "Who are you?"
There was a pause, and I replied, walking away, "Just someone keeping an old promise. Nothing more, nothing less."
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