A Tale from Ara’s Past
The freshly fallen leaves crunched beneath his feet on the trail while a crisp wind whistled through the treetops, bringing a promise of snow. Animals in the forest were well along with their preparations for hibernating, and after weeks on the road, Ara knew it was probably time to seek out somewhere to see out the swift approaching winter. While he’d spent many winters out on the road, a hay barn was way more comfortable than hard frozen ground.
He’d never intended to be on the road this late in the year, but his head still swam with confused memories of the last town, where he’d intended to stay. He wasn’t much of one for deep thoughts, and he knew that the consequences of many things he was aware of around him eluded him, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that there had been something not right and that he wasn’t wanted there, so he’d left.
He’d entered the town much the same as he usually did, drifting in in search of provisions, a bed and maybe some money. He’d been following woodland tracks that had turned into trail and on into roads that wound through farmlands on their way towards civilisation, with the ever present hope that he’d find a temple to an as yet unknown deity at the back of his mind.
“Ara, is that you?!”
The shout had come from a stout, swarthy looking human across the street, who’d come jogging over to eagerly greet Ara as he’d been walking past shops in search of supplies for the road.
He’d looked vaguely familiar, but Ara couldn’t place where he’d seen him before. “Yarp?”
“It’s me, Derenn. Remember? You helped me out finding the sheep that escaped my paddock, what, two, maybe three years ago now?”
Ara had shrugged apologetically, and leaned on his walking stick “Oh, aye, I be rememberin’ that. Not so good with the names an’ faces, sorry.”
“Oh no worry, no worry. ‘Tis fine, ‘tis fine. Can’t be expecting you to remember everyone you meet on your wanderings, now, can we? So, what are you doing in Riverbend? It’s getting well on in to Lion, you know. Most of the crops have already been gathered, so not many farmers will be looking for much help”
“Oh, it be that late already? I is losing track of time out in the woods. Well, it don’t matter, whatever people be needing in exchange for lodgings, I’m sure I can be doing.”
“Well, if’n you don’t mind spending a few nights at my homestead, there’s use for at least one more pair of hands around the farm, help me get everything all set for winter. I can probably see my way to giving you a little bit of gold for your trouble too.”
Ara paused and shifted his pack further up his shoulders. “Sure, I be thinking I can do that for ya, no problem.”
Settled in the back of a cart, riding with Derenn, he’d noticed the people of Riverbend had seemed to be walking with some haste, glancing around them. Very few were stopping to talk. What they had with them, they held close, hugged to their chests. Town folk had always seem to be strange to Ara, though, and he’d soon given up thinking about it. He wasn’t in Riverbend often enough to know if it was unusual or not.
During the ride Derenn had explained to Ara about stuff happening in the town. Something involving lizards setting and enforcing rules, and being paid for it? None of it had made that much sense to him. How could lizards be in charge of anything, let alone enforce rules? They’re so small you could probably step on them without a thought.
For a week on the farm, all had been fine. There had been animals to muck out, hay to stack in the barns, fresh bedding to lay down and the like, as the farm had started preparing for winter.
It was hard work, preparing the farm for winter, but also work that needed doing. Ara liked to help out wherever he could, and enjoyed working with his hands, there was something comforting about the repetition of movement, and it always gave him time to think. As was often the case, his thoughts went towards faith, and the edicts. He didn’t really understand a huge amount about the his faith, nor pretty much any others he’d read about, but they almost all encouraged helping other people.Ara had willingly set to work alongside Manaren, Derenn’s youngest child. Manaren had none of Derenn’s stoutness, taking more after his mother. One the second day, Manaren had joined in with Ara as he went through his morning exercises including going through a simple set of katas, sequences of moves based around his walking stick, designed to stretch out muscles and keep him limber.
He’d been there just over a week when things started to go strange. Manaren hadn’t been helping that day, and Ara had assumed he was working elsewhere on the farm, but when dinner time had come around, Manaren had still been nowhere to be seen.
“I be thinking I no be seeing your youngest today.. Mano.. Mana.. Manera? He okay?”
“Manaren? I dunno.. those Stormlizard boys from town, they came around early this morning and took him with them. Not a good group, them, let me tell you. Thinking they can go around and take what they want, hurt who they like just because they’re Skinks”
“You be sayin’ they took ‘im? That just ain’t right. I be seeing about that” Ara had hurriedly pushed away from the table, and grabbing his walking stick and cloak on the way to the door. In the background he’d heard the sound of a chair falling as Derenn had swiftly stood up, and called out but Ara hadn’t stopped. Maybe things would have been better if he had? As far as Ara was concerned, some things couldn’t be tolerated, and kidnapping was one of them. You don’t take things that aren’t yours. After all, as the holy books said “A bird in the hand is worth three gnomes and a half-elf.”
Hood up, walking stick in hand, he’d swiftly returned to Riverbend, keeping a careful watch ahead of his feet for the lizards Derenn had been talking about, but not seeing any. He’d had days to ponder the lizard problem in Riverbend, but still hadn’t made head nor tails of it.
On arriving in the town, all had been strangely still and quiet. He’d noticed that almost every town and village had at least one drunk person stumbling around at night. Although the monks at the temple he’d been raised in brewed and drank beer, he’d never really enjoyed the feeling of being drunk. It had always seemed strange to him that some people wanted to just drink and drink until they fell asleep, but as long as they didn’t hurt anyone else he didn’t see harm in it. Riverbend had seemed to be lacking them, however, and it hadn’t been obvious why. There hadn’t even been any signs of lights in any of the houses he’d passed either, though it had still been relatively early evening. Maybe people couldn’t get hold of candles?
Eventually as he’d walked along the streets, he’d seen what had seemed to be a torch lit up ahead and he’d gone towards it, calling out as he’d stepped in to the light it cast. “Evening!”
“What the hell?” The holder of the torch dropped it in his surprise, and the friends with him had swiftly drawn their swords half out of their scabbards. Ara sighed and dropped his hood. He’d forgotten that people seemed to have problems seeing him when he had his hood up.
“Sorry, sorry, I no be meaning to surprise you. I just be wondering where everyone is?”
The torch bearer had picked the torch back up again, but his companions had kept their swords drawn, points held sloppily, causing Ara to frown. Like many wood elves, he’d been trained to use swords from an early age, and his teachers would have given him extra chores at the temple if he’d shown such poor form. Whoever had trained them had done a poor job. Worse, the swords hadn’t been kept in a good state, nicks and notches that should have been dealt with marring their surface.
“Where everyone is? They’d better be in their beds if they know what’s good for them”
“In their beds? It still be early!”
“Yes, in their beds… it’s past curfew. Speaking of which, why aren’t you in bed?”
“Curfew? There’s a curfew ‘ere? I no be ‘earing about that. I just be looking for, umm… Mano.. Mana.. Manera I think it be?”The torch bearer’s companions had started to surround Ara, and that had made him slightly concerned and confused. There hadn’t been any reason for them to do that, and so he’d cautiously adjusted his grip on his walking stick.
“Manera? I don’t know a … oh wait, you mean Manaren. He’s off with the boss. Not that it’s any of your business. If you don’t go back to your home, now, we’ll have to give you a painful lesson.”
“I no be wanting that. I just be wanting Manaren. I not be understanding why you be making such a fuss about it. Don’t the good books say ‘You do not need the name of a river to cross it?’”
“Ummm… probably? Anyway, yes, I heard you the first time. You want Manaren. I told you, he’s seeing the boss. You won’t be seeing him tonight. So Go. Home. Now.”
“No, no, no, no, I no be doing that. I be needing to get Manaren.”
“Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.”
With that, the sword bearers had attacked.
With honed skills and instincts born out of decades of practice and training, Ara had dropped in to a defensive stance and easily brushed past the sloppy attack from the first swordsman, breaking their wrist with a swift retaliatory snap of the walking stick.“Stop! I no be…” He’d started to call out, but had been forced to stop as another sword was swung towards his head. Pivoting around his stick he’d avoided the sword strike, and taken another one down with a kick to the head.
However they’d learned to fight, they seemed entirely inept. Their movements were big, easy to read, and really easy for Ara avoid. It had also left them wide open for a counter hit. He’d soon disarmed them all easily, leaving most either unconscious, or nursing broken or badly bruised limbs.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I no be wanting to do that, but you be trying to hit me, and I can’t be letting you do that”
As Ara had approached him, the torchbearer had scrambled backwards, nursing an arm, whimpering as he got to his feet. “I don’t know who you are, but you’ll be sorry. Boss ain’t gonna like this, Boss ain’t gonna like this one bit. I’m gonna go tell him about you, you’ll be sorry.”
He’d taken off at a sprint before Ara could say anything.
Ara had followed, wanting to at least improvise a sling for the torchbearer, but he failed to catch up before they had disappeared in to tavern.
He’d barely got one foot through the door of the inn, before he heard the torchbearer scream “That’s him, that’s the one. He’s the one who beat up the gang and broke my arm!”
The next fight had gone just about as well as the first fight. Big movements, easily avoided, all over and done with before he’d even taken a dozen breaths. The torchbearer had scrambled up the staircase, tears falling from his face. “Boss! Boss! Boss!”
The smell of blood and sweat had come to Ara as he’d opened the door to the back room, mixed with something else Ara didn’t recognise. Sitting behind a large desk ahead of him had sat a young man, methodically polishing a simple, functional looking sword.
“Hmmm. So you’d be the four armed evil drow with a magically duplicating quarterstaff that Ramiren was telling me about? The one that has beaten up all of my men?”Then off to one side, “Ramiren, you’re an idiot. That… thing… is a wood elf. That quarterstaff looks pretty basic to me, barely more than a tree branch.”
The young man had paused, looking Ara up and down with a faint look of disgust, before continuing, “Congratulations, elf, though I’m sure they were no challenge. It’s not like they actually know what to do with those swords, despite what they think. Good enough for scaring your typical farmer, or the feeble fools that live in this town”
Pacing forwards Ara had approached the edge of the desk. “Hi, I’m Ara Am Akiir, nice to meet you. I be ‘ere to get Manuel. You be taking ‘im, I be taking ‘im back”
“Oh look Ramiren, you’re in good company. It’s another idiot. Ara, my name is Shaornen, and I’m your worst nightmare.”
Ara paused, confused. “No, you don’t look like my worst nightmare. No wings, and your jaw ain’t big enough. I be pretty sure you ain’t a dragon”
“Okaaaaaaay. Anyway, you’re here for Manaren, I believe. Thing is, we didn’t take him. He came by choice. He’s one of us, a Stormlizard. Aren’t you, Manaren?”
Behind Shaornen, a door had opened and Manaren had stepped through.
“It’s true, Ara. I came by choice, just like I told my father.” Mararen had shuffled his feet, avoiding Ara’s gaze. “I’m tired of life on a farm. I saw a chance of making something more of myself and I took it. I joined the Stormlizards.”
“No, I be pretty sure your father be telling me you were taken by them, and I can’t be letting that happen. I be setting you free, by force if I have to”.
Shaornen had stood up slowly. “I don’t think you heard him. He’s here of his own choice. I can’t let you take him, so just turn around and go back to his father and remind him of the happy news that his son has abandoned him.”
“No, I be pretty sure his father said you took him. I can’t let you be doing that. Manaren, I be needing you to come with me.”
“Well, okay then elf. I guess we do this the hard way”
Ara had fallen back, dropping his walking stick, reeling as the desk that had been between him and Shaornen crashed into him, tossed by a quick kick by Shaornen.He’d barely got back to his feet before he found himself face to face with Shaornen, sword in hand, point held low. Unlike everyone else he’d fought today, Shaornen clearly knew what he was doing, and Ara knew he was going to regret not having kept hold of his stick.
Clearing his mind of thought, Ara had settled in to a defensive stance, feet planted, allowing his instincts to dictate his actions. The speed of the first attack from Shaornen had still taken him by surprise. It had been a quick slash across the body, and while he’d dodged and avoided the worst of the damage, the sword had still caught him across the shoulder. The cut had burned like fire, providing focus.
As the next blow had come, he dove for the ground, rolling under the blade and returning to his feet, walking stick in hand, coming face to face with Manaren making a clumsy attempt at a strike on him with a broom. Ara had parried and feeling like he’d had no choice, countered with a blow to the side of Manaren’s head, dropping him to the floor unconscious.
The fight with Shaornen had been fairly evenly balanced. With the fall of Manaren, Shaornen had moved in on the offensive, barely giving Ara a chance to do anything other than dodge or parry, as attack had followed attack in a smooth sequence.
The flaw, when he had spotted it, had taken him by surprise. With every third swing, as Shaornen had moved forwards with the blow, he tended to over-extend himself just a little. As the next sequence had started, Ara had counted the swings, one, two and then with the third, stepped to the side, grabbing the over-extended arm with his off-hand, pulling just enough to send Shaornen stumbling forwards. As Shaornen had stumbled forwards, Ara had followed through with a swift blow to the back of the head and spun, swinging his stick around and up into the jaw, meeting it on Shaornen’s way down.The force of the blow, along with the angle of the impact, had broken Shaornen’s neck, killing him before he’d even hit the ground.
“I be sorry, friend, I no be wanting to do that, but you don’t be leaving me any choice.”
Seeing the death of Shaornen, and Manaren unconscious on the floor, Ramiren had taken one look at Ara and fled, holding his broken arm close to him.
As he’d fled, Ramiren had shouted out “You’ll regret this Ara. When the Skinks find out about this, there will be consequences”. The reference to lizards had just confused Ara some more. There’s no way lizards would be any threat to anyone, and why would they care about any human dying?
Binding up the various cuts he’d received, he’d grabbed the unconscious Manaren, slung him over his shoulders and set off for the farm. He’d barely gone far before he’d run in to Derenn with his wagon.
“Ara? That you? Manaren!? What happened to him?!”
Ara carefully laid Manaren down in the “I be sorry, but they be taking him and confusing him. He be starting to think he chose to go, not that he was taken. He kind of left me no choice when he attacked me. I no be meaning to hurt him.”
“No, no, no. He did choose to go. I didn’t mean they kidnapped him.”
Staring in horror behind Ara, Derren had spotted the unconscious bodies of the swordsmen Ara had attacked earlier, letting out a groan. “Oh, Syf, no… what did you do?”
“I no be sure I understand. Taking is taking.” Realising he was talking about the people he’d dealt with earlier, “Oh that? I not be sure. I be talking to them about Miguel, an’ all of a sudden they be trying to hit me their swords. I tried not to hit ‘em too hard”
“Oh no, you idiot. The Skinks are going to find out. They’ll come out in force to deal with us. There will be no peace now for Riverbend.”
People had started to come out of the surrounding houses, drawn by the sound of shouting. Once they saw the unconscious bodies, more voices had joined in with Derenn, sounding terrified and scared, staring at Ara.
Confused, tired, bewildered how doing the right thing had seemingly been the wrong thing, Ara had hitched up his backpack, walking stick in hand, and fled, heading towards the nearest forest and the peace he always found there.