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Despite the devastation wrought after 196 years of battling trolls – killing two-thirds of the Commonwealth – the united army of Liraehne cleared the lands. The great Fanaal Emperor Tian’Tal pushed the trolls to the edge of the Frontier, making a stand at the outpost of Tarn, but it was the leadership of Queen Kalynn Wytestarr who led the final victory within the Crax. Of those who went to war, many would never return home, some not because death claimed them but because their wounds made travel impossible, and the outpost swelled into a city.

As Tarn grew, with farmers and families restoring a sense of normal after so much loss, the great heroes and leaders began to pass into legend and new powers began to arise to fill the voids left behind. 

This is the story of one of them.

Author Chuck Sperati Writing Distracted Logo
Onvical
Ambyr Valry
Cariss Mesila
Torgin

Part Six: Protectors

“I don’t like it,” Rowan muttered, rubbing a thumb through his thick beard. The dark hair of it curled like the hair on his head, mostly hiding the old burn scars.

“Which part,” Delwin asked, bringing the clever down with a chunk that neatly split the ribs, “the new tithings or that she ain’t replacing Kantin.”

“All of that, but mostly this new attitude to visitors. Taking their weapons and making em buy permits to get em back just ain’t right. This new Tarn that Mayor Guil keeps talking about is just—”

“Unwelcoming,” the butcher finished.

“Well, yeah.”

Bringing the clever down with another rib splitting chunk, Delwin shrugged. “It’s not how my Ma wanted things done, but when she stood against the Hero of Tarn, she got thrown out.”

“Hero,” the other man snorted, a hand going up to the side of his face. “You know there’s talk again about making him a statue.”

“My Ma’s surprised Guil ain’t done it yet.”

“How is your Ma?”

“Naris gave her something for the pain. She was up and about this morning.”

“Any idea what spooked that heifer to kick her like that?”

Shaking his head, Delwin stacked the ribs in a clay pot and placed the lid on top. “She didn’t see anything. Was just an accident.”

“Yeah.” Dropping coins on the table, he picked up the pot and turned for the door. “Except ain’t it funny how that accident happened after she went to the council about them stopping that caravan before it got to town.”

Taking a deep breath, the butcher began to scrape the remaining pieces of bone and meat into a bucket. “You’re just looking to blame him because of what happened at old Kasilla’s when we was kids.”

“So you’re okay with the four of them strutten around acting like they’re tougher than everyone else.”

“They are tougher than everyone else. And if you and Faelan don’t let it be, you’re going to end up disappeared like Jodo.”

*              *              *

“Cariss, perhaps you should let him up,” the Fanaal elfen offered. Sitting at a table in the Cracked Kettle, trying not to touch anything, Ambyr Valry did her best to ignore the angry faces around them. While her golden flesh, violet eyes, and streaked silver hair were not unknown among the people of Tarn, neither were they necessarily embraced. Among her people, the race of men were endured, as one would a stubborn but effective plow beast, and they lacked the proper appreciation for that tolerance.

The bartender pinned beneath her companion’s chair did nothing to improve their attitude.

Putting a mug of ale to her lips, Cariss Mesila stared at her companion but did not reply. As she began to drink, her chair jerked upward, causing some of the golden liquid to spill out onto the table. Slamming a fist down, knocking over some of the ten mugs spread across it, she turned a glare at the man struggling to breathe beneath her weight.

“You think it’s funny to spill my drink?” Her quiet tone set those around them on edge.

Looking past the legs of the chair to the powerful woman seated atop it, Ninian shook his head – he couldn’t draw enough breath to speak. Worse, the strap of his apron dug painfully into the back of his neck, and no subtle movement would release that tension. Shifting his weight had turned that sting into an intense burn, causing him to push up against the chair.

“Asking you to pay for what you’re drinking is not unreasonable,” Ambyr offered.

“He didn’t ask, he demanded,” she replied, still staring down. Turning the mug, Cariss poured the remaining contents onto his face.

Raising her head to gaze at the ceiling, the elfen waited for the bartender under the chair to stop gasping. “You know this is going to make him angry.”

“I don’t care if this glorified servant gets angry,” she replied, grinning down at the purpling face.

“I wasn’t talking about him.”

Sensing movement behind her, Cariss slid out of the chair, drawing her arming sword. The mountain of muscle and hair standing behind frowned down at the woman. “Why?” Torgin asked in a deep baritone that rumbled around the room. Picking up the chair, he allowed the sputtering man to crawl away.

Raising her eyebrows, Ambyr nodded towards the Braidon. “Him.”

“Thanks,” she muttered and glanced up to meet the fiery orange glare. “This is my business. That means it’s none of yours.”

“No, but it is my business,” Onvical stated, stepping out from behind the barbarian. “We may be on the edge of Tarn, but things like this still hurt our reputation. Something we don’t need with Iola Vani continually running to the council.”

Thinking about the stone perfectly skipped off the heifer’s hide, Ambyr looked away with a grin.

“And it’s mean,” Torgin bellowed, all eyes in the Kettle briefly turning towards him. Growing up in the windy highlands, he struggled with the volume of his voice, especially when inside.

Rubbing at his forehead, Onvical took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Pay him triple what you owe.”

“Triple!”

Leaning towards the woman, he whispered. “I don’t require you to be breathing to utilize your services. It is a mere preference.”

Thinking about the rotting Rylin roving around the hidden cellar beneath his cottage caused the hair at the back of her neck to stand on end. Sheathing her trembling blade, Cariss slowly reached into the pouch that held her coins. A conversation with Ambyr about changing employers had been long overdue and would be happening very soon.

With the payment made, Torgin led them outside.

Situated atop a small hill overlooking the north fields of Tarn, a short set of stairs and gently sloped path led away from the Cracked Kettle. Many a drunkard managed the stairs only to roll down the hard-packed dirt. The Braiden’s long strides took him to the trade road at the hill’s base well ahead of his companions.

“Do you know why he’s left his study?” Cariss whispered to the elfen while nodding at Onvical.

Ambyr nodded her head to the left, the equivalent of a human shrug.

“Someone new has arrived in our town.”

Jumping at the sound of his voice in her ear, Cariss stepped away and stopped. Ambyr continued walking with Onvical next to her, an amused grin on her elfen features. Balling her hands into fists and rolling her shoulders back, Cariss felt a satisfying pop and then followed. “I thought we checked over everyone on that caravan before collecting their tithing?”

Arriving at Torgin’s side, the dark-robed Magis turned. “This one didn’t arrive on the caravan. He carries something of interest, and I want to know where he came upon it.”

“By interesting, do you mean valuable,” the elfen asked, wide eyes sparkling.

“Let us go find out,” Onvical replied, one corner of his mouth turning up in a cockeyed grin.

Hating the way Ambyr looked at him, Cariss followed.

“I don’t like it,” Rowan muttered, rubbing a thumb through his thick beard. The dark hair of it curled like the hair on his head, mostly hiding the old burn scars.

“Which part,” Delwin asked, bringing the clever down with a chunk that neatly split the ribs, “the new tithings or that she ain’t replacing Kantin.”

“All of that, but mostly this new attitude to visitors. Taking their weapons and making em buy permits to get em back just ain’t right. This new Tarn that Mayor Guil keeps talking about is just—”

“Unwelcoming,” the butcher finished.

“Well, yeah.”

Bringing the clever down with another rib splitting chunk, Delwin shrugged. “It’s not how my Ma wanted things done, but when she stood against the Hero of Tarn, she got thrown out.”

“Hero,” the other man snorted, a hand going up to the side of his face. “You know there’s talk again about making him a statue.”

“My Ma’s surprised Guil ain’t done it yet.”

“How is your Ma?”

“Naris gave her something for the pain. She was up and about this morning.”

“Any idea what spooked that heifer to kick her like that?”

Shaking his head, Delwin stacked the ribs in a clay pot and placed the lid on top. “She didn’t see anything. Was just an accident.”

“Yeah.” Dropping coins on the table, he picked up the pot and turned for the door. “Except ain’t it funny how that accident happened after she went to the council about them stopping that caravan before it got to town.”

Taking a deep breath, the butcher began to scrape the remaining pieces of bone and meat into a bucket. “You’re just looking to blame him because of what happened at old Kasilla’s when we was kids.”

“So you’re okay with the four of them strutten around acting like they’re tougher than everyone else.”

“They are tougher than everyone else. And if you and Faelan don’t let it be, you’re going to end up disappeared like Jodo.”

*              *              *

“Cariss, perhaps you should let him up,” the Fanaal elfen offered. Sitting at a table in the Cracked Kettle, trying not to touch anything, Ambyr Valry did her best to ignore the angry faces around them. While her golden flesh, violet eyes, and streaked silver hair were not unknown among the people of Tarn, neither were they necessarily embraced. Among her people, the race of men were endured, as one would a stubborn but effective plow beast, and they lacked the proper appreciation for that tolerance.

The bartender pinned beneath her companion’s chair did nothing to improve the situation.

Putting a mug of ale to her lips, Cariss Mesila stared at her companion but did not reply. As she began to drink, her chair jerked upward, causing some of the golden liquid to spill out onto the table. Slamming a fist down, knocking over some of the ten mugs spread across it, she turned a glare at the man pinned beneath her chair.

“You think it’s funny to spill my drink?” Her quiet tone set those around them on edge.

Struggling to breathe with the weight of the powerful woman on his chest, Ninian shook his head. The apron strap continued to dig into the back of his neck, and no subtle movement would release that tension. The sting of it had turned to an intense burn, causing him to push up against the chair.

“Asking you to pay for what you’re drinking is not unreasonable,” Ambyr offered.

“He didn’t ask, he demanded,” she replied, still staring down. Turning the mug, Cariss poured the remaining contents onto his face.

Raising her head to gaze at the ceiling, the elfen waited for the bartender under the chair to stop gasping. “You know this is going to make him angry.”

“I don’t care if this glorified servant gets angry,” she replied, grinning down at the purpling face of the bartender.

“I wasn’t talking about him.”

Sensing movement behind her, Cariss slid out of the chair, drawing her arming sword. The mountain of muscle and hair standing behind frowned down at the woman. “Why?” Torgin asked in a deep baritone that rumbled around the room. Picking up the chair, he allowed the sputtering man to crawl away.

Raising her eyebrows, Ambyr nodded towards the Braidon. “Him.”

“Thanks,” she muttered and glanced up to meet the fiery orange glare. “This is my business. That means it’s none of yours.”

“No, but it is my business,” Onvical stated, stepping out from behind the barbarian. “We may be on the edge of Tarn, but things like this still hurt our reputation. Something we don’t need with Iola Vani continually running to the council.”

Thinking about the stone perfectly skipped off the heifer’s hide, Ambyr looked away with a grin.

“And it’s mean,” Torgin bellowed, all eyes in the Kettle briefly turning towards him. Growing up in the windy highlands, he struggled with the volume of his voice, especially when inside.

Rubbing at his forehead, Onvical took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Pay him triple what you owe.”

“Triple!”

Leaning towards the woman, he whispered. “I don’t require you to be breathing to utilize your services. It is a mere preference.”

Thinking about the rotting Rylin roving around the hidden cellar beneath his cottage caused the hair at the back of her neck to stand on end. Sheathing her trembling blade, Cariss slowly reached into the pouch that held her coins. A conversation with Ambyr about changing employers had been long overdue but would be happening very soon.

With the payment made, Torgin led them outside.

Situated atop a small hill overlooking the north fields of Tarn, a short set of stairs and gently sloped path led away from the Cracked Kettle. Many a drunkard managed the stairs only to roll down the hard-packed dirt. The Braiden’s long strides took him to the trade road at the hill’s base well ahead of his companions.

“Do you know why he’s left his study?” Cariss whispered to the elfen while nodding at Onvical.

Ambyr nodded her head to the left, the equivalent of a human shrug.

“Someone new has arrived in our town.”

Jumping at the sound of his voice in her ear, Cariss stepped away and stopped. Ambyr continued walking with Onvical next to her, an amused grin on her elfen features. Balling her hands into fists and rolling her shoulders back, Cariss felt a satisfying pop and then followed. “I thought we checked over everyone on that caravan before collecting their tithing?”

Arriving at Torgin’s side, the dark-robed Magis turned. “This one didn’t arrive on the caravan. He carries something of interest, and I want to know where he came upon it.”

“By interesting, do you mean valuable,” the elfen asked, wide eyes sparkling.

“Let us go find out,” Onvical replied, one corner of his mouth turning up in a cockeyed grin.

Hating the way Ambyr looked at him, Cariss followed.

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