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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
Elis Rhees
Elis Rhees

Part Seven: The Stranger

“What happened to your face?”

With no desire to answer that question again, Elis Rhees gripped the edges of the barrel and stared into his rippled reflection. The man staring back seemed to have aged poorly. Deep lines were carved between and around his eyes, with unkempt black hair and a thickly overgrown beard over tawny, bruised flesh. Stitches ran in a line next to the left eye and back and forth across the bridge of the nose, itching badly. Recognizing elements of that man – notably the shape of the nose and piercing glare – he felt as if he were looking through a mask that more resembled his father than himself.

“Ain’t you gonna answer him?”

Taking a deep breath, doing his best to ignore the smell, Elis glanced over at the man standing in front of the stable, noting the shovel full of dung in his hands. “No.”

“Rude,” the first one noted. Elis hadn’t bothered learning their names. Though brawny and almost a head taller than him, he suspected that he could get better conversation from the horses than the two who cleaned their stalls.

“He is rude,” the other noted, stepping forward with his shovel full of dung.

Pushing off the barrel to stand upright, he felt an unfamiliar ache in his back from hanging and cleaning tack all morning. Allowing his arms to hang at his sides, Elis shifted his left foot out and a little behind to give himself a stronger stance. The one who asked the question moved to his right as the other stepped closer, waving that shovel full of dung back and forth.

“You take a job I earned and put this shovel back in my hands. And then won’t answer a simple question. How are we supposed to take that?” The angry sneer showed a missing tooth.

“Yeah, how we supposed to take that?” the other repeated.

Considering his situation, the right thing would be for him to politely back down – except that he’d never backed down from anything in his life. Not as a soldier in the Army of Liraehne battling trolls, a ranger tracking bandits, or a treasure hunter poking through a magician’s lair. That last might be the reason he woke in the nearby woods with his bare backside in the grass and nothing on him but the odd pendant he felt compelled to keep close, though he couldn’t be sure. What he did know is that he owed a debt to the owner of these stables. The dwarv, a Rylin named Kasilla, had been kind enough to offer him clothing, food, and a way to work off that debt. Pummeling a couple of his ignorant stable hands would not be the best way to show appreciation.

The shovel full of dung hovered closer.

“Make him eat it, Hern?”

As the one with the shovel tensed, his wrists beginning to rotate to dump the dung on his feet, Elis reached out and took the handle. Twisting in the opposite direction and pulling, he saw Hern’s wrist bend awkwardly, causing his grip to fall away. In that same moment, Elis moved one hand up the haft while swiveling the shovel around, jerking it to a stop and causing the dung to fly into the other’s face. Pivoting, he brought the end of the handle around, thrusting it into the first man’s stomach – causing a woof of air to burst from his open mouth.

Brown smears streaking his face, Hern shouted something incoherent and charged.

A split-second decision brought the shovel up and into the side of the man’s head. Watching the already limp form drop heavily to the ground, Elis regretted not dropping the tool before striking him, but he’d wielded a sword for too many years not to follow his instincts.

With one down and the other on his knees gasping for air, Elis planted the shovel into the stable floor. Turning to face the person at the stable door, he widened his stance and drew one fist back.

Kasilla stared up at him, hands clasped at the small of his back.

Blowing out a breath of air, arms dropping to his sides, Elis stood up straight.

“Step outside,” the Rylin stated.

*              *              *

Standing outside the market, watching the people of Tarn nudge one another as they moved between stalls, Elis realized that his left hand held the odd pendant that hung around his neck. Willfully releasing it, he again told himself that he should just throw the damn thing away, but each time he tried, the compulsion to hold it came stronger.

“It looks crowded in there, but it’s not that bad.”

Recognizing the melodic Fanaal tone, if not the voice, he glanced down at the golden faced elfen. She seemed as out of place among the townsfolk as he felt. Partially hidden by her cloak, she wore the stiff leather cuirass of a soldier, but with the lack of heraldry that marked her as a mercenary. From experience, he knew better than to trust Fanaal or mercenaries.

“Thanks.”

Stepping away from her, Elis started into the market, his right hand automatically going to the purse on his hip filled with Kasilla’s coin. Of the many ways he imagined the conversation going with the Rylin after pummeling two of his stablehands, none involved being promoted to Stable Marshal and sent to purchase armaments. While this would put him deeper into debt, there were far worse people whom he could owe.

After pausing at three tables with badly nicked and rusted blades, Elis found himself uncomfortably immersed in a sea of moving bodies with no clear direction.

“Not that it’s any of my business,” that same melodic Fanaal tone from earlier sang at him, “but you’re in the wrong place to find a quality blade.”

Taking a deep breath, he turned to find the elfen looking up at him.

This time her violet eyes locked on his as her mouth spread in a grin. “I’m Ambyr.”

“Elis.”

“Come on, Elis, I’ll take you over to Melle. Her father was a bladesmith in the Army of Liraehne. They have some good quality swords from that era, and her new work is impressive, for a dwarv.”

Without awaiting a response, she moved away, deftly maneuvering through the crowd.

Although unable to rid himself of the pendant, he certainly knew better than to follow her. A nudge from behind and another on the left as people passed stoked an urge to lash out. He could not expect that to work out as well here as it had in the stables.

Realizing again that his left hand had gone to the pendant, Elis blew out another breath and followed the elfen.

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