Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Ramparts of Tharrenton Deep, Chapter Three

A couple of weeks ago, I told how most of my 'gaming' time from the past year or more has actually been devoted to writing.  I've always wanted to be a novelist and decided it was time to make it a reality.

My intention is to self-publish my novel (The Ramparts of Tharrenton Deep), and I'm running a Kickstarter campaign to fund that process.  The campaign is going fairly well; I'm currently at 57% of my funding goal of $2266 with 17 more days to go.

To try to draw attention to my project, I'm posting chapters of the first novel here at CartoCacography.  Chapter One is hereChapter Two is here.  Chapter Three is below.

As with any crowdfunding campaign, it will not be successful unless I can find backers who are interested in my writing and interested in the project.  I purposefully wrote the story to match the general aesthetic that I like in my gaming--a decidedly old school vibe where normal people are attempting abnormal things, where success is not guaranteed, and where death is a very real possibility.  I truly believe that anyone who frequents this corner of the blogosphere would enjoy the story.  Please go read the previous chapters; please go check out the Kickstarter campaign; and please help out if you have a spare buck (or pound or euro) or two.  Thanks!

Without further ado, Chapter Three:

The Brothers: Kolredd and Gaenid
            Gaenid stood at the entrance to a small stone crypt on the hill over the House of Karred.  The morning chores were done for the day, and the late morning sun shone on his back.  The crypt’s eave came barely to his shoulder, although he knew that the four steps just inside led downward so that he’d be able to stand upright.  He hadn’t entered since he was but eight or nine years old, when his grandfather had been laid to rest within its dim confines.  It was the stories that his grandfather used to tell him that brought him to the crypt this day, tales of mighty warriors who protected New Tharrenton from the creatures who called the forests home.
            His grandfather had spoken of it many times, so much so that Gaenid knew the stories were true.  Despite his grandfather and uncles now dead and his own older brothers denying that it existed, he was sure that he would find it in the crypt.
            He said a short prayer for forgiveness, made the sign, and withdrew the iron key from his pocket.  He slid it into the lock and twisted hard on the cold metal block.  Surprisingly, it turned easily, and the lock fell open in his hand.  He pulled it from the door, quickly ducked through the entrance, and, in his haste, forgot how steep the steps were and fell to the stone floor.  Cursing loudly, he pulled himself to his feet and was struck by the dank odor of long-ago death.
            He walked the five paces that took him to his grandfather’s resting place, actually a hole in the stone wall that was two feet wide, a foot high, and six feet deep.  The top of the deads-helm was plainly visible in the dim light.  Just below his grandfather was a smaller hole; only a quarter of the size and half as deep, the deathhold contained those items sacred to the deceased.
            Gaenid moved to his left, gazed from floor to ceiling, and then left again, tracing backward through generations of family patriarchs.  Finally, he came to the ancestor he suspected.  Again saying a short prayer for forgiveness, he reached into the deathhold and felt around with his hand.  Some ancient items of clothing disintegrated under his touch.  He continued to grope around and then felt it.  Leather, dried and cracked, wrapped round a long and narrow object.  His hand tightened around the object and the leather cracked further.  It was heavy, as he expected it to be, but he quickly pulled it from the deathhold.  He had found it!
            In his hand, in a leather scabbard that fell to pieces even as he gazed upon it, rested a sword.  Buthercurr was wielded by his grandfather six generations previous and by the men of three generations previous to him.
            The stories say that Buthercurr is enchanted—could it be true?  Is there magic still in the world, or has it left with the passing of the dwarves, the elves, and the dragons?  Gaenid didn’t know the answer to these questions—he had asked them many times over the course of his short life.
            Bringing the blade close to his face, he examined its edge, and then pulled his thumb across it.  Keen, even after all of those years.  His eyes slid up and down its length—no nicks or dents to be seen.  And then he felt it—Buthercurr seemed to vibrate in his hand.  A slight tingling—it was as if he had struck the sword against a stone wall.  Was he imagining it?  He swung the sword once, as far as could be done in the small confines of the crypt.  It felt to Gaenid that the sword pulled his arm through the motion rather than him directing it.
            He could feel the excitement in the pit of his stomach.  The sword would be accompanying him on the journey.

            Karred gazed at him with a face that was stern, but with eyes that belied other feelings.  “You have been a proper third son.  You have served your duty to me, to your older brother, to the land.  You should be thinking of a wife and a homestead of your own soon.  Instead, you think of this.”
            Kolredd had no answer.  He merely returned his father’s gaze with similarly calm eyes.
            The older man stood just beyond the low stone fence that marked the edge of his property.  They had met there, where the son knew the father would be returning from his day.  Karred leaned his walking stick against the stone wall and turned to walk along it.  Kolredd followed.
            “I should have seen this coming,” Karred said.  “Long after tales of adventure faded for my eldest, you continued to ask to hear them.  Perhaps I fed your desires—those tales interested me when I was a lad.  Telling you the stories was a way for me to remember when my father told me the same.”
            Kolredd nodded absently.  He always knew that his father enjoyed their times by the fire, whether the great hearth of his home or under the starry sky.
            “Do you know that our ancestors once believed that New Tharrenton would grow to be as mighty and prosperous as Tharrenton itself?  When the City Guarded by Stone fell and the survivors fled, many of them came to settle in the lands around the village.”
            Though one of the oldest men in and around New Tharrenton, Karred was still strong and straight of back.  Kolredd often hoped that he might be half as strong when he reached his father’s age.  And yet, walking across the fence from him, the older man seemed somehow smaller than usual.
            “So many of the old homesteads have been abandoned,” Karred continued.  “The old families have faded.  Fields overgrown; homes homes no longer.  Even as our family has grown, most of the others have shrunk or died.  I remember, before I married, when Marketday might see five hundred faces in the village—when it was still a village!”
            Kolredd could not imagine such a thing.  Five hundred faces!  He had never seen half that in one place.
            “And they said, when I was your age, that New Tharrenton had been growing smaller for years.”
            They walked in silence for some minutes.  Karred occasionally bent down to look over the stones of the fence.  He tugged at them, testing the wall’s strength.
            “Your journey, perhaps it will shrink the village even more,” said the old man.  “Or perhaps the village will grow after your success?  Who can say?  I cannot, and I’ve no right to try.  I’ve toiled the land, raised a family, built a homestead to rival any that New Tharrenton has seen.  But I haven’t left this place.  Will you leaving help kill the village or heal it?”
            “I’m not leaving the village for its sake,” Kolredd responded.  “I’m leaving for mine.  I’m leaving so that when I grow to be your age, I can say that I did.  Perhaps I’ll settle here, after my fortune is made.”
            “A fortune?”
            “Fortune—yes!  A sack of crowns and a mighty sigil to my name!  Then I will raise a family and build a homestead—to rival even your own.”
            The father laughed at his son’s confidence.  The smile was warm and affectionate and easily returned by the son.  Karred’s smile lingered on his face for many moments, and he occasionally chuckled to himself.  They walked further in silence, until the smile eventually faded.
            “Those tales by the fire, most were not truths but lies told by travelling bards.  Heroes, mages, maidens, creatures stronger than ten men?  Mmm.”  The old man paused and looked at his son.  “Evil nobles?  There is enough evil in each of us—the world could not bear truly evil men.  Quests for shining treasure?  No.”
            “There is treasure to be found; there are piles of gold crown.”
            “I hope for my sake that you are right.  But for now, silence.  Back to the hearth where we will feast, and you can tell your sister what it is you plan.”

            The great hearth of the commonroom was bright with the light of three cooking fires blazing.  Kaise, Karred’s only daughter and youngest child, sat next to a large cauldron at the center of the hearth, stirring its contents with a great spoon.  Gaenid had just entered to find his three older brothers sitting at the High Table with Karred.  Amathere, the oldest, and Ongrinn, the second, sat across from Kolredd with grave expressions on their faces.
            “The Pit?” asked Amathere.
            Kolredd nodded, already tired of the conversation.
            “When will you leave?”  The question barely hid the contempt in Ongrinn’s voice.
            Gaenid paused in the doorway, not wanting to be drawn into a debate about their plans.  He looked to his sister, obviously interested in what the men were discussing.  The aroma wafting from her cauldron was the only reason he did not turn and leave immediately.
            “Your idea?”
            Gaenid looked back to the table to see that Amathere’s question was directed at him.  He didn’t feel it necessary to answer.
            Amathere and Ongrinn were a year apart.  And then seven years later, Kolredd had been born, Gaenid a year later, and finally Kaise two years after that.  The two eldest often took it upon themselves to tell the three youngest how and why they were wrong.  Their reaction was expected and boring because of it.
            Gaenid wanted so much to announce to the room that he had Buthercurr and that the sword would ensure that he and Kolredd would return safely.  He knew without a doubt what the reaction from his brothers would be.  He was unsure of Karred’s reaction, and it was for this that he held his tongue.
            “We’ve spoken of it often,” Kolredd answered.  Gaenid was more enthusiastic for the journey than he was, but, as had been the case for as long as he could remember, Kolredd felt the need to band together with his younger brother in defense against the older.  He wasn’t sure if Gaenid appreciated it or not; he never thought to care.
            “’We’ve’?” Ongrinn asked.  “Your band?  Terga, Felrath, and the others?”
            Kolredd nodded in response.
            “What of the House?” demanded Amathere.
            “The House of Erretharbin is strong,” said Karred, speaking for the first time since Gaenid entered the room.
            “But the House is only as strong as the sons of the Lord,” said Ongrinn.
            “And I, as Lord of this House,” began Karred, “have been blessed with four sons, two adult and two to become so.”  He looked evenly at each of his sons with approval and respect for each of them, and then he stopped and gazed lovingly over his shoulder at Kaise, diligently working the cauldron.  “And a beautiful daughter besides.  The House is strong—stronger than I could have hoped for when I was given the badge.  No other Houselord around New Tharrenton possesses a like bounty.”
            “We only want to grow that bounty—”
            Karred interrupted his oldest son.  “You have, and will continue.  But Kolredd and Gaenid have chosen a different path.”
            “But their duty—”
            Karred interrupted again, anger rising in his voice.  “The duty of the Third Son or Fourth Son is not the same as that of the First, or the Second.  They have done their duty.”
            “So you will let them and their—playmates,” Ongrinn almost spat the word, “journey to the Pit—”
            “Second!”  Karred’s sharp use of the formal title caught his son.  Ongrinn abruptly shut his mouth.  “Permission was asked and permission granted.”
            Amathere turned to face his father directly.  “What of Adojan?  What of the Party of Ten?  Have you told Kolredd, Gaenid, about them?”
            The name Adojan caught both of the younger men by surprise.  They had not known the man, but they did know some of his relatives.  What they both knew is that he had left New Tharrenton around the time that they had been born.  It was not uncommon for men to leave the village, so they had never given him a second thought.  They both looked to Karred.
            But it wasn’t.  At least, not for Gaenid.  “What of Adojan?”
            Karred ignored him and stood up.
            “Panna?” Kaise asked.
            The Houselord stepped from the table and moved toward the doorway that led to his chambers.  Halfway across the room, he stopped.
            “Panna?” Kaise repeated.   She stood from the cauldron, ready to abandon it.
            Karred turned toward his children, but did not raise his eyes to them.  “Adojan was one of Riorley’s folk, of House Gulhobar.  Twenty-two years ago, at the height of summer, he led a band of ten New Tharrenton men to the Pit.”
            “What became of him?” asked Kolredd.
            Their father took a deep breath; it was obviously difficult for him to answer the question.  “They left on a Marketday.  The village held a kermis for them.  It hadn’t been attempted in years.  There was still, among some in the village, the old desire to return to the city, to take back what had belonged to our ancestors.”  He quieted as he spoke, reliving a memory that he had not come to him in many years.  “Songs were sung; flowers were thrown.”  He finally looked up at them.
            “Adojan,” said Gaenid.  “What happened?”
            Karred glanced at his youngest son, his face calm with the memory, and then he grimaced.  Striding back to stand before his eldest, he struck Amathere with his open hand.  Not expecting the blow, Amathere fell to the ground beside the High Table.
            “What was your purpose in mentioning it?” Karred raged.  “The First, and even now a fool!”  His sudden rage surprised everyone in the room, especially his battered son.  He turned back the way he had come and left the commonroom.
            Ongrinn knelt to help Amathere to his feet, but the eldest violently shrugged him off.  Amathere glared at his siblings and then left the room through another exit, growling low in his throat as he departed.
            “Ongrinn?” asked Kaise.  “What was that…?”
            The Second stood, puzzled, and then realization struck him.
            “I think Amathere hoped to remind father of Adojan, to convince you to stay.”
            “Why then his anger?” asked Kolredd.
            “Because Adojan’s story may not be the lesson that Amathere hoped.”
            “Chike, Ongrinn,” said Gaenid.  “What happened to Adojan?”
            “I’m not exactly sure,” Ongrinn answered.  “I don’t think that anyone knows.  He never returned, but one of his party—Billeg was his name.  Billeg was found near Center Rock.  He said that they were all killed, every man, except himself.  They ventured into the Pit, but only he returned to the village.”
            Gaenid’s earlier enthusiasm drained from his face.  “I’ve not heard of Billeg,” he said.  “Does he still live?”
            “No,” answered Ongrinn.  “He died when you were young.”
            Kolredd pondered the story for a moment.  “What of that story…  Why was Karred so angry?”
            Ongrinn looked at his younger brother, reluctant to speak.
            “Father was angry, because, although they all died, Billeg returned with something that he had taken from the Pit.  He had with him a pouch full of Tharreni crowns.”

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