Prologue Part 1
Petr Mortimus quickly fell to his knees. Dry dirt was undoubtedly much more effective--experience was quick to teach him that! Scrambling his blackened fingers across the earth, scavenging what little clay he might steal, he was quick to spot his wife run for the nearby well. "Mauira!" he called to her, "The water does little to help, reach for a bucket and fill it from the open potato trenches, the clay should be softened and fairly loose! Hurry, and bring the children for help! I'll do all I can till you get back!" He was getting far too old for all this rushing around.
Somewhere in between the sounds of his digging came the 'moos' of cattle from the barn. They were frantic and wild as if they were in distress or uneasy. Mortimus knew why. "I'm coming, I'm coming!" he would yell to them, as if half believing it to be reassuring for his livestock. The bucket was now only half full of dirt but it would have to do. "Oohh!" he gasped. The sudden return to his feet was not expected by his back and it gave way in an awkward jerk. Nevertheless he had a job to do. "I'm coming!" he repeated to himself. It filled him with little confidence.
As he came around the smaller turf shed the noises of his few remaining cattle grew louder and he knew he just might make it to the barn in time. It was only around the next bend or two, but for his stubborn back and his crocked leg he would have made it there in plenty of time with little worry. At least a younger man would have. Then he saw it, the barn, and his heart sank to see it burning oh so violently in the night sky back drop. "Lordy!" he gasped and unknowingly dropped his mere bucket of clay. When last he checked from the bedroom window, the flames were small and had yet to reach the tatch upon the ceiling rafters. That was ten minutes ago now. He figured he had time, much more time, but the fire spread much quicker then any could have predicted. Mauira and their three children arrived shortly after with their worthless buckets of dirt, by which time the sounds of the cows had long since died.
This wasn't the first of Petr Mortimus's grave misfortunes since his arrival to Coealcha Farm, and in the day that followed the fire he assured himself that more bad things were to follow. Mortimus himself was relatively new to the area. It had only been a few months now since he came from the south and settled with his family on the borders of the Ashindir Wood. They were town folk through and through and took many weeks to adjust to the simple rural life that they were not at all accustomed with. Milking cows, harvesting crops, and waking up to an isolated forest of trees would quickly have to grow on them if they were to make do living away from the bustling town of Cirgon for once. Cirgon, the unofficial capital of Molinoir as most now recognised it, was the biggest, busiest and therefore most celebrated town in all of the Greenlands, and many questioned Mortimus sudden desire to purchase a remote farm, isolated from all civilisation on the borders of the Ashindir Wood, when chance came during a frequent auction. Mad they called him. Mortimus was a much-recognised face in Cirgon. His father before his death was a renowned artist of Molinoir; thus his family and eventually his son would come to have money very few men in Cirgon could ever dream of possessing. Yet he traded it all, sick of his hectic Cirgon lifestyle for his children, and moved everything to the wilderness of Coealcha Farms. Strange it was deemed, though Mortimus could never hide his excitement of his much-talked about dealings. Before his time in Cirgon, he had come from a nearby rural background and the thought of returning to the lifestyle of his youth more then appealed to him. The thought of moving to a smelly farm appealed to little others, especially a farm that had until recently been owned and operated by the Dervions.
The Dervions. Mortimus youngest son Joeb once asked his old and wise father "what is a King?" His father laughed. It was bedtime and his five-year-old son had far too many questions to be asking at his age. Mortimus turned to him, smiling, telling him "A King is a man who lives in the tallest building. A King is a man who lives in the biggest town, who looks down over all the people, and owns all the land around him!" If that were to be true, then the Dervion's were the kings of Molinoir. They lived in the tallest of buildings, a great hall of ridiculous size, adorned to stand out with its golden spire upon its peek. They lived in Cirgon, the biggest of all towns in Molinoir, and looked down over all the people beneath them with an iron fist rather then the royal judgement of a King. Yet they were no monarchs. They were criminals in power, power achieved through petty fear and intimidation, as had been the case for many years in Molinoir. As long as anyone remembered, the Dervions were around--since the first days of Molinoir some said--and always would be it seemed. They were among the largest of families known throughout the Greenlands, with many offshoots of relatives in all parts north and south of Molinoir, and most if not all reported to the great hall in Cirgon at all times. If a King owned all the lands around him, then the Dervion's were definitely kings.
So naturally some considered it a bad omen to hear of someone taking the reins at a recently-put-up-for-auction piece of Dervion property. It was sheer madness; the fact alone that the Dervion's were so hated would surely put an ill vibe to the place. But Mortimus was adamant in his decision, and proud. Though it didn't take long for thebad luck associated with Coealcha Farms to show itself. The Mortimus family were there a totally of three months when Peter emerged one morning to milk his cattle, only to find all had been slaughtered during the night--save three. He couldn't believe his eyes. It appeared the work of no wild animal either. Every single one of his slain cows had been cut down and hacked as they lay sleeping in the barn, and why three were purposely left behind remained a mystery. It was clear some sick person had been malevolent enough to take the time do such an awful act, though there wasn't another village or house for miles and very few knew or were aware of where exactly Coealcha Farms actually dwelt. He was taken aback by it all, but he refused to let it phase him and continued with his new life of farming. Then a second set back arose. A mere week after the slaughter of his livestock, Mortimus worked late one night planting his patatoes. It was tiring work and by the time he had completed and filled in all of his drills, it was well after nightfall and he had been working only with the light of a full moon. Then he heard the beating of horses hooves in the distance, and the sounds of men approaching from the south. Moments later, six highly dress shadowy figures on horseback emerged from the entrance of the woods. "Evening!" they greeted him, each man carefully dispersing to form a perimeter around the old man. Mortimus knew the conversation was never going to be a pleasant one, and yet again his suspicious nature refused to let him down. "What do you want?" he asked.
"For you to do what's in your best interests," one replied "We've heard about the incident with your cattle, awful thing to happen out here! But it could have been much worse Mortimus so you'd probably do well to consider yourself luckily". The man paused and gazed for a moment into Mortimus quivering eyes "Because trust me when I say there are far worse things that can happen to you if you continue to stay here, do you understand? You have been warned Mortimus, and it'll be your only one"
Mauira arrived mere moments later, yet only quickly caught a final glance of the unnamed assailants as they disappeared into the night-time shadows of the forest. Mortimus remained where he had been; only now he was cowering rigidly upon the ground--bloodied and beaten.
The burning of the barn followed within the next three days, undoubtedly the work of the same said people, and Mortimus was well aware of the seriousness of the situation and what could happened next. He was just unsure of why it was happening. Perhaps the Dervion curse over Coealcha Farms was more real then he had realised. Nevertheless, for the sake of his family's safety, he sought to put an end to the madness once and for all. Dressed in his best attire, he ventured south to Cirgon once more to return Coealcha Farms to where he should have left it in the first place--on auction for some other poor soul to purchase it. But very few were as foolish as he was. Dervion property would always be Dervion property in the minds of the people, and none were willing to place even a penny on it. Mortimus was ruined. All his money, his savings, was spent on the farms and with little hope of selling the property, he seemed destined to be trapped with his problems. God only knew what might happen next! Returning to Coealcha Farms the following evening, he found out.
The barn lay at the northern end of the farm, and it was the first sight to greet Mortimus as he journeyed along the southern road of the forest. It remained empty now, blackened with its walls seared and without its once impressive tatched roof. Only now, for the second time in two days, it was again in flames. Mortimus cried out in disbelief as he urged his steed to quickly round the final corner of hedge and wall, before coming to the final dusty pathway ahead of the main cottage, and the sight of smoke in the air, and ash and fire in the star-lit sky. He leaped from the horse; only then seeing his garden and lawns; littered with arrows alive in flame, and he knew the farm was again under siege. A whistling was heard. A second volley soon rose high into plain sight from the nearest edge of the Ashindir Wood, before reaching their peak, stalling, and returning to stab the ground in one hundred different places. Mortimus was saved only by the unintentional intervention of his horse, who itself was seeking to flee in the confusion and received seven arrows in its side for its trouble. Poor beast.
He spent little time dwelling on the situation before thoughts turned to his family; where they were, were they alive? By now the courtyard of the farm had become drowned in a heavy veil of ash and smog, and the air had become thin. But he could here them, the sounds of his wife's voice for sure, coming from the main cottage! "Mauira!" he cried, "Where are ya, answer me!" She heard him, and from the far distance, risen over the sound of roaring flames from seemingly every direction, she cried out his name and he instinctively and blindly followed it. Feeling bravery suddenly within him, he rushed on through the smoke and feared nothing of what might be ahead. Yet so blindly he charged that he paid little head to what Mauira was saying to him in the distance, that she wasnt calling his name, but the name of her son Joeb, who ran off just as recklessly at the sound of his fathers calling. Mortimus knew he was mere feet from the main cottage by now. It felt like he had been charging through the nothingness for some time, until he heard his wife's shrill cried just ahead. Then Joeb appeared to him, slowly formed through the shroud of smoke before his eyes and he smiled. "Son!" he cried, "Thank heavens, come here to me!"
Mortimus lunged forward and seized his son tightly within his grasp. Thank heavens indeed. For that that simple moment, everything was alright in his mind, and the troubles around him seemed distant and insignificant. "Joeb! Thanks goodness your alright son, don't worry about a thing, we'll get you and your mother out of here just as soon as--"
He paused, stunned. He could feel his hand on his son's back and it was damp, and warm. His hand was red; seeped in blood. "Oh no..." he whispered with his worlds trailing off. Drops of dark red fell at his feet. "No!". He turned his son before his eyes, and there in front of him was the distinctive slash of a blade upon his son's fragile body, and it was deep, and thorough. Joeb soon turned cold. "Son?" he cried, yet Joeb's head fell back within his arms. His hands quickly struck the earth as his frame slumped and soon his breath grew silent. His eyes flickered.
Ahead of Mortimus now stood the revealed image of a man sitting high and mighty atop a heavy steed. He was familiar; richly robbed in dark leather, with his gleeful face casually concealed by half a linen hood. Mortimus had seen him before. It was only a mere few days since the said man last ventured to Coealcha Farms demanding Mortimus depart with immediate haste, and now he appeared before the old man yet again, yet now he lorded down over Mortimus fallen being with his sword in hand; red blood seeping down to its tip. Slowly he advanced forward, ignoring the old man and his grief as if he weren't there, and ventured into the risen fog toward the front lawns and vanished without a trace, leaving only the sound of his horse, and many others, as they galloped southward to return to the concealment of the forest. Soon after the fires began to fade and the full extent of the Coealcha Farms sacking was revealed--nothing had been spared. Mauira approached, stricken also with a wound yet able to walk, and walk she did toward her husband and her son--both laying motionless engulfed in the unsettled gust of gravel. Joeb's hand lay stretched out all he more now. It was pale, cold to look upon, and gently shrivelling. She gazed on silently as if without life herself while Mortimus laid the boy gently on his back, and began to weep.
To this day, that would remain the worst period of Petr Mortimus troubled life. Mauira and his remaining children deserted him shortly after, while Joeb lay buried within the forest surrounding the cursed farms. Cursed indeed! Depression soon followed, and Mortimus would spend his nights sitting alone with little but a bottle of whiskey for company. The main house itself was not completely destroyed in the fire. Three bedrooms remained well enough intact, as did his illustriously decorated sitting room where Mortimus now chose to spend his days. Night after night he would sit staring at the roaring fireplace, slowly taking sup after sup of bitter alcohol, waiting for the night when his mysterious tormentors would return to finish what they had started, and he welcomed it. He could here the horses in the midnight hours, still prowling the forests in wait.
Then one day he woke up in the sitting room armchair and had a sudden realisation--he was out of whiskey! Yet that, in the long run, only cleared his mind as the hours passed and his body began to sober itself up, and he was given plenty of time to think about his situation. As a man at this wits end, a sudden rush filled his body that he was going to take no more! He couldn't sell Coealcha Farms, nor did he have anywhere else to go, and so he decided to do the only thing his grief-ridden mind could think of--get help.
His plan quickly brought him back south through the Greenlands of Molinoir, toward the coast, toward his old come in the mighty town of Cirgon where no doubt there would be some form of aid to rid him of his attackers. Bounty hunters and mercenaries were plentiful within the town's high walls, but all were known to charge stiff prices for the simplest of tasks. Mortimus knew best to stay clear of them; approaching them will little to offer was more dangerous for his own head then anyone. The Warriors Guild was another famous organisation within Cirgon. Again, made up of bounty hunters, retired soldiers from the larger world, and rangers of the woodland, but with far more of a sense to honour to them. They were a collective gathering of highly trained, highly known faces throughout Molinoir who held a great respect for the ways of the sword, and for each other. Money meant little to them compared to honour and glory, yet that was not to say they would not charge Mortimus a price for their aid. Some may be generous perhaps and chose to accept Mortims pleas for help solely to flex the strength of their blade. At its heart, the Guild was often a steep competition to show off between its members.
Mortimus arrived at Cirgon early one Sunday morning. The town itself remained the same as he knew it to be; bustling, overbearing, and rank at first with the smell of cattle and pigs from its many markets, mixed with a smoky scent lingering in the air from the over population of burnt-out stone chimneys. It was a smell he long since forgot how to tolerate.
He himself self had changed though. He arrived to his old abode sporting a long, filthy beard that looked to be made of straw. His smell rivalled that of the pigs, and his ragged, stained appearance meant he was met with many disgusted glances and stares--all of which were usually reserved for beggars or criminals. Luckily, he was unrecognisable to anyone. To have his old friends and neighbours see what he had become on the 'cursed' Coealcha Farms would be the final blow.
Moving slowly and suspiciously through the crowds, he made his way to what was known as a generally unpleasant part of town, and to an Inn called 'The Raven's Nest. It was a known gathering for bounty hunters and smugglers from the south, and only those either known for their reputation or able to fight to gain one were generally welcomed. "Can I have a glass of water please?" he asked the bar keep; the nerves in his body breaking the sound of his voice as he spoke. The barkeep looked on in disgust at Mortimus blatant use of manners; it wouldn't get him far in this Inn. The old man soon started to scan the room. He remained sat by the bar with his head concealed and his beard unknowingly drowned in his water, and scouted out the potential men of the room. All were tall and broad, and no doubt fearsome. It took every little ounce of courage in Mortimus beaten down and exhausted body to even seek the help he needed, but his general answer was the same from everyone. Many laughed at his words, others spat at him, and one threw a punch that left Mortimus upon the floor, wishing he didn't have to get up again. He left the pub soon after.
The Warriors Guild operated from a vast hall located deep within the town, overlooking the docks. Yet, to Mortimus dismay, the towering double doors to the building were sealed shut and guarded by two men with swords in hand, who were quick to reject an apparent beggar ascending their steps, and cast him down. "Here, let me help you," said a voice, before Mortimus hand was taken and he was slowly raised to his feet. "Thank you kindly" he replied, and looked up. It was a young man before him; brown eyed, brown haired, brown long coat upon his also broad shoulders, and a welcoming, pleasant smile upon his face. He too had a sword sheathed by his waist, and Mortimus sprung to tell him his story of Coealcha Farms and seek aid, yet unfortunately the man was quick to make haste. "Not at all!" he was heard crying, turning to the nearby crowds, "Take care Petr!". Mortimus heart suddenly jumped. "Wait! How do you know my name?" he cried, but to no avail. The man had long since vanished into the rustle and bustle of the town.
The old man quickly ventured on. With so much on his mind, he put aside his thoughts, and returned to scouting the Inns and streets of Cirgon for rescue to all his problems. Yet the town refused to listen to his pleas. The very mention of Coealcha Farms threw anybody even half thinking of accepting his offer into doubt. Queer business with a Dervion property is left to the Dervions or anyone else involved, best to stay well clear--it was a known fact! Even the bravest of the brave in Cirgon knew better then to risk getting caught up in the Dervion's affairs; no matter how mighty you believed yourself to be, you were never mighty enough to top them, not ever. That left Mortimus one final option for help--the Dervion's themselves! Perhaps if they were to know that one of their former properties was the target of malicious attacks then they might intervene, perhaps feeling a sense of duty or even sentimentality, or at the very least feel enraged at the thoughts of someone opposing them. Perhaps in return for their help, he would return ownership of the farms to them, for free! "Yes! A more then generous offer!" he felt. Then his heart sank. They wouldn't accept the farms off him, after all why would they have put it up for auction in the first place? Still, he had little choice. A deal with the devil was his last resort--anything to rid his life of this menace and reunite him with his family.
He stood at the far end of Cirgon, at the base of a long stretch of a vast bridge, which led to a small, flat outcrop of land that stood perfectly in the sea like a fine pillar. It was upon that piece of land that the Dervions build their grand hall many hundreds of years ago, and now Mortimus stood in awe as the shadow of its high golden spire concealed the image of the setting red sun, quickly descending behind its walls. A deep breath followed. He chest inflated, his posture now stood up straight and his head was raised so high that his neck jerked, but he remained that way, and moved to take his first step forward. "Not the smartest of ideas!" came a voice "I don't care how much trouble your in, do you honestly think the Dervion's are the right people to be seeing about it? Last I checked they didn't care for the commoners that much--especially one in your current state of smell!"
"Who are you?" Mortimus demanded as he spun round, startled and abrupt, but the man quickly became known to him. It had only been a few hours since the said stranger had helped him to feet by the steps to the hall of the Warrior's Guild.
"My name is Vailin," he said "And to cut straight to the point, I've been following you for the past few hours ever since I overheard you in the Ravens Nest talking about your predicament in Coealcha Farms, was it? Ive watched you unsuccessfully try to barter your way toward acquiring someone to remove those attackers from your home, but you seem to be coming up short at every turn. You truly must be desperate if your thinking the Dervion's will do something about it!"
"They might!" Mortimus valiantly replied "If youve heard what I have to say then you know I have little other options! The Dervion's might by my last chance to get my family and home back!"
"I highly doubt that," said Vailin "seeing as how I know for a fact that they've been the ones attacking you in the first place. Well, not the Dervion's sitting in the hall before the two of us right now, but an extension to the family that no longer dwell in Cirgon, but who's to say they're not all involved, they're usually a pretty tight family when it comes to these matters"
"Why?" Mortimus demanded "Why would they do this to me, to my son? I have done noting to them...and how do you know all this?"
"I doubt its personal, or even because you acquired Coealcha Farms from them. After all, they did put it on auction, yet as I said it was not the previous owners in the Dervion family who are not pleased with your presence there. Don't worry they're not after you intentionally, lets just say that by chance you ended up with something of theirs unknowingly, something very important, and now some of them want it back. And I don't mean the farm. Needless to say, you won't find anyone here who'll be willing to fight off the Dervion's for you I'm afraid"
Mortimus interest in this man suddenly rose. Noticing once again the fearsome blade that hung by this man Vailin's side; he was quick to ask once more for his services. Vailin gently laughed off the offer. Something about the growing confident demeanour of this man unsettled Mortimus greatly. He knew very few people outside of the Dervion's themselves who would speak of them so easily and carefree.
"Me?" said a smug looking Vailin, quickly drawing a rolled tobacco stick from his inside coat pocket "I'm not the man you need, but your getting close alright..."
"But you carry a sword! And few men carry them unless they know how to wield them! Are you any good?"
"A little..." Vailin replied, suddenly bringing a heavy seriousness to the conversation. "But I'd only be second best to what you need..."
"And what's that?"
"Someone who knows the ways of the Dervion's better then a few drunk, long since past it bounty hunters like you've been looking toward! Someone who actually can do something, and will--assuming your willing to accept his help?"
"That depends who your talking about?"
Vailin broke a smile, and looked to his left. No one in sight--something he already knew, but it was always best to check. In Cirgon, no where was considered safe, especially with matters such as this. His dark eyes suddenly fixed to Mortimus once more, and the smile grew. "Why, the enemy of the Dervion's of course..." he whispered, and old Mortimus face suddenly dropped. "Strainsier..."
It was the moment Vailin cherished most in these situations--he reaction. And old Mortimus held one of deep surprise and fright. In his mind he had made a grave mistake conversing with this man. The spies of the Dervions were at every corner of Cirgon, and they're eyes and ears were always open, and waiting. No doubt, in Mortimus mind, he was being watched right now. And so to be talking such words with a man like this was beyond dangerous, it was outright ridiculous and Mortimus knew better. To plot against the mighty Dervion's was one thing, but to converse and seek aid from their known enemies was something far worse, especially from him, from the one they all knew as 'Strainsier'.
The definite enemy of the Dervions they called him, the one true thorn in their side over the last number of years. The last known force to oppose the great and powerful Dervions in recent times who still remained at large and unpunished, and showed little signs of succumbing to the great manhunt the Dervions launched for his head three years past. He was the last sign of opposition to them, and now and then he would strike out so that they would forever know he was still free, and they as always were powerless to stop him as he would outsmart, outfight and outdo his opponents each and every time without fail. A hero some called him, a menace claimed others, but few ever spoke his name in public. The people of Molinoir were smarter then to risk the wrath of the Dervion's. Yet Strainsier remained, and everyone knew of it despite their silence on the streets, and in the few years since his reveal, he was already a legend amongst the land, and soon became more then that. Rumours of his alleged appearances often turned into mere concocted stories amongst the people, and often word of his true uprisings were exaggerated upon so much so that some would write about him as a towering seven foot warrior with a sword of gold who could be struck down by no man. Others often whispered of him as a ghost, silently moving through the town streets under their very noses, without ever suspecting a thing. Yet no one could claim to know his true identity, or his origins, or to even describe his appearance in great detail; he was a shadow, a shadow that left a trail of confusion and destruction against the Dervion's in his wake. The only known images of Strainsier were found scattered across Wanted' notices found within every town and village of the Greenlands, and only then he was depicted as a man hidden under a black hood, who's true face lay buried under a smeared layer of black dirt or soot across his right-side cheek. It quickly became how all the land chose to picture the mysterious Strainsier, though as always never speaking off him too loudly. To even mention his name was seen as treasonous to the Dervion, and Petr Mortimus knew of this all too well.
Quickly the old man moved to distance himself from Vailin with as much haste as his rickety legs would provide him with. He felt foolish to think he even considered going down such a path as to bandy words with a man like this, foolish! "Stay away from me!" he cried back with a stutter. His concentration was not on his words but on how quick he could make his exit, or even if the Dervions themselves were aware of his conversation. Perhaps it was all a trap to begin with, after all this man Vailin was far more then out of the ordinary. Mortimus didn't know who to trust anymore, but he knew for sure it wasn't to be this man, 'Strainsier'! Vailin had other plans.
Amidst the old man's panicked stuttering and eagerness to slip away, Vailin would confidently turn to him with his tobacco stick now lit, calmly taking that first pull. "Don't you want to be reunited with your wife again?" he asked; though Mortimus ignored his words and kept on walking.
"Don't you want justice for your son?"
With those words, the old man found a sudden reason to stop.
"Do you know him?" Mortimus quietly ask upon his return, but a sudden more vengeful side to Vailin was revealed to him. The towering man in the long brown coat quickly discarded his tobacco stick and forced a biter look of concern. "No, that's not how this works Mortimus, there will no questions like that and certainly no answers. Now he can help you, he can make all your trouble with the Dervions go away and he's the only one who can, but he has to be able to trust you. After this, you do not speak of our meeting to anyone else, you do not start asking questions about him, and you do not question what you are about to hear of him; you just follow blindly and show a little faith. Is that clear to you?"
Mortimus, through his fears, quickly shook his head.
"Good. Now listen well because we don't have time to take notes! When you leave here, you--"
"Do you know how to find him?" was Mortimus rather abrupt interruption, one that was met with an angered and slightly disgusted glance from Vailin, though he luckily said nothing in response. For a moment though, he looked slightly confused by the old man.
"You don't 'find him' Petr!" he preached "You plead your troubles to him, and when you do, and only then, he will decide what needs to be done. He will help you Mortimus, but you have to show that you are willing to accept his help, and that you are grateful. And Petr? Try not to interrupt me again, do you understand?"
"And do you want his help?"
Vailin remained silent. He gave a quick glance over the old man as if judging him, still unsure of something perhaps. Mortimus would forever recall the look in the man's eyes from that day forth, motionless and still, a look Mortimus found untrustworthy to say the least. To him, it appeared that Vailin was still pondering whether to help him in his troubles, or kill him. The only thought that drove him to continue this unlikely meeting was of his son Joeb, and the image of his blood still upon the old man's hands. As Mortimus mind obviously wandered, Vailin reached into his coat and produced a very faint, very ragged piece of folded brown cloth bearing a large S marked in black ink. He revealed it quickly to show a crude map of the Greenwood, the surrounding towns and villages, and a simple marking of the roads. Yet it held no names or obvious location that the old man need notice. He looked up puzzled before Vailin quickly forced it into the man's pocket and edged closer to him.
"You take this," he ordered, " And you travel to the Greenwood Gate and wait there till the moon of this month is at its fullest. Once there, you walk for three days Northwest, until your feet bleed and you can go no further. Only then do you look upon this again, understand? There you will find a slab of rock jutting from the ground, marked by the same S. Face left, come forward ten paces, and you will be faced by the largest of the nearby oak trees, with a deep hollow in its bark. Those who know of it often call it 'The Beggar's Oak, and it is there you will plead your wishes to Strainsier on the back of the map I have given you, then you will return it to the hollow, and wait"
"Yes Mortimus you wait! You go back to your farm, you drink your whiskey and you wait! I promised you help and I intend not to lie to you, but it must be this way, or else nothing shall come of our meeting, and as I've already stated: do not ask questions you won't understand the answers to! You are one of few already chosen to be trusted with this knowledge Petr, and unfortunately some have already chosen to betray my trust with this matter. Don't follow their lead"
"I won't, lordy I promise you I won't!" the old man babbled. For a moment he chose to let his guard down only to be overcome with joy that he might once again see his family, and that Joeb's death would be atoned for; that maybe his life might yet be restored. "Jaykers I swear I will speak no such words to no one! Thank you, thank you a thousand times over--"
"No! No that's not part of this either Petr! You don't thank me, you never thank me, because nothing of what I do is noble, or requires praise! Now our time is finished here, and you know what you're to do if you want to be helped. Your going to turn around now and your going to slowly and calmly walk back toward the town centre until your within the crowds of people and you've all but forgotten what I look like. And when you do this, you don't stop, you don't turn around to look at me again or it will be very unpleasant for us both Petr. Now do what you have to do."
"I will," said a suddenly more confident Mortimus "But first I will ask this one question despite what you have to say. Just tell me, are you him?"
And with that, the calm and carefree man that Vailin began as returned with a great laugh. "Petr I already told you I think? Ha! I'm just his second best"
He smiled again and drew another tobacco stick from his pocket. "Now run along!"
Mortimus knew his place. In his mind, Vailin was still an enigma with his more then abrupt mood swings, and whether he could be trusted remained to be seen. Strainsier was another matter; it was obvious what the old man need to do concerning him; exactly everything he was instructed! From what he had heard, and even read to an extent, Strainsier had proved himself time and time again to be a trusted enemy of the Dervions, and to Mortimus there seemed no one better to place his trust with. Yet somehow he had to laugh as he turned away from Vailin. The thought of such strange and seemingly ridiculous measures he needed to meet just to reunite him with his family made him want to cry as much as laugh, though he chose the latter option as he strolled toward the nearby crowds. It seemed like the thing to do at a time like this!
Just then he chose to break one of Vailin's many rules and turn back toward the bridge, toward the frighteningly vast Dervion Hall, and to the spot where he left Vailin smoking his tobacco. Vailin, though, was no longer there. Instead there remained a sudden gust of rising wind where once he stood, as if a heavy presence had suddenly taken flight. How strange Mortimus thought, almost as strange as the man himself. He didn't dwell on Vailin's mysterious vanishing act too long, and proceeded ahead knowing full well what he had to do.
The near full moon illuminated the night-time sky of the month of March five nights after Petr Mortimus departed from Cirgon. The journey Northeast was a long trek on horseback, and come the night of that dazzling full glow of the black sky, he had just passed the borders of what was considered the Olvine region of the Greenwood--northern territory of the forests--and continued his way along the Old Road, which inevitably brought him upon the Greenwood Gate.
The Gate itself had been around for as long as anyone in this lifetime could remember. It served as a border for the lands north toward Olvine and Touridge, and divided the wood, as well as keeping an eye on the folk that decided to come and go along the Old Road. The structure comprised of two high, vast towers joining the high arched gate--made from the same timber the neighbouring forest was famous for. At all time, like the many gates throughout the Greenlands, it would be manned and maintained by the nearby villagers or towns people, and more often then not those who dwelled in or around the forest who came to see the gate as their home. The structure contained several houses and huts on the Olvine side of the wall, and on the late, bitter cold winter's night when Petr Mortimus strolled through, he was kindly offered some much needed accommodation.
By morning Mortimus figured he would have to wait till at least the following Monday before he unveiled his little map. It was a strange thing to be told to wait three days after the full moon, and despite his questioning of the matter, he followed it strictly, although he really wasn't sure why. The good folk at the Gate were kind enough to put him up as long as he wished, keeping him well feed, well groomed and well slept--luxuries Mortimus had very few of in recent times. By Monday morning, he was equipped with a compass baring of Northwest, two flasks of water, and some lightly cooked brown loaf from one of the gatekeepers wives. It was more then generous in his mind.
By midday he felt he had made little in covering the vast, seemingly identical forestland of the infamous Greenwood. So many in recent years had been claimed by this never ending forest, where some often said it had a mind of its own, that the trees were alive and often chose to be malevolent. Now and then you'd hear of people venturing in the forest and never returning, as if for the sheer hilarity of it all the forest chose not to release them. A sudden sense of foreboding left Mortimus feeling he was next on its growing list of victims.
Having reached a small clearing by a shallow pool, Mortimus decided to remove the map from his pocket and check his bears. It was the third day since the full moon and the old man held many wild expectations for something fantastical to happen once he unfolded the cloth. He reached for the withered linen, carefully unfolded its fragile pieces before gasping at what he saw--nothing! It was the same old crudely drawn map, still showing the location of the Greenwood Gate and little more. Cursed Vailin! Why the need for such mind boggling instructions? Seeing no further use for the map, he returned it to his pocket and continued on to the point where his feet ached yet didn't bleed. He would have continued on but for the coming nightfall, which forced him to find shelter in a nearby cave overlooking a whistling stream. The following day resulted in the same end. His feet grew all the more swollen, the forest seemed all that more frightening and devouring the deeper he ventured, and he was pretty sure his unsteady back was still picking its moments to give way on him. Madness he felt would take him if he went much further. Now and then, on his long days of walking past oak tree after oak tree, he would ponder whether this was all some sort of joke. Perhaps that man Vailin was some sick individual who over heard his story in Cirgon and decided to have a little fun. It was definitely a lot easier to believe then having to come out here just to find a post box in a tree! Nevertheless, the endless thoughts of Mauira and his remaining children spurred him on, and no matter how strange everything seemed to him, he was determined to see it through.
By his third day, he felt his legs no longer had any power in them, and the fact that he was still standing was beyond him. Darkness was descending once more, and by now Mortimus was all the more convinced that he had lost his way and was nowhere near his intended destination. The Greenwood may yet have snared another unsuspecting visitor.
The terrain grew more steep in the last few hours, and as night approached, there seemed to be very few places he could make camp. He now stood upon rocky hills that were littered with high, thick oak trees all coming together in a smothering fashion. The sounds of wolves and other wild animals suddenly haunted his ears, screaming and crying with every approaching howl. It was enough to strike Mortimus cold. It was as if he suddenly realised where he was: standing deep in the heart of a frighteningly dark forest, lost, cold, and more desperate then he could remember feeling in weeks. At a moment when he felt nothing more could possible go wrong, it did--his back finally decided it was time to jerk out of place. "Argh!" he cried, instinctively causing him to loose his footing, and he tumbled backward off the edge of a small ridge and into the awaiting murky pool at the bottom. He landed with a sickening thud off the shallow water's edge.
In his mind though, this was suddenly a good thing. That more then painful fall made him realise one thing; his feet were bleeding! His shoe had come lose as he tripped and he now noticed the soles of his feet bloodied and blistered, and it made him smile strangely enough. That smile led him to notice his map; it had fallen from his pocket and now sat dangling off a small rock facing the stream, and he quickly snatched it before the late night wind sought to drown it. But a shinning light blinded him all of a sudden and it took his eyes by surprise, so much so that he recoiled with gasp before focusing himself once more. Then moon was out now; somehow managing to finds a pathway for its shinning light through the overbearing treetops. It had been three days since it had peeked at its fullest, and by now its light had diminished just that little bit, to an almost perfect illumination some would say. Mortimus gazed upon his map, his now shinning, glowing map as it shimmered in his hands. The light of the moon, cast upon the linen, had revealed a hidden ink that emerged to show him the way, and to show him that he was close. He stared upon the front cover S and noticed little markings appear across its outline, like symbols on his map. At the tip of the S there was what appeared to be a little square with a strange squiggle atop it, too small to read or translate. It was only when he looked at the rear side of the map, at the image of the Greenwood gate, that he realised the pathway Northwest had been revealed across the now visible ink, and at the tip of its road lay a smaller but obvious representation of the S upon the cover. It took him another few minutes to piece it all together, but later rather then sooner, he came to the conclusion that the S was actually the shape of the stream that flowed by his bloody heals, and he was at its base where the water disappeared under a small ridge.
He hoped to his feet, ignoring the sudden rush of pain as he fell onto his sores, and raced into the water like a madman with an agenda. He brushed forward, coming to the first bend in the stream that seemed to confirm his suspicions, until approaching another bend as he realised how many twists and turns this stream held. Without doubt he had found what he was looking for.
Coming upon the final bend, the flow of the water grew shallow as its width decreased, and eventually the water flowed back into a hole in the earth. At that point, the old man was met with the sight of a large piece of rock jutting upwards from the ground, like a gravestone, and on it he noticed the same exact S from his map--also glowing in the moonlight. He could only smile at the odd beauty of it all, and the genius.
"Ok, ok, think Petr--" he would tell himself, suddenly realising just how sore his damned feet really were! "Find the stone, face left and ten ahead. Face left Petr!"
He faced the rock, and for a second he couldn't remember his sense of direction. He was too overwhelmed by everything; the fact that what Vailin told him was actually true, the fact he was out so deep at this hour in the Greenwood, but more so the thought that he might actually meet the famed Strainsier--if he truly was as real as the people claimed!
"Left and ten ahead!" he repeated, and remembering his way, faced the nearby path that led steeply upward toward a cluster of high oak roots. He walked forward, yet saw his destination long before he counted ten--he couldn't really miss it! The tallest of the oaks stood easily out of place from the others: twice as high, twice as wide, twice as frightening when standing before it in the dark. The wind passing through the forest caused its vast web-like branches to sway like ensnaring hands back and forth--no wonder people believed this forest to come alive! Yet there it stood, towering ever so high about Petr's small frame, with the mentioned hollow staring him back in the face--Strainsier's own letter hole it seemed. Again he could only smile. "I hope this doesn't take too long to deliver?" he chucked, his first in months, and took a leap of faith as he placed the map into the depths of the hollow and released his long over-held breath. It was finally done. As if knowing that his task was complete, the light of the moon seemed to vanish as the later hours approached, and the sky grew cloudy. Mortimus was left with a sudden sense of confusion. Where too now? He figured to return to Coealcha Farms but the thought frightened him. He wasn't really sure what to do; wait until 'Strainsier' comes knocking on his front door? Again, he had to laugh.
A sudden noise ended his new-found sense of satisfaction. It was movement coming from the west, and barking perhaps. A wolf was his first thought, but then voices were heard. Laughter in the far distance, deep laughter from a mans voice. Mortimus froze in shock. Whoever could be out here at this hour, at this time, couldn't be too friendly. And no doubt his crocked legs weren't going to take him far away in a hurry. Then it dawned on him; journey too far Northwest of the Greenwood Gate and one would stumble upon the Dervion Hall on the outskirts of the forest, a hall established many decades ago and used frequently to this day. Of course! How did he never think of this before? Surely he couldn't be too far from the border, for all he could tell he was right in the shadow of the old building. And then fear took him.