A small, elderly looking man stood conversing with two other humans in a torch-lit clearing. Across from the small male was another male, but that was where the similarities ended. This man was larger than the other two humans combined and looked as if I knew how to handle the large axe I carried on his back. The third human was a female whose beauty outshone even the stars in the sky. As the males talked in hushed whispers, she walked over to where a small pile of blankets was concealing a child and picked him up.
"You must understand! They will kill him as soon as they recognize him! There is no other way to get him to safety!" The larger of the men groaned as I saw the coldness in the small man's eyes. "Why should I help your son, Ganeth, the son of a man who had me thrown on the street and beaten like an animal?" snarled the older man. "A son who will either get me killed or else throw the entire world into oblivion?"
Ganeth got down on his knees, "Please, Rinto, I beg of you. My son should not have to suffer for the misdeeds of his father. I was wrong to treat a fellow Crelat that way, no matter their profession or past." A wry smile crept onto Rinto's face as I thought for a moment. "Fine, I will keep your pest of a son safe as long as I can, but you must promise me one thing." Ganeth rushed to his feet with joy, "Anything, anything at all! Just please save my son!"
"I will take the Jewel of Ara-cartin then," smirked Rinto. "You ask too much! There is no way I will survive the night without the jewel!" the female snapped. "Ah, Erela, I forgot you were still here. I do know the power of the Jewel, and yet it is my price. You may take or leave the offer, although judging from the dimming torch we have little time before they find us."
Erela turned from the sneering man to look at her husband. "Well? What have you to say about this?" Ganeth grasped the luminescent stone that always hung around his neck. "What is there to say? I would not have survived the night no matter what, but I swear to Dira there will be less Grackles after I am done." With a determined look on his face, Ganeth pulled the stone from around his neck and placed it in Rinto's wrinkled old palm.
"When the time comes you know you must part with the stone Rinto, it was not meant for you and will destroy you in time. Now, the time has long passed for you to be gone. Come my love, leave the babe with Rinto and let us hunt our enemies of old." As I said this I held out his hand for Erela to join him. "Watch the babe carefully Rinto, you know as well as I that I will someday be the key to our land's future." With that, she gave the small child to Rinto and gave Ganeth's hand a quick squeeze. Erela drew her bow and Ganeth his axe, and the next moment they had disappeared into the forest. The last sound Rinto heard as I turned and started away was the dying whimper of a Grackle.
As silent as a shadow I crept to the door of my small cottage. I again heard the soft footfall, this time near the window. As I stood there wondering who could be wandering around in the dead of night, I heard a thump and there was a sound of something large hitting the ground hard. The door burst open as I hurtled outside dagger point first scanning the ground as I went. Rolling about on the ground a few feet from the window was a behemoth of a man, with a scrawny old fellow standing over him brandishing a broom. The giant on the ground had finally gotten his breath back and was attempting to speak.
"Rinto, you crazy old fool! It's me, Bligg! You told me to come, and tonight is the only time I could." The resonant voice boomed even though it appeared that the man was trying to whisper. "I told you to wait for me in the woods you dolt! You don't just sneak around someone's house at times like these!" The rasping voice belonged to the old man with the broom who I knew very well.
"Father, what's going on?" I asked as Bligg levered himself off the ground. "Why are we all standing here in the cold, I'll explain everything once we're in the den. Ghanto, go start a fire; it seems we are going to be up a while tonight."
I ran into the den and started placing logs into the fire pit. By the time the other two got inside I had a hearty fire going which filled the entire cottage with warmth and light. Bligg took a seat on the sturdy wooden chair right next to Rinto's ancient rocker. This left me to sit on the floor by the fire. As I sat I got my first good look at Bligg. He had a very intimidating look to him; a misshapen nose as if it had been broken multiple times, eyes as vigilant as a hawk, shoulder length blond hair, his arms crossed across a barrel chest that would be more suitable for a bull than a man. His every move was deliberate as if there was no energy available for unessential movement.
"Ghanto, I will explain what is going on to you first since you know nothing of what is happening outside our cottage. The true king was overthrown 15 years ago by the ex-captain of the guard Crux Firebrand. After forming an alliance with the Grackles, Crux was powerful enough to capture the crown city and from there he took every other city in Crela. All who opposed him were mercilessly cut down, so most people joined with him to save their families even if they wanted to rebel. From then on the situation has only gone from bad to worse. People are living in poverty in every section of our land and no help is forthcoming from the king. The royalty get special privileges while the rest take whatever scraps are thrown to them."
"The one true hope of our kingdom lies with a son who was smuggled away before Crux learned that he survived that horrendous night." Rinto went over to a corner of the room and bent over to open a chest with a complex locking mechanism. As soon as the lid was unlocked a brilliant light shone from within the chest. Just as suddenly as it started, the light went out and Rinto held a necklace that shone as if it held a star that had fallen from the sky. Slowly making his way back to the rocker, Rinto held the necklace to his breast as if it were his own child. "What is the significance of that jewel father? It is beautiful to be sure, but weren't we talking of the kingdom's fate?" I asked, being very confused. "This jewel is not just beautiful child; it is an artifact of immense power in the correct hands. The lost child of the deposed king must wear this in order to announce who he is. Only for the rightful heir to the throne will this necklace shine and show the power within."
"So, to overthrow Crux all we have to do is find this heir and give him the jewel? That doesn't sound too hard." Wondering when this discussion was going to involve me, I sat looking at the necklace still clutched to Rinto's chest. "I'm glad you think so, because you will be the one trying to find him," Rinto said in a calm voice. "I have gathered everything you will need for the journey and convinced Bligg to look after you for as long as he can."
I sat on the floor, slack jawed and silent as what had just been said sunk in. "Wait, wait, wait! Don't I get a say in this?" I grumbled. "He doesn't have what it takes for this quest Rinto, I thought you said that you had someone qualified picked out," Bligg said, "He won't even last ten minutes outside this cottage if he's complaining already."
"Ghanto is the most qualified person for this and the one I chose, and of course you have a choice son. You can go and save the world, or stay stuck in this cottage the rest of your life. Which do you prefer?" Rinto sat with a smug grin on his face while the other two spluttered objections, but when all was said and done they both were out the door as soon as dawn came and on their way through Femmrang Forest.