Knightfall's Letters to Gilwen - #12

My dearest Gilwen, I apologize for not hunting with you tonight. The scribe returned to write the rest of our beginning story. So far, I’ve merely told what I could remember, nothing too embarrassing for you, I hope.

I hunted nymphs and the occasional kobold all that first year in Kelfour. I made new friends and met up with old ones. Sierre, Doctordude, Ryanna and Dalin were all there. It was easy to see Sierre was a full-fledged ranger now, he was always casting that spell on himself to blend in better. Doctordude was now a healer and making a good living skinning torkaans. They mentioned to me to go to hobs to hunt, on the footpath in the lower forest region. I made plans to go there when I made the next level.

Words cannot describe my feelings as I headed to the Inn that first time to train. I didn’t know what to expect. I was immensely proud to make second level yet apprehensive of what the trainers expected. As I took the keys from the clerk and trudged up the stairs, I was almost numb in anticipation.

I was heart broken immediately. I was so sure all my hard study to learn my first spell would be rewarded, but I was deemed not ready. The rest of my training went well though. I got over the disappointment of missing my magic spell as I saw how much I had increased my level of skill in so many areas.

I rushed out to the sea cliffs to test myself. Yeppers! Those nymphos shook with fear from the new improved me. They seemed so easy now. Soon I felt my brain had fried from all the new experience I gained by being a better basher.

Back in town, I took a gem to the temple for a deed, sold the rest at the jewelers and banked my earnings. I watched the crowd in The Square for a while before heading out to the lower forest to explore. I parried with a couple kobolds but abandoned them when torkaans ran in. I kept heading south looking for the footpath when a karnelin ran in. I ran southeast where a wolverine bit my arm. I made a strategical retreat southwest into a deadend.

Trapped! “What could be worse than this?” I thought. In answer, the wolverine ran in, triggering a sneezing fit. Instantly, I rushed out! As my eyes cleared, I checked my arm. Merely scratched.

With a wolvie behind me and a karn in front, I pondered my options. Fighting my way out did not appeal. Just then, I saw there was a clearing to the west. If nothing else, I’d escape there, though no telling what monster may await me on the other side. I prayed to the gods there might be another option.

A footpath!

You could barely see it, but there it was. Would it go to hobs or to even bigger monsters? Should I explore the path or try to escape back to town and get healed? Maybe I should just give up adventuring and return to Squire Bluff? But before I could whine too much, back came the wolverine. I ran down the footpath.

I breathed a big sigh of relief when the wolvie did not follow. I wandered south, keeping my guard up for hobgoblins. But the area seemed empty. I did find a huge boulder and a couple of worn greaves but no monsters. The path turned east and came to a deadend at a pass. Carefully, I retraced my steps, wondering if I had used the wrong footpath. I returned to the pass and decided to enter.

On the other side was a huge mound of armaments with a small warrior standing atop it.

“Knight!” shouted a familiar voice. It was Gilwen! “Want to join?”

“Hiya Gilwen! Sure! I guess this is the right place,” I rambled.

“Sure is! I love hobs!” gushed Gilwen.

Just then, one appeared, slinging his shield in preparation for battle. He was ugly! Big flapping goblin ears, a huge misshapen nose, those narrow, beady eyes and a mouth full of deformed teeth gave him a monstrous appearance. I glanced at Gilwen, worried she found these guys attractive. Would being tainted by the Lords of Orhan cause such perverse thinking? Perhaps Gilwen would bear watching.

We fought the hob a few rounds with Gilwen doing most of the damage. When it lay dead, she searched and found the usual armor plus a gem. “Can you carry, Knight?” she asked.

“Sure! Glad to,” I said, placing the blue piece of coral in my backpack. “What a mess! You must of killed half of the hobgoblin army.”

“Yeppers,” giggled Gilwen. “We sure could use a blue bin here.”

“A blew Ben?” I repeated doubtfully.

“Yep.” Gilwen then asked, “Don’t you recycle where you’re from?”

“No. What’s recycle?”

“It’s when you put stuff you could reuse but won’t in a box for others.”

“Nice idea. But wouldn’t this stuff smell of hobgoblins?” I asked.

“Well, there is that,” she responded. “Hmmm, no hobs. Let’s go check the boulder.”

Just like that, she grabbed my hand and we headed northwest. She raced towards the big boulder, where we found a hobgoblin. In no time, Gilwen had him stunned and prone, allowing me a juicy hit before she finished him off. He had a few coins, which Gilwen collected, then we rushed back to the pass just as another hob appeared.

I noticed that hobs wore their shields until they went into battle and were easier targets if I could hit them before they had slung their shield. That first swing, or after Gilwen’s mace stunned one, were the only times I really hit them much. Still, I was learning a lot hunting this way and having a lot of fun. Not to mention hobs had better treasure than nymphs.

After we had killed a few, we were running out of places to keep the booty. I was looking for a way to tuck away one more gem when a hobgoblin with an attitude showed up. I dropped the tourmaline and pulled out my mace but the hob hit me first. He took Gilwen’s and my best shot and hit me again. My swing was weakened, but Gilwen hit him hard, staggering him back. My weakness concerned me and it affected my next swing as well. Gilwen’s saw my struggle and mumbled a few magical words, then cast them at the hobgoblin. I expected the hob to react violently to the magic and was surprised to see that the spell calmed it down.

“You okay?” she asked me.

“He hit me. Not sure how bad,” I said.

“Check your health,” Gilwen said. “Are you hurt?”

My knees felt weak as I saw I was bleeding in two places. My left arm was merely a trickle, but the hole in my chest was alarming. “I’m okay,” I said weakly. “Go see a healer?”

“How bad is it?” asked Gilwen.

“Not bad, but we’d better go.”

“How bad, Knight?”

I had lost half my blood, and the way it was pumping out, just four rounds were left. I told Gilwen my best guess and she paled noticeably. “Running to town,” announced Gilwen. The hobgoblin placidly watched.

We quickly moved through hobs and the forest. I appreciated her navigation skills as we cut through the breach while I still had blood left. As we entered The Square, Gilwen told them I was bleeding.

An old man there looked at me, then took my chest wound.

“Thanks, Strom,” Gilwen said to the old man.

I felt funny allowing such an old guy take my infirmities, but he seemed to be handle the burden well. In fact, after taking my broken arm, he assumed my blood loss.

“Thanx, Strom,” I mumbled humbly.

“You’re welcome, Knight,” he said.

“Do I owe you anything?” I asked.

“Never a charge,” he said tertly, playfully poking me in the ribs.

“Clerics and healers are supposed to help, Knightfall. Why would they charge?” asked Gilwen.

Now I know that was a rhetorical question but I hazarded a guess anyway. “To make money?” I suggested.

“Ah, no, Knight. That wouldn’t be right,” said Gilwen.

I thought to myself: That’s fine with me. I could find a way to spend that cash. Still, it seems Gilwen should let the healers and clerics decide for themselves.

“Ready to sell up, Knight?” Gilwen asked me.

“Sure.” We headed over to the gem cutters to sell off our booty, then Gilwen demanded all my coins.

“Why?” I asked.

“Mass share. Sound fair?” she asked.

Sounded strange, but I did not want to admit I didn’t know what she meant. I nodded and counted my coins. There were 374 silvers.

“Stick ‘em up!” Gilwen beamed. “Gimme all your money.”

I couldn’t believe it! She was robbing me. She did not look dangerous, but I didn’t want to risk my life for a measly 374 coins. I handed them all to her.

Gilwen beamed as she counted all the cash. She had looked so innocent, I had not suspected. But she must have felt pity on me, because she handed me some coins. A lot of coins – 278 of them. “There,” she said, “let’s go bank.”

“This is half?” I asked, suddenly realizing what mass share meant.

“Yeppers,” said Gilwen, counting her coins as she talked to the teller. “Want to hunt hobs again?”

“Sure! I’d love that. They’re fun.”

“I don’t know where I’d be without hobs,” said Gilwen. “They’ve been great for me.”

We headed back towards the forest. I noticed she went by way of a large mountain, then ducked down a trail to the footpath. We did not see a hobgoblin until we went through the pass, where someone was already engaged in battle.

“Hi, Ravenstorm!” said Gilwen. “Want company?”

“Don’t mind at all. Join in,” he said.

“OK,” said Gilwen. “This is Knightfall, by the way.”

I bowed to Ravenstorm but was not sure he noticed. He was paying attention to the hob, finally killing it as we watched. When he joined Gilwen, I got ready to attack the next hob. Gilwen seemed oblivious that a murderous monster might soon show up and started chatting with Ravenstorm.

They were getting along famously when a hobgoblin walked in. I glanced my mace off his head

“There’s one,” chimed Gilwen as she and Ravenstorm readied their swings. Soon, the hob laid stunned and prone, an easy kill for me.

But the mace fumbled in my hands, my swing was for naught. “The Rule!” Gilwen sang as Ravenstorm waxed the hob.

“What’s the rule?” he asked as he searched the hob. I smiled to myself as Gilwen explained The Rule. I felt a less naive knowing The Rule was not universally known as I had believed. In time, I learned Gilwen had rules for every situation. She loves rules. They made order in her life; she even makes new ones to fit new situations when the need arises.

Soon Ravenstorm announced his brain was numb and he headed in to rest. We let him take the one chest we had found. “Don’t worry. The monsters will bring more,” Gilwen told him. The rest of the hunt though, they only had coins.

I quickly fried my brain but kept hunting waiting for treasure. After a while, Gilwen asked me how my mind was.

“Fried!” I beamed. “But we don’t have any gems to sell.”

“There is that,” she murmured. “Want to go to the Shrine?” she asked. “It’s nearby.”

“What’s there?” Shrine sounded religious. Not good.

“Oh! It’s great! You’ll love it. It’s my favorite place in the whole realm.” Gilwen seemed excited about going.

“OK,” I said. “let’s go.” I liked that there was always someplace new to see in the realm.

She lead the way up a trail, then down a pass, ending at a waterfall. The scenery was beautiful but shrineless. Gilwen seemed undaunted as she wove around the pool taking us under the falls. The view took my breath away. Hidden there was a cathedral! But Gilwen did not stop; she headed for an arch in the back. A graceful marble altar was there with a small dish of water. Gilwen knelt before it and dipped her finger in. A look of sweet bliss swept her face. I knelt beside her.

“Touch the font,” she instructed as she dipped her fingers again.

“A purification rite?” I thought while kneeling. “Bet she thinks thieves have dirty fingers.” But as I touched the font and tiny wavelets of cool water rushed over my fingertips, my senses seemed suddenly sharper. I pulled back my hand and a single drop of water from my fingertips, caught on a wayward breeze, sailed across the room in a faint, rainbow-colored trail that vanished even as it took shape.

Somewhere beyond the room, birds warbled merrily, their songs clear and pure over the music of the cascading waterfall. A breeze caressed my brow, carrying the scent of roses mixed with pine, and inexplicably, fresh-baked bread. I touched my fingers to my lips to savor the flavor of the water, only to smile when the taste was of wild clover honey.

Again my fingers grazed the surface of the water in the font and I raise them to my lips. As the cool liquid touched my tongue, the image of a summer rainstorm passes through my soul. Wildflowers lift their lovely faces upward, to catch the nourishment from the sun and rain. Like the blossoms in the field, my spirit feels refreshed and for a moment I am carried away on the wings of a dream.

I leaned back, trying to separate illusion from reality. Gilwen seemed unalarmed, if she was experiencing the same visions, they were not bothering her. Perhaps the visions were what she liked about the shrine. I reached for the font again.

As my fingertips touched the water, a feeling of peace spread through my entire being. I felt that nothing could harm me here. Never before had I felt as serene and calm as at that moment.

In the back of my mind, a voice I ignored told me something was not right. An image of Gilwen’s Calm Spell came to mind. But I felt immune to the threat of any trap.

Again cool water washed my fingertips and my eyes grew heavy and closed. Fleeting images of old friends, and great battles from long ago pass through my mind. The visions were meant to be comforting, and through them all I barely discern the visage of a slender young man dressed in sable robes overseeing things from a distance.

“Do I know the man?” I ask myself aloud. “He seems familiar.”

“He is the Lord of the Shrine,” answered Gilwen.

Curiosity drives me to touch the font again. Moonstreams down from a veil of leaves overhead, dancing off the frost-laced branches of the forest. The night air is cool and crisp with the delicate scent of wildflowers mixed with pine. Twigs and leaves crackle softly with each footstep, barely audible over the sound of water rushing over boulders nearby. Rounding a curve in the path, I startle at the sight of luminous blue eyes peering from behind a thicket of pine trees.

“Those eyes!” I cried out. “Where have I seen those eyes?”

“What eyes?” asked Gilwen. To answer, I point to the water again and barely touch the surface.

The eyes stare at me, unblinking, glowing more brightly with each moment. Just as I begin to move toward them, the sounds of hooves pounding on a dirt path drew my attention away for an instant. When I look back, the eyes have vanished.

“I know those eyes” I said. Again I dip my fingertips in the font.

As my eyes close, I see a cobblestone lane, with moonlight washing everything in a pale, silvery glow. Candles flicker in the windows of cozy houses nestled against each other along the quiet street, and the world seems utterly tranquil. Again I hear the clatter of hooves and look up to just in time to see a youth riding away atop a magnificent white beast.

More! I needed to see more. I put my hand into the font.

The cares of the world fall away and I am transported to a place somewhere beyond the stars. I see the image of a young man astride a mighty white unicorn with a luminous silver horn. As the vision fades, I am left with the memory of dark grey eyes that tug at my very soul with their hypnotic, haunting gaze.

I could not yet place the man but a muffled voice in my mind said he was evil. Still, I was unable to move, mesmerized by the water on my fingertips.

I look down and a shiver raced up my spine as I envision a dark pool filled with icy water. Peering into the murky depths, drawn by some unseen force. Faint, high-pitched whispers fill my mind, Encourging me. “Join us! Power is yours if only you will drink!”

I lean forward, lips just grazing the liquid, then stop short as a clatter of hooves ring out. The pool suddenly clears and the wriggling, squirming mass of snakes beneath the surface become visible, I draw back in horror…and relief.

Darkness surrounded me as I close my eyes and hear a soft, rich voice whispering, “Be at peace my child. The cares of the world are many, but the Lords of Orhan have strong shoulders. We share your burden.”

“Lords of Orhan!” I cried. “Yes, that’s where I know him. My dream. The man! He was in my dream. He fought for my soul. Scalu had to save me from him.”

Gilwen touched my shoulder. “What are you saying, Knight?”

“Who is this Lord? He is evil. He serves Orhan!” I said.

“No, Knight. Reann is good. He is a Lord of Orhan.”

“Reann!” I cried. “Is that his name?” You know he’s a Lord of Orhan?”

“Yes. He is Reann. Of course, I know him. I am a cleric of Reann. So I assure you he is good.”

How could have I have been so blind? Gilwen was a cleric! She had hidden that fact from me, but why? To trick me, of course. To bring me here so Reann could capture my soul!

“Knightfall,” Gilwen said, “you must worship the Lords of Orhan, or you will lose you soul.”

Dear gods! She threatened me. Worship or die. Serve evil gods or be killed. “No!” I said. “I will not sell my soul. I’m getting out of here!”

“Wait, Knight,” said Gilwen, grabbing my arm. “You have to. Trust me.”

Trust a cleric? Never again. And I would rather die than worship Orhan and his minions. I had to escape these evil gods. As I stood up, I braced my hand upon the altar, touching one of the drops that had fallen from my hand. For a moment, Reann’s face appeared. He smiled as I heard the words, “The Lords of Orhan are ever-watchful.”

A cry tore its way from my throat as I broke Gilwen’s hold and dashed for the arch.

“Come back, Knightfall,” the Gilwen cried in a strained voice. “Don’t run.” I rushed to the waterfall, trying to remember the way out. As I looked about, Gilwen emerged from the waterfall. “Knight! What’s wrong? Wait.”

I vowed that scheming halfling had deceived me for the last time and ran up the path, fearful that the demonic cleric was giving chase. I did not slow down until I reached town. I hid at the armory until I felt safe and my mind was refreshed. As I stepped out, two people stopped their conversation to turn to me.

“Oh, Knightfall. Gilwen was looking for you,” said the first.

A panic seized me. Gilwen was still after me! I would pump these two for information. I had seen one before. He was a curious dwarf, having sideburns but no beard. I knew he was a cleric by the name of Krakii because I had seen him bless weapons before in the Square. Odd name. The other one was a beautiful woman whom I’d never met before, although she looked familiar.

“Krakii! Did she look angry? What did she want?” I asked.

“She didn’t say. Just asked for you. Look under da tree fer her,” said Krakii.

I blanched, which attracted the woman’s attention. “What is it, Knight? Did you do something to Gilwen?” she asked while studying me intensely.

“Are you a cleric too?” I ask accusingly.

“And proud of it,” she said with a smile. “My name is Sieglinde and Gilwen is a friend of mine.”

“Do you serve evil gods too?” I asked.

Sieglinde coughed unexpectedly, while Krakii smirked. “No, Knightfall, I serve the gods of Light,” said Sieglinde.

“The good ones? And you too, Krakii?”

“Knightfall, the gods don’t see demselves as good and evil,” said Krakii. “The see demselves as two parts of a whole, not as bad versus good. I serve all da gods.”

Never expect a straight answer from a cleric, I thought to myself. They’re all the same. “Well, Gilwen doesn’t see them that way. She wants to sacrifice me on Reann’s altar!”

“What?” cried Sieglinde. “She wants to do what? Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure! I was there!” I exclaimed.

“I ain’t never seen a sacrifice,” said Krakii, “this should be fun. “Hush, Krakkers. You’re scaring him. Listen, Knight. I know Gilwen. I cannot believe she’d ever try to harm you. And she loves Reann, if that tells you anything.”

“It tells me she serves the Lords of Orhan and that she wants me to lose my soul,” I answered.

“I like yer theology,” said Krakii. “Where did you learn that?”

“I’d be curious too. Who told you that?” asked Sieglinde.

“Umm, I met a cleric of Scalu once. He warned me about the Lords of Orhan.”

Sieglinde took a fistful of her hair and tapped the side of her forehead, exuding a sigh. Krakii reached to scratch his sideburn trying to hide a smirk. He then stepped up to me and poked his finger in my chest to get my attention.

“I’ll let you in on a secret, Knight,” he told me, “clerics never lie. Dey jest don’t always believe da same truths.”

“That’s dumb,” I said. “There’s only one truth.”

“Dat’s da truth fer you,” he said. “Everyone has dey’s own truth, though, so dere are many versions. Learn to keep an open mind.”

“Yes, Knightfall! Especially about the Lords of Orhan. Your soul depends on it,” said Sieglinde.

“Dat’s what passes as truth fer da Gods of Light crowd,” said Krakii. “Find your own truth, Knight. But I’ll tell you sumpin. Yer no furder from da truth now den Eissa’s followers are. In my opinion.”

“It’s Eissa’s opinion, Lady Krakii. And that counts for something,” said Sieglinde.

“LADY Krakii?!?!?” I blurted.

“Yeah, Lady,” grumbled Krakii. “Tink I wasn’t big enuff to be a lady yet?”

“No, dats not, uh, I mean, that’s not it,” I mumbled, embarrassed to have mistaken a lady for a man. Luckily the arrival of a mail-clad warrior changed the subject.

“Hi Cemb,” said Sieglinde. “Have you met Knightfall yet? He’s a friend of Gilwen.”

“She’s a nice lass,” replied Cemb. “Pleased to meet you, Knight. Ready to hunt, Sieg?”

“Yes, just a moment. Think about what we’ve told you, Knightfall,” she said. “And don’t worry about Gilwen. She’s won’t hurt you.”

“Thanx, ladies. I think, anyway. I’ll sleep on it. I do appreciate your time. If you ever need a lock picker, well, look me up in a few years.”

I did not see Gilwen the rest of the day. As I retired that night, I was thinking about what the clerics had said about her and her god. That may explain the dream I had that night or maybe it was the three chocolate tarts from the bakery I had for dinner.

A dark storm rolled up from the horizon. Just as it reached me, the cloud bank split, revealing two gods embroiled in arm to arm combat. Scalu was strangling Reann with a gaze of pure hatred upon him. Reann was looking straight at me though.

“Knightfall,” wheezed Reann, “Gilwen sent me. She prays for you.”

“Ignore him,” roared Scalu. “You’ve chosen me. Send him away. Be glad you did not pick such a weakling to be your god.”

“No, Knightfall!” cried Reann. “You’ve yet to bow a knee to him. You’re still free to choose. Don’t let him deceive you.”

“Shut up!” shouted Scalu as he struck Reann across the face. “You’re too weak to beat me. You have to beg for followers. You make me laugh!” he sneered, hitting Reann again.

“Knightfall! You are the one who decides who wins this battle.” Reann struggled to keep talking in spite of Scalu’s attacks. “I knew Scalu would be stronger but I came anyway in answer to the prayers of my cleric.”

“Reann lies,” was Scalu’s response. “He’s wants you to lose your reward for having chosen me. He’s afraid. Afraid, I tell you, that you will join our army of might and right.”

The storm continued to build, feeding off the holy struggle of the gods. Heavy winds blew and black clouds roiled until the gods were almost hidden. Yet Reann’s eyes were still upon me.

“Choose wisely, Knightfall,” he said. “Use your heart as well as your mind. Do not fear the light, for it reveals the truth.”

“The truth,” grumbled Scalu as he pounded him, “is I will punish you mercilessly until you leave my servant alone. Enough!”

The storm exploded, its rage knocking me back as it engulfed me. Suddenly, voices pelted me like huge raindrops, telling me, “Decide. Decide. Decide!” I was spun about, caught in a whirlwind, tossed about like chaff. I cried out, “Stop!” The winds answered, “Choose. Choose. Choose!”

“No!” I cried, “I can’t think! I don’t know.” Abruptly, the storm released me in midair. It was blackest night, I could not see and I was falling. Terror overwhelmed me.

I awoke in a sweat. Disoriented, I sat up. I was in my room at the inn. Needing reassurance, I went to the window to peer outside. It was a clear night. The stars of the Quellbourne sky were bright. The moon flooded a small garden below my window. It was peaceful, reassuring and still, a welcome change from the nightmare. I rested upon the sill, gathering my thoughts. I decided the nightmare was just a dream, nothing more, when from the garden shadows a halfling arose from praying and walked away.