Duchy of Dargon
A few leagues outside of Kenna
It was a crisp summer’s morning high in the mountains of the Darst Range. Snow had fallen in the night to leave a trace of white on the ground. Nicodemus opened the door of his one room cabin and swept the small amount of snow from the doorway. Setting the broom against the wall, he smiled as he felt a familiar presence draw closer. He walked a few paces, saw that the snow hadn’t covered the ground everywhere, and stopped to watch the path that went by his home and wound itself along the top of the ridge. A stag slowly came into view. It was a young stag with a small set of antlers on its head and it walked calmly towards Nicodemus. Nicodemus watched as the stag drew nearer and felt its presence grow stronger in his mind.
“Food?” was the pervading thought from the stag.
“There’s some hay left,” Nicodemus thought as he turned and walked around to the back of the cabin. He moved large pieces of bark to uncover the hay. The stag followed him around the back of the cabin and nudged Nicodemus’ elbow. Nicodemus thought that the stag enjoyed his company more than the food because food was still abundant in the forest.
“Eat,” he thought and received what he had labeled as a thanks. It was sometimes hard to tell what animals thought or felt. Even after “speaking” with them for years, Nicodemus still did not understand many things. He brushed a scattering of snow off a large log and sat down to watch the stag eat. He didn’t understand why he could communicate with most animals, but he couldn’t communicate with people — even his parents. He had to point and show most of the time, since he couldn’t speak. It had been frustrating, especially since the animals understood his thoughts.
He learned many things from his parents, though. His father helped him build this cabin and taught him how to take care of it — fix the roof, mud the holes in the logs, and various other small tasks. His mother tried to teach him how to cook, but he was never as good as she was. She showed him how to patch the holes in his clothes. It never worked, however, and he always brought them to her. Since the snow wasn’t as deep as he had thought, he decided to make the trip and visit them. It had been awhile since he was last there and they were always glad to see him.
A loud squawking startled him. He looked up and watched as a squirrel descended the large oak tree above him. He felt the squirrel’s happiness at seeing him. It reached the base of the tree and ran over to Nicodemus.
“Scratch,” it said as it climbed into Nicodemus’ lap and brushed against him. He laughed as he scratched the squirrel’s back and neck.
“Pushy, aren’t you,” he told the squirrel.
“Scratch,” it said as it enjoyed Nicodemus’ scratching.
“Go on,” he told the squirrel, finally. “I have work to do.” Deciding that it wasn’t going to get scratched any more, the squirrel twitched its tail and jumped to the oak tree. After the squirrel left his lap, Nicodemus went back inside the cabin. He packed his clothes into a small sack and grabbed his walking staff. Shutting and latching the door, Nicodemus said good bye to the stag and started down the mountain.
It wasn’t a long trip to his parent’s home. It took him less than a day to walk it. The shift in weather as he walked down the mountain was amazing. The lower he got, the warmer it became. It still filled him with wonder at how a shift in height could cause such changes in weather.
As he neared his parent’s home, the wind carried the smell of cooking to him. His mother’s food always tasted good, but the only thing he had for comparison was his cooking. Thinking about the food, he hurried to the door. As he reached it, he remembered the last time he had burst into their home. It would not be good to catch them in a loving embrace again. That had been one of the most embarrassing moments in his life. His father had turned a bright shade of red that day. Thinking about it now, he smiled and knocked on the door.
“Nico!” his father shouted as he opened the door. “Come in. Delia! Nico’s here!”
“Nico?” his mother called. She emerged from the kitchen and hugged her son. “You knew I was making pies today, didn’t you?” He shook his head no, but smiled at the thought of her delicious pies.
“Nico, I heard of a man in Dargon City who teaches languages,” his father said. Nicodemus looked at his father and cocked his head in question. “Not just any language, Nico. He teaches something called ‘handspeak’. I was talking to a traveler some time ago, one thing led to another and this traveler told me about an amazing sight that he saw. He saw mute people talking to each other using their fingers!” Nicodemus’ eyes went wide. He held up his hands and wiggled his fingers. “Yes, using fingers,” his father said. “We have a small bit of money saved, but if you’re interested, we’ll send you to Dargon City to learn it.” Nicodemus looked at his father in amazement.
“They would spend their life savings on me!” he thought. Nicodemus shook his head no. “I just can’t do it,” he thought. “Not with their money.”
“Oh, Nico, we don’t mind, really,” his mother said knowing her son all too well. “We’re happy here and the money hasn’t been touched in years.” Nicodemus turned to his mother and shrugged as he pursed his lips. “You think about it,” she replied.
“We’re planning on spending some of that money day after tomorrow. There’s a festival in Kenna. Would you like to go with us?” his father asked. Nicodemus nodded his head.
“A festival!” he thought. “I wonder if they’ll have singing people?” Nicodemus always enjoyed listening to people sing, especially his mother. She had a beautiful voice. He couldn’t believe all the amazing sounds that came out of her mouth when she sang. It was the one thing that he wished he could do. He always stood in awe as he listened to someone sing.
When alone, he tried to make sounds come out of his mouth. All he ever got was air rushing out. He finally gave up after years of trying, but he never stopped thinking about the singing.
Home of Gilliam Hytheworde
The room was dark and she hated it. She hated him. She thought about her last attempt to escape his imprisonment as she waited for someone to unlock her door. There were still bruises from the beating she had received from his bodyguard, Darrin. She didn’t get many chances to run, but she took them when they appeared. He always kept a close watch on her, though.
“Eliza, I’m coming in,” Darrin warned as he opened the door. She sat on the bed and waited for him. Darrin opened the door and peered inside. When he saw that Elizabeth was on the bed, he entered the room. He was a large man. Cords of muscle ran down his arms and each leg was as thick as her waist. She had learned the hard way that he was very quick for his size.
“He’s ready for you. Remember, when you serve the tea, touch the guy. If he’s telling the truth, you don’t have to say anything. If he’s lying, then you ask Gilliam, ‘Is that all, M’lord?’. Don’t mess this one up. It’s important.”
“Is that all, M’lord?” Elizabeth asked mockingly. Darrin raised his hand to slap her, but remembered that she needed to be presentable this time. He smiled as he reached over and touched her instead. She felt his finger and a small shock went through her. Then his thoughts hit her. “Raffenraker scrud sucker! *Whore*!” Before she could recover, his emotions tore through her. His lust mixed with smug gloating overpowered her. She could feel his lust course through her. It pried into every corner of her soul and she tried to shake it loose. She lost her breath as she fought for control.
“No!” she screamed as she scrambled back.
“You should learn to respect me,” Darrin said.
His thoughts and emotions were gone, but the memory of them remained. She fought to forget them and concentrated on her breathing. “Breathe in,” she thought. “Breathe out.”
“Come on! We don’t want to be late,” Darrin said. She crawled off the bed as Darrin backed up. He motioned her to the door. She walked in front of him down the hallway. Opening a door, they walked into the kitchen. The cook had the tea prepared and ready for her. She took the tray and went into Gilliam’s study. As Darrin opened the door for her, she saw two men seated at a table. Gilliam was sitting with his back to her and the other merchant was facing her. She walked into the room and stood by Gilliam.
“Ah, the tea is here,” Gilliam said. “Charles, would you like some?”
“After that delicious cake, I believe I would,” Charles answered. Elizabeth set the tray down on the table and poured a cup of tea.
“So, Charles, you’re not trying to sell me broken merchandise at a high price, are you?” Gilliam asked as Elizabeth moved to set the tea down by Charles. As she set the tea down in front of Charles, she touched his hand. There was a small shock and his thoughts filled her mind. “… merchandise is of the highest quality. And a high price? I’m barely making a profit, you old rat …” His emotions followed next, but she was prepared for them. “Breathe,” she thought. They filled her mind, but she held control. Injured pride. Pompousness. Arrogance. Vanity. She straightened and set a cup of tea by Gilliam, careful not to touch him. Taking the tray, she went back into the kitchen followed by Darrin.
“You did good this time,” he told her. “Gilliam should be pleased.” They waited at a table in the kitchen for Gilliam to conclude his business.
“Splendid!” Gilliam said as he entered the kitchen. “Sweet Eliza, tell me!”
“His merchandise is very high quality. He’s not making much of a profit on this deal. He’s vain, pompous, and arrogant,” she stated.
“I thought so, but I needed to make sure,” Gilliam said. “Darrin, put her in the guest room. Let her have a book or two; she deserves it. Oh, and Darrin, get the carriage ready. We’re going to be taking a trip to Magnus.”
Nicodemus walked with his parents down Kenna’s main street. He remembered a few years ago when Kenna wasn’t big enough to have a main street. The Kenna family had picked a good place to build a stopping port for the river boats. The place had grown slowly at first, but when a few of the farmers brought their goods to the Kenna family to sell, the town grew rapidly. More boats started docking and buying local goods to take to Dargon City to sell. Merchants opened businesses on Kenna’s land and the area became a village. Now though, Kenna could be called a town. Nicodemus looked around in wonder as he noticed many new shops, inns, and streets. “And the people!” he thought. Maybe it was just because of the festival, but there were a great number of people in Kenna.
A crowd had gathered in the middle section of main street. Nicodemus grabbed his father’s sleeve and pointed to the crowd.
“I’d like to see what’s so popular, too, Nicodemus,” his father replied. “Delia, are you coming?”
“I’m going to the store. I haven’t seen Mariel in some time, and since I don t see her around, she’s most likely to be there,” Delia answered.
“We’ll be over here, then,” Hank said pointing to the crowd. “Come on Nicodemus, let’s see what’s so exciting.” Nicodemus and his father walked to the outside of the crowd. It took them a few moments to make their way far enough in to see. There was a man in the center. The crowd had given him some space, and he was jumping around. No, Nicodemus corrected himself. He was doing more than just jumping around. Nicodemus’ eyes opened wide in disbelief as the man jumped, rolled, and did many flips in the air. Nicodemus couldn’t believe that anyone was capable of doing what the man did. He would run a short distance, jump in the air, and do two or three flips before landing on his feet. The man moved to one side of the crowd. He flipped forward again and again until he was right in front of the crowd on the other side. The crowd tried to move back, but Nicodemus saw that there was no need. The man flipped to his feet right in front of the crowd and instead of flipping forward, he did a high backward flip to land on his feet. The crowd cheered.
“Truly amazing, isn’t it Nicodemus,” his father said. Nicodemus nodded assent as he tried to hear what the flipping man said.
“… jumps, flips … show, another one is set for tomorrow … Balor …” was all Nicodemus could catch because the crowd was noisy. Nicodemus watched as the man — Balor something, he guessed — left and Elijah Kenna stepped in. The crowd quieted.
“What an amazing show! That was Balor Hardwin, friends and folk. I want to thank everyone again for coming to our first annual anniversary of becoming a village. Now, we didn’t have a set day that we started calling this place the village of Kenna, but me and the wife decided to celebrate the growth of this place with our marriage anniversary.
“The next performance that we have for you is from three very special young women. They’ve traveled all the way from Magnus to sing for us …”
Nicodemus couldn’t believe his luck. There was going to be singing. He wondered what kind of songs they were going to sing. He had heard a man sing in an inn one day, but the only woman he had ever heard sing was his mother. She sang short verses of songs that her mother had taught her. She always had trouble remembering all of the song, so she mostly sang the chorus and a small bit of the verse. Nicodemus’ attention shifted back to the center of the circle as the three women entered it. Two of them looked a lot alike, and he concluded that they must be sisters. The third woman stepped in front of the other two.
They hummed separately, briefly, before they started. Their humming blended together and then the woman in front began to sing. Her voice was rough and a little deep, but she sang well. She was singing a ballad of some sort and the two sisters were echoing some of the words behind her. It was a song about some people and their deeds in the war. The ballad suited her voice Nicodemus decided. When the song ended, the crowd haloo-ed.
One of the sisters stepped forward. She was thinner and taller than the other one. He wished he would have listened more closely and gotten their names. “Silly chipmunk,” he chided himself. The sister cleared her throat and began. She sang a quick tempoed ditty. Her voice was high and sharp. She danced around as she sang. The two in the back twirled around and grabbed each others hands as they danced.
When she was done singing, the three of them sang a ballad together. Nicodemus couldn’t quite hear what the last woman’s voice was like. The other two covered her voice up most of the time. When they were finished, the crowd haloo-ed again. The third woman stepped forward and the other two took a step back behind her.
When she started singing, Nicodemus was instantly enchanted. Her voice was soft and melodious. There was a haunting echo in it and she sounded like two people singing at the same time. The other women were humming in the background to match her singing. Her voice seemed to stretch from her soul and waft out to embrace him. She was singing a slow sad song about the children caught in the attack on Magnus. Her voice cried out in tears as she sang about children dying. She sang of Stevene looking on Magnus and of his sadness at the cruelties of men. She sang from the depths of her soul and when she was done, silence covered the area.
Nicodemus sighed and found himself leaning forward as if to catch her every word. He settled back and knew that if he could speak, he would ask her to sing again. The crowd shuffled and whispers could be heard. The woman turned and walked away. The crowd parted to let her through and the other two women followed. Elijah walked into the open circle.
“Brings tears to yer eyes, it does. While we set up for the wrestling, we have horse races on the other end of town that are going to start soon. There’s gambling on the ship from Magnus — sorry, I forgot her name. You can’t miss it, though. It’s the biggest one there. And for you young, strong men, the wrestling contest starts right here as soon as we can clear the crowd out some.”
The crowd slowly broke up. Nicodemus stood where he was and let the woman’s last song replay in his mind.
“That was sad,” Delia said from behind them. Nicodemus turned around and saw his mother with a basket in her hands. His father turned also, and then took the basket from her.
“There’s horse races starting up,” his father said. “Care to watch them, Delia?”
“Yes, but no gambling,” she replied. “And we can t stay long into the night.”
“No, I don t want to stay late, either.”
North side of town
“There’s something going on in Kenna, sir,” Darrin said.
“What?” Gilliam asked.
“I don’t know. There are a lot of people standing in the middle of the road. We won’t be able to get through them, though. There should be side roads to go around them, sir,” Darrin answered.
“No, I’m curious,” Gilliam said. “Kenna was just an annoyance on the road before. If there is something here to draw these people, I want to know. I had heard some merchants mention Kenna before, but they weren’t important people and I dismissed their conversations. I remember them and it looks like I may have to pay them a visit when I get back.”
“Shall we stop the carriage here, then?” Darrin asked and at a nod from Gilliam, he turned to the driver and said, “Mick, we’ll stop here.”
“Eliza, would you like to accompany us,” Gilliam asked. Elizabeth looked at him and decided that his request was genuine.
“Yes,” she answered.
“You’ll give us no trouble?” Gilliam asked.
“No,” she said.
“Good! Darrin will accompany you as always, though,” he told her. The three of them climbed out of the carriage and walked toward the slowly dispersing crowd.
“Whatever it was, we must have just missed it,” Darrin said.
“Excuse me, what happened,” Gilliam asked a man who had come from the crowd.
“You didn’t hear that?” the man asked incredulously.
“No,” Gilliam said impatiently. “We just arrived.”
“You missed the most beautiful singin’ I ever heard,” the man said. “This is Kenna’s annual festival and Elijah’s brought in some performers from all over –”
“Thank you, Gilliam said interrupting the man. Is there an inn here?”
“Two of them. The River’s Edge is just over there,” he said pointing. “The other one’s on down the road. It’s a little more costly, though. The name of it is the Wayside Retreat.”
“I believe that’s the one we want,” Gilliam said as he started walking down the road. “Darrin, take Eliza and bring the carriage. Get rooms for us. I’ll be along shortly. I want to find out more about this Kenna. It may prove a better route for shipping our merchandise.”
Elizabeth walked back to the carriage with Darrin. She looked at the village as they rode to the Wayside Retreat. It was a small village but there were so many people here that she wondered what was special about it. She could only guess that being on the Coldwell river at the edge of the Darst Range brought in farmers and trappers with their goods.
The Wayside Retreat was a fairly nice inn for being in a small village. It wasn’t as nice as some of the inns in Dargon City or Magnus, but it had an air of home about it. The only problem was that all the rooms were taken.
“I’m sorry sir, but all the rooms are full,” the innkeeper said.
“You know of no one leaving soon?” Darrin asked.
“No sir, I don’t. Most of the guests are here for the festival.”
“I need two rooms. One of the rooms must have two beds in it. I’ll pay you a silver more if you can get two adjoining rooms for me,” Darrin told the innkeeper. The innkeeper’s eyes widened slightly.
“If you can wait but a moment, I’ll check on some of my guests. I think a few of them are almost ready to depart.” Gilliam showed up before the innkeeper’s return and found them sitting at a table waiting.
“The inn is full?” Gilliam asked and Darrin nodded. “How much?”
“A silver,” Darrin answered. Gilliam sat and contemplated Darrin’s answer for a moment.
“Acceptable. It’s an interesting town and may prove useful. Offer two silver if you need to,” Gilliam said. “Have you ordered food?”
“Yes. They had a busy evening and had to prepare more food. I’ve ordered us some stew. And a wine for you,” Darrin told him.
“Wine?” Gilliam asked in surprise. “They have wine here?”
“Only one kind. A local farmer makes it. I thought you would want to try it.”
They were halfway through their meal when the innkeeper finally returned. He told them that two guests had suddenly decided to stay elsewhere and two adjoining rooms had opened up. After paying for the rooms plus a silver, the innkeeper sent a boy to take their bags to the rooms.
“The food was rather good,” Gilliam said as he finished his meal. “The wine, however, was not. Eliza, shall we retire for the night?”
“It wouldn’t matter if I said no, would it?” Elizabeth asked.
“No, it wouldn’t,” Gilliam answered. “Would you rather have me just order you around?”
“It is what you do normally, be it a question or a command,” she replied.
“In the years that we have been together, you still impress me. There’s a fire in you that I doubt I could contain. If you weren’t so valuable, I would try, though there may come a day when you aren’t so valuable, Eliza. Remember that,” Gilliam warned. “Now come, we’re retiring for the night.” Gilliam got up from the table and went to his room. There were two beds in the room. He moved his bed to where it was in front of the door.
“It is the same as always when we’re on the road, Eliza. You have your own bed as long as you don’t try to escape. If you do try, you’ll sleep next to me. Are we clear on that?”
“Yes,” she said as she crawled into the bed in her clothes. She had gotten used to sleeping in them rather than give him any pleasure. It was awhile before she heard Darrin enter his room. She could tell he was drunk and that he wasn’t alone. She decided that there was one advantage to being in Gilliam’s room while they were traveling.
The next day turned out beautiful. They had gotten up late and Gilliam had even given her some privacy to freshen up. She washed and changed clothes while Darrin stood outside the door.
“Eliza, I’m coming in,” he told her. She smiled as she waited for him to open the door. Ever since she had hit him with a table leg, he was cautious entering her room. She was sitting on the bed as the door swung open. Darrin looked in at her and then waved her out. They ate a large breakfast and then went outside. The activities had started and they made their way toward it.
They made their way to the crowd, and Gilliam seemed genuinely interested in the town. She could tell he was thinking of how to turn the town into a profit for him. As they approached the center of town, she saw a man doing flips and rolls to one side. He wasn’t part of the main activity (she couldn’t see what that was because of people), but he looked to be practicing for it. She watched as Gilliam walked toward the man. Darrin was looking at some woman in the crowd and he didn’t notice the man, either. She didn’t know what to do. Should she warn Gilliam that he was walking right into the flipping man’s path? She decided not to and waited for the outcome.
Gilliam walked right into the man as he landed from a flip. Both went down tangled together. She watched as Darrin reacted and reached for the man. Her brain screamed, “Run!”. She did. She ran as fast as she could.
“After her!” she heard Gilliam shout. She glanced back and saw the flipping man and Darrin get tangled up just as Gilliam had. She had no time to wonder about her strange luck as she turned a corner and ran. There weren’t many buildings, but she used them as cover as she headed out of town. She didn’t know where to go, but anywhere was better than with Gilliam. She gave a silent thanks to the flipping man when she stopped running. She didn’t know where she was, but she knew that she was safe. More importantly, she was free.
The Thorne’s Farm
A few leagues outside Kenna
It was late when they reached their home, and Nicodemus decided to stay overnight. His parents readied themselves for bed quickly, and he was awake long after they were asleep. He replayed the songs in his mind over and over again until sleep finally overtook him.
“Nicodemus?” his mother called and the sound brought with it the smell of freshly baked bread. He smiled, stretched, and got out of bed. Standing, he realized that he had slept in his clothes from yesterday.
“There’s water in the basin for you,” his mother said. She must have checked on him earlier this morning. He found the basin of water in the main room and took it to his bedroom. After washing, he changed to a clean set of clothes and joined his mother in the kitchen. His father had gotten up earlier to get ready for work in the fields and was gone. Nicodemus knew that both of his parents had eaten then, so he ate breakfast alone while his mother sewed.
“Nico, are you leaving today?” his mother asked. He nodded yes. “Your father thought you would. He gives his love,” she told him and stopped sewing to look at him. Nicodemus nodded and placed both hands over the middle of his chest. “I’ll tell him,” she said and started sewing again. He watched her sew as he ate breakfast. She looked like she was making a shirt for his father. It was a sturdy, rough material and she cut out large sections of it to sew — much too large to fit her.
When he finished, he went to his room and packed. His mother came in and gave him some biscuits and smoked meat. She hugged him once and then went back to her sewing. She never did like good-byes. Nico took his pack and walked outside. The sun was just above the horizon and it looked to be the start of a beautiful day. He started walking for the foot of the mountains, mentally humming the songs from yesterday.
The ground was getting hilly, and he followed a stream that came from deep in the mountains. He had traveled this way back to his cabin many times and it was almost second nature to him. Because of this and because he was remembering the singing, he wasn’t watching where he was going very carefully. As he topped a hill, he almost ran into a woman. She was looking back over her shoulder and didn’t see Nico in front of her. Her clothes were dirty and torn, her hair was tangled with bits of leaves in it, and her arms had long, thin red scratches. Nico was about to step out of her way, but she tripped in his direction. He put his arms out to catch her when she turned her head around. Her arms went forward automatically to protect herself, but when she saw Nico, her eyes went wide and she tried to pull her arms in. She got them halfway back to her body before she fell into him. Nico saw fear and horror in her eyes as she fell. He didn’t mean to scare her, but he couldn’t just let her fall on the ground and hurt herself. As he caught her, he watched the terror leave her eyes and then she passed out.
The Darst Range
A few leagues outside Kenna
Elizabeth knew she had been lucky to get away from Gilliam, but now she was in the wilderness and lost. She had never been in the forest before and she jumped at every sound. When a deer had bolted from right beside her, she screamed, tripped, and fell down the hill into a briar patch. Cursing her luck, she picked the thorns out of her skin and continued on in a direction that she hoped was away from Kenna.
Night fell and she found a level place to sleep. She curled up into a ball and settled in for the night. When an owl hooted, she bolted upright. Just when she settled back down, a branch broke close to her. She could hear something walking in the darkness, but she couldn’t see it. As the noise of the animal faded away, Elizabeth relaxed slightly. When she started to fall asleep again, the owl came back and woke her. It continued throughout the night, and when morning came, she hadn’t gotten much sleep.
When the sun came into view, she started walking again. She didn’t really want to go out of the mountain because she knew that Gilliam would be in the valley looking for her, but she knew that she couldn’t stay here long, so she started making her way down to the valley. As she walked through the forest, she felt like she was being watched. She looked around, but didn’t see anything. The feeling never left her, and she would periodically look around. It was at one of these times that she tripped. She started to fall, and when she turned her head back to the front, she saw a man standing there. His arms were out to catch her. More than the fear that he was connected to Gilliam was the fact that she was going to touch him.
“No!” her mind screamed. She tried to pull back but it was too late. She felt the familiar jolt go through her. “… can’t let her hurt herself,” she heard him think. She prepared herself for what was to follow next — his emotions. A wave of something washed over her, but it wasn’t what she had expected. Instead of rough, raw emotions, she got something warm, soft, and relaxed. It was as if she was floating on a cloud that softly wrapped itself around her to protect and comfort her. She felt safe in that cloud, so she gave in to it and passed out in its loving embrace.