Entry 7: Finishing the Bottle

Inside the rotting tavern, we found ourselves a couple barstools that resembled chopping stumps. I’ve pulled corpses from the fray of combat with less dagger-holes in them. We sat ourselves down amongst a gnome and a child who sat eating breakfast at the bar.

The child didn’t turn its head or speak, and from the side of its head alone, I could not say whether it was a boy or girl.

The gnome was a clean and well-kempt. In all manners evident he appeared to be a perfect gentleman.  He looked over at me and my hooded… whatever he was, and gave us a little nod.

“Mistress will be back in just a minute. Just drawing the little one’s bath.” He said in a peppy, nasally voice.

My hooded friend lifted up his arms, clad with brown leather bracers, and pulled his forest-green hood back to resemble his face, but still left it resting on the top of his head. I could see now, some long blond hair slipping out. His face was friendly, smiling, and stubble suggested that he hadn’t shaved in at least a few days.

His warmly replied “No problem little friend, we’re in no hur-“

                “’—Little!’ What do you know of ‘little’ giant? I happen to be the tallest gnome in all of Trondelag.” He stood on the bar stool, but his stubby fists and his waist, and stared the two of us down most intently.”

The mistress came strolling down the stairs, “Calm yourself Fiodor. These two lost dogs aren’t worth your time.” She walked behind the bar, bent forward to collect something from a lower bar-shelf and came back up producing an unmarked bottle of some dark liquid.

“Dogs?” My companion rebutted, “We are courteous men, whom—“

                “—Dogs.” She said. “You’re a dog Markus, and your shiny friend here is a shiny dog.”

My confusion must have manifested upon my face in some form.

She took notice while she poured two small clay mugs with the liquid. “Oh, you don’t know do you? Well, this one” she nodded at Markus “is no good.”

Markus hoped up on the edge of his stool. “Look woman, I just saved the man’s life!”

                She slid the two mugs forward. Markus grabbed his and slumped back on his stool. “Markus, you’re a dog, and as much as I hate to say it, a very handsome dog.” She reached out and pinched his chin. “Sometimes even a nobel dog. But a dog is a dog, and I will not forget what you’ve done. Chara, come on little one, time for your bath.” The youngster picked out a little potato out of its breakfast bowl, popped it in its mouth, slid down, and followed its mother up the stairs.

The gnome took another glare and scuttled off into the backroom mumbling something ill-phrased to himself.

By that time Markus had just drained his mug of vile. “Gonna finish that?” He pointed at mine.

                “What is this?”

“I thought you said you liked rum?”

                “I haven’t said a word this entire time.”

“Right, so you haven’t. But you are now, so that’s good. Mind if I?” he wrapped a finger around the handle of mug and slowly slid it to him, as if he was being sneaky. “There we go… Like I was saying earlier, I saved you. Well, she had a lot to do with it I suppose. And then there were the druids who summoned that fog… But I—I was the one who found you in the alley. Ah, ha! See, where would you be without me?”

                I slunk my head down into my palms and tried to process the cataclysm that was consuming my life. What was all my service for? All for nothing. They will find me. “They will kill me and Merette will see me die disgraced.” I spoke my mind mistakenly.

“Merette, little clergy girl, about yay big?” he gestured the height with his hand. “She’s the one who saved ya.”

He had two more drinks, stole the bottle from behind the counter and we hit the streets. We walked down old roads which I have never seen; he told me we were heading to the old sacred grove.

 

Entry 6: Ashe Beats Rock

“Right with you” meant three days. I lay on the hay mattress, which in all honesty wasn’t terribly uncomfortable—perhaps for a soldier.  I lay and think about Merette and what a fool I had been. Yet, over and over in my mind I replayed the event that landed me here, and I can’t fully say what possessed me to swing. The man was wrong, I knew it in my gut; his smile torched my soul. I didn’t enjoy removing any of those heads, especially that first man, Mr. Galish. His tortured, miserable face haunted me. But Tynir… I wanted to see his head roll. I wanted to feel the slight tremor of his body falling to the ground at my feet… but I can’t remember swinging. It was as if for a moment everything went blank, and an instant later I was staring at the deed.

When the priest did finally see me he greeted me with a court summons. I was to face the block the next morning and I wasn’t at all scared or sorrowful… until Merette came to visit me. We cried together while struggling to embrace through bars. We had but minutes left to ever see each other again, and neither could speak a single word of comfort. After the guards removed her I clung to the iron bars that still radiated the warmth of her body. I held on to them, my last remnant of my heart.

The execution was to be held outside today, in the courtyard. The grass looked unkempt today; as the guards lead me to the block, I heard a monk chastising a gardener.

“What was it you people were doing all day? I told you the judgment was to be held outdoors.”

“Aye Sir, but we whacked all of this yester-evening, why it’s long now’s a mystery Sir.”

“I’ll whack you the next time this…” he went on about it as guards pushed me on.

In the center of the courtyard, I was lead up to a large wooden platform, which had been set up for the weekend executions. These more public displays were open for a much larger audience and any citizen was permitted to witness. Those saved for public executions were typically selected by the high priest himself. The judging block sat in the center of the platform, already tainted by blood? I heard some from the crowd say,

“He dropped the axe on Tynir!”

“The one that tainted it!”

“Oshrildin damn the guilty Knight!”

“Spiller of innocent blood!”

I tried not to look out or pay attention to the crowd of condemning strangers. I kept myself secluded in my mind as I felt myself being lead to the block. They had never removed my armor. Veterans where permitted the honor of dying steel-clad. One veteran tried to convince the clergy to allow him his helmet to escape the axe at which he was granted, and then hung.

I knelt and laid my head down against the stone. As the priest read off my allegations, I turned my face to the side.

There were peasants choking… many of them. The coughing began to spread widely through the crowd, and I noticed a rising fog coming up from the earth. The guards began to panic and those stationed on the ground began climbing up to the execution platform. Behind them civilians attempted to climb as well, but where kicked back by guards. The smoke nearly covered all the heads below and continued to rise.

“Enough!” cried the priest. “End him now!”

The axe came down upon my neck and shattered. Starting with the blade, traveling up the shaft of the axe, the gilded metal splintered into a hundred pieces and collapse worthless on the ground.

“End his witchery!”

I rose and the fog had nearly shrouded the stage as well. The guards began choking. The executioner attempted to raise his greatsword to smite me, but instead lowered it into the wood to prop himself up. Within moments they all collapsed helpless on the stage and ceased breathing. The priest muttered a mix of curses and prayers and never broke gaze with me, even after he stopped breathing.

After I had fled from that nightmare, and tripped over my share of bodies, running through the mysterious fog that claimed all lives but mine, I found myself confused and helpless in an alleyway bordering a forgotten old inn and an unkempt home. I panted, trying to catch my breath, when a green-hooded figure collapsed into the alley panting, catching his.

“My *pant* Gods, how do you *gasp* run so fast in that armour?” He walked over to me and slouched heavily against the opposite wall.

“Right, so I’m supposed to bring you to the council, but I say we’ve had our fill of exercise; we’ll let the council come to us.”

He blew a small whistle that hung around his neck like a medallion and just moments later a crow swooped down from the sky and perched himself on the figure’s shoulder. He pet the bird behind its neck thrice, wrote out a small memo, and attached it with twine to the crow’s leg, then flinging his arm upward, sent the bird back into the sky.

“Right, that’s taken care of. Let’s say you and me take a peak in here. Maybe they’ve got something with a kick. Inns have rum right? You’re good for rum yeah? Well, rum it is then, on me.”

He helped lift me to my feet under one arm and lead me inside the old inn. I could smell its age and filthy nature before we even walked inside. Inside was a whole other mess.

Entry 5: Red Carpets

Merret, had ever such beauty existed ever before… in the whole of creation? In my dreams she never went home that night. We never left the room. A kiss would leave to many; she would be hovered above me her thighs clenched at my waist, her robes tossed to the floor… Merret, perfection…

Thump Thump Thump

Somebody knocked at my door.

“Sir Ashe!” A muffled voice found its way through the sturdy oak portal and plucked me from my dreams.

I stirred about in my bed, unwillingly regaining consciousness. The sun was bright against my face.

The voice bellowed out again, angrily this time. “Sir Ashe, either come to the door now or the next time you open your eyes it will be back on the war-front.”

I sat upright immediately, robed myself within an instant, marched strait to the door and opened while saluting.

“Ashe…”

“Aye, sir!”

“Why are you saluting?”

Embarrassed, I lowered my hand to my side, still standing upright in attention.

“Sorry sir, force of habit, it won’t happen again.”

“Right… Okay then, get armoured and get your arse downstairs; the tribunal is nearly assembled.

Once I had armoured myself and mentally prepared myself for my first day of judgment, I made my way into the great hall.

When I first walked into that great hall, I saw a long red carpet leading up to the judging block, where the guilty are beheaded.  The room was filled with piers and the piers where filled with clergy, politicians, city watchmen, and aristocrats. The first two piers closest to the judging block were reserved and filled with prisoners in chains, some were foreigners, sent here by their governments for judgment. The block itself was made of white stone, never tainted by the blood which spills on it. Some say that its own holy purpose keeps it pure. Legend suggests that it will only stain when an innocent bleeds upon it. Others believe that the monks are just very good at cleaning.

Behind the block, the clergyman who spake with me the night before, was holding the gilded axe. He smiled to me and nodded. No one said anything, but I understood this as my queue to step forth.

That walk seemed like miles at first. Eyes followed me unblinking to the block. With each window I passed, sun danced off my armour. I wondered how they could bare to stare so widely at me.

Finally I reached the block; I walked behind it and the high priest set the gilded axe in my hands, bowing as he did so. I lifted it, and rested it upright by my side, and stood like a soldier, completely still—a statue with the power of judgment. I looked straight out, down the red path I just walked. Suddenly I felt as if I had just woken up, and that this was all happening far too quickly.

The priest read aloud. “As it is just.” And the entire congregation repeated, even one of the prisoners.

“So we begin with all sovereignty and kindness. Mr. Galins? Would you please step up to the block please?” Guards grabbed him on either arm and forcefully lead him to the block. They pressured him down onto his knees and he knelt there, looking out at the crowd. Out of sorrow, not by force, he lowered his head on the stone and openly wept.

“Mr. Galins, I am instructed now to read your crimes. At this time Sir Ashe will raise our lord’s axe. Should Sir Ashe deem you unworthy at anytime, he will say ‘guilty’, he will look to me, I will nod, and as a representative of Oshrildin, he will allow the axe to fall. If however, Sir Ashe does not allow the axe to fall, the judgment is left to me and I will command Sir Ashe to either behead you or rest you axe. Should we both find your crimes undeserving of death, you will be permitted to walk into the courtyard where guards will escort you to a cell for rehabilitation. At any point, I may interject and command Sir Ashe to rest his axe should Oshrildin speak words of innocence to me.”

The prisoner said nothing, he only continued to weep. The priest unraveled a scroll and cleared his throat. “Let’s get started then.” I took a step back and raised my axe as if to make a mighty swing, and I held the pose. The priest gave me a slight approving nod. “Sir Galins, you are hereby charged with defiling the sanctity of one Miss Elizabeta Tynir.” The prisoner’s weeping grew louder. “Good sir, could you please quiet yourself, thank you.” The priest read on. “It says hear that you were a ball guest permitted into house Tynir, and that during the night you poisoned lady Tynir’s cup with sleeping herbs.” He kept weeping, softer now. I heard “she-she” slip through the mumbling periodically.

I made the mistake of speaking. “She what?”

“Sir Ashe, I must remind you that the sentinel of Oshrildin does not speak in court. Mr. Galins, you too must not speak, or I will command your execution. Now, back to the matter.”

He cried out uncontrollably. “She lied!” mucus and tears ran wildly down his face onto the stone. “She told me… She told…me”

“Enough. Fall!”

I swung the axe in a perfect arch, landing it upon the man’s neck, severing him completely and cleanly. The impact made a loud clanking echo which carried through the hall, all were silent and no scratch was made to the stone or the axe. The body fell upon the red carpet, the head rolled several feet down the aisle and in that moment I understood then why the carpets where made red.

I had not intended to swing. Had the military left me this obedient?

“Moving right along then…”

—-

A dozen more dead men had left the alter drenched in blood, the guilty heads lay littered on the steps and streams of red trickle from the chopping stone.

“Right, just one more for today then.” The priest went right along. “Lord Forset, would you please rise to the altar?” A man with finely trimmed, very short, blond hair rose in calm confidence and made his way beside me. He knelt, looked up at me openly grinned and laid his head on the block. I didn’t understand his calm nature; he laid his head comfortably on the bloody stone as if it was his pillow.

“Lord Forset, this is you third offense.”

A woman cried out from the crowd “That’s the monster! The one that killed my boys and husband…” the tears began spilling out of her eyes, and her voice lowered, shuddering she spoke, “end him.”

“Now, now Mrs. Danbury, I have the scroll right here. I must read the allegations from it before making a fair and just decision. Let’s see… what do we have here?” The priest pressed his tongue against his upper lip as he read. “Lady Danbury… Were you indeed having an affair with Lord Forset as the scroll suggests?” She began to speak but choked on her own voice. She made a terrible hacking sound with her throat and the site of her face could wrench any heart that looked upon it. “Right-o then, moving right along.” The priest read on a little further. The prisoner laughed to himself, but I could hear it.

“Oh my. Well, it looks as though my hands are tied on this matter. Mrs. Danb- oh my, apologies. Miss, by the laws of Trondelag your husband and your lover had equal share of your heart and were legally recognized as proper rivals.”

Without full consciousness, I heaved the axe back behind my head. The priest looked over to me in alarm as I clanged the axe down through the Lord’s neck.

“Ashe!” the priest threw up his hands in a panic. And before I had a chance to recognize what I had done, two guards had seized me from behind while another pried the axe from my hands. The courtroom had broken into a terrible commotion. They drug me off, down the staircase and into a private cell.

One guard spoke. “The priest will see you shortly.”

Entry 4: Embers of Memory

Abeline’s voice was the first to break the silence. “Tall and pointy, aren’t you the least bit curious about Short and Shinny’s origin?”

                “Well, yes, I suppose I am.” I wasn’t sure if I was lying or not. Part of me wanted to hear the story of the armored stowaway, part of me wanted to forget I had companions and wander aimlessly through the woods.

There was another moment of silence.  Abeline was about to speak again but Ashe interjected with the same dutiful voice he has answered me with before.

“I have no reservation in regards to the details of my origins, provided my new comrades retain its confidentiality. “

He came to a sudden stop and looked at us both very seriously with a face most grim. His eyes, once stoic, sank into disdain, and then further sank into deep sorrow as he reached back into his memories.

 ________________________________________________________________________________________________

Origins: Ashe

 

Oshrildin, the god of justice, boasted the largest temple in all of Trondelag. Its outer walls towered over nearby buildings and were gilded in intricate designs of saints, judges, and serpents. Oshrildin is commonly represented by the double headed snake; often one head will represent divinity with an adorned crown, whilst the other wields sharp, vicious horns, representing judgment and death. Artists have taken liberties in recreating “The Patient God” as statues, tapestries, and so on, all over Trondelag. The temple of Oshrildin and its affiliates were held in the most luminescent light, as Trondelag entrusted all manners of justice into their hands.

“Are you prepared Ashe? You may very well be dropping your first axe tomorrow.” The old priest eyed an ornate, ceremonial golden axe, encased in crystal behind the altar.

                I responded “I am ready, I have seen my share of war, this temple is my new home, and I am prepared to act as a vessel for Oshrildin.”

“You’re paladin roots serve you well. You’re father would be very proud of you Sir.” He made his way back towards his chamber door, still talking. “There is no better way to serve the Holy Knights than to become a Hand of Oshrildin.” He closed an enormous mahogany door behind him; it was plated with a large metal ornament, shaped like a crown, under that was a smaller ornament, shaped as horns. The clergy lived very well here indeed.

I made my way back to my quarters; tomorrow I had to act for the first time as a Hand of Oshrildin. I looked into a large portal mirror, which hung across from my bed upon entering my room. I was more presentable now than I have ever been.  My face was cleanly shaved, for the first time since I was able to grow a beard, some four or five years ago. The golden emblem of Oshrildin was handsomely mounted upon my breastplate and my hair lay gently and neat against the sides of my face. The room was large, filled with furnishings, including prefilled bookcases. I however, could read only simple phrases so I left those books unopened. My life was spent on war-fronts and absent of schooling.

I intended to spend that night very casually, as I made myself comfortable in my new home. I changed into soft, neatly tucked linens, and made my way down to the dining hall for supper.  I went, I ate, introduced myself to whomever I felt carried a warm presence, and made my way back to my room. As I was climbing that last set of marble stairs, I bumped into a familiar little figure.

A soft innocent voice spoke nervously. “Excuse me, I didn’t… Sir Ashe?” A cloaked, slender, slightly shorter than normal girl looked up at me curiously for a moment before allowing her face to explode into a grand and ecstatic smile. “Ashe, it is you! You’re back for good this time. And look how handsome you are; I barely recognized you—not that you weren’t handsome before! You were… you’ve always been very handsome. Oh gods! I’m sorry I didn’t mean to sound forward, I just… I…”

“Calm yourself Merette.” I placed my hand on her shoulder, looked into her forest brown eyes, and embraced her, perhaps for longer than some clergy would deem appropriate. She dropped down her hood and let her shimmering brown waves spill out.

                “You’re here now for good. I’m so excited, I can barely stand it.” She grabbed my hand and tugged me up the stair case and down the hall as she talked. “Mother has been dying to see you—oh, my birth mother, not the priestess. I suppose I really ought to keep those two straight when I say ‘mother’ now.”

“And I her, it’s been ages. But Merette?”

                “Yes?” She continued tugging me along.

“We passed my room.”

She had gone on apologizing at a rapid pace as we walked back to my chamber. We discussed all that has happened over the last two years, since I have last been home from war. She had become an acolyte of the holy mother of Trondelag. She spoke of enlightenment, righteousness, and justice when she spoke of taking up the cloth; however, I had a more probable reason in mind. In Trondelag, clergy could only marry within clergy, and as a Holy Knight, and a Hand of Oshrildin, The Order definitively classified me as clergy. This was not at all upsetting for me, for I did truly intend to wed Merette.

We continued talking and laughing, every now and then we’d enjoy a quiet moment in blissful silence. She told me she was in the temple delivering a message to brother Jatuaf; however, I knew her far too well… and besides, Jatuaf lived on the first floor, but I didn’t feel the need to share this knowledge.

Eventually, as the sky began to show signs of dawn, I saw her out, and kissed her goodnight.

Entry 3: The Weight of It

The witch’s voice resonated in my ears. It was soft, full, and gently spoken; yet it said “Hey, tall, pale, and pointy, move your arse.”

I turned over and groaned. I felt as if I had only slept a minute. The sun light up my face and I felt its warmth concentrate at the tips of my ears.

“Come on, up up. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

I opened my eyes and held out my arm to block the sun’s menacing rays. Sitting up in the sand I looked up at Abeline who hovered above me, and she smiled.

“Morning” I said.

“Morning, now don’t be a stickler, go introduce yourself.” She pointed over towards several large rocks on the beach-side. On them sat an armored soldier, clad in plated steel so gleaming, he could have been a second sun.

I stood and stretched, arching my back. “So who’s that then?”

“Our smuggled goods.”

I gave her a raised eyebrow. “That explains the weight of it…”

I made my way across the sand, enjoying the sensation of walking on solid ground. The witch must have plucked off my boots to dry. With each step I treasured the feeling of finely ground sand between my toes.  The soldier didn’t turn to look at me; he was fixed on the ocean with a most contemplative look in his eye.

I stopped beside him for a moment and greeted him curiously. “Um. Hello there.”

His response was instantaneous and direct, like a well trained soldier reporting for duty. “Ah, so you’ve woken up then. Good, it’s about time. We really should get marching off to Draumerheim about now.”

He still stared out into the vast blue.

His hair was tied back into a little stub of a chestnut colored pony-tail. The bits that didn’t quite reach dangled messily about the side of his tanned grizzly face. He was young, but his face spoke of battle. He had seen his share prematurely.

“My name is Leafe.”

“No surprise there, you’re pointed like one. Is that where you got your name?” His eyes fixed on my ears. I quickly pulled up my hood. Oh, gods, how could I be so stupid? I get comfortable for one second and-

He laughed genuinely “Calm yourself elf. I’m not going to turn you in, or put you to the torch.”

Is that what people did to elves?

“Besides, we have thick, old forests to traverse. We’ll need your natural prowess.”

Natural prowess? I had none. I had spent my entire life in cities, this had been my most immersive encounter with nature thus far, and we haven’t even entered the woods. But they didn’t know that, and I need him to want me alive. The only people that know about my ears need to remain my friends.

I gathered my confidence. “I’ll be sure to help in any way I can.”

“It’s my fault they’re dead.” He interjected, his eyes still fixed on the ocean. “Dead men, enslaved women and children. Once the boys come of fighting age, they’ll be killed too.”

I sat myself beside him. I could see, we weren’t heading anywhere until our new friend had a chance to expunge the burden built inside his chest. Abeline had wandered the opposite direction collecting the more shimmering shells.

“…What do they call you?”

He took a moment to himself, and released his name, almost shamefully to me. “They call me Ashe.”

“You’re Ashe and I’m Leafe.” I smirked and spoke light of heart. “What was that about not setting me to the torch?”

He broke his gaze with the ocean for the first time and shared a smile with me. Then he stood up towering over me, but only for a brief moment. When I stood I was nearly a full head above him.

“Funny, you looked taller sitting.”

“Ha. Well, enough of that, and enough contemplation. I’m sure you have questions; we’ll discuss more whilst we walk. Continued discussion here would result in dead time.” His voice quickened in pace, and his tone became more commanding.

“Aye sir!” I replied in a joking manner, yet he seemed to take it as a sincere response.

“Very good.”

Abeline made her way back to us cupping some prized shells in both hands. “There are peasants who have never even seen the ocean.” She tucked them into a pouch on her belt. “Jewelling has been a family gift for several generations now; we’ll see if I carry that trait.”

I located my boots, drying on a nearby rock, booted up, and headed into what seemed to be something of a trail under Ashe’s guidance. We marched into the quickly thickening forest.