Entry 9: Old Cities and New Faces

“Leafe, Shiny, come look!” Abeline’s face flushed with hope as she stood at the top of the great green hovel in front of us. We had just cleared the forest, soaked to the knee in mud and so threaded with stickers and thorns from shrubbery that a stranger might mistake us for a pack of Treant Saplings.

I noticed Ashe pretending not to respond to “shiny.”

We climbed the hill behind her. So much endurance. It bewildered me how she was still so full of life after yesterday’s long silent march. We didn’t intend to camp last night but somehow silence added weight to the hike. I sensed that Ashe was beginning to feel the weight of his soul. You know it’s bad when the paladin needs a break.

We climbed the grassy hill to find that we were actually standing on a cliff. The grassy cliff came to an abrupt, rocky drop; it didn’t look natural. Miners?  Below us, the morning fog was just starting to fade back into mystery, and the sun reached out over a great expanse of grey stone, white rock, and red brick buildings spanning our horizon. Behind them we could see a great river, and from our distance, could not make out the other side.

“My word.” I was completely awestruck. “I never imagined.”

Abeline nodded “Draumerheim, ‘as old as man’ some say. This city has expanded, collapsed, rebuilt, burnt down, erected again, and again, until it became this.  Buildings so tall, they make the great pines of the north tremble.”

Ashe stood silently, looking at the city below without showing great change in his expression. His brows lifted a bit, and perhaps his cheek muscles relaxed, but he held his demeanor steadfast. He grunted. “No time like the present then?” And started down to the left of our cliff, where the cliff-side gave way into hills and the passage downward was safer. We followed pursuit.

As we grew closer to the city, I began to notice just how varied it was. Buildings were not at all uniform, and it seemed that some were much newer than others. Many where built in varying style. It was all sort of an architectural culture mash—Powerful Nord archways attached to artistic Southern walls—several different temples had their trademarked spires erected. I could see what my master meant; this place is a haven for masons; the only end to a mason’s career here would be his death—judging from those towers however

We followed a stream all the way up to the city’s sewer gates. The closer our proximity, the greater the stench.  I didn’t mind so much. When I was younger I took refuge under bridges, forgotten alleyways, and other nooks that might surprise you, to escape the bullying of bigger street urchins. Human street children had little cause and therefore little to unite over. However, they did have me to share their disgust in. It always started with curiosity over my physique. “Youre so lanky! When was the last time you’ve eaten? Are those your real ears.” And it always ended with the dripping arch ways of streets above me, the chirping of rats—I didn’t mind the rats though, they never brought me any harm. I never had to run from a rat, only from people.

At some point in the long final stretch, Ashe allowed himself to slip behind Abeline and I. He insisted he was fine, although his face looked troubled. No doubt burdened with the weight of his mind.

Abeline pulled out a small, folded parchment, and rubbed her thumb across it.

“Abeline, I never asked, what’s your business in Draumerheim?”

“This.” She held up the note. “This is my new business.” She looked proud, and her eyes were alert and lit with passion.

“And this is?”

“My new tavern! Auntie Kylie left me her business when she died last season, just at the summer’s start actually. I would have sprinted straight off to Draumerheim if the delivery of this letter had been left with swifter hands.”

“You seem very eager.”

I jumped up on a little rock protruding like a lance from the ground and playfully tested my balance on a single foot. I watched my footing carefully for a moment. When my eyes returned front, Abeline’s intensity nearly projected me on my backside.

“You have no idea.” She said. “I left the moment this letter came to me, and would have gladly vanished earlier.”

We continued on while she talked more about how she had been dying to leave home for some years now, but she was careful to never say why.

Behind us, I heard stumbling armour and a muddled curse. Ashe tripped over the spired rock but quickly recovered his composure, as if he was embarrassed. No one cared; at this point in the journey we were all dreary of travel and dreamt of beds.

Abeline gagged on the growing stench and held a deep-purple satin handkerchief to her mouth. “Gods.” In contrast to our misfortunate path upon the ground, the sky was now well lit by the early-autumn sun, and a flock of red and brown birds flew over head. The tree leaves on either side of the vast rolling landscape reflected light off their glossy green; they had not yet begun to turn. The air still resembled summer; night however, made it more obvious that the season was receding.

We approached the sewage duct, a great massive stone archway, loosely barred and leading into some unwanted darkness, and then proceeded to move to higher ground so that we were on level with the city, if that were possible; the city took many levels. We saw roads and gates, many of them from this one side. Merchants and travelers were spilling out and coming in, in equal abundance. The city walls where high, and in some places merged with protruding buildings that stuck out. Atop every other guard tower, a banner was erected: sandstone red and tan, a golden lion took the center of each; the lower corners were marked with a triumphant blade, and at the top, each had a goblet.

Abeline sighed “Finally home.” And grinned ear to ear.

We walked a few yards behind a cart and pony and beneath us the road slowly turned from dirt to white brick, which lead us to a powerful gatehouse. Only two guards stood nearby, one looking particularly relaxed, bowed and smirked at Abeline. The other raised his brows at his companion. “Anything we can assist you with my lady and fellow? Our city can confuse the unfamiliar, but all who do not disturb the peace are welcome.”

Abeline still grinning said “Yes actually. One moment.” She unfolded her note while Ashe walked in behind us. The two men saluted him as he walked past.

“Hey Ashe!” I called out.

He turned. I mimicked a soldier, held up my shield and pounded a fist against it. He chuckled accidently and shook his head at me. “Leafe, you’ll do well here with that spirit. And I mean to check up on the two of you soon. But first there is something I need to look into.” I gave him an understanding nod.

Abeline turned and waved. “Oh yes, ta-ta lovvie, best wishes and all that.” He waved, nodded and headed down a bustling street. She turned back to the guard who had slipped a little closer to her. She pushed him back gently with one finger. “Ah ah ah… easy there slick.” She pointed back at the note. “Now, how do I get to The Prancing Witch?”

Entry 8: Guilty in Green

What is this? I pulled a crooked twig out of my hair. We were entering the old wood. People usually left this area alone.

Markus started “This used to be a natural preserve. Lords only would stroll through here hunting the big buck. Now it’s mostly forgotten.”

I replied “Mostly?”

“Yep. Thought you’d know about this… anyhow, yep! Druids still come here; druids forget nothing.”

“Is that so?

His voice sank “More than you know.” He shuddered and clanked his teeth. “Anyhow…”

We marched on for miles through jagged thorns and the thickest brush. Sometimes it seemed that he’d purposefully take the most difficult path. We’d approach a trail, take about five paces down it and then he’d veer off into some sticklers.

Ughh “Why are we walking through thorns?”

He’d jovially sing “It-sa-thiiis way! This way today-oh-ohhh-oh…”

There were some small broken dead branches that suggested maybe… just maybe perhaps some form of life trudged through these impassible woods in the last few months. But to meet druids out here? Unless they flew I didn’t see how this was possible.

My companion stumbled over his own foot. Oh gods… please don’t be drunk. Then he caught the other foot in a protruding root, just barely catching his balance by hopping on his opposite leg. He bent back so far that I thought he was bound to plummet on the crown of his head.

“Oh ho! Still got it.” He tried to silently belch and the smell of rum saturated the air around us. I helped stabilize him and he smirked. His breath reeked so strongly my face shriveled as if I had eaten a lemon whole; I could feel my guts churn. He removed the bottled from inside his cloak and attempted to take a swig of it. Dear God, It was empty.

“What in Oshrildin… I didn’t even see you drinking it.”

His body wiggled like jelly. “Ahaaa… hic-sneaky sneak-ic-y… ah…”

He fell back on his arse. Great, Trondelag’s most wanted and my savior is drunk. I looked around. Green thickets and leaves, brown trunks and dirt, and grey decaying wood. Ahead were some boulders.

“Are we even going the right way?”

“We go… that-a-waaay!” He sent the bottle flying some 60 foot ahead, shattering it on the boulders, sending glass shrapnel flying every which way.

“If I didn’t need you I swear-“

“Swear what? Ohhh-hoho, go on. Swear what I dare you. I dare you. Please by all means finish that sentence.”

He attempted to stand with no avail. He fell flat on his back, a dead branch cracked under him and I saw the moment of panic take his face. When he realized his back had not broken he mustered up his don’t fuck with me face again and opened the front of his cloak and then held his tunic open with both hands exposing his chest.

“Come-on then! You’ll what! “

A moment of silence passed; clouds moved above us giving way to sunlight, the wood lit a light, luminescent green.

The angelic, soft nervous voice I fell in love with filled my ears and tickled my spine.

“He’ll do nothing because he is a true gentleman. Gather your composure Markus. This is Sir Ashe, a front-line battalion Knight whom has served in over three wars and survived nine individual battles. “

Her face blushed Ruby red. ” You will show respect!”

 I turned to gaze upon my darling Merette. She was adorned in pale green robes, flowing, yet thin. Her form was noticeable; the curved aspects of her body were delicately contoured by the fabric. She had no hood; instead she adorned a small tiara decorated with bits of elk antler. Around her neck lay bulky bone necklaces and she had wrapped vines around her waist like a monk’s rope.

______________________________________________________________

Leafe

The Paladin had stopped sharing his tale, much to Abeline’s dismay.

She nudged him on but with every suggestion to continue he seemed more and more irked with her. His face seemed almost guilty.

Eventually she gave him some rest and after a long silent march he said “I beaded her that night, unmarried, in the wild, and as an occultist. I beaded her still and have never felt a greater poison consume my heart.”

Abeline stopped rapt as a statue. “Excuse me? Occultist? Eh-hem! She was a druid Sir Ashe and a noble young lady at that it seems. She adored you. Occultist? Please, leave the black magicks in more capable hands if you would be so kind. Your angel has not interest in things of this nature.” She cup her palms and a small flame sprout forth.

“I thought I would have my Merette, in sanctity, as noble clergy, in my chambers… forever my angel. That Merret will still live on in my memory, false though it may be.”

“She loved you, probably still does!” At this point Abeline was talking a mile a minute. “She sacrificed for you, saved your life! You know that fog that rescued you, the shattering axe? Yeah, thank the druids you hate.”

He stopped. Kneeling down he pulled off his leather pack, reached inside, and pulled out a burlap sack. He opened it. I shielded my eyes from the gleaming light. “See these? These are the remains of the axe that would have had my head. Merret’s cult gathered these for me. They had nothing to do with the axe shattering. They intended the fog to initiate quicker. So tell me witch, what saved my life? Was it black magick or Oshrildin’s glory? Glory that I had forsaken for the shadow of a woman?”

There was a strong silence.

“If you can’t tell me, then we have spoken enough about Merette and magick for one day.”

He gathered up his bag and continued on. I put my arm on Abeline’s shoulder. “Well, we asked.” And then we followed behind him. It shouldn’t be long now.