After his father is senselessly slaughtered by Draakon Reavers,
a naïve youth, Arwhon, is sent to his remarkable grandmother in Belvedere. Along the way he becomes an instrument of Fate, eventually destined to save Man from obliteration.
The evil Q’Herindam intend to wipe Man from existence. Only Darkwood magic stops them. Their paramount Mage recruits the ageless Empress Martine to wage yet another war for total Dominion. She captures the heirs to the Barsoom Throne and demands their homeland as ransom.
So begins the chain of events which transform the youth, Arwhon, into the hope of Man. Along the way he will need much help from the Servant who finds him, the beautiful, amethyst-eyed M’Herindar who Shields him and a giant bodyguard, his Arm.
books of True Fire, a fantasy trilogy, are written in the traditional epic style
where the reader is immersed in a world populated with a multitude of realistic
characters. They take on a life of their own and draw us, unwittingly, into
sharing their existence while they pursue a solution to the evil growing in the
The story is
complete and Books 2, 3 & 4 have been released.
Available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon
TRUE FIRE BOOK 1 - The Ring of Truth
B. Cameron Lee
A New Beginning.
Captain Belmar leaned against the starboard rail of his coastal trading vessel, Jalwynd, as she slid over the crest of the glassy wave and surfed down the far side. Spume, thrown back from the ship’s plunging bow pattered over the short, bow-legged man in his worn, ornate frock coat but he paid it no heed. A flicker of a smile passed over his weather-beaten, walnut face as he watched the helmsman curse and firmly grip the spoked wheel to keep the wilful craft to her true course.
The diminutive Captain reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a short brass telescope, a present to himself when he was finally promoted to Captain all those years ago. Placing it to his eye, he trained the instrument on the forbidding, wave-hewn white crags of the coastline which they had followed north since leaving Encarill ten days ago. There were only two safe harbours along the five hundred nautical mile stretch of sea cliffs to the south behind them and the Captain was happy they were nearing their goal. By his reckoning, usually dead accurate after a lifetime spent in the arms of his first love, the ocean, the headland of Dome Rock should soon be coming into view.
Jalwynd’s destination lay just beyond that headland, a safe berth at Trugor’s harbour in its lee.
A stronger gust of the steady south-westerly wind bellied the already taught sails, moaning through the straining shrouds and causing Jalwynd to heel momentarily. The seagulls working the ship’s white wake rose smoothly, wheeling in response to the gust as Captain Belmar braced himself against the rail automatically, his knack allowing him to feel his ship in her entirety, every plank and piece of timber, every rope and shred of canvas, even the sailors aboard her.
She felt quick and alive under her straining sails.
The diminutive Captain didn’t trumpet his ability. Not everyone possessed a ‘knack’ but his loyal crew knew he had one. They’d been at sea with him long enough to tell.
Jalwynd was a lucky ship.
The feel of the trim, taut vessel beneath him wasn’t the only reason for Captain Belmar’s satisfaction. Early spring at sea was normally cold and blustery with vicious storms raging in from the vast Western Ocean, pinning crews beneath decks until it was their turn on watch but this trip the ship and its crew had experienced unusually mild and fortuitous weather. The Captain had never known its like before and it perplexed him. Puzzling or no, the odd weather had resulted in the fastest and safest trip up the coast from Encarill his ship had ever made and that was certainly cause for celebration.
Belmar turned and made his way over to stand beside the helmsman, his rolling gait perfectly counteracting the movement of the ship beneath him.
“Jeffen, you ever know’d weather like this so early in the season?”
The grizzled, bearded helmsman took his ice-blue eyes off the compass in its binnacle, long enough to gaze across the rolling, glassy swell, gauging the distance to the lighter blue of the shallower water near the shore, before focussing them on his Captain.
“Nope.” Came back the succinct reply.
“We’ve bin together nigh on twenty year Jeffen and I’ve never know’d anything like this weather at this time of the year. It ain’t right.”
The helmsman set his eyes back on the compass and turned the ship’s wheel a little to correct its course before replying.
“It ain’t natural is what. Somats goin’ on. Somat big. We shouldn’t be here anyways. Way too early for us to head north. Since ‘at spoilt bastard of a Prince, Jerome, took o’er the throne when ol’ King Rickard got sick, nuttin’s bin right in Myseline. I blames his Mother. Damn foreigners.”
Jeffen noisily cleared his throat, hoicked and spat lustily over the starboard rail so the prevailing wind lofted his phlegm well away from the ship. It was a long speech for him and Belmar digested the helmsman’s opinion slowly, turning it over in his mind. Somehow, old Jeffen knew things other folk didn’t but his knowledge, however it was gained, came in handy at times and he was invariably correct in his summations.
The good Captain had been uncomfortable testing his ship, Jalwynd, against capricious Fate so early in the year. Exposing his ship and its crew to the dangers of such a long voyage on the normally unpredictable, heaving, sometimes black Western Ocean was not his idea of common sense. He would never have willingly made this trip so early in the year but the new King of Myseline himself had chosen Jalwynd for the task and ordered Captain Belmar north to Trugor to pick up supplies.
Encarill, old King Rickard’s beloved capital, was fast running out of basic supplies due to greed and poor planning. Rickard’s bastard son, Jerome, now King, was profligate, with no respect for conserving resources. There had been far too many feasts for unproductive nobles and courtiers in the harsh depths of winter. The shortages weren’t Belmar’s fault but he had been sought out because of his ship and his skill and ordered to fetch a cargo of grain and wine back to Encarill.
And when a King commands, you go.
Jalwynd’s passage down the silt-laden Salwin River from Encarill’s harbour to the sea had been very swift. Due in most part to the melting spring snows pouring from the foothills of Mehgrin’s Wall speeding them downstream. It took all of Belmar’s skill to avoid Jalwynd broaching as they raced toward the ocean, still bare farmland flashing by each side of the ship.
From the moment Belmar’s sturdy vessel shot out from the shelter of the Salwin River’s broad mouth into the Western Ocean and turned her voluptuous figurehead north, a fortuitous south-westerly wind had sprung up from nowhere and blown steadily ever since.
Jeffen’s words encapsulated Belmar’s feelings in a nutshell.
It certainly was not natural and something was going on.
A wind-fragmented call from the lookout perched in the crow’s nest at the top of the mainmast reached down to him.
“Dome Rock ahead Captain”.
The cry was repeated by the First Mate, Wallas, as Captain Belmar waved in acknowledgement.
Ten days of clear weather. Most unusual. Belmar had expected a few storms at least. He sighed and collapsed his telescope, replacing it in his frockcoat pocket. Jalwynd would soon be docking at Trugor, the hub of Trading for central Myseline.
The coastal plain east of Trugor, stretching all the way to the foothills of Mehgrin’s Wall, a good two weeks ride by horseback, was mostly fertile farmland, woods and fens. Last year there had been bumper crops of grain and grapes, so this early in the season the warehouse at Trugor should be nearly full of first-rate supplies. The Trader who owned it, Bryan nari Tsalk, was a natural businessman and had probably bought up most of last season’s surpluses. He always drove a keen bargain for his Trade goods but Belmar knew him to be an honest and fair man at heart.
Jalwynd’s rigging thrummed in tune to the constant wind and Captain Belmar thrummed with her, feeling as trim and taut as his ship. He turned his attention ahead and could just make out the unusually shaped headland which marked their destination. Jalwynd was rapidly bearing down on the massive rock promontory, the end of which had worn to a bare, white, rounded shape over the millennia, somewhat reminiscent of the top of a skull. Sometime during its long history, the dome had become the foundation for what appeared to be a monument.
A single, black, four sided obelisk speared over a hundred feet into the air, soaking up light and remaining unmarked, defying the elements. None knew of its origins, it had been there as long as men could remember but there were many legends regarding its beginning. That’s all they were, legends.
No one knew the truth of it.
Around that headland lay Trugor and a safe anchorage.
The modest port of Trugor was a favourite for Captain Belmar. Once a small fishing village but now grown over the years to a bustling Trade centre. Low white cliffs, home to vast flocks of seabirds, protectively flanked each side of a large bay. Smaller fishing boats reclined above the high water mark on a wide, shingly beach just north of the sheltered harbour. Houses, stone built and slate roofed, huddled darkly together against the ocean’s stormy wrath, marched up the slope of the hill to the top and beyond. Squeezed between them, the steep cobbled streets twisted down to the small docks, passing an assortment of shops and two inns along the way.
The good Captain’s destination, the Tsalk family warehouse, lay at the northern end of the stone paved docks adjacent to the shingly beach, standing alone, it’s back tucked against the low white cliffs.
Captain Belmar mentally readied himself to utter the commands for all necessary course changes and sail adjustments as Jalwynd neared the white mass of Dome Rock. Suddenly, a sleek dark shape shot out from behind the headland, its red sail furled and its forty or so blackwood oars flashing in the sunlight as they rose and dipped in perfect unison. Each stroke scattered sparkling drops of salt water as the boat’s crew responded to the fast, insistent drum beat marking the time. The vessel was so close Jalwynd’s crew could hear the occasional grunts of effort as the rowers bent to their task and make out the red leather jerkins of the olive skinned oarsmen, some of whom sported multiple piercings while all bore the drakon tattoo on their right forearms.
The Draakon Reaver ship, for that’s what she was, forged straight as an arrow for the open ocean, slicing due west through the incoming tide at speed. Despite his stunned surprise, Captain Belmar’s eyes instinctively swept the low, lean vessel noting her name, ‘Kraaken’, carved into the bows above the steel tipped ram and caught a glimpse of the golden pennant fluttering at its masthead. He instantly barked orders down to the Mate, readying Jalwynd for immediate flight in case the Reaver ship should turn on them.
The First Mate relayed the Captain’s orders to the barefoot crew with a commanding bellow and they quickly scampered into the rigging to furl the topsails. Captain Belmar stood by his helmsman on the quarterdeck ready to order evasive manoeuvres if necessary, praying to the Fates it wouldn’t come to a fight but the Reaver ship held her course, speeding straight out to sea, oars bending under the strain, seemingly ignoring Jalwynd approaching from the south off her port side.
Or benevolent Fate.
All aboard Jalwynd slowly let out their collective breaths as the Draakon Reavers shipped their oars and raised the square, red mainsail. The Reavers were leaving. Before long, Jalwynd, and her crew now busy trimming sails, rounded the headland and entered the more sheltered waters beyond, slowing rapidly under reduced sail. The mains were gradually furled one after another and a few topsails redeployed in order to keep the ships forward momentum toward Trugor. Captain Belmar felt his eyes drawn to the obelisk on Dome Rock where sunlight, reflected from the smooth-sided, night-black pillar, momentarily blinded him. As his vision cleared, residual white spots still remaining, he turned his head to look toward Trugor and observed a well-risen plume of thick, black smoke, fouling away to the north-east as it cleared the cliff top.
Its source, the Trader’s warehouse.
Oily flames engulfed the building, licking long red tongues toward the heavens as the supplies Captain Belmar was sent to procure were rapidly being incinerated.
The now worried Captain once more took his spyglass out and looked over the rest of Trugor. There was no sign of any damage to the town nor were there any other Reaver ships present in the harbour.
Very odd, he thought as the spyglass was returned to his pocket.
As the distance to Trugor’s harbour closed, the Captain, with his naked eye, could just make out tiny figures forming a bucket brigade across the docks to the Trader’s warehouse, trying in vain to fight the huge flames. There was an explosion, probably an oil or whiskey barrel he thought, and the fire-fighters scattered in case of more.
He wished them Luck.
Although time seemed to crawl by during their final approach to Trugor, it was not much longer before Jalwynd cleared the protective sea wall and eased into the close-shouldered harbour. Crewmen furled the last of her sails and she coasted in slowly on forward momentum. It seemed an eternity to the Captain though, as he was forced throughout that short time to watch the warehouse finally burn to a smouldering pile of ash and debris. The Tsalk warehouse had contained most of the grain and wine Belmar had hoped would fill Jalwynd’s holds. Capricious Fate had intervened once again; it would now take a good few weeks to acquire the supplies he needed for his new King.
If they were available.
Captain Belmar hoped there were enough supplies left to fill his ship here at Trugor, otherwise he would have to travel even further up the coast. Pickings to the north could be scant and also costly. He trusted that Fate had spared his Trader friend, Bryan, hoping the man had not been harmed during the Reaver attack on the warehouse and would soon be able to help him locate some more supplies.
He’d always been of service before.
Ropes were thrown to the tired men waiting on the dock and Jalwynd, now with all sails furled and tied securely, was pulled into and made secure against the padded buffers of the stone wharf. The usual joviality and banter was sadly missing from the strained, smoke smudged faces of those ashore and the acrid smell of recently damped-down fire hung pungently around the rapidly dissipating pall of smoke. Before long Captain Belmar had debarked from his vessel and was standing on the dock, talking to the Harbourmaster who breathed through a damp handkerchief pressed to his nose.
“Doesn’t look much like yer normal Reaver raid, Jak.”
“No Cap’n, it weren’t. Looks to me like they came here just to burn down the Trader’s warehouse, although why is a bit of a mystery.”
“What of Trader Bryan, Jak?”
The harbourmaster’s lean and wrinkled face fell and he looked uncomfortably at his boot tops for a moment, gathering his thoughts before replying.
“They killed him Cap’n. The Reavers were on us before we knew it. They rowed in swiftly and marched straight to the warehouse. We was getting all the available men ready for our defence of the town over yonder but they seemed to know where they was going and ignored us. Bryan was standing out front of his storehouse, wearing his rusty chainmail and carrying that old sword he brought back from the Dominion Wars. Never had a chance to use it though. The cowardly Reavers surrounded Bryan and slew him with spears before setting fire to his warehouse. They must’ve used a barrel of lamp oil to get it well started before they left. Apart from some minor thieving near the wharf, that was all the damage the Reavers caused in Trugor. Right strange goings on, if’n you ask me.”
Captain Belmar chewed his bottom lip as he stood thinking. This wasn’t right. Reaving was a fairly rare occurrence since the Dominion Wars, as the Reavers mostly stuck to piracy at sea now and generally that only occurred in the fairer seasons. This wasn’t how Reavers normally behaved. That gold pennant he had spotted on the black ship’s masthead told him the Reaver Admiral was aboard. What was he doing in Trugor of all places? And why kill a Trader then take nothing?
This was a real mystery, with no ready answer to it.
“Aye, it’s a puzzle alright. What of his family?” he asked the stalwart Harbourmaster.
“They’re over with the body. See. There.”
The Harbourmaster pointed.
The Captain’s gaze followed the gnarled finger and took in the three standing figures, heads bowed beside a partially shrouded object on the ground. Belmar left the Harbourmaster and made his way over to pay his respects to his dead friend and his children.
Bryan nari Tsalk lay in a large, dark pool of his own clotting blood beneath a raggedy blanket, close to the still smouldering remains of the family’s Trading warehouse. His body was clad in the rusty chainmail hauberk he had died in and his exposed, lifeless right hand still gripped an old, much dented sword. The well-used, worn blanket which barely covered him was tented by the broken end of a spear haft protruding from his chest. The spear had been run into the chainmail and through his heart before the shaft was snapped off in the melee.
Bryan nari Tsalk, a survivor of the Dominion Wars all those years ago, had fallen at last. To some cowardly Draakon Reavers.
The Reavers had left none of their own behind, so no one was really sure what price they had paid for their raid. It was devastation for the Tsalk family though. Bryan had been its backbone and its strength. Now the warehouse was burnt to the ground and Bryan lay dead before it.
It was Staril, Bryan’s eldest son, poking around in the slurry of warm ashes after the fire had been finally put out by the bucket brigade, who’d found the letter and the bag of gold in the secret hiding place beneath a flagstone in the coldstore. He’d read its words to Raleen and Arwhon over the body of their father, there beside the smouldering, acrid ruins.
The remains of the family warehouse.
My children. If you are reading this, then I am dead.
The gold is to rebuild the Trading business. That is my wish.
Staril and Raleen, that task belongs to you.
Arwhon. You are to visit your Grandmother, Cristal nasi Tsalkini
in the city of Belvedere in Southland.
I bequeath my sword and mail to you.
Take the horse and some money with you also.
My only regret is that we all did not have enough time with your mother.
Sareeni was a wonderful woman and a patient wife.
I would like to be cremated and my ashes given to the sea.
Farewell my children. May the Fates be kind to you.
Through stinging eyes, Arwhon had watched Jalwynd slowly glide in to the harbour to be moored up to the dock. As the posthumous message from their father was read out by Staril, Arwhon surreptitiously observed the rough looking, barefoot sailors, voyage over, idle now on Jalwynd’s deck awaiting permission to debark, their eyes eagerly cast toward the town’s taverns where a two week thirst could be slaked. Even a muted reception by the tavern girls would be better than none at all.
Arwhon also noted the diminutive ship’s Captain briefly talking to Jak the Harbourmaster before Jalwynd’s skipper turned toward them and headed over, weaving side to side with his nautical, rolling gait.
As the good Captain approached the bereaved family, he took note of the three Tsalk offspring. Staril was the large one on the left. Tall and broad shouldered like his father, with Bryan’s reddish-brown hair and hazel eyes, he was stubborn and could be a little taciturn but he was a solid man and had inherited some of the family Trading knack. Raleen, standing in the middle, was almost as tall as Staril and although not beautiful in the classic sense, she was still a very striking woman, with her yellowy-green eyes and her thick brown hair carefully plaited and arranged on each side of her head, framing her clear open face. Belmar had always liked to deal with Raleen rather than Bryan or Staril, as he felt he was getting better value for his gold, even though he knew he wasn’t.
Her Trading knack was strong.
Belmar idly wondered if that was her only gift, as he turned his gaze to the third member of the trio.
The youth stood with his head bowed in sorrow, chin on chest. This must be Arwhon, not known to Belmar but spoken of by his Trader father Bryan. Although of a height with Raleen, the lad appeared to be still growing and must be in his eighteenth or nineteenth year by now. Tall and rangy, he looked almost gangly standing beside his older brother and sister and the dark blond, shoulder length hair hiding his face was a fair contrast to that of his siblings.
Captain Belmar nodded to them as he approached the group and stood before them, head tilted back, looking upward to make eye contact.
“Mister Staril, Mistress Raleen and Master Arwhon, my sincere condolences for your loss. Bryan was a good man and none could have asked for a better friend.”
Staril’s reddened eyes gazed down bleakly at the Captain before replying in a halting voice.
“When the Reavers were spotted he sent me home to protect my brother and sister and tried to guard the warehouse himself. Truth be told, I’d far rather have had my father than all the Trade goods in it. Now we have neither.”
Raleen regarded the Captain in silence, fresh tear tracks streaking the soot on her face as she gathered her composure but her voice, when she spoke, was firm and kind.
“Thank you for your condolences, Captain. We’re sorry we’ve nothing to Trade at the moment. If you can make us a list of what you require, we’ll see if it can be filled for you in the coming days. For now we have more important matters to attend to.”
Her eyes returned to the blanketed figure at her feet.
Captain Belmar nodded understandingly and turned his gaze to Arwhon with the intention of giving the lad some small encouragement. Arwhon raised his face to the Captain and Belmar was startled by his first sighting of the intense green of Arwhon’s eyes. The colour was brighter than new oak leaves, deeper than a forest pool and as seductive as a high class courtesan. The Captain was deeply moved by the intensity of pain visible in the young man’s extraordinary eyes. He felt truly sorry for the lad and silently vowed to help the youth in any way he could.
Arwhon nodded wordlessly toward him and the Captain returned a brief encouraging smile. There was an air of preoccupation about the lad, an awkward silence which made communication difficult. Belmar could see little evidence that he possessed the Trading knack of his siblings.
Arwhon, in his grief, had turned his attention inward once more. His eyes became dull, lifeless and vacant-seeming as the fire in them died and he bowed his head to hide the welling tears. It wasn’t fair, his life was hard enough as it was but now he was supposed to leave the only family he knew and travel Fate knew where to visit his Grandmother.
The Captain addressed Raleen.
“If you needs any assistance, I’d be honoured to help.”
Looking down into his kindly, brown and wrinkled face she managed a wan smile.
“Thank you Captain. As always, an officer and a gentleman. If we do need any help, I’ll most assuredly ask you.”
Belmar bowed his head and politely withdrew from Bryan’s children. Arwhon adrift once again in a sea of private thoughts.
Memories of his father.
Arwhon’s earliest recollection was a hazy memory of Raleen, loudly admonishing him for running into the neat slate-roofed, stone walled cottage with muddy bare feet, his passage marked by dirty tracks across the freshly scrubbed flagstones of the kitchen floor.
That and the ever-present odour of fish.
He was about four years old then, while Raleen was in her ninth or tenth year. Staril, two years older than Raleen, wasn’t around much during the daytime. He was already working the family fishing boat with their father, heading out onto the dark blue ocean early each morning that the seas allowed to fish with Bryan, returning to the harbour just on dark, tired and taciturn. It was tough and unrelenting work; thrust on a growing boy who had no choice but to shoulder the burden of his share of the labour.
In those early years, when Arwhon was small, his father seemed huge and coarse to him, with large work-gnarled hands and a long, livid scar across the left side of his face, partly hidden by his reddish beard. The smell of fish was always on him, even after he’d bathed and the mica of fish scales turned up everywhere. But as the years passed, Arwhon discovered a deeply caring nature and an unexpected softness to the man, underlying the ever present sadness apparent in his father’s somewhat pensive green eyes.
Arwhon’s young life was one of constant toil, helping his sister with her many chores and later, in addition to the work at home, he hurried down to the shingly beach when the fishing boats came in to help his father and brother repair nets and gut and scale fish alongside buxom fishwives and their blushing daughters.
There was always something to do and never enough hours in a day to do it.
Arwhon, motherless from birth was wet-nursed by a villager who Bryan paid when he could, in fish when he couldn’t. She cared for the lad until she fell pregnant again and delivered another child. His sister Raleen, barely eight years old, had to take over the role of carer for him and the family home; cleaning, washing clothes and cooking meals while his father and brother were away. It was hard for both her and his brother Staril.
Arwhon learned that his mother had died bearing him, a source of continual sadness for their father. It was also the root cause of the friction between himself and his siblings, who laid blame upon Arwhon for their mother’s death.
His father never reproached him and tried, with the little time available at the end of each full day or when the storms came howling across the ocean from the west, to teach him a little reading and writing. Arwhon studied both letters and numbers and often sat at the kitchen table writing words and sums in a spidery, cramped hand, the charcoal screeching on the slate in the flickering light of a fish oil lamp.
War, however, was not a topic his father taught. The many battles Bryan fought in during the years of the Dominion War were never mentioned but still he managed to teach Arwhon a little of the land they lived in and the disposition and loyalties of the few countries adjoining Myseline.
Sometime in Arwhon’s twelfth year, his father sold the fishing boat and opened a small warehouse to start Trading. He had the knack for it and business prospered. Daily life became a little easier for the whole family but still Arwhon felt the resentment from his brother and sister. They made him feel like a thief for having stolen their mother from them.
It was a hard burden to bear.
Both Staril and Raleen seemed to have inherited a knack for Trading from their father but Arwhon hadn’t felt the call at all. He could find no apparent knack for any task he undertook but still his work was neat and tidy. He’d no idea what he wanted to do with his life but his young mind was full of the fantastical stories of sailors, heard during stolen moments at the harbourside, his mental images of heroic deeds gleaned from stirring songs sung by the occasional travelling minstrel working the inns. The still growing youth imagined journeying beyond the mountains, of seeing far off exotic places and participating in thrilling adventures. He dreamt constantly of fantastic exploits, with himself as the sword wielding hero. All childish fantasies distilled from tall tales of derring-do. Unfortunately, Arwhon’s wish came true far sooner than he ever envisioned.
The death of his father was the catalyst.
Arwhon would be leaving his lifelong home of Trugor in a few scant days, the morning following the ritual scattering of their father’s ashes on the Western Ocean. It was a fitting end; their father choosing to personally enrich the seas with his remains, for it was the sea which had unceasingly nurtured them through the hard times.
The whole town turned out to watch as Bryan nari Tsalk’s body, dressed in fine clothes and wrapped in his best cloak, was laid on the criss-crossed logs of the pyre erected on the beach near the burnt out warehouse. He looked as if he was merely sleeping while solemn villagers came and went, leaving small fragrant posies or gifts of food for the afterlife. Bryan had been well liked and respected for his hard work, honesty and fairness. The town of Trugor had greatly benefited from the part he played in the warp and weft of its commerce and culture.
Staril, now the eldest in the family, applied a burning torch to the oil soaked logs which caught rapidly, fanned by the strong breeze, popping and crackling as Bryan quickly disappeared inside the flames. For the second time in as many days a column of smoke ascended in front of the cliffs. The watching crowd respectfully remained until the roaring fire diminished and the logs fell inward upon themselves, sending a cloud of sparks flying skyward before the fire eventually diminished to the flicker and glow of a long farewell. That was when the whiskey barrel came out and Bryan’s memory was toasted.
Many times before the barrel was emptied.
The day following the public funeral pyre was the day set aside for the private funeral ceremony. Following his wishes, Bryan’s ashes would be scattered on the sea. The morning had dawned fine and clear, with the previously constant south westerly wind dropping away, seemingly just for the occasion.
The ocean was like a millpond as Captain Belmar took the helm of his own longboat and headed out of the harbour with Staril, Raleen and Arwhon aboard. The crew plying the oars were all volunteers, as sailors could be superstitious about death and the Captain was a fair man.
The three Tsalk siblings sat alone in the front of the longboat accompanying the small wooden chest containing Bryan’s ashes. The rowing was relatively easy and soon the longboat was gliding swiftly through the glassy swell as they headed out to the open ocean past the headland with its single, ancient spire. That remarkable column had been there all of Arwhon’s short life and was as much a part of the scenery as the headland itself but as the longboat made its way past Dome Rock, oars rising and dipping in unison, Arwhon’s attention was inexorably drawn to the black spire, his eyes widening as the shadowy surface shimmered like fire to his gaze. A red aura surrounded the whole spire and a low buzzing sound began, hardly heard at first but gradually growing in volume like an approaching bee swarm until it filled the air with a thrumming noise before suddenly ceasing.
A shiver ran down Arwhon’s spine as the red colour of the obelisk dimmed and its surface returned to the normal unremitting black. No reaction was apparent on the faces of his fellow sailors. He turned first to Staril and Raleen, but they shook their heads in bewilderment at his excited description of the sound and colour he’d seen. None in the party had noticed anything unusual and some gave him odd searching looks, shaking their heads in disbelief at his questions. Arwhon fell silent and cast his eyes down as a dull headache started at the base of his skull.
Out on the Western Ocean, the funeral rites were quickly over and Bryan’s remains given to the bosom of the seas. The ashes sank quickly and quietly.
Bryan was home.
Arwhon was up well before dawn; he’d eaten the large breakfast Raleen prepared for him far too hastily and his stomach felt a little queasy now. All the reasons for remaining in Trugor ran round and round inside his head, one after the other and Arwhon found it hard to dismiss them as he tried to think more positively about his journey to come. Everything was happening so quickly; was it only yesterday they’d scattered his father’s ashes on the sea?
By the time Arwhon had saddled the family’s retired and ancient horse, Tansy, a stout old cob more used to pulling a small cart than being ridden and the gear packed to his satisfaction, the morning sun was peeking over the barely seen mountains far to the east, shining brightly in the cloudless blue sky.
It was time to go.
Staril and Raleen were the only people to see Arwhon off when he was ready to leave, as he’d already visited his few good friends the previous evening to say final farewells. Arwhon fiddled, checking Tansy’s girth strap for the umpteenth time before turning and hugging both of his siblings tightly in a wordless farewell. Choking on emotion, he took hold of the reins and quickly mounted the quiet old horse which grunted as she felt his weight settle into the wide saddle.
Staril was secretly glad to see Arwhon leave. Jealousy played no small part in that. Why would their father instruct Arwhon to go and visit their illustrious Grandmother instead of him? Still, looking on the bright side, Arwhon had no knack for anything and was just a useless mouth which required feeding. Better he did go away and take the old horse with him. She was even more unproductive than Arwhon.
With little apparent emotion Staril quickly wished Arwhon well and stepped back, waiting for him to ride off but Raleen hurriedly moved to stand by Tansy’s stirrup for a moment or two more, looking up at Arwhon with tears in her eyes. He was almost like a son to her, despite the closeness of their years. She had taken on a large part of his upbringing and although she bowed to Staril’s view of Arwhon being responsible for the death of their mother, in her heart she could not find it in herself to blame the lad. Raleen reached up and took Arwhon’s left hand in both of hers; holding it fondly for a moment as he sat astride Tansy, ready to ride away from Trugor, who knew for how long?
The chainmail hauberk their father had died in, with his blood washed out and a few broken links in the front hastily repaired with twisted wire, looked bulky and ill-fitting on Arwhon’s gangly frame. As for the old notched sword pushed through a loop in the belt around his waist; it seemed totally incongruous to her.
Her brother looked so young and unprepared for life.
Unbidden, a tear coursed down Raleen’s cheek. She wiped it away with the back of her sleeve.
“Remember Arwhon, that I love you dearly. Take good care of yourself and come back to us one day. We’re your family.”
The words seemed to penetrate and Arwhon shifted his gaze from the far distance to look down at Raleen.
“Thank you Raleen. You’ve been far more than a sister to me and I appreciate it more than you could ever know. You’ll be forever in my thoughts.”
Hearing that, Raleen let go of his hand and stepped back beside Staril, who chose to merely nod toward his brother. Arwhon nudged Tansy with his heels and the old horse moved off at the walk. He rode slowly up the hill and out of town with just an occasional glance back over his shoulder.
Raleen waved until he could see her no longer.
Staril had already gone about his tasks, happy he had one less dependant now.
Never, in all of his dreaming, had Arwhon envisioned his adventures starting like this. The consequence of an inexplicable Reaver raid resulting in the death of his father. The emotional dam threatened to burst but he swallowed the grief down with a few solid gulps and a deep breath. There was plenty of time for mourning later on.
The road pointed straight toward Mehgrin’s Wall, at least two weeks ride away and Arwhon found he could just make out the hazy heights of the mountain peaks far in the distance as Tansy picked her way slowly along the rutted road, carefully avoiding some of the larger uneven rocks embedded in its surface.
He wondered why the mountain range was named so?
Who was Mehgrin and why did she need a Wall?