Winter’s Edge: 7/23/14

Little did we know the connection between our worlds was to become the battle ground. For years, centuries it had been a no man’s land, a place of guarded silence and passage. Over time it was less guarded to the point of being simply a necessary evil. That path, littered with broken cobblestones, leading through the twisted forest on the far side, was the only passage over the ravine. No one wanted to destroy it. More just wanted to escape over and through it as fast as they possibly could before nightfall caught them unawares on the other side. No one knew for certain what lived in that dark woods, but all who journeyed through it would attest to the constancy of nerves prickling hard up and the feeling of eyes persistently following their every movement until they were through it.

So, people would travel to our side, immigrating to that of the light to settle our lands, toil our fields. Serenity and her family always welcomed newcomers providing they came openly. Our people took in these people, gave them work, a place to live, and food to eat until they were integrated into our small community. It was the way of House Solserenay and had been ever since this edge of the world was settled by them. As a result no one ever suspected that treachery would come to our very backyard. After all who would harm the one who was openly giving what was needed?

At first it was only small forays into our forests as if they were gathering supplies, berries, nuts, that sort of thing for some sort of journey. Truthfully, it went unnoticed by most of us. Who would think twice about someone stealing what the forest was providing? The forest was filled with fruit bearing trees and bushes of all kinds from all over our world. Nobles and travelers knew to bring back small plants for the cooks, herbalists, and doctors of our people. There were a few areas that were off limits due to the poisonous qualities found within but everyone knew where they were and avoided them. Those were not the fruits or flowers that were collected, though. No, the berries, flowers, nuts, and herbs gathered had buried magical properties lost, nearly forgotten over time.

Like I said, the House treated the harvesting as someone just getting ready to go somewhere. Slowly, specific trees and bushes grew bare. It took our herbalist weeks before he understood the extent of their foraging and what it meant. While the overt individual properties of each was known, their ancient properties was long forgotten. Our herbalist, however, had been trained far away in the capital. Something sparked his memories from his studies long ago. Birds were sent out, spell bound messengers followed as replies began zipping back. Pieces of ancient recipes were sent. People, high ranking wizards and herbalists, began to pour into our domain. The implications were uncertain, but the ingredients and their potential were clear. To our detriment, we had not considered what these fruits could do when magically combined. By the time our herbalists and wizards figured it out, they were too late. Even then, the full extent of the damage or what was to come was not divined.

Slowly the forests surrounding Winter’s Edge began to die. It was not noticeable at first. They attacked in the winter, while the earth slept keeping its roots peacefully underground. The magical poisons slowly seeped down deep into the earth corroding the tender shoots, corrupting their rejuvenation into wretched torment. As Spring came, loosening the icy grip of cruel Winter, the earth screamed.

A long dark winter had encased everyone in its spiny arms for far longer than ere before driving crazed delusions of Spring upon all. Having so many extra mouths to feed and bodies to find beds for, Serenity was constantly on edge, striving to ration the supplies out until Spring would release Winter’s deadly arms. Nobles and serfs alike were craving escape from their imposed confinement. With dreams of warmth and bounteous color, everyone awaited the earth’s rebirth. With cheer starved eyes people searched for the first buds only to be greeted by hideous fingers of black that stretched twined, pulled, and seared their way through the frozen ground in their deadly imitation of Spring’s tender shoots. .

Toiling their way to the surface, the twisted entlets rose. Sprays of earth darkened, held in Greed’s wide palm, kissed by Sorrow’s delight, tempted by Treachery with his inky solicitation. The triplets had ne’er wandered to Winter’s Edge ‘til then. Serenity had held fast, her sons strengthening her resolve. Peace reigned but that morning, the shattering began. Sundered from its roots, from its home the purity of our earth was stolen and enraged, innocent, no longer. Screaming, raging, falling to the ground, keening our pain, poisons of the earth pooled inside us, awakened as we shared the earth’s agony.

Where once the joyous sounds of birds and frogs enjoined in Spring were now to be found the creaks of vines in the banshee wind. Flowers changed before our eyes into grotesque caricatures. The mutation complete, the plants uprooted. Their anger overwhelming us as over the space of one season, The House of Chaos had created its army.

With misshapen fingers the entlets sprouted from the mildewing earth pulling themselves to their rooted feet before launching forth. They were miniature figures of manlike trees barely coming to the calves of men with fury filled faces. Hair in shades of putridity hung lank, wrapped in fungus shrouded vines. Tunics made of decayed foliage draped their emaciated bodies. Shoes cast from shards of minerals long lost were strapped across the tops of their rooted feet while long claw-like toes stretched through holes clenching clots of poisoned earth and tossing balls of blackened imp fire from their fingers at any who came.

Images of childhood terrors and midnight frights cascaded before us ransacking the huts nearest the forest, awakening frightened discord among the children and maddening the pastured sheep to frenzy. Ripping fence posts from the field and shredding the wooden rails, entlets danced eerily past the boundaries of Winter’s Edge. They created lances, javelins, and cabers from the remnants of the fences they had destroyed. Minuscule weapons they might seem, when held by those horrific creatures they were deadly accurate in their tiny hands.

We lay writhing upon the ground in horror, our insides raging in pain as the entlets rained our ranks with spears and javelins created from our own fences. Clubbing those closest to them our men struggled to their knees, propped themselves upon their swords and attempted to prepare for battle, knowing that all could be lost before the battle had even begun. Still we couldn’t stand.

Leaning on the gate of keep, clutching her stomach as it churned, Serenity directed the men as the women and children behind her fell to the ground in agony. Tears pouring down her face as she witnessed the fall of her home, her domain, she screamed to the heavens for vengeance, for solace, for help. And still she watched on unable to turn her gaze from the massacre before her as nobles, wizards, soldiers, and guards all writhed in agony while the entlets buried each one beneath their hordes.

The strongest among us crouched swinging at those creatures shorter than his knees, stomachs heaving and cramping with each motion. Some just sat there and let the entlets come to them piling up bodies around them while their swords sang out bitterly. Desperation evident in every move, everyone struggled on not knowing from whence help would come or if it would even hear their cries.

Just as the last of us were faltering, falling to the ground, she arrived. Somehow she knew and came to us, the one who had been cast away so long ago. What brought her, we never knew but Quietude brought forth the solution. Dipping the corner of her cloak in the purest of Spring’s freshly melted snow she came to us. She brought fresh water from far away with her, a fount that never seemed to end as she bade us drink. Brought from her hermit’s rest, she washed our brows soothing the quakes with soft spells taught to her by Serenity long ago yet altered and magnified. Using motions older than the eldest of us could remember, she built a Sanctuary, encircling our keep, pushing out the entlets with her will alone.

While no beauty by any means, Quietude was fierce, courageous, and intrepid that day. Moving in ways with knowledge beyond belief Quietude led, directed our retreat to the keep, planned our rejoinder, and defied the battle to cast our rebuilding. Her knowledge of things arcane exploded through the entlets throwing them in shredded, scattered pieces far from the keep. Their imp fire and rooted chaos was disrupted for a time, but it was not enough. As Chaos’ army regrouped, the entlets grew.

Winter’s Edge: Prologue

Just a quick note before I give you the prologue. This was started back in 2009 as a series of epic poems. Later, I realized that I was writing about a game I played and that if I kept it PG that I could repost the poem as a story. While I did take artistic license with many ideas, the overall concept of the game does come out. In case anyone wonders, I have never read Game of Thrones, nor does this or any of the references from it have anything to do with either the book or the series. Like I said, this prologue and its subsequent chapters were started in 2009. I am cleaning them up a bit and resubmitting them here.

Winter’s Edge- the Prologue

 

At Winter’s Edge the snow falls silvering everything in its brilliance. There I sit in Time’s madness, a piece of eternity at my feet. Gazing into the rifts and flurries of generations, I am encased in Serenity’s inconsolability, unable to leave until the resolution for times past has been found.

She has cried. I must go.

The time for The Reckoning is at hand. Passion’s pierced reconciliation has been discarded, tossed into the streams of Time itself. The essence of Myth and Legend are at war with practicality. Our Time is ending.

She has called, I must go.

Yet, I remain in relentless solitude at Winter’s Edge waiting, silently wishing for a different ending to what will be. Prediction and predilection combine as Mankind and Other come to War, not to return.

She screams her fury. I rise.

It wasn’t always a time of inconsolable strife. Once, before the rift between Men and Other, there was peace. Peace that was shattered by countless acts of abandon brought about by excess. As all great societies rise, then too they fall. Ours is falling, failing, tumbling, spiralling into Oblivion.

But I digress I am at the end of my story as my world slides into decline, its people spent. My saga is almost complete, but you, you have just begun your journey. Learn from our mistakes, you who may alter the Coming of Winter.

Winter’s Edge: Story Begins 7/22/14

At my feet lay the hopes and the dreams of generations. Day Bringer was now but a small piece of eternity lying in pieces, tortured metal shredded spells. I wrested it from Legend as he went down bearing with him the acts of his followers to the underside. But I get ahead of myself, only Time could have intervened, but he didn’t.

Day Bringer, the sword of our ancient fathers, passed down through generations in House Gyrfalcon, cannot be remade without Peace. She alone knows the intricacies of its making, the spells of creation that bound it, but she disappeared into the night. She fell from Winter’s Edge ages ago. Her gentle spirit lost deep into the myriad depths that surround my watch, my echoing solemnity.

My lady calls. I can search no longer.

But, let me explain myself so that you may understand the importance of our meeting. Serenity is my lady, gone mad from the wars. I serve her and no other, but my heart is no longer there. Once she was a kind, caring, gentlewoman of spirit who took pains to share her peace and joy of life. Then the wars took her sons, Desire and Strength, and twisted them into hideous figments of our worst nightmares. Serenity was lost, lost in her pain, immersed in her tragedy.

Her abode lies on the precipice of Winter’s Edge. Once it connected the two worlds and bridged the madness. Through Serenity, the beasts of the abyss were tamed and kept at bay ever distant and out of mind. Because of Serenity’s madness, the beasts now run free torturing Men and Others alike, creating havoc where none should exist, slicing, shredding through the vows and treaties of centuries. Creatures of Chaos that they are, they now reign supreme. Would that we could go back before the Coming of Winter!?

My saga began so long ago it is lost in the mist. Funny how the memory plays tricks as Time steadfastly erases history creating and maintaining the records only for himself. This is what happened, but you will not find it in any book of history, lore, or ancient tome. It was erased as many things that embarrass us are. Perhaps I am the last to remember it as it happened? Or is it that I remember it because I am not of a noble house and have no investment in the political lies they told each other?

I began my servitude as a young man working as a steward’s apprentice in the great house, Winter’s Edge. It was a splendid honor to be chosen. Each man in his best be it doublet or jerkin, each one of us hoping, waiting, anticipating. We had all trained hard together to forge a team. Serenity watched our training, diligently noting our strengths and weaknesses before making her decision. Now we were being separated to be honed, to be recreated into the image of what she desired of us.

She came to us in the simplest of garb, just a faded blue peasant’s rough tunic over work worn boots. She had been in the fields, just moments before, but it made no difference what she wore none could dismiss her royal carriage. In her stained poor man’s clothes, all eyes turned to her, every man straightened, raising his head. All eyes turned to her in expectation, all of us half in love with her. A shiver ran down our spines as her green eyes peered into us almost caressing us, as if looking for our best, not our worst. Then she smiled and gently nodded in decision.

Serenity never faltered in her choice that day. I was the last one in line in my older brother’s best tunic, wearing my father’s boots. While I had spent time cleaning and polishing those boots, well, they’d never pass as a nobleman’s attire what with their scuffs, cuts, and abrasions. I was hatless and had no weapons other than my dirk. I stood my ground, refusing to present to her what I could not aspire to be. While I was becoming a good man, I had my flaws. A true warrior I would never be. Oh I could wield a sword and shield but I lacked the lust for battle. I was one for figuring things out, finding things out, solving puzzles and riddles. People talked to me. I listened and kept their secrets.

With one look into my wide, deep set eyes, Serenity stated that I would do. Do what I had no inkling, but do was what I did. For no ordinary steward’s apprentice was I. I was to be her diplomat, her author, her mathematician, all things for her, yet nothing. Never once did she hold my birth in my face. Instead she ensured that I received the training necessary to be able to do whatever it was she needed of me. I became her gopher, her adviser, and at times, her confidante. I became a greater person than my merchant family had ever envisioned.

To Serenity I was anything that she desired. That was how I learned of the uprising from the chaotic ones. I was playing diplomat in the depths below Winter’s Edge. In a gloomy, smoke filled tavern, there I sat in the back my tankard by my hand, my fare half eaten when I overheard them plotting, planning, creating the means for the downfall of their overlord. Three of them were sitting there in forest tabards of deepest browns and greens. To the off chance observer, they appeared as any other occupant with their wedge of cheese, their hunks of bread, their mead sitting waiting for their dry throats to linger. Yet, they stood out. I didn’t know why they did so at the time. It was only after I returned home that I realized it was the very fabric of which their outfits were made. These men wore not the wool of our native born sheep but something much more rare, yet capable of blending to the unwary. They wore the Cathislani caterpillar’s silk much carded, carefully woven and designed to mimic the best of wool. Yes, rough Cathislani silk it was, but still of a finer cut than any wool could ever dream of becoming. No assassin’s blade would ever be able to pierce their garments, no dirk or sword could dent it. And, as tough and naturally, magically guarded as it was, to the touch, this silk would appear as it looked, like the softest of wool. As I said, they caught my attention.

So, I did what I do best. I blended in with the patrons, slowly sipping away at my ale gathering intelligence. See, Serenity had picked well. With my mud brown hair, heavy eyebrows, and deep set dark brown eyes, I looked like the peasants from everywhere. When traveling, I wore an aged wool cloak, frayed and patched at the hem to discourage highwaymen. My pants were a dark blue serviceable fabric with a clean, faded burgundy tunic over it, nothing anyone would ever try to steal. Nothing about my person stated that I could be anything other than what I appeared, a low on his luck, traveling merchant. As such, people rarely remembered I’d been anywhere, much less close enough to overhear their conversations.

The three took little notice of me other than to observe that my table was occupied. The eldest nodded in my general direction before directing his brethren to another table. While I say eldest, that may have been a misnomer for none of them appeared older than his mid-twenties, but that in and of itself may have been part of their illusion. Their hair was long, straight brown tied back with leather thongs, twin braids bracketing the sides of each head with a single silver bead attached to one of them, reminiscent of elven rangers, yet they were not elves. The youngest carried a long, elegant rapier that almost appeared more decorative than useful with its jewel crusted hilt, but the way his hand kept close by, almost caressing it said differently. The second one had no visible weaponry, yet there might have been ones hidden anywhere upon him. He moved as fluidly as the most graceful dancer, yet much more deadly was he. The eldest was obviously the leader of this trio. Around his neck, hidden away where few could see, was a medallion that peeked out every now and then. It was silver with something written upon it, but I was not close enough to tell, not that I would necessarily know what it said. He stood directing the other two until he was satisfied before shifting his cloak out of the way before he sat. As his cloak moved, he reached beneath it to arrange its’ folds to fall over his sword, covering it from all who would note its quality, all except myself. Just peeking out from the top of his cloak were two hilts that may have been daggers or short swords. I couldn’t see his back to be sure.

With smoke from the patrons curling through the air and the aromas of roasting meat tempting the pallet, the men ordered their food then shooed the waitress off with a swat to her behind. Laughing she turned away as the youngest turned to the others and nodded his head. Picking up the tankard that he had yet to sip, the eldest looked deeply into its depths and whispered a word that I would have missed had I not been paying such close attention. From the depths of the mug rose a transparent white mist. When it rose above the lip of the tankard, it began to slowly solidify into an entity I had only heard of in children’s tales. It was the smallest of fairies that, according to the stories, could only be summoned by one who held hostage a portion of its holdings be it gold, treasure, belongings, or relatives. The eldest raised his left eyebrow indicating an area over his shoulder. The fairy nodded, released its smoky gray wings and disappeared briefly, only to reappear seconds later to inform his master of whatever it was he had wanted.

His master nodded then indicated for the fairy to return before giving it a small piece of meat. Lifting his forefinger, the eldest breathed a phrase and the others bowed their heads touching their right hands to their cloak clasps before tapping them once, twice, but the meaning was lost on me. So, keeping my head down as I leaned back in my booth’s seat, I observed them from under my lowered lashes while I cradled my ale.

They talked of inconsequential things, or at least I thought so until I began to notice a pattern to what they were sharing. Their conversation circled around a farmer, his daughter, and the merchants who were coming to visit for her hand in marriage. They spoke of the exchanging of cows for her dowry and the numbers of chickens and goats that would be given. To the unobservant, their conversation could have been any serfs about a local getting married, but they were not serfs, by their garb and swords alone, they were not serfs.

So, I let my mind wander while I began to piece together just what they were discussing when it hit me. These three were discussing an invasion, not a wedding. In this tavern, they were plotting an uprising, talking about the number of soldiers being gathered, and who they were planning on overthrowing as if it was just another day, anywhere. I lingered as long as I could listening to everything they had to say, trying to figure out who these three in front of me were, to no avail. Soon enough, they left leaving me with only my interpretation, their reputations intact, their identities remained unknown.

Some would ask why I didn’t interfere and take my story to their overlord? But I could not be the one to interfere. I had no access to him or even to their government other than that allowed to me. I was only a servant, sent by my Lady Serenity to deliver her good wishes and to continue the good will between us. Even in that, I was denied. I was sent away, unseen. My diplomatic status ignored and rejected. Doors that should have been open to me, firmly closed with no one looking out the windows or offering a back door. Disgusted at my failure I made a slow retreat to my mountain home. Serenity was waiting. She had stressed the importance of diplomacy and for the first time since she employed me, I had failed her. I often ask myself if I would have tried harder had I known of the strife to come, and the answer is always the same.