Authors: Jeffery VanMeter
The Dark Times
It was a long time ago; a period succeeding generations would call “The Dark Times.” The peoples of the world fought endlessly against creatures corrupted by the forces of darkness; animals and men fused into dreadful aberration; beasts bent on doing the will of their evil masters. When the people cried out to the spirits of the land, sea and sky for help, the spirits responded with a gift of four weapons: The Stone Hammer, The Blackwood Bow, The Silver Axe and The Golden Spear. The spirits then chose four: three men and one woman to bear these weapons in a war for control of the world of the living.
The four gathered the largest army ever seen and in a war that lasted twenty years, battled back the forces of darkness sending them down into the deep places of the world. The people rejoiced and made the weapon masters the three kings and one queen of the land and sea. For generations, the four kingdoms lived in peace, but as is common with men and women, they became jealous of one another’s kingdoms. Shattering the peace their ancestors had won, the descendants of the four fought one another, slaughtering thousands for the causes of their own pride.
When the spirits saw the peace shattered, they decided that once again, they must intervene for the cause of peace amongst women and men. In secret, they forged another weapon; one more powerful than all the four combined: The Black Sword. From among the people, they chose one man, a simple man named Farraday and gave him the Black Sword and with it the power to bring women and men together.
Farraday gathered an army from all four kingdoms of those who sought justice and peace and they marched against the jealous rulers battling for their own vanity. One by one, the warring kingdoms fell to Farraday and he gathered the four weapons unto himself. In the end, the three kings and the one queen fell and the land and the sea were united. But there was a price to be paid.
When the Great War was won, Farraday felt a weakness he’d never known fall upon him. Day by day, he became weaker and even the greatest healers and sorcerers could not find a reason. Soon Farraday knew that he was dying. When his illness finally confined the once great man to his bed, he summoned his four closest friends, three men and one woman.
“I am dying, “he said, “because no one man or woman may have such power as I have and not be corrupted. Even now, I wish to rule all the peoples of the land and sea as their one and true master. But in wisdom I know that no one man or woman may rule without becoming a tyrant. And so, my life is the price that must be paid for a lasting peace.”
He gave his friends and allies the four crowns, but not the weapons of power they had once used against each other. He scattered them to the four corners of the world, prophesying that they would, over the course of time be found; for nothing lost ever becomes forgotten. Upon his death, the spirits took him and buried him in secret and the Black Sword with him.
On the day of his death, the Great Lady of the Sky appeared in the form of a thundercloud. “Peace is once again yours.” She said in a voice that all could hear. “It has been bought and paid with the blood of millions and the life of one good man. But in the days that will come, when the name of Farraday is nearly forgotten, the forces of darkness will rise again, while the four kingdoms war with each once more. A man will be chosen again to unite the good peoples of the world and he will carry the Black Sword again to unite the world in a final war against evil.”
Upon hearing this, one voice among the multitudes called out, “who will be victorious? Good or evil?” And at this, The Great Lady gave no answer.
That was five hundred years ago.
Kenner awoke from an uneasy sleep to find that he was still in the forest. He was lying on his back on the cold ground, his head propped against a pile of leaves. The silver dawn’s light was starting to filter through the trees, and he could barely see the soft silhouette between two young saplings.
“Is that you shadow?” He said quietly in its direction. As always there was no answer; only a feeling of being watched. As he concentrated on the shape, he felt a sensation of an answer.
“Yes, I am here,” it seemed to say.
Suddenly he heard movement behind him. He picked up his club thinking it might be soldiers, but it was only his cousin Belfor.
“Wake up, Kenner. We’ve got one.”
Belfor then woke his brother Malton and led them through the trees. Kenner then reached out and caught Belfor by the shoulder to slow him down.
“You make too much noise when you rush,” he whispered.
“But he might…” Belfor started, but Kenner stopped him.
“He’s not going anywhere.” Kenner said.
They moved slowly and silently through the trees and the undergrowth. Kenner took his bow in his hand and gently loaded an arrow on the string. He moved as quiet as he could, his two cousins behind. A single beam of sunlight cut through the trees and illuminated the stag two hundred yards away.
He was beautiful. He stood tall and proud in the beam of light, his horns as white as dry bones. He was eating the grass underneath him, apparently unaware of the three men hunting him. When Belfor stepped on and snapped a twig, it sounded almost like a thunderclap to Kenner’s keen ears. The stag head shot up and his eyes met Kenner’s. He turned to run, but as fast as lightning, Kenner drew the bow and loosed the arrow. It struck the stag under its foreleg and it stumbled. Still it ran.
Belfor and Malton ran to follow, but Kenner knew better. Looking to the ground, he followed the blood trail while the other two nearly got lost in another direction. Moments later, Kenner heard their heavy footsteps come towards them.
“How can two men who’ve spent almost their entire lives in the hills still make so much noise?” He asked them. They bowed their heads ashamed.
“Did you get him?” Belfor asked.
“Of course I did,” Kenner answered.
For over an hour, they followed a trail of blood on the ground. It weaved its way through the trees and undergrowth as the stag had obviously ran trying not to run a straight line. At first, it appeared as tiny drops in the grass and fallen leaves. Then the blood spots grew larger as the stag appeared to weaken. There also appeared a place on the ground where he had apparently fallen and gotten up. Soon they came to a clearing where they could see the stag struggling. It staggered a few steps then fell. Then Malton drew his hunting knife and charged after the wounded beast
“No!” Kenner growled as he held him back. Belfort then sighed heavily.
“Do we have to do this every time?” He moaned.
Kenner looked at him angrily.
“We’re not alone in this world.” Kenner replied.
The stag tried to move was too weak. Kenner knelt beside him and placed his hand gently on the magnificent beasts head.
“I’m sorry my friend,” Kenner said softly. “I pay honor to your strength and your courage. May your spirit go on to the land of your fathers as we are nourished by the gift of your life.”
With one quick motion with his knife, he opened the stag’s throat.
Kenner then thought he sensed something moving in the forest. He couldn’t hear or see anything, but somehow he felt they were not alone. He hesitated for a moment.
“What is it?” Malton asked.
Kenner looked around the clearing to the edges of the trees. Despite his feeling, he could see or hear nothing.
“I don’t know,” Kenner answered. He once again carefully scanned for movement or sound,
and then nervously returned to the work at hand.
As he prepared to open the stag’s body there was a sudden commotion in the forest. Soldiers wearing armor and bearing spears burst through the trees and quickly surrounded the three men. As Kenner bolted upright, he tried to ready his bow, but suddenly a dozen more men came from out of the thickets with bows and arrows pointing. Belfor and Malton tried to run. Five men on horses pursued them into the trees. The two young men could hear the hooves of the huge war horses barreling down on them. First Malton, then Belfor were captured in nets by the horsemen and then dragged back through the brush. Kenner, with arrows and spears pointed at his him, dropped his bow, put his hands above his head and dropped to his knees.
After the two cousins were dragged back to the clearing, they were wrestled from the nets and then forced to the ground; the knees of the soldiers pushed into the middle of their backs.
“We’re sorry!” Belfor cried out. “We’re sorry!” Then another soldier kicked him in his face.
Then one of the horsemen climbed off his steed and pulled his helmet off of his head. He smiled at his captives and laughed heartily.
“Look here boys. These three have graciously provided us with breakfast.”
The others laughed and then the soldier approached Kenner. His hard, grey eyes stared deep at Kenner, now seething with anger.
“Do you know what the penalty is for poaching the King’s deer?”
Kenner looked up at the soldier defiantly.
“A night of passion with your mother?” He quipped.
The soldier slapped Kenner across the face with his hand covered in an iron gauntlet. Kenner then looked at him, still defiant and spat his blood onto the soldier’s boot. The horseman raised his hand to strike him again when a loud voice called out to him.
“That’s enough!” The voice said.
Kenner looked over and saw a tall and large man climb off of his horse and remove his helmet. His face was square and flat with scars looking as if etched in stone. His coal black eyes at first looked hard and grim, but then seemed to soften with a kind of sadness. From the sword on his hip, Kenner could tell that this man was the Captain of the company. His father had taught him long ago that only captains carry swords. He then turned to his company.
“Tie them up!” He commanded.
First the three of them were tied to a tree while they watched the stag butchered then cooked and eaten by the company of soldiers. Kenner could tell that they were Walechian, the nation of his father. Their dark, blue armor had the image of a white tower emblazoned on their breast plates and their iron helmets had a single spike on top.
Walechia was the land of his father and his birth. But Kenner felt no loyalty to this land, or its king Philas. Long ago, his father had been banished by the king and he was raised in a tiny and secret village deep in the hills.
Sitting through the morning and into the afternoon, he thought about what would happen to him and his cousins. Would they be taken to the White City? It was nearby. Who would they be brought before to judge them? The King himself? Surely not, Kenner thought. But what if he did stand before the King? What would he say to him, the man who tore down the good man who was his father?
“What are you staring at, boy?” One of the soldiers grunted at Kenner.
“A dead man if you ever call me boy again.”
The soldier stood up and grabbed his lance.
“What did you just say to me?”
“Stand down.” The captain ordered.
“Did you hear what he said to me?”
“Indeed I did and if you find yourself afraid of a mere child tied to a tree, then perhaps you should find yourself another occupation.”
The other soldiers laughed.
It was late in the afternoon when the soldiers finally finished their meal. The captain then stood over Kenner, looking down on him.
“Did you pay honor to the stag?” He asked. His voice sounded like he had swallowed gravel.
“Yes, he did my lord.” Belfor said pleadingly. “He most certainly did. He always does.”
“Silence!” The captain barked. He then turned his eyes back to Kenner.
“Yes,” Kenner said simply.
“I’ll remember that when you see the judge.” He said. He then turned and called out to his company.
“Bind their hands and tie them to the horses!”
It wasn’t long before they were led out of the forest and on to the plain of Walechia, which stretched out before them for miles. It was early spring and the grass was still short. In the late afternoon sun, it looked like a green carpet leading off into distant mountains. Off in the distance, Kenner could see Kallesh, the White City. Kenner could see the sloping walls of the city and the battlements watching over the plain. The Iron Gate, so named because the wood was said to be so strong, massive stones thrown by catapults simply bounced off or shattered like glass. No enemy had ever breached the gate. Even the largest battering rams had splintered against its doors. The Great Tower of the King rose towards the sky, seeming like a great white spike piercing the heavens. It was said that the Great Tower was built by the great king Farraday himself to look out on all the lands he had conquered.