I’m still writing narrative fiction, but lately I’ve been tangled up with scriptwriting for a few folks. While as yet nothing much has come of it, I have hopes — and it’s keeping me quite busy.
But not so busy I can’t find time for my daughter. I’ve taken to doing some role-playing gaming with her lately, so she and her good friend from down the road — both of whom love them some fantasy books — can create adventures of their own.
Now, bear in mind the lasses are yet young, and that these writings are an adaptation of their gaming adventures — so don’t expect a structured novel. But I’m posting them here for her to find, and if anyone else gets a little fun from them… why not?
Her name was Elarion, and she was an elf – but that was pretty much all she knew about her history. For some reason, she’d been adopted by humans in the little lakeside village of Fallowfell. Likely they’d have told her the story someday, except the entire village got burned to the ground when she was twelve, and her parents with it. The only things she had left were a sort of baby-blanky thing with lavish Elven stitchery, and a nifty dagger that she kept hidden because she suspected it was magical.
She could have taken the dagger to the Wilders or the Sorcerors, of course. Had it checked out, made sure it was safe. Maybe they’d even have given it back to her if it was. Who could tell? But to hells with that. That dagger came from her real parents, whoever they were, and along with her baby-blanky thing, it was all she had left. She didn’t need Wilders or Sorcerors getting all up in her face over the thing.
She looked the dagger over again, then wrapped it back up in the baby-blanky thing, and settled it in the bottom of her pack. Magic was dangerous stuff. A magic dagger might be okay. Maybe it would stay sharp forever, or help her slash the legs off werewolves or something. Or maybe, in the centuries since the Godwars, wild magics had warped it. For all she knew, maybe it made farting noises if she stabbed anybody. A whoopee dagger. Lot of good that would do. Or it could even have been cursed from the start.
It didn’t seem likely, though. Why would a parent leave a cursed dagger to their child? Even if they were putting the child up for adoption with a bunch of humans? You still wouldn’t do that if you weren’t out-and-out crazy, right?
She was keeping the dagger.
Lynne and Mick were in the feasting hall, waiting for her. She wanted to grin and wave, but she wasn’t sure who was watching. It was embarrassing. Lynne and Mick were her best friends – her only friends, really, since the burning of Fallowfell – but she still felt weird doing things like waving and smiling. As if it was all a fake, somehow. She’d always been this way, but it got worse after Fallowfell. She hadn’t said a word to anyone for nearly a year after that. Even when Sir Deakin took them into his house, she couldn’t find the words. Lynne and Mick, they were all right. They said ‘thank you’, and ‘yes good sir’, but Elarion just looked out from behind her hair, mouth tight shut like a dummy. Ugh.
At least old Alaric the gamekeeper didn’t mind her not talking. Just put her to work, taught her to handle the fields and the forests. It was because of him she could shoot a bow, track a beast, and live off the land. For a while she’d thought maybe she could stay on at the Big House here in Berryhill, be Alaric’s apprentice, maybe take over when the old man died – but it wasn’t to be. Alaric had a nephew, already groomed for the job. And Elarion… she was just a foundling elf. Not good enough for Sir Deakin, not good enough for the Big House.
Evidently they were all waiting on her. Once she arrived, old Sir Deakin stood up and cleared his throat.
“Brhhrrrmm,” he said. “Good morning, Elarion.”
She waved. The old knight smiled through his grubby grey beard. “Good enough,” he said. “Well. It’s been six years since the burning of Fallowfell. You three – Mick, Lynne, and Elarion – you’re the last of the rescued children to reach your majority. All three of you are eighteen now.” He faltered for a moment, and coughed. His blue eyes turned sad. “I’d almost come to think of you as my own children,” he admitted. “Except of course that mine were a pack of rotten little monsters.”
“Thank you, father,” called Deakin’s eldest son from the other end of the room where he was doing something obscure with a piece of leather.
“Think nothing of it, Donald,” Deakin replied with a chuckle. He turned his attention back to the three youngsters, and stroked his beard. “Well, anyway. You aren’t my children. And I haven’t any vacancies on the household staff, and you’re all eighteen. So that’s it, really. I understand you’ve learned some kind of a trade while you’ve been here?”
Mick stepped forward. “Your men took me under their wing. I know swords, horses, and fighting.” “That’s right,” said Deakin. “Gered told me you’re a decent fighting man now. You’ve got a sword of your own?”
“A little armour too,” said Mick. “And I’ve put some money aside. I’ll be okay.”
The old man reached out his hand and clasped Mick’s. “Ask a boon of me,” he said. “If I can, I’ll grant it.”
Mick ran his fingers through his shaggy brown hair, and frowned. “A boon?”
“That’s a favour,” Lynne muttered. “Ask him for something.”
“Could it be a horse?” said Mick. “Maybe Jenny?”
“Why not?” said Deakin, with a smile. “We can spare a horse, can’t we?” Without waiting, he turned to Lynne. “And you. Llarith tells me you’ve been in the library a lot. And down with Shelleagh, messing with her potions.”
“Sir,” said Lynne, with a nod of her blonde head. “Shelleagh says if she could afford an apprentice, I’d be the very first choice. And I’ve what I need to take up the trade. But Berryhill doesn’t need a second healer. There’s just not enough work here.”
“Plenty out in the wide world,” grunted Deakin. “Come on then. A boon.”
“Clothing,” put in Lynne without hesitation. “My clothing is all old. I’d like some good clothes.”
Deakin looked back over his shoulder at his wife, who smiled. “I’ve several fine gowns I don’t fit into any more,” she said. “I thought perhaps I’d have a daughter. But no such luck. Might as well be I pass them to you, and you can remember the slip of a girl that once I was,” she said, and slapped her ample hips. “Before all my fine, strapping sons, that is.”
“Thank you, Lady,” said Lynne.
“What about you?” said Deakin. He was looking at Elarion, and his eyes were sad again. “What boon would you ask?” But she didn’t know what to say, as usual, and she just shrugged. The old knight smiled sadly, and brought out three purses. “One each,” he said. “There’s a Wheel for each of you. And that’s all, I’m afraid. You will always be welcome in Berryhill, but from this day forward you make your own way. Good fortune go with you!” The old knight bowed, and Elarion bowed back and so did Mick and Lynne. There was a little smattering of applause from the householders and retainers. Elarion caught old Alaric’s eye for a moment. Was that a tear? Maybe? He turned away, and strode off towards the stables.
Well. That was okay.
They stopped outside the wide-open front gates of the Big House, squinting in the strong morning sun. Elarion caught lake-smells on the breeze; fresh water and weed drying on the stony shore. A good day to pick over the shoreline, see what the breeze brought in. Any other time, anyhow. Now she had to worry about where she’d sleep, and what she’d eat. Of course she could camp in the woods and live off the land, but that got uncomfortable after a time. She liked having a decent house and a bed.
The three of them looked at each other. Elarion had her pack settled comfortably on her back, but Mick had his horse to mind, and Lynne’s arms were full of boxes.
“We’re going to need some gear,” Mick said. “Whatever comes next, we’ll have to be prepared.”
“There ought to be work for a healer in Anga’s Wall,” said Lynne. She sounded uncertain. “Lot of people come through there on the Old Road.”
Mick squinted up at the summer sky. “I thought maybe I’d take on with one of the merchant caravans. As an armsman, see. Travel. Go places. Get paid and fed, too.” He looked over at Elarion. “What about you?”
Elarion shrugged. Seeing the other two weren’t going to stop looking at her, she opened her mouth. “Wilder, maybe,” she said. “Outdoors. I can do that. Go into the dangerous places and the old places, find things.”
Lynne looked at Mick. “Wilders need healers,” she said. “Fetching old magics and chasing monsters… people get hurt in those places.”
“Armsmen too,” said Mick. “You need a good sword at your side when you’re facing down weird old magics and… and things.” He struggled for words, like he didn’t exactly know what things he might be talking about. Neither did Elarion.
“You two… might stick with me? Join the Wilders?” she said cautiously.
“It’s as good as my plan,” said Mick. “Maybe better. We could work as a team. No boss. We split things equally.”
Lynne nodded. “It would be interesting. I’d learn a lot just by trying to keep you alive. And some of the old places – they still have old works on herbs and magic and healing. It could work. And we’d be together. Except…” She frowned.
“The guild fee,” Mick said. “That’s the rub, isn’t it? We have to pay fifty crowns each, or we’re just scavengers. Outlaws in the forbidden places.”
“Got some money already,” Elarion said. “And maybe we can make enough without going into the forbidden places. There’s things we can do.” But what? The less dangerous places were already pretty well picked over. Fifty crowns. Lot of money. More than ever she’d seen in her life. “We could go the indentured road,” she said.
“And the Guild takes the best of everything we find, and we get pennies to live off,” said Mick. “No thanks. I’m not that desperate. I say we find the money ourselves.”
Elarion looked at Lynne. “I think Mick’s right,” Lynne said. “If we take that path, the Guild is our master. They can send us where they want. Make us join other groups. Go into places we don’t want to go. I say we earn the money and buy our way in.”
“That’s it then,” said Elarion. “So we need a lot of gold. What are we going to do?”
Lynne looked thoughtful. “Let’s talk to Shelleagh. I’ve an idea she could help.”
Mostly Elarion let Lynne do the talking. Always had, even when they were wee ones together back in Fallowfell. Lynne had the knack that she didn’t, the knowing of how to put folk at their ease, say stupid things about the weather and old news and gossip so that people took her for one of the same as them. Elarion didn’t know how to do that. She’d tried, but the words never worked for her.
Like the time Darion as she used to have a crush on when she was a young one broke his arm off the back of a horse. She’d wanted to say the right things. She knew the words he’d have used himself, knowing him as well as she did. She even practised them, so’s her tongue wouldn’t knot itself up like always. Came the moment she saw him approach, all golden hair and fine, fierce eyes, and she gave it her all. Pointed to his arm, said, “Broke, I hear. Bet that hurt like a black bitch!”
Those fine, fierce eyes opened wide and Darion stopped short. Then his mouth opened and a great gust of laughter came tumbling out, like a waterfall that wouldn’t stop. And he had to call the other armsmen, make her say it again just like she’d said, and they all laughed until she felt her face turn red and she ran away.
Lynne knew how to say the right things. She talked long and hard to Shelleagh, and when she was done the healer had agreed to buy a host of hard-to-get ingredients if they could be brought. And atop that, she agreed to let Lynne use her little laboratory so’s to make alchemy, turn ingredients into valuable magic potions.
Lynne knew a bit of that, she did, from all the books she got to read in the Big House. She’d made a few stinks and stains in the kitchen of the Big House, but then the cook complained and Lynne had to make do with working in an old garden lean-to, cold and drafty, where she couldn’t even build a proper fire. Still, she learned – or she said so, anyhow.
Then they went down the outfitters to get proper gear. Elarion had her outdoors stuff already, of course. Pack and bedroll, cookware and cutlery, ropes and traps and knives: it was how she lived. Mick had some of that, but not Lynne. Lynne had little boxes with glassware and bottles and pouches. She had herbs and sticky, smeary stuff that smelled bad but kept wounds clean. Also she had fine dresses from Lady Deakin, but she had no pack and she had no tent and she had no sleeping roll. She had a strong, stout staff and she knew how to swing it, but that was about it. She wasn’t so practical as Elarion, but that was okay. They made better friends because of it, Elarion thought.
The outfitter, he was a little, busy man called Sean. Elarion hadn’t much to do with him before. Mostly Alaric dealt with such for her, and helped her learn to set up her gear properly. But Lynne, she was new to all this and Sean kept selling things at her. Powders to make camp food taste like a proper meal. Things to keep a lady’s hair neat in the wild. Then he got all noisy about socks: “Arkenvarkall’s Finest Adventurer’s Socks,” the little man said, rolling the big name across his tongue importantly, his little face puffed up and red. “You’ll never find better. Wilders must look after their feet, and there is no finer way to maintain the health and safety of those important organs than by the assurance that is Arkenvarkall’s!”
That was when Elarion dragged Lynne out the shop, back into the sunshine. Socks indeed!
It was still bright morning when they left Berryhill. They’d agreed to try the woods around The Spire for Shelleagh’s ingredients. Those woods, they weren’t exactly the worst of places but there were splashes of the bad, uncontrolled magic of the old days here and there amongst them. To make magical potions, you needed magical ingredients. Everyone knew that. Maybe back in the bad old days of wizardry they could just infuse magic right into their cooking, but now you had to have the plants and things that grew in the places where magic soaked into the earth itself. That was why there was money to be had in chasing ingredients. It wasn’t the most dangerous of jobs, but it wasn’t exactly safe. Perfect for new Wilders, Elarion reckoned.
The Spire, now, that was another matter. Mostly people just gave it a wide berth. You couldn’t get in. There was no door. It was a tall, tall tower of glossy black stone, so smooth the moss wouldn’t grow on it. Birds came and went up the top, especially the big black ravens, but there were no windows and no doors. Once it must have had a use, but now it was just a landmark. Something you saw when you sailed the lake, or walked your way about Berryhill. Put it behind your left shoulder, walk straight, you find the village again.
They started out in high spirits, laughing and joking. It felt good to be walking in the sun, the three of them together. It felt like an adventure, one of those stories where the good folks win out and save the day, and Elarion thought how much she loved her friends: big, quiet Mick and sunny Lynne. Mick’s new horse was quiet and gentle, and walked along nice as you please carrying Mick’s gear and some of Lynne’s too. They made a fine showing.
But then they came to the far steadings, the last farms on the borders of Sir Deakin’s holdings. Beyond them, the land was wild. Forests down to the edge of the great lake. Not one of the big forests, no, but wild enough. And of course, just when they were making plans to plunge into that dark wood – why that’s when the children showed up behind them…