Living Story Excerpt
Seryth reluctantly agreed and returned to the Westbrook Garrison for his reward.
Westbrook Garrison = Timberfalls
I’m terrible with names, and I look for any excuse I can to re-use them. Instead of creating yet another little town somewhere in Tarith to take the place of Westbrook Garrison, I instead chose Timberfalls as already being on the Talmenor map. It’s even more or less on the way from Hillet to Castellea, though we learn some tidbits of why Daelin avoids it whenever he’s bringing his goods to market…
??? = Norwynd
So I’m a silly, and one of my guild leaders who roleplays the part of an officer in the Stormwind Guard gets a nod here. Said guild leader acts very little like Norwynd does in the story (unless you count always being busy); again, it’s just a little nod.
His horse was still waiting for him where he had tied it up on the edge of the forest. Sirith mounted up on it, awkwardly as it still had no proper saddle, then turned it back in the direction of the road. Riding at a walk was hardly faster than if Sirith were to walk on his own two feet, and after a couple hours, as the horse’s boney back began to press into him in a particularly uncomfortable way, Sirith slid off and led it from there.
The next day dawned, and the two of them were still tramping in the grass on the side of the wagon track, avoiding the mud in the center of the trail. They travelled faster without the big wagon behind them, but the thought cheered Sirith up little to none. All he had now was the horse, a makeshift pack with his salvaged food, whatever pieces of the harness still clung to the horse’s back, and a pocket full of rukh-sham teeth.
He pulled out the latter and lay them in his palm, tilting them into the light as they walked. The teeth glittered in the sun, like so many gemstones. Sirith had cleaned many animal carcasses, whether cattle, pigs, or plainsdeer, so he had handled plenty of teeth in his time, yet these were nothing like he had ever seen before. There was little to no sign of wear along the tops, and the bases looked like they had been chipped out of a rockface, like little rounded pieces of gravel instead of long shafts pulled from a jaw socket. What did rukh-sham use them for, if not to chew? Did they even eat?
And were they really worth money? Sirith supposed they might look nice on a necklace, but unlike animal teeth, he could see no way of carving the hard stone-like material into useful items like needles, pins, or fishhooks.
As if to spite the rain of the previous week, the sun rose bright and hot, stinging Sirith’s eyes until he walked along the other shoulder of the horse, out of the glare. The insects buzzing in the grass quieted as the sunlight grew stronger, and a muggy haze settled over the grasslands. He could just see a faint blue blur of mountains in the distance behind him and then, up ahead, revealing itself as the light grew, stood several tiny angular blocks that resolved themselves into buildings as Sirith’s stride ate up the miles between them.
Timberfalls lay on the edge of a couple of lakes. It had grown in recent years, with houses now occupying space outside the old wooden palisade that still ringed the inner district. Despite its large population, it felt like a village rather than a city. Homes on the outskirts were built more like farms, long and low and separated by their accompanying fields, than they were like tightly-packed or multi-storied townhouses. The road was only paved in the most densely travelled parts of the town, where so many feet and hooves would eventually tear up the turf. As it was, Sirith struggled through the mud on the unpaved streets as he entered from the south.
He rarely came to Timberfalls, as Daelin’s route to Castellea always bypassed its lakes on the southern side. There were more of the diminutive Little Folk living here than humans, and soon Sirith was surrounded by squat humanoids who barely came up to his shoulder. It was nice to finally be among people who were shorter than him rather than vice versa, and they made his pony seem as big as a draft horse in comparison. Still, they seemed to harbor the same suspicion of his kind as the border patrol had earlier, and it wasn’t long before the villagers were pulling away from him in pointing, whispering knots.
Sirith stopped, laying a hand on the bridle of his horse to stop it. One of the Little Folk took off running, and in just a few minutes, a pair of town guards tramped up to him, looking like they meant business.
Sirith put up his hand — the one not holding the bridle — to show his peaceful intentions. The three stood staring at each other for a long moment. “What happened to your horse?” one of the guards finally asked, indicating the ragged harness.
“Bandits,” said Sirith. “I need lodging and supplies, if you please.”
“Got anything to pay for it?” said the other guard with a sniff.
Sirith pulled out the rukh-sham teeth and tilted his hand for the two humans to see.
The guard let out a low whistle. “Oh, aye, that’ll do. I suppose you’ll be wanting to turn them in at the keep then?”
“Yes,” said Sirith curtly.
The second guard came to helpfully take the bridle of his horse, while the first shooed the curious villagers away with a wave of his arms and some reassuring words that Sirith wasn’t going to bother anyone today. “Oh, I’m quite sure they’re bothered already,” Sirith muttered to himself.
“What?” said the guard.
“Nothing,” said Sirith, and he kept quiet after that.
They turned towards the east, where the land rose from the lake nearest in a gentle curve. Some of the hillside had been cut into, and Sirith could just see the round doors of Little Folk dwellings spaced evenly along tree-shadowed lanes. The guards took him down the lowest of these lanes, the old palisade on their left-hand side, paralleling the road. Like the horse, the humans seemed gigantic compared to the burrows, and Sirith wondered if the Little Folk ever had to have house parties in the road instead of inside their homes whenever bigger people were invited.
The lane made a sharp right turn, leaving the palisade and going nearly straight up the hillside. It cut back and forth to lessen the scale – not nearly enough, Sirith thought – to eventually end at a keep built of stone that could overlook the plains with its two squat, square-topped towers. As Sirith paused to catch his breath at the top, the guard walked out to the road’s edge, his eyes on the nearest lake. Its scintillating surface seemed to disappear into the northwest horizon, dotted by white sails, looking for all the world like white cereal moths crawling back and forth in the water from this distance. Sirith felt a little dizzy looking at it; he had never liked heights, and this little hill was as far up in the air as he’d ever been, though he knew it’d barely be a hillock compared to the Tarithian Mountains in the south.
“Well, come along, then,” said the guard, seeming satisfied by by whatever he saw out there on the lake. They passed through the keep’s gate, and the second guard took hold of Sirith’s horse again as he followed the first up into the gatehouse. As it had been decades since any serious conflict, the place had been turned into one big office, though Sirith could still spot the hatches that hid murder holes under some of the rugs.
The guard grabbed Sirith’s arm and dragged him through the confusing maze of desks, clerks, and villagers lining up to see them. He dropped Sirith off at a particularly large wooden desk with a particularly large man sitting behind it. Despite the gray in his shoulder-length hair and close-cropped beard, the man was well-muscled and fit, and he looked very, very bored.
At least until Sirith stepped up before him, awkwardly counting the rukh-sham teeth onto the desk.
The guard saluted, muttered something about Sirith being here for the bounty, then quickly made himself scarce. Just as he disappeared between two sleepy-looking villagers hefting bags of grain, a large meaty hand slammed down over Sirith’s rukh-sham teeth. Sirith couldn’t help jumping. The hand clenched, then made its way to the man’s mouth, and to Sirith’s complete shock, he popped the teeth between his own and crunched down on them.
They stared at one another as the man gave a few experimental squeezes of his jaw. “…I sure hope you have the money to pay for that,” Sirith finally stammered.
The big man burst out laughing and spat the teeth back into his palm, and Sirith was only somewhat surprised that there were no human teeth among them. The man held them up, unharmed, if a little wet from their experience. “I just wanted to see the look on your face,” he said jovially.
Before Sirith could manage a response, someone across the room called out, “Sergeant Norwynd?”
Norwynd scowled and looked past Sirith. “I’m busy!” he barked back.
“You’re always busy!”
“Just a couple minutes, if you please, woman!” shouted Norwynd.
“I… hope you can pay for them, Sergeant Norwynd,” Sirith repeated when the someone didn’t speak up again. “I could really use the money.”
Norwynd squinted at Sirith, then took his time leaning over the teeth and examining each and every one of them. Sirith wanted to scream with impatience.
“Glad to see you’re taking up your father’s mantle finally,” said Norwynd after what seemed a very long inspection. He started sliding the teeth into a pouch and pulling coins out of another.
“What?” said Sirith.
“Come off it,” rumbled Norwynd. “It’s clear who you are. Only one man I know of has those shape ears and that funny shade of skin around here, and that man’s you!”
Sirith didn’t know what to say. He was used to his race attracting suspicion in this country, and yet… “You knew my father?”
“ ‘Course,” said Norwynd, smiling. “He’s a hero around these parts. Or he was, couple decades ago.”
Sirith tried to put an image of Daelin next to the word “hero” in his mind’s eye. He couldn’t see it working out.
“Anyway. That’ll be, eh, sixteen gold. That enough for you, son?”
“Very much so, sir!” Sirith would have been excited with sixteen silver. He eagerly reached for the coins, but the big man’s hand closed over his, and he was forced to look up into the man’s gray eyes, suddenly turned serious.
“Stick around, won’t you?” Norwynd said.
“Sergeant Norwynd!” shouted the whoever from the wherever that was out of sight.
Sirith swallowed. “Sorry, but… I’m expected home before the seasons turn, and I really should be getting on to Castella.”
“Sergeant Norwynd!” The whoever was beginning to get impatient. And not the only one, either, Sirith thought.
“I mean it,” said Norwynd, giving Sirith’s hand a squeeze, “It would do that old man of yours some good, giving the old hunting grounds a ramble,” then, before the whoever could call for him again, he turned about shouting, “alright, alright, I’m coming already! Sheesh, one would think you couldn’t be left two minutes to your own devices.”
“It’s not my fault you’re hoarding all the scales!” the whoever retorted, and Sirith quickly brushed the coins into hands. Norwynd grumbled and made to squeeze out from behind the desk with an impressive show of grace, given his size. The rukh-sham teeth barely made a rattle where he had left them on the desk as he pushed it aside, unintentionally, with his hip, as if it had been a desk made of bone and not oak. There was warrior training somewhere in his background, Sirith thought. He quickly turned away and left the gatehouse before Sergeant Norwynd could change his mind and seize his hand again.