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The Emerald Guardian

By StevenMBooth All Rights Reserved ©



Chapter 1 – Away

The room was as dark; nearly as dark as the deepest pit of Tarak`Nor. The Autumnal moon’s baleful orb had vanished behind the mountains to the west hours hence, leaving only the myriad, pinprick stars to illumine the bedroom. Bitter cold etched a thin silver filigree of frost around the edge of the windowpane as Therin peered into the darkness. The young man knelt, fully clothed, on his bed, his fingers gripping the window sill with white-knuckled intensity.

The time had finally come.

The lad turned and sat on the edge of his bed. Fetching his overstuffed pack from underneath, he tried to think of something else he should bring, something more that would ease his journey. Sighing, he stood and shouldered the heavy burden and then crept to the door. The well-worn bearskin rug beneath his feet honored his stealth – no sound of creaking floorboards or scuffling from his travelling boots betrayed his intent.

Kneeling, he raised the latch on the door by degrees, then slowly pulled it open. He had been careful to oil the hinges with some of his father’s precious cache from the barn -- an adventure in and of itself, since doing so had required every bit of his nascent skill at stealth. This door wouldn’t give him away, but the one at the front, now that was another matter entirely.

There was no way he could silence that portal. His father, Dalen, would never have stood for it; the wrought iron accessories were far too large for their pitiful supply of lubricant, and besides, what value could possibly be gained? That’s what, his father would ask; he was like that – he never used anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary. Whimsy was definitely not a part of Dalen’s nature. The farmer's only interest was in coaxing grain out of the rich, dark loam that abutted the great forests surrounding the massive mountains of Arcaan. No, Therin mused, getting through the front door was going to be a trial.

There was the back door, though. The hinges were newer and wouldn’t complain as much when opened, but to get to it, he would have to sneak right past his parent’s bedroom and that was sheer insanity. His mother was a light sleeper, and the slightest sound would be his undoing. No, it was the front door or nothing. Therin would just have to figure out some way to subvert the iron sentries that guarded his prison of a home for nearly eighteen anna.

On more than one occasion, Therin’s father had observed that the squealing iron on the primary portal was actually a blessing – no one was going to sneak into the cabin unbeknownst, however remote it might be. Unfortunately, this was an equally effective barrier against a young man, trying to break free of the slavery of inheritance.

Therin shifted his pack, and crept into the front room. He sidled around the massive dining table and snuck to the door, silent as a shadow, and paused. It was critical to make certain both his parents were deeply ensconced in pillows and blankets before attempting his next feat. He glanced over his shoulder and listened for a long moment. All was still. With shaking fingers, he worried the frigid iron latch from its keeper. The thick oak popped open a crack and Therin caught his breath in alarm, but no sound escaped the traitorous hinges – at least not yet. Edging the portal open ever so slightly, he placed an ear to the gap. A frigid zephyr caressed his cheek, but otherwise, no external noises presented, not even the woodsy call of the familiar crickets – it was far too cold, and far too late in the season for them.

The only way this would work was through infinite patience. The door had to be opened with the stealth of the finest thief in Salustra – although Therin had never even so much as met a burglar, though he’d of course heard the tales. He smiled, in spite of himself. This didn’t seem nearly as romantic as one of Bertolo’s fanciful tales.

Therin shook his head, refocused upon the task at hand and fingered the door open a crack more. Amazingly, no sound escaped the hinges as a bitterly cold draft whispered through the gap like a frigid serpent made of quicksilver. Fingers of cold gripped his arm and numbed his fingers, clutching at the icy iron of the door latch. Therin shivered. He should have buttoned his coat before he started this, but it was too late now. Bit by agonizing bit, he opened the door. Occasionally the hinges would click, but the sound was small – no louder than the crack of the dying embers in the hearth or the occasional creak from one of the massive, tree-sized ceiling joists. But he couldn't keep this up for long. Eventually the seeping, frigid draft would betray him by waking his mother would rise to discover why there was a flood of frigid air wafting through her normally cozy domicile.

Therin was shivering badly when he finally managed to squeeze through the door, close it as slowly as it had been opened, and silently lower the latch with leaden fingers, numb with cold. The romance of Bertolo’s sagas on burglary was belied by the truth; sneaking about was miserable, cold, uncomfortable work. Did dark elves suffer this much when they crept into dungeons or the bedchambers of pompous lords? No, they must have some magical way to stay warm. Or better yet, perhaps they liked the cold! Therin buttoned his coat with his shaking fingers and shoved his hands under his arms, hugging himself to get warm. He shrugged his pack higher and squinted into the wan starlight cast upon the frost-covered gravel lining the courtyard of the house.

Taking a single step on it would be sheer insanity. The cold may have aided with the door hinges, but no amount of frigid air would help with the gravel. Every step on that treacherous sea of noise would be like shouting his name to the mountain crags. No. The driveway was not an option. His parents would hear any tread upon that familiar surface in an instant. Therin turned and crept across the front porch, sidled around the wooden hammock suspended from the rafters and swung his leg over the railing. He lowered himself into his mother’s flower bed, careful not to crush any of the roses or to snag his trousers on a thorny barb. Although he nearly slipped off the lip of the porch, all went well otherwise.

Therin crept from the house and into the forest west of the driveway, reaching the main road leading to town in short order. The further he got from the house, the more liberated he felt. At last he was free to find his own way, to chart is own path in the world. No longer was he the prisoner of his father’s best wishes. He could discover the hidden meaning of his own life, something Therin had wanted to do for as long as he could remember.

With a greatly lightened step, the young lad turned north, hitched his pack higher, and headed for town. Bertolo should be waiting at the inn. That was the plan they'd hatched two days earlier. The minstrel had offered him a ride to the crossroad to Finiath. The flamboyant performer was the only person that really understood the restlessness within Therin’s soul. The lad had no desire to hurt his folks, but he needed to do this. The time had come to be his own man, and not a slave to earth, mud, and the fickleness of the weather.

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