Chapter 3: Arrival and Departure
One year later…
Fall had once again claimed the land of Zersevbein. People were beginning to dress more warmly than the previous seasons and the traders were beginning to arrive less and less.
Many things had changed and occurred in the past year, not to mention Draden’s eighteenth birthday. He had grown at least two inches; his hair was longer and lighter, more of a dirty blond now; and his build was firmer and more like a man’s.
Eight months ago, his father had died of a heart attack; he had been found shortly after near the lumberyard in the forest, but by then it was too late. Draden still mourned every now and then, but he was successfully forcing it out of his mind: he had to focus on the livestock now that he was alone and winter was coming. He had also given up his job at the lumberyard: too many memories and not enough time.
He had neither seen nor heard from Melana in the past year, ever since their fight and his blackout, and he could barely remember what she looked like. Not that he needed to.
He was now dating a girl named Faline Pogsmolf. How he had come to be with her, Draden could never figure out. Maybe because he was lonely or bored? Frankly, he was getting sick of her following him around everywhere, and he had just given her the slip and was quickly jogging back to his house.
His house…he was still not used to that.
What few friends he had once had left him after his father’s death. He assumed it was because he hadn’t been much fun to hang around with then; who could blame them? The death of his last parent, breaking up with his girlfriend…his life had quickly gone from great to horrible.
He entered the sadly empty house, mind wandering to those days when his father had been waiting for him. He brushed his eyes with a hand as he walked down the hall and into his room: he had reluctantly promised Faline he would meet her for dinner.
As he was sliding his fingers through his hair, trying hopelessly to flatten it, a firm, quick knock came at the door. Wondering who could possibly want to talk to him, he walked out and opened the front door. All he could see was his porch, the leaf-strewn ground behind that, and the dirt path that cut into the forest line leading to Perdfale.
Eyebrows rising in confusion, he walked back inside. Emerging a few minutes later, hair in quite the same state but looking slightly more sophisticated, he strode out the front door, slipping on something and crashing down the steps to land face-down on the damp, leafy ground. Pulling himself up from his spread-eagled position, brushing the hair out of his eyes and the leaves off his clothes, he picked up a beige envelope, edges rimmed with dirt.
Noticing it was indeed addressed to him, he turned it around to examine the insignia. It depicted a nine-pointed crown appearing from a showering of stars - thirteen to be exact - emitting from a wand with four lines encircling it like planet’s rings. It was none other than the king’s symbol pressed into deep violet wax.
The nine points of the crown indicated the nine generations of royal family that had ruled humankind. The thirteen stars stood for the current cities under control of the king - Perdfale being one of them. The wand was significant in and of itself, as it was the weapon of the King’s Guard: the only ones who used wands, as they had been outlawed from public use in the earliest of the era. The four lines encircling it denoted the four branches of the King’s Guard: The topmost tier consisted of only two people. The king’s personal guard who were by the king’s side at all times. The next branch included twelve people who, in two shifts, managed the comings and goings of people in the castle. The third group had sixteen people who generally led or trailed the king when he was active. The final caste consisted of forty people who would defend the king if under attack. The entire guard was made up of the most gifted and skilled magic users in the land, so the king had nothing to fear.
Draden ripped open the envelope, unfolding a tan piece of parchment paper. He had to read the firm and powerful scrawl twice to be sure he had understood it correctly:
Under orders of the king, I must ask you to arrive in the town of Perdfale at the entrance of the Snaojwar Inn at exactly one hour after dusk. Failure to do this will result in unpleasant actions, so I must suggest you be on time. There is no need to look for me: I know who you are.
Captain of the King’s Guard,
“The Guard Captain wants to see me?” he blurted aloud.
It seemed impossible, but the bold black letters written before him said otherwise. Even though the temperature was steadily dropping, he had begun to sweat. Faline wouldn’t be too happy, but maybe he could make it up to her later.
Deciding to completely avoid Faline for as long as possible, he had gone straight to the inn. He had already been waiting outside for half an hour and had become quite doubtful that this “Kladspir” would even show. Frankly, he didn’t mind one bit; his nerves had grown steadily more agitated.
Should he call him “sir”? Surely, he wouldn’t let a farmboy call him by his name…. Maybe “Mr. Kladspir”? Ooh! Maybe “Mr. Kladspir, sir”, just for some added respect.
After another half hour of this, his nerves had begun to calm, but his anger had started to rise. How could he be kept waiting like this? Sure, he wasn’t that important, but the letter had said it was urgent and that he would be in trouble if he were late. Well, what about the Captain of the King’s Guard, hmm? He’d probably be let off the hook. It’s no big thing to keep a farmboy waiting.
Deciding he’d had enough, he turned to enter the inn: something to pass the time besides standing there. But as he went to open the door a hand grabbed his shoulder and a gruff, deep voice said, “Where do you think you’re going?”
Draden turned around, shrugging the hand off, and saw a tall man dressed in armor fit for the King’s Guard. The armor was silver with gold trimming, a gold version of the king’s insignia shining brightly from the chestplate. He had a golden-hilted and sheathed sword hanging on his back, and a matching dagger at his belt.
The man spoke again, “I did not mean for it to take me this long. I was…detained. No matter, the problem is cleaned up! Now, for you, I have a job for you.”
Draden stared at him dumbstruck. “You––you’re Kladspir?” he blurted, mind working furiously as he took it all in.
The man nodded with an air of impatience.
“How could you keep me waiting like this? It’s been an hour!” Draden accused, eyebrows turned down.
“Yes, well, I already told you I was detained,” Kladspir replied, frowning.
“Aren’t you going to tell me why?” Draden asked angrily
“Why, there is no need to. If you prove yourself worthy, however, I may allow a little more lenience. But not just yet! Like I said, I have something I need you to do,” Kladspir said, gesturing with a hand.
Draden let out a confused sigh. There were still questions he needed answered, and he wasn’t going to let them wait.
“How do you know who I am? Why do you need me to do something for you? Why can’t you do it yourself?” He took a deep breath, having blurted them in one long string.
“A year ago to this day, I trailed you for almost a month,” he paused slightly at Draden’s disgusted gasp, “but only because I had to make sure you were trustworthy,” he finished.
“Me…trustworthy? How do I know you are trustworthy, following me around?” Draden snapped back.
“I only did it on orders of the king, and that should be a good enough answer for you!” Kladspir finished with a quick nod. “As for your other questions, only you can do this job because there is no one else alive capable of doing it.” Draden took a breath to interrupt, but Kladspir continued, “I will tell you all about it once we get somewhere we aren’t overheard. Your house maybe? Not many people go there I’ve noticed.”
Deciding to just give in to this and not be made more confused, Draden turned to lead the man to his house.
Once again, the man stopped him by putting his hand on Draden’s shoulder. “There is no need to walk.” He pulled out his wand, silver with gold spiraling up its length, and pointed it beneath them. He performed a circling motion and a ring of cyan light encircled them. Slowly the world dissolved, leaving nothing but the glowing ring. It began to swirl around them, spinning faster and faster until an azure sphere surrounded them, and with a gust of wind, it exploded like a super nova, blue light rippling out in a quick burst of energy. Draden, rubbing his eyes from the flash that had momentarily blinded him, looked up as his eyes cleared. They were standing in front of his house.
“How- how…,” he stammered, looking for the words that wouldn’t come.
“Oh, but you must know about magic. The entire King’s Guard is capable of it, and there are some commoners who are…allowed to as well. Why, you are one of them!” Kladspir stated matter-of-factly.
“W––what?!” Draden exclaimed without thinking.
“Well, it’s in your blood. Surely, you have done magic before now.” Seeing Draden’s expression, he said, “No? Not even experienced it?” Draden shook his head both times. “Well, I’m sure you have, you just didn’t know it. This task you must do for me will show if you are indeed a magic-user.”
“But what is this task?” Draden asked again.
“Ah, yes. I must tell you it may not be easy, and it may be fruitless. But all the scrolls say you are the one….”
“Please, do not interrupt. Knowledge comes in its own time, do not rush it. Now, I am sure you have heard of the Realm of Doom?” Draden nodded. “Good! Then I don’t need to tell you how nothing in a five-mile radius grows or lives there, or the many legends that people have come up with to explain it. Well, I must now recount to you the true story, starting with the beginning of Zersevbein.
“About two thousand years ago, the elves were the highest beings in Zersevbein, as they still are. All thought as one mind, never acting on their own. Children for the elves were rare and considered the most perfect gift imaginable. The king had a daughter and the kingdom rejoiced.
“Their nation was great, thriving more than ever before, when one elf decided to go against all that his race stood for. He was despised unjustly by everyone in the kingdom for deeds his father had done. His father had betrayed the entire kingdom and, more directly, the king himself. Everyone despised him, that is, except the daughter of the king. She had secretly loved him and continued to even after his father’s betrayal, but she could not admit this, for she would be rejected by her race as soon as she did. For years she met with this elf, and for years they cultivated a relationship. Finally, after seeing the princess wed under an arranged marriage, the elf burned down the forest in his rage and was banished from the kingdom forever. He hid away in the Xertrilium Mountains where he did not emerge for years. Then, during a winter seven years later while the city was in a time of poverty, he returned with more strength than any of them could contend with: an army of trolls.
“After destroying the city, he murdered the princesses’ husband. She left with him, her one true love, and he took her back to the mountains. She was declared an outcast by her own father, and she was lost to them forever. Slowly the elf turned her from her beloved race, and in time she conceived a child. Over the course of a decade, she had seven children, and even then their family continued to grow. Larger and larger it became until, after many generations, it was its own race. They exist still today; their blood is tainted by the evil of their ancestors who betrayed the elf kingdom. They live underground, and year after year they become more and more like the earth they live in; there skin is hard and their height is shortened. They are masters of the blacksmith craft and reside in flourishing halls of marble and diamond. They are now known as dwarves.
“They have been enemies of the elves ever since, and neither come too close to the other for fear of an all-out war. Neither race will admit they are both to blame, but indeed they are.” Kladspir became silent.
Draden just looked confused. “But that makes no sense with what my task is, nor does it have anything to do with me.”
“No, not that part; but it is necessary you understand that before I continue,” Kladspir replied.
Draden nodded his validation.
Kladspir continued, “There is also a part that has been disputed over for centuries. The elf king had a son after his daughter left him. After that child came into adulthood, he married the daughter of a farmer in one of the cities long past. They had a child who married another human, and generation after generation has diluted the elven blood within them, until your parents, Draden. Your mother married into the elven race once again, rekindling the blood within you. You have been blessed with magical blood.” Kladspir finished, expecting Draden to be astonished.
“Um, Kladspir. My dad was human. He just died less than a year ago….”
“Oh, don’t be foolish, that was not your father! Nor was that your mother! Your parents were unfortunately murdered the day after you were born. Their bodies were not found, and no one is sure how they died. Under the orders of the king, you were placed into the care of Juleian and Marfol. They were merely your guardians Draden. Did they not tell you this?”
Draden shook his head, now truly looking shocked.
“This means you are a descendent of the elven king. You have his blood, so only you are capable of revealing the secrets he had. You are the sole survivor of his bloodline! Though you never knew it, you are one of the most important people alive right now. Your life has just become a lot more dangerous.”
Draden’s mouth dropped. “If I was so important, then how come I was never protected my entire life until now? Or how come no one ever told me this, so I could be ready?”
"Do not think you were unprotected, Draden. Your guardians were once in the King’s Guard themselves. They could easily have defended you from any danger.” He looked around, then suggested, “Shall we go inside? It seems to be getting quite chilly.”
And Draden now noticed for the first time that the sky had darkened, turned a murky gray like that before a snowstorm, and the temperature had dropped tremendously. He nodded and followed Kladspir into the house. They sat down in the oak chairs before the hearth, and Kladspir raised his wand, pointing it at the fireplace. Blue flame instantly erupted from the once dormant logs, quickly burning away in silvery-blue sparks to a normal, orange fire.
Draden immediately sensed the entire room get warmer and suddenly felt calm and open to talk.
Kladspir was silent for a long while, then finally he spoke, the tone of his voice sounding as if his mind had wandered to some time long past, “Remember when I said only you could uncover the elf king’s secret? Now I must tell you one that your task is based on.
“After his daughter had betrayed him and he had his second child, he needed a place to keep things safe for his descendants after he died. A storage place, if you will. He placed many enchantments on this building so it could only appear to his blood-children, and only allow them entry. This however posed a problem, for his daughter passed her blood to their very enemies, which means they could find this place as well. He called upon the aid of the most powerful magicians and sorcerers in the land, but none could find a way to keep it safe from his daughter or her children, for his enchantment was unblockable or unchangeable and allowed them to enter. So he himself, along with his entire guard, stayed to protect the possessions.
“His daughter, having learned of this building and its location somewhere in the northwest near the ocean, set out with the trolls and her offspring to find it. It took three months for her to locate it, and by then most of her small league of trolls had died out. Her father had also placed new enchantments around the area, and soon everything there began to wither and perish. The daughter and the exiled elf led their army into the ring of enchantments, and it is said that every troll dropped dead on the spot. All that was left were the king’s blood descendants and the exile who had enchanted himself so he could walk safely in the ring.
“Slowly they approached the elven guard, and battle ensued. The guard quickly smote most of the exile’s group, but they were also falling just as quickly. The elf king retreated inside the building and his daughter followed in quick pursuit.
“Finally they stood facing each other in a room with a well; neither moved. The king thought that if he couldn’t save any of his possessions he could at least save one thing; after his daughter left, it had become the most important thing to him in replacement of her. He broke the chain binding the talisman to his neck and held it before him. He uttered words of magic, but so did his daughter.
“With a flash of white light the king was struck down, instantly dead; but, he had finished what he had intended to do.
“As his daughter picked up the talisman the curse he had set upon it took effect. Her skin turned black and her clothes shriveled away. She dropped the amulet with a loud metallic clank next to her father’s corpse, and she stumbled backwards, right into the well. Her scream echoed as she fell, and with a final bang she became silent.
“Outside, the battle was ending. The entire elven guard had been slaughtered, and those still alive of the exile’s troop numbered only a few. He sent one of his sons in to see what had happened to the king and his daughter. The son returned with a piece of garment, saying he had found it by the well, and told him that the king was dead. The exile, after identifying the burned cloth as his wife’s, and assuming what had transpired, was overcome with grief at knowing his love had died. He banished himself to the Forsaken Desert where he never returned. The few children left alive returned to the mountains and eventually repopulated. No one yet has had courage to touch the medallion, ever since that fateful day.
“I need you, Draden, to retrieve that medallion.” Kladspir finished.
“Wha- what?! But then I’ll die if I touch it!” Draden looked alarmed.
“Ah, but we have reason to believe it was a one-time spell. After much research and the skill of our magicians, we have decided that it was a kwick-bern curse that, once touched, attaches itself to the person, instantly speeding up their body’s degeneration until all that is left is their very bones. The curse only affects the first person or thing to touch it, so you are safe to do so, Draden,” Kladspir finished.
Draden let out a long, slow breath. The fire had gone out sometime during the speech. He wished Kladspir would light it again.
He was really not prepared for this. Sure, the man said he needed him only for this, but once it was finished, there would be something else he was required to do; he knew how it worked. What would happen to his house and their crops? All these questions he voiced, and Kladspir’s answers weren’t reassuring.
“You are right; we will need your aid after you retrieve the medallion. But we have reason to believe that the Fra’tsi are planning to attack Perdfale, and we think to capture you, Draden. This medallion can protect the city. But we need you to use it, which means staying here where the enemy expects you to be.”
Draden had heard of the Fra’tsi before. They came from the marshes in the east, where they took shelter in the murk. They resembled men, only larger, dirtier, and incapable of any speech but grunts. He had yet another burning question.
“But what magic?! I have nothing, and if you expect my magic to just pop up out of nowhere, you’re going to be out of luck!”
Kladspir smiled, “Draden. Draden, Draden, Draden. Turn around.”
Draden, confused, turned in his chair. He saw nothing but the hearth and a fire burning merrily away.
“What? I see noth-” Wait…the fire was lit. It had just been out a second ago.
“Di- did I…?”
“Why, of course you did.” Kladspir said happily.
“But…I didn’t say anything.” Draden said defensively.
“Well…no. But subconsciously you must have thought some word of magic.”
Indeed, he had; one lone word had pervaded his thoughts: ‘Grangnir’. Realizing this, Draden consented.
Kladspir’s face lit up even more. “Well then, I think we’ve found your magic!”
Draden sighed. Now he had no choice but to agree to whatever this man said.
“I assume you have concluded that the Realm of Doom is where the ruins and medallion reside.” Draden nodded. “Good! And I assume you know where the Realm of Doom is.” He nodded again. “Okay. Now listen carefully. There is an area where two blackened trees stand solely erect. Stand before them and repeat these words: ‘Shozvi Malie Th’waz’, which means ‘show me the way’.”
“What will happen?” Draden asked, wary.
“You shall see,” Kladspir replied. “Now; you must leave at once! We have no time to waste!” And with that, he picked Draden up out of the chair and shoved him out the door, on a mission for the king.
Snaojwar = Snay-ō-jwar
Kladspir = Clăd-spear
Faline Pogsmolf = Fay-lean Pogs-mŏlf
Xertrilium = Zer-trill-ee-um
Fra'tsi = Frä-tsee
Shozvi Malie Th'waz = Shō-zvee Mă-lee Th-wăz