Intro / The Painter and the Musician
It was mid-autumn, and the early morning sunlight peaked over the mountaintops, shedding yellow rays on a small village in the valley of the Northern Vales. Dewdrops sprinkled across the colorful leaves as the fog that pocketed the lower countryside began to lift. Billows of smoke revealed the dozen or so farms scattered about the valley as the villagers enjoyed their morning meals before heading to the temple for worship.
Worship was a dying custom in the Kingdom of Valoria, but it still remained very much alive in this rural community as the wise and humble elder of the village temple commanded a large following thanks to his powerful sermons. However, today the promise of a riveting message had no effect on two young men enticed by the flawless warm day, a welcome change of pace from the last couple weeks of gray skies, cold winds, and endless downpours. So when the time was right and the elder was not looking, the two friends—Damyen and Liviulé—snuck out through the rear door of the temple, mounted their Northern Surefoots, and set out from the village.
When they reached the village outskirts, they followed the river upstream until it intersected with a trail that led them to the top of the northeastern side of the valley. Once the terrain began to level out, they cantered across a field at full speed heading toward Lake Rockwell, a glacier-made lake in Townerswoods. There the two of them dismounted and high-legged it through the brush until they stood alongside the lake’s muddy shore.
“You have to see this, Liviulé,” Damyen said, prodding his friend to follow him as he darted back into the brush in an easterly direction around the brim of the lake.
Trailing behind while getting pricked by thorn bushes, Liviulé yelled up ahead, “Where in God’s graces are you taking me?”
“Just a little further!”
Damyen sprinted deeper into the forest, dodging overhanging branches and hurdling fallen tree trunks. After crossing over an outcropping of bedrock, Damyen walked the last length underneath a canopy of burnt-red autumn leaves until he reached a narrow peninsula that gave way to the bright blue sky above.
Waiting patiently for Liviulé to catch up, Damyen closed his eyes and listened to the melody of birds chirping as the fresh smell of pine and the poignancy of decay greeted his nostrils. Opening his eyes, he admired the surrounding landscape and thought about how much he enjoyed the softer hues during the fall season.
Nature was therapy to Damyen’s soul. That was until he heard his friend grumbling as he fought his way over the last bit of bedrock. When Liviulé finally made it over to Damyen, brushing clingy burs from his clothing, he shot a glare at his closest friend. “What are you trying to do, kill me?”
“Will you stop complaining and take your boots off.”
Liviulé sighed his exacerbation—especially when he noticed the small island situated not too far from the edge of the peninsula. With a quick refusal he said, “Oh, no. Not the island. There is no way I am getting into that freezing cold water.”
Damyen reassured him, “Eh, come on. It will be well worth our time.”
“Yes, I know. I just hate feeling cold.”
“Is it not better to be outside enjoying life than watching it go by as you stare out the window?”
Liviulé hated when Damyen was right, so he relented and accepted. “Very well, shall we! Damn you and your sayings.”
They sat down on a decaying tree trunk and removed their leather boots; then they rolled up their wool pants above their calves, hung their tied boots upon their shoulders, and climbed down the muddy ledge. When Liviulé entered into the knee-deep water, he began shouting obscenities and cursing Damyen who waded an arm’s length ahead of him.
As soon as they reached the island, they ran up a blanket of red pine needles and plopped down on the nearest rocks. While they wiped off their feet and strapped back on their boots, they watched a multitude of chipmunks scurrying across the undergrowth with mouths full of acorns. When the chipmunks finally scattered out of sight, and the two men had time to catch their breath, they got to their feet and trekked across the island, being mindful not to step on their little friends.
When they at last reached their destination on the top of a small hill at the northern tip of the island, a breathtaking sight sprawled out for miles. Beyond the lake were distant snow-covered mountains that sprung forth from the surrounding forests. Liviulé turned to Damyen with a grin. “I have to admit, this was a splendid idea.”
Damyen recalled Liviulé’s favorite spot to contemplate life. “In comparison to you and your waterfall, yes!”
“Well, shall we artists begin?”
Damyen ambled up to the zenith of the hill and leaned against a decrepit tree that ran almost parallel to the ground. He relaxed the strap of his satchel and swung it before him. Unbuttoning the lip, he opened it up and pulled forth his old fiddle made of cherry. After hanging his bag on a nearby branch, he perched on the swaying trunk.
Tuning the instrument with his ear, Damyen recalled the many memories he had here while growing up. “This is by far my favorite place to sit and think. It is difficult to find these same humbling experiences in the city.” Liviulé wordlessly nodded in agreement, and Damyen continued, “But my favorite part is to lay here on this swaying trunk and watch the heavens above. You feel as if you are floating.”
“The thought of that is enough to make me nauseous,” Liviulé joked, eyeing his friend.
The two had known each other since boyhood, and over the years Damyen’s handsome looks matured with each passing year. His gentle features were accented by deep blue eyes that probed Liviulé when they talked. Unlike Liviulé’s dark brown eyes, buzzed scalp, and contrasted unshaven face, Damyen’s looks evoked a more classic appeal of golden blond hair just long enough to graze his upper cheeks when he did not tuck it behind his ears.
Damyen considered himself a dreamer and always spoke of grand ideas too far-fetched for the ordinary mind. He was deeply religious, though he appeared otherwise to those who did not know him, instead preferring to keep his thoughts to himself unless in the accompaniment of good friends. Someone once compared him to a hopeless romantic, still in search of his one true love. He certainly could not deny that.
In regards to his calling, Damyen was still searching, always searching. It all began when Damyen and Liviulé traveled to the Tree City of Kent, where they used their savings to barter an apprenticeship. While Liviulé found his apprenticeship with a skilled artisan, Damyen shifted direction from music in pursuit of an apprenticeship as a merchant. Although Damyen found much success in this trade, he always felt something was lacking; he wanted to do something more rewarding—like helping others.
While stammering out some rusty notes on his fiddle, Damyen watched Liviulé as he removed a fairly large sketchbook from his bag. Liviulé’s sketchbook was truly unique for he constructed it himself, wanting something compact enough to travel around with. Using thick raw hides, he strengthened it with thread and bone. He then filled the center with sheets of parchment purchased from the local market, thus creating his very own signature sketchbook.
A moment later, Liviulé pulled from his satchel a small leather sack and untied the top. He reached in, pulled out a fragmented piece of charcoal, and set the sack beside him. Patiently, Liviulé held the charcoal in his hand and eyed the landscape spread out before him. With a trance-like gaze, his hand lifted the charcoal to the sketchbook and placed it un-movingly on the parchment. When inspired, Liviulé gave way to repeated horizontal strokes, and within moments, the dark flagellated lines began to coagulate into a coherent, vivid drawing of the surrounding landscape.
With a flick of his wrist, Liviulé pulled his trademark black hood up over his face—a somber appearance that did not quite match his otherwise colorful personality and kind heart that easily brought women to their knees. But if there was one thing Liviulé excelled at as much as his art, it was his ability to talk; Liviulé was a talker. Liviulé could meet anyone, anywhere, start up a conversation, and in the next moment establish an undeniable camaraderie with that person. He enjoyed being the center of attention, despite the annoyance it gave Damyen and his close peers.
“Damyen!” said Liviulé, while sketching the nearby mountains.
“What is it?”
“Play me the song ‘The Painter and the Musician.’”
“It will be my pleasure!”
Damyen lifted up his bow and gently pressed it against the strings. The song started slow and crescendoed into a wild climax before tapering off. It was a song that Damyen had written to express what an artist goes through when crafting a masterpiece, a song that became the first of many as Damyen played late into the afternoon.
With a final stroke of his bow, Damyen set the fiddle on his lap and said, “I cannot believe that it has been two years since I last saw you.”
“Actually, it is three years to be exact. But who is counting?” Liviulé finished his sketch and blew off the excess charcoal dust.
“That is insane!”
“Yes, I know.”
A moment of silence parted their conversation, when Damyen said rather nostalgically, “But what is really insane is that after all this time, I still do not feel content with my life or what I am doing.”
“The feeling is mutual.” Liviulé closed his sketchbook and stood up to stretch his limbs, adding, “Here we are, two grown men on different paths, yet in the very same predicament.” Liviulé scooted into a spot beside Damyen on the hovering tree trunk. “However, I am glad that we will soon be on another one of our wondrous adventures!”
“You mean misadventures?” Damyen noted.
“It is beyond me why they always turn out that way!” The two of them chuckled at the truth of the statement.
“By the way, you never finished telling me about the journey to your parents’ homeland,” Damyen prompted. “How was it?”
“I had a grand time in Roznovia. The people there were fantastic and so were the women; however, life is harsh over there, especially since the war. And after I decided to leave the seminary, I thought it would be best to come home.”
“Agh, the real reason why you came home was because you miss me.”
Liviulé waved off the remark, chuckling as he pulled out his crooked pipe and began packing it with hash. “As much as I love horse manure, yes!” Liviulé continued with a conscious decree, “I must say, Damyen, I am glad to hear that you and Kiaran are doing well in Brookshire.”
“I tell you, it has not been easy. Without Kiaran, I am pretty certain I would not have survived there very long.”
“I am amazed that you still live with him! The lad drives me mad!”
“Kiaran is truly a character. And not to worry, you shall see him soon enough!”
“Thank you for reminding me.”
Damyen shifted back to their previous conversation. “But I really do love Brookshire. It is an entirely different lifestyle that you have to get accustomed to. The only problem is the women. They love you for your wealth and title, and not because you are a good person.”
“With that kind of attitude, you are never going to find someone.”
“But, Liviulé, we are getting old, and I have yet to woo the right woman.”
Liviulé brought the crooked pipe to his lips and flicked a spark to ignite the crushed hash. Puffing it slowly, he replied, “Shite, I always woo the right woman. However, it is afterwards when I then realize that she is not the right one!”
The two of them belted out hearty laughter as Damyen found a breath to say, “In that case, that kind of wooing should be wooed upon if we are ever going to find true love.”
Just then Liviulé’s expression went from subtle to serious, a change Damyen easily noticed. “Is everything alright?”
Liviulé admitted, “There is something I must tell you.”
“I am all ears.”
“I had a dream.”
“Dream? What kind of dream?”
“It is hard to explain. But I had this dream where I was celebrating in the capital of Valoria, and there I met a lady with black hair—my sworn love.”
“Well, I must say, that is a good incentive for coming along on this journey.”
“You are telling me!”
Damyen reached out his hand toward Liviulé. “Let me have a smoke.”
As Damyen inhaled a few puffs from the pipe, Liviulé continued, “Honestly though, I am a little nervous about it.”
“Why?” Damyen rebuffed. “Do you still believe the clairvoyant elder was referring to marriage when he used that euphemism on you?”
“It is beyond me.” Liviulé sighed.
“Whatever the case, I still think that elder was full of shite.”
“Maybe so. But would I bother telling you something that I did not believe to be true?”
“Yes. Plenty of times!”
“Give me an example.”
“Very well.” Damyen picked the first one that came to mind and said, “I remember you telling me about a vision you had where I traveled East with you.”
Liviulé quickly defended himself, saying, “Hello? Are we not going to the Holy Land together?”
“But back then you said it was Roznovia, did you not?”
“That was a long time ago…” Liviulé tried to ignore the fact that Damyen was right and interjected, “But soon we will be in Theoria!”
“Theoria…” Damyen’s eyes sparkled. “Who would have ever imagined?”
“And better yet, all expenses paid for!” The two burst with excitement. Surely going to the Holy Land where the heart of civilization began was an adventure of a lifetime, one that promised excitement from the mundane routine they had grown bored of.
“I was utterly shocked when I received that message from Elder Emeral telling me to pack my bags!” Damyen exclaimed.
“I know. And what is more shocking is the fact that he is now an advisor to the emperor.”
“I am truly astonished.”
“So am I. But it shall be good to see all of us united once again.”
“Yes, it has been much too long!” Damyen agreed, wondering what would be in store for them upon their arrival.