Today is of the Cycle Of The Seventh Moon.
Current Season & Month:  , Year: 543 A.R. (ref)

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Steam rose from the horse’s body as she galloped through the main street of the village of Weldane. Of her rider, there was no sign. Marcus had to act fast—the creature was plainly terrified and it was only a matter of time before she trampled someone.

Quickly he dropped his hammer and mounted his own horse, Sirrus. With no time for niceties, he grabbed a handful of the old stallion’s hair and dug his heels into his flanks. “Come on lad!”

The old horse surged out of his stall, as if he was still in his prime, and charged down the street after the panicked animal. Coming alongside the runaway, Marcus could feel Sirrus straining to keep up, but the old boy had some race in him yet. Reaching over, he grabbed onto the runaway’s reins and urged Sirrus to slow down. Every muscle in his arm screamed as he used a firm hand to control the terrified beast. Marcus was by no means a small man: although old, the blacksmith was still strong. With a tremendous heave he brought the runaway to a trembling standstill.

A small cheer came up from the bystanders, which the blacksmith quickly hushed with a hand gesture. The last thing he needed was for the horse to be spooked again.

Dismounting, he patted Sirrus’s side. “Well done, old man.”

The runaway was a fine grey, the mark on her rump announcing that she was from the castle stables. Her barding and saddle were of finely tooled leather, all denoting the importance of her missing rider. As he moved around the trembling beast he saw a crossbow bolt buried halfway into her fore shoulder.

“Come on lass, slowly does it. Come to the stables. Have some food.” Marcus kept up a calming narrative as he led the two horses back through the streets of the village, to his forge.

Gently, he began to remove the animal’s tack. He was surprised to discover a small leather bag hidden under her saddle. Putting this in his pocket for the moment, he covered the creature with a blanket and studied the damage. It would patch up, although the horse may become lame ... only time would tell. He began to dress the wound with surprising tenderness for someone of his bulk.

“Now then, Marcus, what’s going on?” Grissum, the village councilman, announced his arrival. The blacksmith groaned inaudibly. Turning slowly, he fixed a friendly smile on his face. Grissum was in his late forties, his dark grey hair hanging limply around his shoulders, his face pockmarked and thin. Marcus knew the man had never earned his position. He had bought it.

“Well, sir, it would seem this horse and her rider came under attack. I would suggest we get some of the men together and head back up the road and see what has happened.”

“Oh, I don’t think there is any need for that.” Grissum responded, “After all, no one from the village is missing! I don’t see the point in wasting our time on some stranger.” Marcus seethed inside. Grissum was everything he despised in a man: selfish, self‑serving, and greedy. He could see Grissum even now calculating the value of the runaway.

“I think there is every need.” Raising his hand, the blacksmith pointed to the brand. “This horse is one of Duke Griphon’s; from her tack I would say she might even belong to one of the ducal family. Would you like to explain to his lordship why we didn’t go to the rider’s aid?”

Marcus towered over the councilman. His steel grey eyes glowered at Grissum.

The elder’s face became flushed. “Well ... ah, no. Organize a party straight away. We must of course help anyone who is in trouble.” With that, he bustled back out of the forge.

Within a few minutes, Marcus had gathered together the village’s three trappers, sturdy men who could track and who could handle themselves well if need be. Marcus had picked up his largest forge hammer, and the others were also armed—two with hunting knives and one carrying a short bow. The blacksmith knew the first two of them from old: Samson had been a friend for many years, and Arron was Samson’s son. They were both slight of build and fair skinned. The only difference in coloring was that Samson’s once‑blond hair was now white. The archer was named Teng. He was a quiet man who kept himself to himself. He was strange looking. At only four and a half feet tall, his hair was jet black, his eyes dark brown, and his skin the colour of aged leather. Many in the village believed he was part Halfling.

Marcus nodded in greeting before clearing his throat. “Well, folks, we are looking for a single rider, possibly one of the Duke’s men. From the damage to his horse, I would say he was attacked not far from here. Now he might be dead, or he might not. What I do know is that if we don’t have any answers for Duke Griphon when his men arrive, it’s going to be pretty ugly.”

Slowly the group headed off. The trail was easy to follow, as the horse had left a track of blood as she had charged down the Lorimar Road. Eventually, as they entered the Green Forest, they came across signs of a struggle.

Samson, the most experienced of them, studied the ground. “Single rider came up from Daelows.” He moved to either side of the road and kicked at the ground. He then knelt down and lifted a blanket, which had been cleverly covered in sticks and grass for camouflage.

“They were waitin’ for ’im. Judgin’ from the ground, they’d been here a while, too.” Walking along the road, he frowned.

“Sword fight, the rider and ’orse worked well together—that beast in your stable ’as been trained for fightin’. The ’orse broke off and ran toward the village.” Jogging back up the path, he came to a large depression in the dirt. “The rider came off ’ere.” He looked up in surprise. “The rider is in armour, but the earth isn’t pushed too far in. I’d say either an Elf or a woman.”

“What happened to the rider, Sam?”

“Captured. Not without a fight, though. I’d say ’e took down at least one of the attackers before ’e was taken. From these drag marks, ’e was unconscious."

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Walking to the other side of the road, he drew back another blanket. He quickly turned his head away from what he found.

Marcus came up and had a look for himself. In the ditch was the body of a man. The head was a couple of feet off to the left.

“Well, come on then. Whoever this person is, he is obviously important. I should imagine the Duke would be very grateful if wemanaged to rescue him.”

The group moved off slowly. As they entered the woods, Marcus congratulated himself on picking the trackers. There was almostno sign of their passage, and all talk had stopped as they stalked through the Green Forest.

Arron raised his hand in a signal to stop. Marcus quietly moved up to his side. Ahead was a ridge. The sound of voices drifted up on the wind:

“I say we kill the witch now. You saw what she did to Waller.”

“We can’t kill her ’til she tells us were the letter is.”

“Well, at least let me ’ave a go at finding out.”

These two voices were harsh, soldiers’ voices. The third, which cut in next, was cultured and commanding: “You may interrogateher, but I warn you: if she dies, so do you.”

Edging forward on his belly, Marcus cautiously looked down over the ridge. Below was a small clearing. Two men in mismatchedarmour stood talking to a third—this man wore a robe, which covered him completely; his gloved hands were clasped in frontof him. Off to one side, a red‑haired woman in a chain shirt and leather trousers sat bound hand and foot. A crude gag covered hermouth. Even from this distance, Marcus could see a bruise across the left side of her face. “They got her with the flat of a blade,” hemuttered.

The lad beside him gave him a searching look. “Seen it before, ’ave you?”

“Aye, and it bloomin’ hurts too!” 

A scream brought their attention quickly back to the camp. One of the mercenaries had walked around the back of the prisoner andhe was twisting something in her shoulder. He hadn’t even removed the gag yet. 

“Monster!” hissed Arron as he made to move forward. 

Marcus place a steadying hand on his shoulder and pulled him back. “Not now!” Quickly they moved back to the others and passedon what they had seen. 

The conversation was broken by the woman’s screams several times. The voice of the first mercenary drifted to the party on theridge: “Scream as much as you like, witch! No one can ’ear you!”

“Oh, how wrong ’e is,” old Samson countered. The whole party was on edge—but Marcus knew that if they rushed in they would dieneedlessly. 

“Right. Teng, I want you up on that ridge back there. If my hunch about our friend in the robe is right, your arrows are going tobe our best defence. I want you to count to two hundred after we’ve moved off, and then hit that sod.”
Another scream, weaker than the last, echoed through the woods.

“Arron, you and Samson get round to the right, and I’ll go left. Count to two hundred and then move in. Try and get to the lass.”

With a nod to them all, Marcus crawled off into position.

“... 198, 199, 200!” With a roar the blacksmith charged out of the brush. The mercenary standing beside the robed man spun aroundin surprise. He was flung forward and looked down in shock as an arrowhead blossomed from his chest. He had intercepted the arrowaimed for his companion.

Arron and Samson had surprised the would‑be torturer, and as Marcus looked their way he could see Arron struggling with the man. 

The robed figure turned toward Marcus, his gloved fingers moving in intricate patterns. “This was a mistake, Uman, and nowyou will burn for it!” At this, the mage released his spell.

Marcus instinctively crouched low and closed his eyes. A great weight blasted into him and he felt intense heat, followed by thesickly sweet smell of roast pork. As the heat receded, he opened his eyes—and he screamed as he looked straight into the dead gazeof the soldier who had been hit by the arrow. In his death throws, the poor soul had stumbled into the way of the mage’s blast andsaved Marcus from the flame. Scrambling from underneath the smouldering corpse, the blacksmith quickly jumped to his feet.

“Fools!” the mage screamed. “You have no idea what you are facing!” He began to weave patterns in the air again.

Without thinking, Marcus swung his hammer around in a devastating arc. An unnatural darkness descended as he felt his weapon make contact with the mage—then he heard a satisfying thud as the mage’s body hit the ground.

“Samson! Arron! Are you alright?”

“Yeh, I got the soldier, but I can’t see a thing!”

“The woman’s out cold!”

Slowly Marcus realised something. If the mage was dead, how could his darkness‑spell still work?

“Watch out! The mage is still—” He never got to finish. Arron’s scream cut him off. Following the sounds of Samson’s profanities,
Marcus made his way across the camp. As he arrived, the spell wore off. Arron lay in a pool of blood, while Samson was struggled with hisson’s murderer.

“That’s enough!” Marcus cried out as he swung his hammer one last time. It came crashing down on the mage’s head. This time, hemost certainly wasn’t going to come back.

With a nod of thanks, Samson sat down hard next to the body of his son.

The old man’s tears rolled unchecked down his cheeks. “He was a good lad. He didn’t deserve that.”

“I know, old friend. I’m sorry.” Marcus placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. His own voice choked with grief.
Slowly, he moved over to the woman. She was on her side now and the crossbow bolt in her shoulder could easily be seen. “He wastwisting the bolt! Poor lass must’ve been in agony.”

She was young, maybe in her early twenties. The left side of her face was now badly swollen. A dark blue‑black bruise marredher cheek and temple. Her hair was long and braided, a few wisps hinting that it was curly when lose. Her cheeks were covered in alight smattering of freckles. Marcus noticed the Elvin shape of her eyes, the high cheekbones, slim build, and pointed ears.

“She’s a Half‑Elf!”

Teng walked into the camp. He headed straight for the mage’s body and gave it a vicious kick with such force that it flipped over.
With a gasp, he exclaimed, “Dark‑Elf!”

Looking over, Marcus could indeed see the telltale ebony black skin of the Elves’ underground cousins. “What was so important youhad one of them after you, lass?” he asked the unconscious woman.

“Teng, pick up Arron. As for these, leave them for the beasts.”

Teng slowly picked up the young man’s body.

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They made a sombre procession as they re‑entered the village.
Samson was sobbing quietly as Teng, white‑faced and fighting tears
of his own, carried Arron toward the shrine. Marcus held the Half‑Elf
cradled in his arms. He was surprised by the way he was taking
the death of Arron. He knew he should of feel grief‑stricken, but he
didn’t ... he just felt hollow.

The Half‑Elf was slowly coming to, but was still unaware of her

“Marcus! What happened?” Grissum bustled up, blocking the way.

“Move,” the blacksmith replied quietly. “I beg your pardon? How dare you! I—”

“Move now!” All of the blacksmith’s anger and frustration echoed
in his voice. Grissum had picked the wrong day to gain a backbone.

“I am the Councilman of this village! I have the right to know
what is going on! You go out on some stupid rescue mission and
bring back a corpse and a—” He looked down at the girl in the
blacksmith’s arms. “—a Half‑Elf!”

“The only reason you are the councilman is that you own most
off the village, and the money you bought it with was your father’s!
You haven’t earned anything!” Still holding his precious cargo,
Marcus kicked out, knocking the obnoxious man on his butt.

“How dare you!” Grissum screamed. “I’ll have you arrested!”

“And just who will arrest me Grissum?” Marcus looked
meaningfully at the village guardsman. The man just raised his
hands and walked away.

Continuing down the street, he turned to Teng. “I’ll be there
shortly. Stay with Samson.” With that, he turned off to his forge.

Walking into his room at the back, he laid the Half‑Elf face‑down
in his own bed. After a moment of study, he removed the bolt. A
whimper of pain was all the resistance the woman could muster.
Quickly he packed the wound and turned her over.

“You’re safe. Hush now.” His Elvin speech was rusty with misuse
but fluent enough to be understood.
Slowly she opened her green eyes. “Where am I?”

“In the village of Weldane. Your horse came in without a rider.
We came and found you.”

She tried to sit up. “Pathfinder is here? I must see to her!”

“The only one you must see to is yourself. Pathfinder is well; I
took care of her wound.” Firmly Marcus placed a restraining hand on
her good shoulder, preventing her from getting up. “Now then, do you
have a name?”

With a small smile she answered, “Roya.”

He drew the leather pouch from his pocket. “I found this. I take
it this is what the Dark‑Elf was after.”

Reaching out, Roya took the pouch in a trembling hand. “Thank
you, thank you so much.”

With a little more venom than was needed, Marcus answered, “I
hope it was worth the life of a young man.”

The woman looked him straight in the eyes. “I am sorry that
I have caused your village grief. However, this letter is worth the
lives of every person here. You’ve just saved a treaty between your
kingdom’s people and the Elvin nation. If this letter did not reach its
destination, all‑out war would be declared.”

A loud banging began on the door outside.

“Marcus! Come out now!” Grissum’s voice sounded smug.

“Wait here. I’ll deal with Grissum.” Roya looked about to protest
but then nodded.

Standing up, Marcus walked over to his wardrobe. Opening the
false bottom, he pulled out an ornate great sword. “Oh, I’ve been
wanting to scare this character for a long time!”

Opening the door, he was confronted by Grissum and two
soldiers. The armour looked suspiciously familiar.

With a smug grin, old Grissum stepped back out of the soldiers
way. “These are the Duke’s men. They’ve come to arrest the Elf and her
traitorous helpers. Samson and Teng are already under lock and key.”

“You fool!” thundered Marcus. “Do you know what you have
done? These men aren’t the Duke’s—even a dullard like yourself
should see that!” Suddenly he stopped and stared hard into the
councilman’s eyes. “But you did know that! How much did they offer
you? Tell me, how much is the going rate for the lives of four men?”

“Plenty, my friend, but worth more than that, is to see the high
and mighty Marcus get his come‑uppance.” In a commanding tone,
Grissum called to the mercenaries. “Well, what are you waiting for?
Seize him!”

Marcus lowered himself into a ready stance, his great sword
glowing orange from the reflected light of the setting sun. The
mercenaries advanced slowly, more used to picking on lightly armed
travellers than this obviously hardened warrior.

Suddenly, they charged forward in an attempt to overwhelm the
blacksmith. Marcus swung high and intercepted the first mercenary’s
sword blow and moved quickly to one side to avoid the second man’s
sweep. Cursing, he realised his blade was snared. He pushed with all
his might and managed to stand upright.

From his left came the sound of metal on metal. A quick glance
told him that he was no longer on his own. Roya had joined him in
his fight.

Marcus’s opponent struggled to push the sword away, but the old
man’s muscles bunched as he fought off the younger.

“Tip for you, lad,” he hissed through clenched teeth. “When you
get old and grey, you learn a few tricks!” With this, he slammed his
head down onto the soldier’s nose, smashing into the unprotected
face. As the man reeled from the blow, Marcus rammed his sword
through the unprotected space under the mercenary’s upraised arm,
straight through into his chest.

Roya was in pain; her shoulder was damaged, and she was
forced to use her off hand. Even so, the Half‑Elf was fuelled with a
need for revenge. Her Uman opponent never stood a chance. Within
three moves, he was flat on his back, a huge welt on the side of his

“Now we are even,” she spat. The two warriors then turned their
attention to Grissum. They both moved forward menacingly.

“Now please, let’s not do anything rash,” the weasel‑faced man
pleaded. “I only had the good of the village in mind.” Walking
backwards, he tripped and fell to the ground. As the warriors
advanced, he scrambled backwards on his bum.

“Marcus, please! I did it for the good of the village! She’s a witch!
Everyone knows you can’t trust Elvin blood!”

“Stand up.” The blacksmith’s voice was cold. Grissum quickly
complied. “Go to your home and pack one bag, then leave!”

“Yes, yes, of course.” The councilman made a rather undignified
rush for his home, reemerging moments later with a sack of

“Marcus, please reconsider.” His voice had taken on a whining

“I am reconsidering,” Marcus replied slowly. “Maybe I shouldn’t
let you go. Maybe I should just kill you where you stand.”
Grissum had never moved so fast in his entire life. He sprinted
for the outskirts of the village, the sounds of laughter and jeering
ringing in his ears. 

The villagers buried the dead that night. Samson and Teng were
released. Marcus was worried about his old friend. Samson hadn’t
uttered a word since the death of his boy.

The next morning the Half‑Elf went to the stables to see her horse.
“Leaving so soon?” Marcus asked as he stepped out from the
back of the forge.

“I have to. The letter must arrive on time.” She sighed as she
studied the grey’s wound. “You did a good job, but she is in no fit
state to ride.”

“Take Sirrus.” Patting the old horse’s side, he continued, “He’s
old, but he’s fit. He’s also battle hardened.”
With a nod of thanks, Roya kitted up. “You could come with me.
I could use a swordsman of your skill.”

“Your offer is tempting,” he replied. A small smile played on his lips
as he slowly shook his head. “But my adventuring days are long over.”

“Well, if you’re sure.” Reaching up, she mounted the stallion.

“Thank you.” With a kick of her heels she headed away from the village.

Turning back to his forge, Marcus the blacksmith began working
on a ploughshare.