Part 1) Adwin
Adwin stood on top of a stretch of the ruined curtain wall, still mostly intact despite the condition of the rest of the ruins. From the old fortress’s highest remaining point he gazed down on the town of Hadden’s Fort and the homesteads beyond. He was waiting for Leysha.
He had seen this view many times before; The town’s comparatively short walls, clustered buildings centred around Lord Willik’s squat little keep, and the temple grounds of the Goddess of Mercy. The nearer of the outlying farms bordered by the Reserve to the south, Lake Nayawhe eastward and the plains beyond in all directions. A great sea of grass, extended further than the eye could see.
The first time he climbed the old wall on a dare, the scenic beauty had been awe-inspiring. He remembered a feeling of having found something magical, seeing his world from a new perspective. His successful climb and jubilant excitement had emboldened Breggan to the ascent, they had been eight or nine then, the best of friends. Two orphaned boys in a small town in the middle of nowhere.
They had vowed never to climb back down from the wall and had spent the afternoon marvelling at all the things they could see; So many birds of all sorts, farm animals and all the people, looking small from their lofty vantage. They had counted buildings, made up stories about some of the people, thrown stones and kicked free loose debris. It had been and still was one of Adwin’s favourite times.
That first adventure in the ruins had ended when Sister Ghwend found them there somewhat before sunset. Her scolding tongue sent the two boys scrambling down the wall to face her wrath. Threats of punishment continued, she followed them into town and through the streets to the temple grounds and into the small orphanage. They had received a lashing for their miscreant behaviour, but it had been worth it.
The memory made Adwin smile, but his brooding mood quickly crept to the front of his thoughts. He leaned on the old battlements watching the road below. Today the view of Hadden’s Fort, the only town in Willik’s FreeHold, held no inspiration or wonder for him. The town, no, the entire hold felt small and confining.
When dark clouds started blowing in from the northeast, heavy and dark with the promise of rain, Adwin climbed down from the wall. Leysha would not be coming today.
The rain caught Adwin on the road southwest of the town. The afternoon light faded, streams of water ran along the road, Adwin splashed along, Crinokk Homestead was now to his left. Soaked through he briefly considered taking shelter with old-man Crinokk, but instead opted to press on to town, before the guards closed the gate.
Adwin and Breggan had fostered with Crinokk. About a year after their first big adventure in the ruins the Sisters of Mercy had made the arrangements. The priestesses presumed that a more practical education would be provided to the boys on Crinokk’s farm. Gone were the hymns and chants, Adwin had not looked at a book or scroll since. Even though he could read and write adequately, very few other people he knew could. Instead, with Crinokk’s firm guidance the two boys learned to work the fields, care for the animals and the everyday maintenance of a homestead.
Once, when Breggan had complained about cooking and cleaning as being woman’s work, Crinokk has snorted and his rough voice advised; “If a lad can’t clean, cook and mend his own clothing then he’s only fit to be someone’s husband.” or, “The women folk are not always around, so clean up after yourself and eat a hot meal every day.” Such statements were often followed by a rambling discourse on the teachings of Thray or a story from his youth that illustrated his point.
The old man had plenty of stories, often after the days work had been done and the evening meal served, Crinokk would tell other tales. Stories from the Winter War during Natareen Ghoulst’s rebellion. The same war that had taken Adwin’s father and older brothers had taken three of the old man’s sons. A few months later, the fever had taken his wife, Adwin’s mother and sisters and nearly a quarter of Hadden’s Fort’s population.
Crinokk’s best stories were from the man’s youth, he had travelled far to the east and south, visiting Elquin and Maldorn. Seeing the ocean and the great ships of the sea. He’d also claimed to have met dwarves, fought goblins, seen sky-ships and many other wondrous things. Adwin loved these stories and thought he might travel as an adult. Breggan however thought the man’s stories fantastical and as easily dismissed as water from a piss-pot.
For three years both boys had fostered on the farm, learning Crinokk’s practical outlook towards work and life. They grew from children to youth, Breggan gaining more height and bulk than Adwin, enough so that he was selected for the town guard and moved from the homestead to the Lord’s keep. It would be another year and a half before Crinokk was able to find vocation for Adwin.
The rain poured down in sheets of water as Adwin ran up to the closing gate. He asked one of the guards, “Have you seen Breggan?”
“Nah, but try the tavern.” The guard shouted back at him, the pounding rain nearly drowning out the sound of his voice.
“Thanks!” He jogged down the town’s main street, stone and brick houses and shops spaced tightly together. Past the west commons where some crops grew and a few animal pens housed some of the local goats and foul.
Mulluc’s Tap Room was a large three story building with its own stables, well, garden and a couple of small sheds. The main room, at the front of the building was the tavern with the kitchen running along the side of the building with both indoor and outdoor facilities, the back part of the building was dedicated to the brewery while the upper floors had rooms for rent or for the staff. The building was at one corner of the town square, other businesses and the common market surrounded the square and the rarely used gallows at the centre was more often a stage during festivals and weddings.
The rain suddenly stopped, though the clouds remained dark and low to the ground. The wind dropped and Adwin could hear fiddle music and the ruckus of good cheer from drunk patrons. The storm a handy excuse for an early start.
Mulluc’s served the locals and rarely saw more than a couple of handfuls of outsiders through the run of a year. The majority of those travellers stayed at the tavern, most of them were merchants from the west.
When an outsider was in town Adwin made a point of dropping in, hoping to hear news of the greater world beyond Hadden’s Fort. Stories from GreensBridge were the most common, jewel of the FreeHolds, legendary Eldra towers and great bridges, larger than any human-made structures. In more recent years the tales increasingly included accounts of great Tannican armies on the march east, conquering cities and enslaving populations.
Whatever the tales or the songs, even just a glimpse of odd clothing or the different sounds of the words the outsiders spoke. All of it was a compelling curiosity to him, hints of the world beyond his small town. A sense that greater things were happening, adventure awaited just down the road.
As he crossed the street to the tavern’s front doors he saw Breggan come out onto the veranda. Breggan did not notice him and walked over to another familiar face. In the dim light of the hanging lanterns and the twilight of the stormy day, with his foot on the first step to the tavern, Adwin watched Breggan pass a tankard to Leysha, lean in and exchange a passionate kiss and then settle against the veranda’s railing putting an arm around Leysha’s waist.
Surprise. Adwin watched frozen in place as the two of them leaned into each other, murmured and laughed and exchange another quick kiss or two. Stunned he looked around and then back to his friend and his lover as they coed nonsense to each other.
After another moment Adwin turned away and walked on, stunned disbelief. The rain started again, falling heavy.
He then spent a number of hours walking the towns streets, thinking about what he had just seen and thinking back over the last few months, realizing he had seen less of the two of them than usual. Finally fatigue forced him to take shelter.
He had been working for the widow Amretta, repairs and maintenance to her property and buildings. He crept over the wall in the early dark of morning and crawled up into the loft of the small stable. He stripped off his wet clothing, hung it to dry and fell asleep on an old horse blanket.
It took him two days to finish the job he had promised the widow, working sun up to sun down. The hard work helped him think and he ended up concluding that Leysha and Breggan were well matched; they both wanted children and they both intended to stay in Hadden’s Fort. By the time he was finishing the job, he had worked through his feelings and although their deception had hurt him and he felt a sense of betrayal he also had the clear thought that it was a good time to be moving on. New places, new adventures and new faces. An entire world waited beyond Lord Willik’s domain and it was about time he saw some of it.
Adwin had travelled three days along the west road, happy to be on the move, a sea of grass to either side and open sky in all directions. He was now further from home than he had ever been before. Although the plains looked much the same and the birds and animals he saw were mostly the same as what he was familiar with, Adwin expected an adventure with every rise and dip in the road. He travelled light; a small pack, bedroll, pouch, water skin, knife, short bow and a small quiver of arrows.
He encountered no trolls or highwaymen during those firsts few days, but he was sure each day would bring something new and exciting.
It had rained briefly the mornings of the second and third days, and low laying parts of the road were sometimes marshy, though that was not unusual for the time of year, the winter melt and spring rains left plenty of water. At the end of each day he made sure to lay out his boots, dry his feet and swap his wrappings, keep your head warm and your feet dry had been one of his first lessons about surviving on the Pwhanna plains.
Adwin was sure the skills Dawdwin had taught him would be sufficient to the task of keeping himself alive during his trek to GreensBridge.