Some men are born to greatness; other men have greatness thrust upon them. Further men are born to serve the great with a cool, intoxicating beverage when their day of great deeds is done. Ostran Fielddelver was one of the latter categories of men. (Actually he was a Halfling, but that’s really of little or no consequence as this story isn’t really about Ostran.)
It was a cool, early afternoon on the eighth of Kython and Ostran couldn’t shake the niggling feeling that the man currently sat in a quiet corner of the Tavern was going to be trouble. The stranger was a little over average height for a human, with a shaved head, and well trimmed beard and moustache, his eyes were icy blue, starring out from under heavy eyelids they pierced those they looked upon as if judging their soul’s worthy of nought more than flame-filled damnation.
It wasn’t the man’s physiology though which gave Ostran reason to worry. The reasons why Ostran was worrying were two-fold, firstly the stranger had been sat in the corner for approaching an hour now without buying more than one drink (financially that wasn’t really a problem as the stranger had paid for his drink with a single gold coin, which could have covered the most jaded misanthrope’s bar-tab twice over) the drink had been an elvish pale-ale (known locally as Elvish piss-water). He couldn’t have drunk more than a few sips, however the expression on his face was of a man who had been searching for answers in the bottom of a glass, though hadn’t been sure which glass, and was trying to search the bottom of as many glasses as possible before the floor finally caught up with him.
The other thing about the stranger which gave Ostran cause for concern was the fact that from his apparel this man was obviously an adventurer, a cleric most probably, though unlike most clerics he did not bear the mark of any deity and across his back was strapped a large scythe, as far as Ostran was aware this was not a standard armament of any of the mainstream religious orders.
It wasn’t like Ostran had any problem with adventurers’ par-se; they served a very useful role of tackling harmful pests. Ostran saw Adventurers as something of a similar kin to Garden Spiders or ladybirds, only instead of Aphids and bluebottles, Adventurers dealt with larger pests like Kobolds and Dragons. The problem Ostran had with adventurers was that they tended to attract trouble. As a professional barman Ostran had seen far too many perfectly nice, ordinary folk who after a few drinks felt a need to try and prove themselves by picking a fight with the one person in a twenty mile radius who slayed dragons for grins. Come kicking-out time these nice, ordinary folk were usually the people Ostran found scrabbling through the saw-dust trying to find the rest of their fingers.
It wouldn’t do. The Tavern was starting to fill with the usual dregs of society that had nothing else to do of an afternoon than get in some practice for the night’s drinking. Ostran was going to have to do something; it was only a matter of time until someone threw a chair.
He walked up to where the stranger was sat, as he got closer he noticed that the man had a thin silver chain wrapped around his left wrist, from the chain hung a pendant bearing the image of a fist closed tight around a bolt of lightning, a holy symbol of Kord, the God of storms and of battle. Also as he moved closer Ostran realised that the stranger was not as old as he had first presumed, being only maybe thirty or so years.
“How goes it this day sir?” Asked Ostran smiling broadly at the man, “What business do you have in Winterhaven?”
The stranger lifted his head in acknowledgement, and then once again lowered his eyes to continue starring at the icon hanging from his left hand.
Ostran was perplexed at this affront to his cheerful greeting, however he was not dissuaded from his efforts, he had been in the tavern trade for many years now, and knew that the key to victory was a sustained and unabated offensive.
“I haven’t seen you around here before sir and was just wondering sir, if you would be meeting companions, associates or brethren this evening, as I was not sure if sir was aware, that at the Green Dragon Inn we pride ourselves on our ability to cater for groups of any size, race or denomination.”
The man lifted his eyes again to look at the nuisance which refused to take a hint and leave him in peace, “no thank you,” he replied, “I’m travelling alone, My associates have had me excommunicated, my companions are for all I know dead, and My brethren,” the young man sighed heavily “My family are already dead. Now, please leave me be.”
Ostran looked quickly from side to side hoping none of his regular inebriates had noticed the tears welling in the young man’s face, it wasn’t wise to show weakness in front of the easily baitable.
“Listen to me young master, seems to old Ostran that you’ve got something eating you from the inside out,” the bar man pulled out the chair next to the man and scrambled into the seat. “Now, you know we Halflings have been known to say that a problem aired is a problem that some other bugger’s got to worry about as well, so why don’t you tell me what’s eating you. Start from the beginning.”
Ostran was well trained in the barman’s arts, of which two of the key skills are listening, and knowing how to extract a story. The stranger took a long sup of his drink and, probably against his better judgement began to recount his story.
“My name is Giles Tobermory Ridcully, I was born in a small farming village on the eastern side of Cercidia known as Austen’s Hope, I was the middle child of three siblings. While on the farm I was, like my brother expected to assist with the manual labour, though unlike my brother my strength did not really lie in my physical strength. I was a quiet and thoughtful child taking an interest in particular in medicine and the healing arts, displaying an ability to heal light wounds which bordered on the uncanny.
My elder brother Gustav was the very image of my father, with no hopes or dreams above or beyond those of my father, to him the only things that mattered were the farm, the gods and the family, and in that order. Nothing else mattered to him, and to that end he never questioned the world around him, that is until the world around him became too much of a threat to continue to ignore.
My sister, Claudia was a beautiful child, she was pale skinned and her blond hair shone like fine strands of gold, I will always remember her as a child, sat with mother learning the skills which she would one day need in order to fulfil her role as a farmer’s wife, in Austen’s hope it was never too young for a girl to learn the necessary skills, such as milking, needlecraft, cooking and baking. It’s not that it was a misogynistic society; it was simply that its occupants knew no different. I don’t know if my sister ever found a suitor, I pray to the Gods that she at least grew to know some happiness after I had gone. I never saw my sister as an adult.
Unlike my siblings however, I was uncomfortable with life on the farm; I was forever asking questions of which my parents were never equipped to answer. In secret, for she knew my father would not approve, my mother encouraged my intellect, and I was taught to read and write at the village church by the local cleric, a kindly old man with a mighty beard, who would also provide anecdotes regarding many of the races of Ceridia he had met during his many pilgrimages. The more I heard, and the more I read, the greater my wanderlust became, the more I learned of the world beyond the village, and the more I wanted to see that world myself. I craved knowledge, and with this craving there also grew a reckless desire for adventure. It was this reckless desire which eventually led to me leaving my home behind, one gray morning, not long after my sixteenth birthday. I vowed that I wouldn’t return to my home until I had seen all that the land of Cercidia had to offer me; of course it is now impossible for me to return home, as Austen’s hope is no longer there.”
“Hmm,” Ostran thought to himself, “does anyone really talk like that?”
“After leaving home I headed for the nearest city, where I found refuge with the church of Kord, as a Children we had been taught of the Gods and so I knew many of the legends regarding Kord and his endorsement of strength with responsibility, as a child this concept drew me more than any other, as it spoke of great deeds and noble actions.
I remained with the brothers of Kord for near ten years, they had a large library where I developed my knowledge of the world, and the wonders therein. I also learned through time, to focus my belief to both smite my enemies, and to greater enhance my healing abilities through the focusing of my faith on my actions.
So great did my healing powers become, that I started to travel with the brethren wherever. Their prayers were required, though I did my best to shy away from the combat that these sabbaticals usually entailed through my younger years, I was always on hand to lend a healing word.
I was approaching my tenth year in the Church of Kord when the messenger arrived from Austen’s Hope. The messenger was barely more than one of the village Children, when he arrived he was tired, hungry and saddle-sore. He had been riding without rest for three days and nights. I had advanced someway within the brotherhood by this point, and was present when the masters listened to what the boy had to say.
All had been well in Austen’s hope, however rumours had started to spread in the taverns that strange folk had been seen frequenting the caves in the hills nearby. The strangers were dressed almost all in black, and were usually accompanied by shabbier looking fellows, who at best looked rough, and unkempt, and at worst looked, from a distance to be barely alive. The people of Austen’s hope though were a peaceful community, and as it would turn out a naive one. They allowed the strange folk to go about their business in the hills undisturbed, it wasn’t until four days ago that they were forced to regret their unassuming nature as the village was assaulted upon all sides by shambling undead abominations.
Upon hearing the boy’s words I placed a hand upon his chest and whispered a short prayer to his gods to grant a peaceful and restful sleep. Seeing to make the boy as comfortable as possible I petitioned the head priest that I be allowed to accompany the party that would head to Austen’s hope with the aim of liberating its people, insisting that as it was my home, it would be only right that I be allowed to return home and defend it.
I was granted to join the party as a healer, and given my chain armour, a gold pendant on a silver chain bearing the mark of Kord, and my weapon a small and ornate mace swathed in the sigils of the order.
The party of Clerics and Paladins of Kord approached the village cautiously, thanks to my guidance coming into the area from the north-side. I had claimed that this would give us tactical advantage as the north-side was raised above the rest of the town, allowing us a better field of vision; however my actual reason for wanting to come this way was the knowledge that this route would bring us first to my family’s farm.
The farmstead I remembered from my childhood was little more than a ruin, with most of the outbuildings nothing but charred ruins, bones and viscera were strewn across the fields; I could only assume that this had been the site of some epic stand between the villagers and their necrotic assailants. It was on this field of battle that I found the stones. Two marker stones bearing the names of my parents. The crude inscription on the stones read that they had both fallen while protecting their home from attack.
On inspection of the farmhouse I discovered that it was still almost entirely whole, the stone still held, as did the heavy oak doors, with their Iron hinges. My heart leapt, could it be possible that my brother and sister had survived the onslaught, and that the death of my parents had not been in vain?
I knocked on the doors the sound of the raps loud and booming in the still, eerie quiet. What answered was my brother’s voice quiet and terrified, “For the sake of the gods, stop that noise you fool! The dead are still out there, they will hear and they will come! “
“Gustav, it’s me,” I replied recovering myself somewhat, is in my joy I had become somewhat over excited, and though we had not seen sign of the dead, that did not make it wise to coax them. “Gustav, it’s Giles, I’ve returned with aid for our village, open the door so that we might be reunited!”
Very slowly the door opened, what I saw within might well have been an undead abomination, for it no longer held any resemblance to my brother. By my reckoning, the original attack by the undead had been no more than eight or nine days ago, but my brother, though only two years my senior, he looked almost ancient, his skin gaunt and waxy in pallor, and his eyes were sunken and dark. I hadn’t seen Gustav in ten years, but despite his sallow appearance it was still unmistakably him, he was the dead-likeness of my father, though aged by his harrowing experiences.
Gustav beckoned us in to the farmhouse and my party set about further securing the farm building, while I learned from my brother of Austen’s Hope’s grisly fate. From the first appearance of zombies on the edge of the village, it took only a matter of hours for the most part of the village to be destroyed. Zombies swamped the streets in massive numbers, their slow, clumsy gait acting as little weakness due to sheer weight of numbers, like a shambling wall of hungry, necrotic flesh.
My father and brother had been at the village inn when the zombies came, using whatever weapons he was able to improvise, steal or borrow the men of the village had formed a rag-tag militia, their efforts enough to repel the initial zombie assault. Intoxicated by apparent victory and strong liquor the men allowed themselves to lower their guard. This had proved their undoing as the second attack came in the form of skeletal warriors. Scattered with the remnants of the original zombie assault the well armed, blood thirsty creatures cut down the village’s drunken defenders with ease. Broken, the town militia’s survivors broke and scattered, a child was sent with the fastest horse available to the nearest city to bring help from those most suited to face the undead, the brotherhood of the church of Kord.
Gustav had left the militia and headed for the Ridcully farm, my father had been cut down by skeletons, upon arriving back at the farm building he had found my sister, Claudia to be missing, and my mother shambling toward him, as a final ungodly insult, her throat gaped wide and still seeped fresh, crimson blood, she had been murdered and re-animated. Eyes running with tears my brother was forced to return to her the gift of peaceful slumber using the only weapon to hand, the scythe which was used to reap the fields was used to end my mother’s abominable un-life in one smooth stroke.
Upon ending his story my brother collapsed, broken, in my haste to hear the his story, I had not given a moment’s thought to healing my brother’s infected wounds, following the effort of recanting his tragic tale he fell into a state of unconsciousness, I used all my skills to stabilise his condition but it was to no avail. That night my brother died without ever waking.
Saddened by my brother’s demise I approached the captain of the brethren of Kord requesting that we attack the hills to the east of the village, assaulting those who had been responsible for the death of my family and the complete destruction of Austen’s Hope. I put down my mace without ever using it to strike a blow, vowing from that day that the scythe my brother had used to slay my mother’s undead form would be my weapon, each blow I strike upon the undead will bring my mother peace of mind in the next world.
“I was the only member of the team that attacked the hills to escape with my life, in the hills we found a series of tunnels, the entrances adorned with the iconography of Orcus. Being the youngest and least experienced of the team I was ordered to stay by the entrance to the tunnels and mop up any undead which may try to escape. After watching the sun reach its highest point and then start to sink again I bolstered myself and entered the caves. I soon found out what had happened to the brethren of Kord. Their corpses were strewn across the cave floor, though torn and broken already their limbs had started to twitch from the curse of death animation which had been cast upon them.
Though angered by the horror which I witnessed I realised that I would be no match for the creature, or creatures which had slain these fine men of Kord, my head ruling my heart I turned to Flee, only to be confronted by a trio of skeleton warriors. I drew my scythe, though I was alone, no match for this trio of abominations. Fuelled equally by fear and rage I reached deep within myself and with a scream of both effort and determination I unleashed a burst of intense divine energy which knocked one of the skeletons to the ground, where it shattered into fragments, and pushed the other two back into the cave. Seizing the opportunity, knowing full well I may not get another I ran from the caves.
Leaving Austen’s Hope far behind me I returned to the church of Kord to inform them of the death of many fine members of their Church, and of the grim fate of my home town. It was a cause of great shame within the brotherhood, and it was only through my bloody-minded determination for revenge that I was not excommunicated from the order. Fuelled with a desire for vengeance upon the cultists of Orcus who murdered my family and nursing a misguided belief that there is a chance, no matter how remote that my sister is still alive I left the Church for the last time, my Armour polished bright in honour of my god, and my scythe strapped tight across my back.”
Ostran wiped a tear from his eye, that had been the most painfully clichéd story he had ever heard. “So then master Ridcully,” he asked “what brings you here to Winterhaven, and why do you look so defeated?”
“Five years into my personal quest I had been earning some money as a priest and guardian of a band of Merchants when we were set upon by a juvenile blue dragon, though I fought bravely I was no match for the creature and was taken captive by the creature, no doubt wanting to maintain my freshness for devouring at a later time. I was rescued from this fate by a band of Adventurers who I aided in slaying the dragon. I came with these adventurers to Winterhaven where we were employed in the removal of a pack of Kobolds causing problems for travelling merchants. During this time I was knocked unconscious by a group of Kobolds and was very nearly killed.
After this we returned to winterhaven before heading to the nearby Keep to investigate talk of Orcus cultists operating within the area. Upon returning to town though I was waylaid by an assembly of Kord followers, who having learned of my defeat at the talons of the dragon have banished me from the order. This has caused me to think ‘Am I really cut out for a life of combat?’ I know in my heart what the answer is but I fear that without my faith I am nothing.”
“Faith is a tricky thing,” said Ostran, glad of another opportunity to speak, having featured so prominently at the start of this story “It strikes me that you know that you are not a warrior, you have merely had this thrust upon you by circumstance. You are however strong in your faith, and as you have already made apparent in your tale an expert healer. Therefore it strikes me, with your newfound adventuring comrades is there any need for you to fill the role of warrior? Would you not be more suited to a role of healing and divine support?”
Giles listened to this and nodded his head before asking “But what about this?” he waved his Holy Icon “I am without a patron Deity.”
Ostran reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, flat seashell hanging from a thin leather thong “Do you know,” he asked “about the lady Melora, goddess of the sea and the wilderness?”
Giles reached and took the meagre talisman from the Halfling “My mother was a follower of Melora!” he shouted excitedly, tears welling in his eyes.
“Well isn’t that convenient.” Thought Ostran, looking scornfully at the narrator who was already halfway down his third whiskey and was hoping to wrap things up as soon as possible.
Giles Ridcully stood up, his eyes ablaze with new vigour and purpose, he turned and thanked the barman and strode for the door of the tavern “Where are you going?” Asked Ostran from the place on the floor he had landed after Giles sudden movement had knocked him sprawling.
“I must hurry,” Giles replied, “my band has already headed off for the Keep, with any luck I may be able to catch up to them before my talents become needed. Farewell wise Ostran, I bid you a long and prosperous life!” With that the young man left.
“Kids!” muttered Ostran disapprovingly he pushed the chairs up against the table when a glint caught his eye. In his hurry to leave the cleric had left his talisman of Kord. The barman picked it up and inspected it before sliding it into his pocket, ”prosperous life indeed,” he thought, “that Bauble’s worth at least ten gold pieces of anybody’s money, more if that lad can live long enough to make a name for himself.” With that Ostran returned to his stool behind the bar and returned to his usual activities of wiping glasses with a dirty cloth and making inappropriate comments to the bar wenches regarding how the god’s made Halflings superior to all other lovers.