Sons of Gailland
The winter thaw had come early this year and the birds were already flying back north, abandoning their seasonal homes in the south. Gailland was once again lush, green, and teeming with life. The mountainous coastal region was a beautiful land which contained almost anything a person could hope for, including some of the most gorgeous scenery on the face of the planet; or so Kalin thought as he sat atop a high ridge overlooking a pasture to the south and the ocean to the west.
He enjoyed the smell of the salty sea air as he watched a herd of wild horses grazing in the pasture below. The sky was a brilliant tapestry of pink and purple light as the sun rose over the horizon to the east. He loved the way the wind from the ocean blew through his hair making him feel as free as the horses and birds he had been observing for nearly an hour now.
Kalin was a boy of about nine or ten years old, though he was tall for his age, no one had ever called him strapping or burly. He had shoulder length hair which shared its color with the darkest tree bark in the forest. His slender face and light complexion accentuated his piercing dark green eyes. He was a kind hearted boy who had a thirst for adventure in his drab life of chores on the family farm, in a small village northeast of his current position, called Thatchton. He lived there with his mother, and older brother, and raised sheep, chickens, and other livestock to get by. Unfortunately getting by is about the only thing they did.
Roth, his father, had died two years earlier. He was a good man, from what Kalin could remember, who had always put his family first and did his best to provide for and protect them. That's what he did until the day that he died.
. . .
Roth was a large man of good build and strong shoulders. He worked in the forests and hills of Gailland hunting, tracking, and farming. He also owned a fishing boat which helped supply his family with food and gold depending on the catch. For many years he served in the King's Army as a soldier and trail breaker, then after the War of Years he took his leave of soldiering and settled down with his childhood sweetheart Jessykah, his wife, and started a family in Thatchton. His sons were born shortly after buying the land where his farm stood and things were going well for him and his family.
Jessykah was not gorgeous by any means but she was a handsome woman who loved her family more than anything on the planet. She was tall for a woman with golden hair that fell neatly to the middle of her back, whenever it wasn't wrapped in a tight bun atop her head, and beautiful green eyes that seemed to light the room whenever she smiled. Though she seemed thin and frail, she carried herself with confidence which tended to boil over into fits of stubbornness at times. In those times the light that seemed to jump from her eyes while she smiled quickly transformed into flames and daggers for whoever her intended target happened to be.
After a few years Roth became a staple in the community and was even offered a place on the high council of the village, an honor usually reserved for the more senior members of the community. However a few nights before the induction ceremony wolves attacked one of Roth's herds of cattle. Knowing that the cattle were instrumental in his families survival through the winter, Roth and his eldest son Braydin, born four years before Kalin, took their spears and left to save the cattle.
Whenever they arrived the wolves had already killed two cows and a calf, and had severley wounded a large bull. Roth began yelling and waving his arms in hopes of scaring the wolves into a peaceful retreat. Unfortunately it only managed to redirect the starving wolves' attention to the man and his son. The six wolves quickly began to ignore the cows and turned their attention to the new threat which had just appeared to interrupt their dinner. Slowly they began moving toward Roth and Braydin, teeth barred and heads low to the ground. As Roth leveled his spear he said to Braydin,"When they draw near try to wound one and then turn and run as fast as you can to the house. Do not let them overtake you or you will be done for." Braydin nodded and leveled his spear at the approaching wolves as well.
As if Roth's word to his son were a cue the wolves began to growl and the hair on their back bristled and stood on end. The leader crouched low to the ground closing in slowly. "Be ready!" Roth shouted as the wolf sprang into the air gnashing his teeth wildly as he came in contact with the sharp tip of Roth's spear. A loud whelp escaped from the wolf as its body fell limp to the ground, but there was no time for celebration at the small victory. Five more wolves charged the farmer and his son, and soon they were upon them and the battle commenced. Roth used all the force he could muster to swing his spear at the vicious beast who was attempting to tear his flesh from the bones. The leader of the pack had snapped the spear as it fell to the ground leaving Roth with little more than a stick to defend himself. The spear shaft took the attacker in the right temple rendering it immediately unconscious as a large chunk of blood and fur was peeled away from it's scalp. Roth followed through his swing, pivoting quickly on his left foot, and brought the shaft down hard across another wolf's back, splintering the wood into useless shards.
Braydin had killed another wolf, however the tip of his spear had wedged itself between the creature's shoulder blade and rib cage leaving the boy unarmed against the two remaining animals. In a fit of panic the boy screamed for help and ran toward his father. Roth turned to see his son running for his life while two beasts were biting at his heels. Quickly he pulled the dagger from his boot and fell in behind his son as he ran past. The first wolf yelped in surprise as Roth's boot slammed into it's jaw shattering teeth and bone. The other tackled Roth by biting the sleeve of his tunic and pulling the large man off balance. Instinctively Roth rolled away and was able to get back to his feet as the wolf circled to charge him again. The wolf came at full speed and launched himself through the air, but this time the man was ready. As the wolf landed on him Roth fell backwards, stabbing the wolf in the lung through its rib cage. He watched as the animal began coughing up blood and eventually drowned in its own bodily fluid.
Roth went to his son to make sure he wasn't injured. Braydin had stopped a few yards past where his father had last seen him and he was now staring wide eyed at Roth as if he had never seen the man before in his life. Roth had been a soldier before but he had never shown anything but the caring attention of a loving father to either of his sons until now. Braydin's mind raced as his hulking brute of a father, red faced and blood splattered came to stand before him.
Other than being out of breath and a little dishevlled the two were no worse for ware it seemed. "You did well today son," Roth said in a raspy, controlled voice, obviously trying to hide the fact that his head was pounding due to the increased blood flow, and his lungs were about to explode out of his chest. He then dropped heavily to the ground taking a well deserved break in order to catch his breath before taking the wolves' hides and beginning the long hike back home to the rest of his family.
Braydin left his father to go and collect firewood so that they could warm themselves after the sun went down. He knew it would take a few hours to clean the animals he and Roth had just dispatched. As Braydin topped the hill nearest the area where his father was resting, his eyes grew wide and he dropped his armload of firewood as he began to run. The wolf that Roth had hit across the back had not died but was merely unconscious and was currently attached to Roth's right forearm tearing the flesh to ribbons as Roth rolled on the ground attempting to get free.
Roth screamed," Stay back!" as Braydin came running to his aid. Amazingly Roth managed to get his left hand around the wolf's throat, cutting off its air supply, much quicker than Braydin thought possible. The wolf slumped to the ground after its eyes rolled into the back of its head and his tongue fell loosely from the side of its mouth. Roth's face was still covered with a mask of pain and anger. Braydin saw the tight muscles of his father's arm quickly flex and jerk, causing a terrible ripping and gurgling sound in the animal's throat, as the wolf's windpipe was torn from its body and tossed onto the ground beside his father.
As he walked to his father's side Braydin saw that Roth's forearm had been torn to the bone and flesh was hanging loosely, connected only by strands of skin. Quickly he removed his shirt and began bandaging the grotesque wound as his father winced in pain at every touch. The ground around them was covered in the blood of the wolves and of Roth alike. Braydin knew his father had lost a lot of blood and needed medical attention soon, or he would die.
Sweat beaded on Roth's forehead and his breathing was a deep rasp as the farm house came into view. Braydin helped his father along giving him a shoulder to lean on as they walked. It was less than a half mile to the nearest farm, but to Braydin it felt as if he had been walking for hours.
"Hail neighbor!" shouted a rail thin man with gaunt features and dark hair, save for the shock of gray above his ears. Relief rushed over Braydin like cold water as he replied to the man.
Wasting no time he shouted "My father is injured and needs serious help!"
. . .
The healer came out of the room with an ashen look on his face. For three days Braydin had watched his father fight to stay alive as the healer did the best he could to help.
"What?" asked Braydin staring at the healer with tear filled eyes, "How is he?"
The healer, a short stocky man with soft caring eyes currently circled by black rings from lack of sleep said, "He rests now but his wound is badly infected and it is spreading quickly through his body. He is also having to fend off a fever." After a slight pause he continued, saying, "The fever may break within a few days and he could make a full recovery."
Braydin fought back tears that threatened to fall down his face as the healer spoke. The stocky man's words gave a slight glimmer of hope, but the look on his face told the boy that it was unlikely that he would make any recovery at all.
Two nights before, the healer had arrived at the Masters' home. Braydin had overheard him tell Brohm Masters, the thin farmer who had discovered them and let them stay with him and his wife Abigail at their farm, that this was the worst animal bite that he had ever seen and Roth was lucky to still be alive. The rest of the night was a blur for Braydin, seemingly staring off into space lost in his own thoughts. The hand gently squeezing his shoulder startled him , and he almost jumped away from the healer as he came back to reality. The healer was leaving for the night and tried to console the boy before he left, "Your father is a brave and strong man Braydin. If anyone can pull through something like this it will be him. Now, try to get some rest tonight. There is nothing we can do but wait." He gave the boy's shoulder another squeeze before pulling the hood of his white traveling robe over his head and moving to the door. Braydin stood at the door watching after the man for a long while until the white robe faded into the night like a puff of breath evaporating on a cold autumn morning.
At some point during the night Braydin must have fallen asleep, because the terror filled shouts coming from his father's room startled him awake. He picked himself up off the pallet laid out for him by his ever gracious hosts, and quietly walked to the room where his father had been sleeping. As he opened the door he could see Roth writhing in pain, sweat pouring from his thick brow, covering his face and bare chest. His face was twisted into a grimace of pain, teeth clenched and eyes closed tightly as he groaned loudly. Braydin watched for a short while, feeling very helpless and alone, before he decided to let his father be alone. Turning to leave the room a chill raced up his spine as a hoarse raspy mockery of his father's voice said his name.
"Braydin...come here...we...need to talk.", Roth winced at the pain with every word, and Braydin reluctantly crossed the room to stand at his father's side. "Yes father?", he said trying to sound as strong as possible. Roth stared at his son for a long moment before letting his eyes wander around the room. After a pause that felt like an eternity to Braydin, who was using ever ounce of his being not to burst into tears, his father finally spoke. "I love your mother and you boys very much Braydin.", he said as tears welled up in his eyes, " And I have raised you and your brother the best way I knew how. I am sure because of this that you will both be great men some day and bring great honor to our family name. My time is almost at an end, son.". He raised his good arm as Braydin began to protest, "You are my eldest son Braydin and it is up to you to take care of the farm now as well as your mother and Kalin. I...ugh!" Roth grimaced in pain, "I have some money put back in case a situation like this ever arose... a man named... Stevens at the harbor is holding it for me... Go to him whenever you need it, and it will be yours." Roth's face contorted once more and another cry of pain was heard. "I am proud of you son...watch after your brother he is wild at heart still, and give your mother my love." Roth clutched his side in pain and his body lurched upward in a spasm of muscles and curses before settling back onto the bed. "But most importantly," Roth said sternly as he looked at Braydin with eyes as hard as steel, "keep a keen eye out for the black yards, and if you see them make sure to tell the rats." Then his father began reciting a prayer to Araynithia, the goddess of death. Braydin watched as Roth's breath left him and all pain was washed from his face by a wave of peace. Braydin kissed his father's forehead and closed his eyes as they stared blankly at the ceiling. He turned and left the room feeling a mix of grief at losing his father and confusion as to what his father was talking about as he took his last breath on this planet.
That very night he gathered his and his father's belongings and thanked the Masters before leaving for his home. The walk home took him hours but he could barely remember leaving the Masters' house when he saw the braying horse's head carved on the door of his house. Inside, everything in the small farm house where he had lived his entire life seemed surreal. It had been nearly five days since he and his father had left to tend the herd, but so much had changed in such a short time. As his mother hugged him, weeping for the loss of Roth, Kalin stood in the living area with a confused look on his face before he also began to cry for his father. Braydin watched his younger brother start to cross the room towards him as he felt his knees buckle beneath his weight and the interior of the small house faded away into darkness. His body finally gave into the fatigue caused from lack of sleep and his inability to hold down food for the past few days
. . .
Kalin stood, stretching his back and legs before the long hike to the house. It was nearing supper time and as always he had lingered too long watching the horses. Braydin would be home from the docks any time now and if his chores wern't finished before supper it would be his hide. He started down the ridge at a trot which quickly became a full run as the ground flattened out into pasture land. He made it home in good time and began his chores as soon as he set foot onto his families land, trying to make up as much time as possible before his brother made it home.
. . .
The sun was a dark orange ball sinking into the ocean's horizon as Braydin started up the foot path from the main road up to his house. As he walked he noticed movement near the barn and he smiled to himself, knowing his younger brother was racing to finish his chores before the light of the sun was completely gone. Any other day he would have chided Kalin for his procrastination, but today wasn't any other day. He waved to his brother and shook his head as he walked through the front door Kalin 's stomach churned as he was greeted by the delicious aroma coming from the rack of lamb in the kitchen. He removed his coat and let his eyes wander around the house his father had built for them so many years ago. The house was nothing overly spectacular. It had four bedrooms, a living area, and an indoor kitchen, which was unheard of until recently in Thachton. It was pretty much the same as all the other houses in the village. The only glaring difference was that his father had taken time to make wooden shingles covered with pitch and hay to keep the heat inside during the long winter months, rather than the thatch roof of most of the other houses around the village.
As he was admiring his father's ingenuity, Kalin came in through the back door, red faced and out of breath.
"What's wrong, little brother?" Braydin asked, with a grin, "Too much time with the horses today?"
Kalin's face became a deeper hue of red as he gave his brother a slight nod. "I always lose track of time whenever I'm watching them. They are spectacular animals don't you think?" Kalin asked his brother as he grabbed a roll from the center of the table and sat down heavily beside him at the table. Braydin only nodded in agreement as he placed the plates around the table. Neither boy ever considered sitting in the empty chair at the head of the table, it was like an unspoken rule of the house, that their father's chair remain empty as a reminder that Roth would always be a part of their daily lives.
Braydin passed a bowl of potatoes to his mother, who had just entered from the kitchen, as he asked, "Have you given any thought to which craft you will take up on your centas, Kalin?" Kalin hesitated before answering because he knew that his brother wanted him to become a fisherman to help with the family business. However he had secretly been training with Barney Smithson to become a farrier and smith. He had also been studying minerals in the hills with Archy, a very old friend of his father's who lived in the mountains, and was an expert in such things. In Thachton every boy has a centas, the tenth day of the tenth month of his tenth year, when they are pronounced a man and are allowed to choose a craft to learn, and a master to serve as an apprentice, in order to make money for their family.
Kalin began to reply to his brother's question, around a mouthful of bread, when the door was suddenly opened. The little man wearing a wide brimmed hat and carrying a walking staff quietly entered the living area, and crossed into the kitchen. "I'm not too late, am I?", questioned the little man.
"You're always welcome here for dinner, Archy, you know that. Now get yourself a plate and tell me of the news from the market," Jessykah answered with a smile.
Archy was a small man somewhere around four feet tall. He had a round face with a long beard trimmed only on his chin and waxed to a point. The little man was one of Roth's oldest friends and the children had always loved having him around, since he seemed to have an unending supply of jokes and parlor tricks for their amusement. His face always wore a broad smile but his eyes, no matter how joyous the occasion, always seemed hard and calculating. Archy was a very wise and world weary man, who could seem incredibly happy and terribly serious at the same time. Kalin and Braydin loved the old man like a member of their family, however they couldn't help but notice how people in the village either gave him a wide berth or showed him respect rivaling royalty, not that it swayed his mood in one direction or the other.
Archy removed his hat and traveling cloak, placing them on the end of his walking staff, and leaned them in the corner. Then, moving with the grace of a man more than half his age, he removed an extra plate from the cabinet in the kitchen and began to fill it, before taking a seat across from Kalin, next to Jessykah at the table. "And a fine day to you, young sirs,"' He said as he nodded to the boys. "How are the docks working out for you, Master Braydin? Seems like tough work to me," Archy said as he popped a stewed carrot into his mouth.
Braydin replied, "Work's fine but I'm planning on running my own boat before long. I can't see the point in breaking my back, loading and unloading, so someone else can get rich. As a matter of fact I was just asking Kalin here if he had decided on a trade for his centas yet." He said as he shook his fork in his younger sibling's direction.
"Is that right? And how did the young master reply if you don't mind me asking?", asked Archy lifting an eyebrow to Kalin as he watched him take another bite of bread. Kalin rubbed the callouses that the smithing hammer had created on his once soft hands as he looked around the table at his family. After a few seconds he swallowed and began his well rehearsed speech.
"I'm going to be a blacksmith and farrier under master Barney Smithson here in town. I've been training with him already, you see, and I can already identify thirty-two different types of ore and can temper steel better than any of his apprentices." Pointing an accusatory finger he added, "Archy has been helping me learn the ores when he has free time. That's what I've been doing during the day time whenever you thought I was watching the horses. I've shod over thirty horses now on my own and made somewhere around eleven or twelve swords and about six daggers...Oh! and three wood axes too."
Everyone around the table was speechless, except for Archy of course, who knew what was going on the whole time. After a moment of silence Braydin's features changed from dark and brooding to light and happy. "That's wonderful little brother! I'm glad you chose a skill that will be useful around here. Now we never have to pay to have the horses shod again." The mood lightened after that and everyone went back to enjoying their meal after all the congratulations were given to Kalin from his family.
After the meal everyone gathered in the living area, and relaxed for the night. As Archy filled Jessykah in on all of the latest gossip from the market, Braydin pulled Kalin to the side. "I bought my ship today little brother," he said as he pulled a small pouch from his tunic. "This is for you. It should be enough to buy you a nice set of tools and an anvil in town so that you can start your own smithy whenever you become a real master. I'm proud of you, little brother, and I'm sure father would be proud of you too. Blacksmithing is a good honest job and since there is only one smithy in the village you have a chance to make some real money with it."
Jessykah leaned over and kissed Kalin on the cheek and said, "I'm sure you will be a wonderful smith, dear. I only wish your father could be here to see the two fine young men you boys have become." She wiped away a single tear as Archy tried in vain to reach her with his hankerchief.
"Thanks mom, that really means alot to me to hear you say that." Kalin said as he put his hand on her shoulder to comfort her." His solemn look melted into a smile as he turned to Braydin, "I was worried you would be disappointed with my choice since I know you want me to help with the family business."
"Any honest work that will help our family could never be dissappointing, little brother." Braydin said sopping his bread in the broth of his stew."
"Good, now come with me to the barn, I have something to give you too." Kalin said with a grin stretching across his face.
The boys walked out into the chilly night air and crossed the large yard into the barn. Kalin went to the back of the first horse stall, and picked up an object covered in canvas which he handed to Braydin. Braydin's eyes widened as he unwrapped the gift. Swaddled in the canvas was a magnificent weapon. "It was the first pair I ever made," said Kalin, as he watched his brother stare in amazement at the surprise. "I knew you would be going out to sea soon so I made these for you to defend yourself from pirates or whatever you needed to," Kalin stated coolly.
"You shouldn't have Kalin!" Bryadin said as he stared, astonished that his little brother had made such a wondrous thing. "I don't even know what to say."
In the canvas was a cutlass and dagger pair sheathed on a leather belt. The cutlass had an elaborate finger guard with the image of a horse's head raised with ruby studded eyes, and the pommel was similarly designed with the neck and head of a horse facing forward when sheathed, with similar studded eyes. The dagger was slightly curved back with a thick blade and the hilt had emeralds studded on either side of the finger guard, and on the pommel. Both blades were sharper than any Braydin could have imagined, and the steel was shinier than the moon's shimmer off of the lake on a cloudless night."How..." Braydin let the question trail off as he stared at the gift he had just received.
Kalin smiled as he said, "I did all of the art work myself and Archy helped with the sharpening. He said something about sharpening it with acid so that it is flawless. I'm not sure how it works actually but it did a fine job, don't you think?" Braydin only nodded as he stared at his younger brother in disbelief.
. . .