It came at the witching hour. People tore from their beds and homes into the streets. A terrible sound roared from the night. It was a voice, but not like any hume or indeed any creature the people had heard before. The worst thing was that the voice cried a word: “Oleniath!” Whatever it was—was intelligent.
By the time people discovered the origin of the guttural obscenity two newly thatched houses were ablaze in billows of dark blue smoke.
One man yelled, “By the light! Blue smoke! Magic this is; wicked deviltry!”
At his words hairs stood up on the arms and necks of the gathering onlookers.
The roaring blue flames lit the scene clear as day. On the dirt road between the two flaming houses laid Thorold. His lifelong friend Trustan was sprawled over him weeping—no not just weeping, wailing in deep sobs of pain.
Shiny blood poured from Thorold’s limp body like wine. It danced with reflections of firelight and confirmed everyone’s greatest fear, their leader—was dead.
Though Thorold’s body was limp his hand was still clenched to the hilt of his sword. The blade was swallowed up in the neck of a creature that could only be, a demon.
People clasped their hands over their mouths in gasps of surprise when their eyes met the monster. Everyone knew the dangerous creatures from their world, but in this moment it didn’t feel like theirworld anymore—they were strangers in a new world—a dark brooding world.
The beast almost doubled Thorold’s length as it lay beside him. The creature’s feet were highly arched like a cat. The thighs were layered with muscle. It appeared to stand upright, like a hume, not hunched like an ape. Of all the strength the creature had, the chest and shoulders seemed so thick that if it stood up, it might fumble under their weight. People thought the most bizarre thing was that it wore clothing, armor in fact. It had a simple hammered metal breastplate connected to a battle kilt. This confirmed intelligence, perhaps even a culture. Pouring from the top of the breastplate a large yellow mane wrapped up and around the animal shoulders and blended into a thick blonde beard. Another curiosity was its face. Most expected a wild animal face, but the face looked shockingly like a hume. It had bushy yellow eyebrows, deep blue eyes, hefty cheek bones and all in all, an un-scary expression. Tightly matted fur covered its face even tighter than the body.
That night, the people pushed the demon-beast into one of the blazing houses and burned it to ashes.
The next morning three men trundled the demon-beast remains to the edge of the Ipsen Mars; a two day hike northeast of town, and buried it.
Thorold was the first man to die in the town he founded. Trustan bestowed a cemetery in Thorold’s honor; a two day hike west of town.
After the funeral, Trustan didn’t make it back to Afgarb until morning. The town was set nicely in a cove surrounded by larger trees than Trustan had ever seen back in Wuthrun. Though He kept his head low he could feel the awkwardness of the other town folks as he walked by. Nobody took Thorold’s death harder than Trustan.
A single dirt road became a tunnel under houses that lined the street. The building style was typical Talonthian architecture. Each house was built from wood and thatched. Every house had a second floor built above it that expanded over the road and connected to another house on the other side which was built the same way. The style allowed many of the bottom floors to be used as artisan shops, while rooms and storage were upstairs. Small garden crofts were kept on each side of the houses. The crofts separated the houses from spreading fires, which were few, but very destructive. Women were expected to run the home, the croft, and any trade or craft business while the men worked the fields. All the houses were built as tight as possible to maximize larger farms behind them.
As Trustan drudged forward he looked up and saw two girls playing in a croft between the Inn and the Boyer and Fletcher’s house. He thought on the simplicity of their world and almost stopped to watch them. He looked back down; eyes welling up as he sighed and forced himself to remember that he had duties.
A young boy came running out of the scrivener’s house. “Have you seen—“ He shut his mouth abruptly and fumbled to walking pace. “Sorry Trustan. Um. Never mind. It’s not that important.”
Trustan tightened his lips and nodded.
Passing the Chandler’s house on his left and the pottery shop on his right the town seemed to blossom into a wasted circle of grass in the center of town. The space was used for town gatherings which included carnival games, events and competitions. In the center of this round field stood a huge guild hall large enough to fit the entire town. Next to the guild hall was the town well and the bell tower. He walked through the field remembering when he directed the building project for the bell tower. He remembered Thorold overseeing the well development and then working together to level the field.
Trustan was middle aged and well built. His rough calloused hands slid up the railing that Thorold insisted be built into the bell tower. The tower was the only stone structure in town. He smiled remembering their arguments about it. At its top floor sat a giant Mahogany wheel as tall as a man. All around its edges were cogs. It sat on two smaller wooden gears, one on its right and the other on its left. They were supported by a decorated base. In the center of the large wheel was a handle that was made for cranking. Trustan grabbed the handle and turned the wheel one click. He enjoyed watching the three gears work together, but even more-so enjoyed watching the inside of the large wheel. Inside its center were several elongated hourglasses encased in glass. The hourglasses weaved with each other in a complex maze of beauty and all crossed at the center. Trustan looked at the cogs on the outside of the large wheel. On each notch was carved a word. Each word was the name of one day. There were three hundred days in one year which made up the whole wheel. The wheel also had wooden cross sections that divided each season. Seventy five days made up one season. The name of each day of a particular season had the prefix related to that season.
“Sprilone,” he mumbled. “Fitting, since I amalone. The king takes my family and you are taken by what? A demon! You were all I had left—like a brother. Misery is all I have now; misery.”
His hands reached up to a rope that dangled above the wheelglass.
He rang the bell and spoke to himself, “Time for the working day to begin everyone. Life goes on like the day before; but not for me.”
After awhile of ringing he walked back down the tower and crossed over to the guild hall. He sat down at a large oak table and pulled a red pipe from his waistcoat. He packed the tobacco and lit it with a flint from his tinder kit that was strapped to his chest. And then he waited.
The hall slowly filled with men; fourteen men to be exact. Each man was a town elder and each hand selected by Thorold himself.
The oldest man, named Gabronze, stood to address the others. His unsteady, but wise voice echoed in the hall, “We need another to lead us.”
The town’s glass blower stood, before Gabronze could add any further thoughts. “Do we?! We are alone out here you know—”
At the oddly redundant word Trustan looked up.
“We left Wuthrun to escape corrupt kings and oppressive lords! You must’ve forgotten. We need a new system of leadership. I move that we rule together; no leader. Let every decision be by vote.”
A web of blue veins seemed to reach out from Gabronze’s face as he argued, “None of us need be reminded of our journey here Lefric, nor do we need reminding that we’re alone. All the more reason we need leadership.”
A short bald man with a long red goatee stood. “Nothing will get done without a final voice, especially if we are to face demons out here.”
A voice from the table shouted, “Now is not the time for gloating Relck!”
The bald man named Relck pounded his fist on the table. “No, it is the time! Rumors circulated about demons and dragons! I told everyone! Didn’t I say—“
Lefric interrupted, “You never had to come, Relck!”
A pause filled the moment and Lefric looked around as he held the room’s attention. Pipe smoke lingered in the air. “Thorold was the best of us. I find it hard to earn the respect of my wife. Thorold earned the respect of over two hundred men and their families! I remember when you warned Thorold and I remember what he said. Do you remember what he said?”
Relck sat down gruffly and folded his arms.
Lefric continued, “He said, ‘I would rather face dragons than dragoons; demons over demands’.”
Gabronze raised a boney finger. “We’re getting off track. Rather than discuss it, I recommend we vote by ballot on leadership. The vote will include a vote for non-leadership.”
Several heads nodded as Lefric sat down.
The old man pulled up an old steel helmet. He placed fresh parchment in the helm with a quill after jotting down his own vote. The helm was passed around until it fell back to Gabronze. He turned the helm over and read each vote in front of them all. Of the fourteen men, ten votes fell to Trustan as leader.
Trustan slowly removed the cherrywood pipe from his lips and laid it on the table. His sparkling blue eyes were damp and fresh. He stood as though he held the weight of the world on his shoulders. Such was the enmity of his coming words that many men gulped and cringed. Licking dry lips he simply said, “They’ll be back—more will come.” With that he turned to walk out and was gone.