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Illyrian Tales - 1: The meeting

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Dungshoveleux View Drop Down

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    Posted: 03 Oct 2015 at 20:29

It was a dark, damp and forbidding autumn evening, well on the way to midnight and All Hallows Eve.  
A time to sit in front of a radiant glowing fire.  And as the young wood hissed and crackled, the wind moaned ouside and rattled the glass panes.
Outside, immense dark foreboding clouds scudded across a cold ink black moonless sky.  Winter had almost come to Illyriad. 
A waning year whose ending brought nought but war and famine.

A knock at the door! At this late hour! I heard my servant hurry down the Hall, floorboards creaking. 
No words carried as far as my study, but the huge front door was unbolted and opened.  
Cold air rushed through the hall,  and under the study door.  The fire burned brighter.

Presently, my servant entered.
"You have a visitor, Sire" he informed me "from far far away by his dress.  The groom has taken his horse to the stable."
"And who is this visitor?" I enquired.
"Sire, he would not give his name, but says that he brings news".

News! What editor can resist? And I asked my servant to draw up an armchair next to the fire and show in the guest.

A man appeared in the doorway, surveying the room.  
A man not large, not small, but of presence. 
He wore a wide brimmed hat, and was clad in a huge riding cloak.
An immense cloak of matt black fur, so unnaturally black, that it seemed to draw out the very light from the fire itself. 
His face in shadow, save for the flickering firelight, seemed hewn from granite.
The lines and wrinkles on his face marked him out as a man of no little experience and indeterminable years.

"A bottle of Old Winyards 1256 and two glasses, if you would be so kind".  
The visitor gave something shiny to my servant, who looked enuiringly in my direction, and on my nod, scurried off in the direction of the cellar.
Next, the visitor spied a stand in the corner and strode over.  He undid a jet black clasp and hung the cloak on the stand, placing his hat on top.  
The corner of the room became dark, a sort of unlight of unnatural darkness.  
But the stanger "emerged" back into the centre of the room, grabbed the armchair, and sank down into it next to me in front of the fire.

There, I got my first good look at him.  
He was of average height and build,long grey hair, leathery lined face, fiery eyes like gittering coals, and unkempt eyebrows.
Attired in a dark leather jacket, faded shirt, leather trousers and riding boots.  
He sank further into the armchair, stretching back, and put his boots on the fire guard to warm his feet.
He fixed his steady gaze on me, an inquisitive, appraising look... and smiled.

At this moment, my servant returned with an open bottle and two glasses.  
He poured twice and handed a glass to each of us both.
"Here's to old Winyards.  Never tasted better", the stranger said.
And rather than downing the glass in one, he sipped and savoured it, wringing each drop of flavour out, like a true connoisseur.

I began to notice little things.  
His clothes whilst worn and faded, were stitched from the finest chamois and cotton.  
Intricate tooling, though almost invisible, seemed woven into the leather.  
Yet it seemed alive, the patterns moving and changing as I watched. 
Shiny golden thread ran through his cotton shirt which overlay a silvery undercoat. 
On his left hand, he wore a ring, a golden ring set with a glowing crystal, the like of which I had never seen before.
Around his neck, a chain of lustrous silver, at the end of which was a single stone, black as midnight.
And an aroma, curiously familiar, yet unplaceable, and the dusty, earthy appearance of his garments.

He began to speak. 
Slowly at first, but as the wine flowed, he opened up.  
It was almost as if I was, at that very moment, his only friend in Elgea.
I honestly began to feel a little sorry for him. 
He spoke of many things in the Broken Lands, of how a man might make his fortune and retire.  
He spoke of encounters with corrupted races at the Nameless Temple; 
of hunting giant beetles and cutting virgin ebony in the jungles of Huronire; 
of Toadcap fungi as big as a man in the marshes of Kingslands; 
and of the shattered wastes of Calumnex and The Tower;
of how a dwarf might dig for silversteel or mine obsidian and make his fortune in an afternoon,
 if only he could avoid the wraithlike shadow mages on the return journey.

He spoke on into the night, no detail too small to omit. It was if I myself was there with him.  
And he spoke of the gathering clouds of war, of how Trivium, The Southern Cross, and the Roman Emipre 
conspired to wage war on the cult of Shark in the Broken Lands.
"Take care!" he said, "lest the winds of war blow even unto Centrum and King Sigurd."  
"Things have been done that ought not to have been done and no good will come of it".

The night drew on.  The fire died down to embers, and, I confess, I fell into a deep sleep.
I dreamed of far off lands, war, and mythical beasts, though my guest had spoken of them as if he had seen them with his own eyes. 

When my servant awoke me, it was well past 10 o'clock.  
He informed me that my guest had ridden out early at first light, and gave me a bag, 
which he said the stranger had handed him at their parting on firm instructions to deliver it to me as thanks.

I put the bag away in the desk drawer in the study and thought nothing of it.
And I sat down to write everything down just as he described it.
It took me a whole day, and night, as I played with the text, and placed it in some semblence of order for the paper.
Food and drink was ferried into the study to sustain me, for I was afraid that some detail might slip my memory and be lost forever.
The information was payment enough for the stranger's board and lodging.

Some months later, my wife and I invited the city alchemist to dinner and he complimented me on the Broken Lands articles I had serialised.
Remembering the little bag, I fetched it out from the study desk drawer and handed it to my friend across the table.  
"Here - what do think of this?"
He carefully undid the purse strings.
Out fell two large gemstones, one glowing, almost burning in its fiery intensity, and the other, an impenetrable black surrounded by a fog of unlight and darkness.
The alchemist said nothing.  He stared.  In silence. For a whole minute. With the rest of us.
"Well then! what... are... they?" I asked hesitantly.
"The first" he said, "is undoubtedly a Shard of Amar".
"Of the second, I am not sure, as I have only read about them in ancient texts, but I think it may be a night diamond".
"And how much they worth?" asked my wife, nothing if not practical when it comes to jewellery.
"The Shard is worth 3 million in Centrum."
"To the best of my knowledge, no-one has ever seen a night diamond in Centrum, so anything from say 36 million upwards. No-one knows for sure"
The rest of the meal was eaten in silence.

And of the stranger?  I never saw him again, and know not what became of him.
But in the evenings, when the cold of winter creeps under the door, when I sit by the warm fire, I still remember THAT evening all those years ago.
And I like to think that he is still out there, whoever he may be, in the wilds of the Broken Lands, solving ancient mysteries, and making new discoveries.

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