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Clash for Dawn Official Story - Chapter 8 - The Stone of Ruins

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  • Clash for Dawn Official Story - Chapter 8 - The Stone of Ruins

    Chapter Eight
    The Stone of Ruins

    Isolde woke with the dawn. She sat up in bed and groaned. Her head felt fuzzy and light. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and felt the cold floor with her toes. Then she pushed herself to her feet and crossed the room to the small table that held a water jug and two pitched leather cups. She poured herself a cup of water and drank it back in one draught. Then another, and another, until the jug was empty and her mind a little clearer.

    Isolde dressed herself in a pair of soft leather breeches and a green tunic, strung her bow over her shoulder and crept downstairs. The Healer and her household were still sleeping, so she helped herself to breakfast - two boiled eggs and a small rye loaf - and carried it outside to eat.

    She was sitting the low wall of the well that stood near the Healer’s house, cracking open her second egg, when Park arrived.

    “Hoy, Isolde!” he cried, waving at her from the opposite side of the square as he approached.

    “Shh!” Isolde chided him as she clambered to her feet, “You’ll wake up the whole town.”

    “And what if I do?” bellowed Park as he strode over to her with mischief in his eyes, “The morning is the best part of the day, after all. These Dawnshire slugabeds could do with a wake-up call.”

    Isolde punched Park playfully on the arm as he sidled up to her.

    “Seriously, Park. I don’t want to get into another fight before I’ve even met this trainer of yours.”

    “Apologies, chosen one,” said Park, with an elaborate bow and a cheesy grin, “Shall we?”

    He gestured towards the path that led into the woods beyond the town. Isolde smiled, despite her best efforts to keep a straight face, and the two strode off, side by side.
    ShortWallsLG | Asia Pacific Server 8 | Member of WestGateParkz | Moderator

  • #2
    “How far are we going?” asked Isolde, trailing her hand through the fronds of the bracken as they tramped through the woods.

    “Another mile at most,” said Park, “Culler’s camp lies two miles from the town.”

    “Culler? Is he the trainer?”

    “Aye, and the finest trainer you could ever find at that,” Park replied, “We met on the road when my sister and I fell prey to bandits. We were still children then.”

    “So Cullers saved you?” asked Isolde.

    “Oh no,” said Park, “But he watched me crack the bandits’ skulls to keep their filthy hands off my sister. When I’d finished with them - there were six or seven if I remember correctly - Cullers approached and offered to train me. Apparently he saw ‘promise’.

    “In a boy who took down six bandits? That’s pretty promising stuff!”

    “Or seven,” said Park with a wink.

    “So what’s his story,” asked Isolde, “Cullers, I mean. If he’s such a mighty warrior, why is he out here in the woods instead of fighting the Dark Lord’s forces?”

    “Cullers has done his time on the front line,” said Park, growing solemn, “He has seen and sacrificed more than most. He was one of the first of the chosen, a Holy Knight given the office Sir Hagen now holds. He led his men in many battles as the Dark Lord’s forces grew. But in the end, a stronger, older oath of allegiance pulled him out of the battle and drew him home.”

    “What duty could be more sacred than to fight as one of the chosen?” asked Isolde, turning her ring on her finger.

    “Fatherhood,” said Park. “Cullers has a daughter; the light of his life. When her Mother was taken from her by sickness, he left his office to look after her. He does his duty now by training the young warriors who have followed in his stead.”

    Isolde walked on in silence, thinking about her own distant family and wishing that she could be with them, until at last they stepped from the path into a wide clearing. On the western side of the clearing stood two tents - each fit for a king - made of heavy waxed cloths held by polished oak poles and thick hemp ropes. Between them and the young friends stood a straw-backed archery target and a series of wooden figures, each smaller than the last, all chipped and scarred from the impact of countless arrows.

    “Cullers!” Park shouted, “Wake up! I’ve brought you a new student!”

    From the tent on the left emerged a tall, gray-haired man. His face was stern, but his eyes were kind as he called across the clearing.

    “By the Gods! Is that Park? I thought for sure someone would have slit your throat while you slept by now. And yet here you are.”

    “Alive and well,” Park proclaimed, marching over to shake the trainer’s hand, “You know me. I’m a light sleeper.”

    Cullers laughed warmly and turned to face Isolde.

    “And you, young lady. Let me look at you.” His leaned in and met her gaze, his brow furrowing momentarily.

    “You were chosen, like myself, I see,” he continued, “Well now… How does the burden of destiny weigh upon your shoulders?”

    “Heavily,” said Isolde, “But I will do my duty.”

    “Yes... “said Cullers, staring into Isolde’s eyes one at a time, as if inspecting them for something, “Yes, you will.” He stood up straight and turned back to Park. “This girl is special, Park. Do you understand that?”

    “Roline and I would not lend our blades to just anyone, Cullers,” said Park, “We know a true warrior when we see one and Isolde has proved herself more than once already.”

    “Isolde, eh?”

    “Isolde Hart,” said Isolde, “of Lambley.”

    “You’re Belloc’s girl,” said Cullers with surprise.

    “You know my father?” asked Isolde, her eyes widening.

    “Better, perhaps, than you my girl,” sighed Cullers, “Belloc and I have spent many hours together, on and off the field of battle. Your father is a man of great honour and unswerving duty. But I know that must have kept him away from home for much of the time you were growing up. It cannot have been easy.”

    “I have family who love me,” said Isolde, “My father was free to do his duty, knowing I was in good hands… But yes,” she added, “It was hard.”

    Cullers nodded.

    “My daughter Teagan and I have only each other in the world,” he said, “It pains me to have deserted my office, but I try to play my part still.”

    “Good news,” said Park, “We didn’t walk all this way to sell you clothes pegs. So what do you say? Will you train my boss here? She’s got talent by the wagon load, but she’s raw.”

    “What say you, Isolde?” asked Cullers, smiling. “I may look old but I’ll teach you a few new tricks if you want me to. Lambley folk are born and bred in the woods, are you not? Catch our dinner for us every day and you may share my daughter’s tent for the duration of your stay.”

    “What about me?” asked Park.

    “What about you?” Cullers asked back, “Isolde and I have work to do. Go back to the town and find yourself a nice warm tavern.”

    “Don’t need telling twice,” said Park with a grin, “Good luck, Isolde. Come find us when you’re ready.”

    He hugged Isolde briefly and strode off to take the path back to town. Isolde was glad that he didn’t turn back. He would have seen her blushing.
    ShortWallsLG | Asia Pacific Server 8 | Member of WestGateParkz | Moderator


    • #3
      Before her training could begin, Isolde was introduced to Teagan, a bright-eyed girl of about six, with a tangle of black hair and rosy cheeks.

      “Isolde will be staying with us for a little while, Teagan,” said Cullers to his daughter.

      “Great!” said Teagan enthusiastically, “My tent is massive. Look! It’s got three rooms. You can have this one…” Teagan drew back one of the tent flaps to reveal a large and comfortable bed chamber.”

      “Thank you, Teagan,” said Isolde.

      “I think we are going to be good friends,” said the little girl, wiggling her eyebrows.

      “I think so too,” said Isolde.

      “If you two are finished?” Cullers interrupted, “Isolde, we will begin your instruction at once.”
      ShortWallsLG | Asia Pacific Server 8 | Member of WestGateParkz | Moderator


      • #4
        For hours Isolde practised her archery. Cullers stood at her side, with endless advice and reassurance, refining her technique and pushing her on until every shot hit home. When the big straw target lay in tatters, they moved to other exercises; running between the trees and firing on the move, and sniping from hidden positions. In the course of this last exercise, Isolde shot a fine, fat hare for their supper. ‘That’s my end of the bargain for today at least,’ she thought to herself as she handed it to the delighted Cullers.

        Isolde was exhilarated to be improving her skills with the bow so quickly, but she longed to unlock the power of Gelderrin’s ring, and on that subject Cullers remained silent. Finally, as they rested for between tasks, Isolde plucked up the courage to raise the subject herself.

        “Cullers, you are one of the chosen, like me,” she began, “Will you not teach me how to harness that special power gifted to us by the Angeli?”

        Cullers sighed and turned towards his young charge. He smiled at Isolde as he took her hand in his.

        “Isolde Hart,” he answered, “Gelderrin’s spirit lies within you and those powers only you can bring to the light. My job is to give you the skills a warrior needs. When you accept your destiny - your purpose - the power of the chosen will manifest through you.”

        “In other words,” sighed Isolde, “It’s all up to me.”

        Cullers chuckled.
        ‘Not at all,” he told her, “You have many friends and allies. And you have Gelderrin’s spirit. When the time is right, you will unlock the power within. Have faith, Isolde.”

        Isolde was on the verge of asking another question when a group of swarthy looking men in leather armour burst into the clearing. Isolde’s hand went to the dagger on her hip and she jumped to her feet. Cullers placed a hand calmly on her arm.

        “It’s alright,” he assured her, “I know these men. Finish your practice. I’ll join you soon.”

        But Cullers did not rejoin Isolde at her training. Throughout the afternoon, as she fetched her arrows from the targets, Isolde saw several other men come and go from the camp. Some faces she thought she recognized from the feast at Luxis; members of the Brotherhood and of the Order of Light. The rest were strangers to her. What business they had with the trainer she had no idea, but their manner and their shifty glances set her on edge and she resolved to confront Cullers about the company he kept.

        As the light failed, Teagan called Isolde to join her for supper and, as she set aside her bow, Isolde saw a chance to get closer to the mysterious visitors.

        “I need to wash my hands,” she told Cullers’ smiling daughter, pointing at a wooden basin that stood between tents.

        “Okay” Teagan chirruped back, “See you inside. That hare you caught has made a smashing stew!”
        Isolde walked towards the basin, but as Teagan disappeared inside her own tent, Isolde veered off towards Cullers, from where the low murmur of men’s voices could be heard.

        “Luxis will fall…” said one.

        “The Dark Lord…” said another.

        Isolde’s head swam with possibilities. Was it treachery she heard, or just the talk of warriors. The words were too indistinct to follow their conversation. She put one hand on the heavy flap of the tent and pulled it back slowly, craning to hear better. There was a cracking sound, and a pain like a bee sting on the top of her head. Her knees collapsed beneath her and she fell to the ground, unconscious.
        ShortWallsLG | Asia Pacific Server 8 | Member of WestGateParkz | Moderator


        • #5
          When she came to, Isolde was lying on a cot in one of the chambers of Cullers’ tent. Standing over her were her concerned-looking trainer and a young man with a sandy beard and a red-lined hood that kept his fine features in shadow.

          “You’re alive, then,” said Cullers, kindly, “I was worried that crack on the skull Yarl gave you would kill you.”

          “A thousand apologies, Isolde Hart,” said the hooded man. “I am Chairman Yarl, elected leader of the Brotherhood. I’m afraid I took you for one of the Dark Lord’s spies.”

          Isolde groaned as she felt the bump on her head.

          “And I you,” she groaned, “I might’ve landed the first blow if I’d had the chance.”

          Cullers laughed and slapped Yarl on the shoulder.

          “You see, Chairman,” he joshed, “This is where secrecy gets you. Isolde is one of the chosen. We have no need to keep anything from her.” He turned to Isolde. “Are you well enough to join us next door, child?”

          Isolde nodded and threw her legs over the side of the cot. She grimaced as her head throbbed, then gritted her teeth and followed the men through to a second chamber of the tent.

          Seated around a small table were some of the men Isolde had seen coming and going from the camp. Up close their insignia was obvious. There were indeed men from the Brotherhood, and the Order too. All huddled around the table, talking in hushed tones.

          “Men,” cried Cullers as they entered, “This is Isolde Hart, chosen warrior of the Angeli. She is to be included in our discussions from this point forth.”

          The men nodded their approval. Then Yarl, taking a seat at the table, addressed Isolde.

          “Tell me, chosen one,” he began, “What do you know of the Stone of Ruins?”

          Isolde searched her memory. She shook her head.

          “The Stone of Ruins is a mystical crystal of unimaginable power,” he continued gravely, “It was discovered by the ancients who harnessed its magic to fend off the forces of darkness. Three stones were cut from the original and placed in three towers. A fourth stands still at the centre of the city of Luxis.”

          Isolde’s eyes widened. She had seen just such a stone on her visits to the city. A shard of blue crystal that glowed like a beacon.

          “The first stone was housed in a great city on what is now called The Burning Moor. It fell to the Dark Lord’s first campaign a thousand years before any of us took breath. Only ruins remain today, and the great Flamesword Laevatein, which stands at the heart of the Moor and which no war could destroy, but there are still fragments of the magical stone to be found, scattered about the land. The factions - my Brotherhood as well as the Order - have come together in the hope that we might find the remainder of the stone before the Dark Lord can steal their power for himself.”

          “So what are you doing here? You should be searching on the Burning Moor right now, shouldn’t you?”

          Yarl reached under the table and brought out three small lead boxes. He placed them in a line before him.

          “That’s the thing,” he said, “The crystals can be found by trial and error of course, but time is of the essence and we cannot waste it digging among the rubble of a ruined city. The chosen, on the other hand, have an advantage.”

          Isolde looked to Cullers in puzzlement.

          “The Stone of Ruins carries the same magic as Gelderrin’s ring, Isolde,” he explained, “The chosen can sense the crystal’s presence if they clear their mind and focus.”

          “Let me demonstrate,” said Yarl, “In one of these boxes is a fragment of the Stone of Ruins. Close your eyes and listen, Isolde. Do you not hear it calling to you?”

          Isolde closed her eyes and concentrated as the room fell silent. She couldn’t hear anything exactly; it was more of a feeling. Like the invisible strings that tugged on a magnet. Whatever it was, she was quite sure that she knew where the crystal was.

          “The middle one!” she said excitedly.

          Yarl opened the boxes one by one to show there had been no trickery. And there, in the middle box, was the blue stone fragment, just as Isolde had known it would be.

          “You see why these men want me to join their search,” said Cullers.

          “And all day, the stubborn old warhorse has refused,” added Yarl, “Says his duty is to his daughter. Damn it, man. Your daughter will inherit only ash and ruins if the Dark Lord is allowed to triumph!”

          “I’ll help,” said Isolde, at once, “I’ll search for the Burning Moor with you. I also wear Gelderrin’s ring.”

          “But you are young and inexperienced,” Cullers reminded her.

          “Then come with us!” pleaded Isolde, “You are not being asked to fight. Join the search, Cullers.”

          The trainer sighed heavily and scratched his grey beard.

          “I need to think,” he said, leaving the chamber with the men mumbling behind him.

          Five minutes later, he reappeared.

          “Is there a safe place for Teagan while we search?” he asked, “I cannot leave her here, but I will not take her with us onto the Moor. Not every battle is expected before it starts, and the Moor is teaming with the Dark Lord’s allies.”

          “The Brotherhood has a safe haven there, Cullers. I give you my word she will be fine. So you will come?”

          “To guide Isolde only. When the job is done, my daughter and I will return here. And I ask you not to trouble us again.”

          “Then it is agreed,” said Yarl, leaping to his feet, “Your persuasive effect is remarkable after so many hours of fruitless argument, Isolde. You should consider joining the Brotherhood. You may even be leadership material.”

          “Isolde has her own path to follow,” said Cullers, “I will steer her course.” He stepped forward and held out his hand towards the girl. “This necklace is fashioned from the Stone of Ruins,” he told her as she took it from his outstretched hand, “It will focus your thoughts and broaden the range of your senses. Come. The sooner we reach the Moor, the sooner Teagan and I will be home again.”
          ShortWallsLG | Asia Pacific Server 8 | Member of WestGateParkz | Moderator