Leaving Rosgovia, I had travelled south-westwards, stopping at the oldest walled city of Acondium and then by the Imperial Northern Canal to Jordis. While we were in the country, off the main trail, we ran into some trouble but Finnmeyer showed why he was my father’s most trusted man and I was able to see some of his other skills, first hand. That was an interesting journey but not relevant to this tale. Suffice to say that Acondium greatly impressed me. It has a slumbering magnificence, reflecting its past history as the original imperial capital. The city is still the seat of one of the ecclesiastical electors with buildings that date back to the time of the Fondlanians and the ancient races. Capital of the buffer state of Convar there is a wonderful atmosphere around the great water market and the regal buildings that became the university.
Jordis was also impressive by comparison to the much more functional towns of my own country. A sprawling port on the south-western coast of Valcoria, it is smelly, bustling and cosmopolitan. I had never seen so many different races mingling in one street as on the Street of Bazaars. That thoroughfare leads to the great square which was almost as impressive as Acondium with its soaring buildings of white and black marble.
It was in Jordis that I said farewell to Finnmeyer and the honour guard that had seen me this far. Finnmeyer was wearing a hardened black scale gilet over softer leather, his favourite bow on his back and a short sword on his belt. He stroked his black beard, momentarily and then straightened to his full six and something feet, the light catching his slightly craggy features so that his blue eyes seemed like two gems in a rough wedge of stone.
“Remember lad. It’s how a man lives and dies that matters. Your actions remain as the evidence of your life, their consequences sometimes forgotten but at other times echoing long after you have departed this world. You may never be a lord or lead an army but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have an important role to play in the events of the empire and its surrounding lands. Always be ready. Keep up your practices with weapons and skills, study tactics of the great leaders and when you listen to tales about them, try to evaluate what they did well and when they went wrong. And take care of yourself. Next time you’re home, we’ll catch another snow tiger and this time you can bring it back for all to see.”
His face softened and the eyes crinkled into a smile. We shook hands. Finnmeyer put a hand on my shoulder. He looked like he had more to say but he merely nodded and turned away. I knew he was still troubled by the alliance with Drachefauste but try as I had done, I could not draw him out on the subject. I raised a hand and saw him turn and do the same. Then, they were gone and I was alone for the first time.
I departed Jordis on an elven trader bound for Gwythaor. It was docking at Orsiliath and from there, I’d take a river trader, a wherry or similar to Warvane. I’d never sailed on an elven ship, before. It was a revelation for me. Elves are not a common race in the Imperial lands. There are a few, of course and I had seen elven hunters coming to barter over furs and other items. The elves on the ship, “Windsong” were very serious. They sang, but the songs were all of legend and rather sombre. They worked with a quiet efficiency, each member of the crew seeming to know their place at any time. There was none of the good-humoured jibing or the yelling or orders that you would expect on a human vessel. No one ever seemed to raise their voice. Bells rang and jobs were changed. The vessel cut through the waves so lightly that you hardly felt the swell. I recalled that the elves were the first race to create fleets and taught men to sail. Watching them at work, you could see a thousand years and more of refinements in the way they handled a vessel.
In Orsiliath, I simply bade them farewell and departed the ship. There was no camaraderie or shouts of well-wishers. I felt rather sad and lonely, then. For the first time, I realised how far from home and how utterly alone I was. My father still had some influence here but House Vas-Coburg ruled Gwythaor. The extent of the Von Tacchim presence was an embassy in Warvane. The Ducal Isles were recently established at this time, representing the westernmost border of the Nordovician Empire. The throne in Riassa depended upon the fairly autonomous lords to rule, protect and provide tax from the islands. Left alone with the power to build their own armies, the seeds of rebellion were sown. They lay dormant for now upon these rich islands, awaiting the right circumstances.
And so, by what Myneus the Navigator would have described as “By divers routes withe many a winding and a twisting”, I reached Warvane and saw, for the first time, the beauty of the nearby woods. They rose to the hill at the centre where the Lorefast Stone Circle stood as it had since perhaps the dawn of time. It was here that I was bound.
As advised by my father, I took rooms at a local inn rather than request shelter in Lorefast’s tree village. After a slice of hot game pie with vegetables and bread, a pint of dark ale and a pipe of cherry wood tobacco, I felt a lot better.
The Boar at Bay Inn had an interesting clientele. I studied them over my pint and tried to take in the faces for future use. I was particularly intrigued by a young rat-catcher who seemed to be a lot more than just that as he advised groups of younger lads who were obviously impressed by the silver coins he produced to pay for food and beer. When an elder man tried to fetch him a clip around the ear, for cheek, he just slid away from the blow with a laugh and a wink.
There was another man who intrigued me, there. He stood out because he was so different in manner and dress. He wore a long coat made, primarily, from a strange hide with strands of the soft coat of some beast in a ring around the collar, the cuffs and the upper arms. The coat had an odd smell, too. Beneath this, he wore a light jacket in deep crimson and gold with a chain mail layer from collar to just below the heart. It had chain mail at the waist, also, to keep it hanging straight. Under the jacket, he had a plain tunic of midnight blue the same colour as his leggings. A dagger was slipped through a band towards the top of one of his long black boots. The dagger was curved as was his blade, a well-fashioned scimitar. He sat, one leg crossed over the other, watching everyone. He had deep olive brown skin with a thin moustache and a small, short goatee. Upon his head, he wore a deep blue turban with a small cluster of garnets in a brooch pinned to it. It was rare to see arabic folk in the north. It seemed even rarer to find one seated in this tavern, apparently unbothered by any of its patrons or, indeed, by anything.
Finding me watching him, a smile touched his lips and he raised his stoneware tankard. Another incongruity, it seemed. Most of the arabic folk that I had seen, rarely touched alcohol and then, only very strong spirits. This man was drinking beer. I was drawn to take a seat nearer him;
“Your pardon, good sir” I said “I did not mean to offend by staring at you”
“No offence taken” His voice was rich. You might call it creamy, smooth and unhurried. The twinkle of humour remained. “You are new, here, yes?”
I nodded. “I am not from these parts either so we have something in common, my young friend” he continued.
I smiled. I couldn’t help it. There was just something likeable about the way the stranger was so at ease. “I am Edmund Von Tacchim” I offered my hand which he took. His grip was quite firm despite the elegance of his slim, long fingered hands.
“Kharr. You might wish to be careful with that title, Edmund Von Tacchim. Some may realise that you have lord’s blood in you and think you might make a good ransom. I would adopt a suitable adventuring name while you are here”
“I’m bound for Lorefast, to study, as a bard” I told him. He inclined his head,
“A worthy profession. Nevertheless, a name less liable to attract attention would serve you. You are a long way from home, no ? Which branch would you be from? “
He pondered, momentarily “Not Littesburg. You’d be wearing one of those ridiculous grey and blue jackets with golden buttons and already attracting the wrong kind of attention. Convar, perhaps or maybe... Rosgovia.”
I started, wondering if he might be some spy or agent but he seemed to be just curious and again, I decided I could trust him.
“I was born in Rosgovia. My father is....”
“Shhh. Best not speak of your father, here. There are ears that you do not see. You are obviously the son of a small noble sent to make something of yourself and that is good. “
“Yes, yes of course. That’s it, sir. How do you know so much about them?”
“You could say that I am a well-travelled man.” He smiled, again, “would you like another drink? The inn here is not a wonderful place to spend time thinking or indeed sleeping but it does serve a very good ale.”
I nodded and smiled, a little uncertainly and then added “please, yes, that’s very good of you” We had one more ale, together and I learned that he came from the borderlands of The Ephiniate Kingdom of Surmey He was indeed a traveller. He had seen so many states that I lost count. It was more a case of where he had not been. In turn, I explained why I felt that learning the skills of a bard at Lorefast would enable me to open doors as both ambassador and spy.
I wandered Warvane for an hour or two after that. That was how I found myself in an alleyway in Cheapside, having taken a wrong turn. I say a wrong turn because I had found a large, bulky man looming behind me who had the look of a brigand written all over him just as the weasly looking individual who stepped out ahead, holding a long knife, looked like a cutpurse. You could have placed them with any crowd of peasants and picked them out as the thief and the thug. I’m sure you know what I mean. Anyway, there they were. I wasn’t a defenceless young man, even in those days. I spun, kicked the thug between the legs, slipped by one grabbing hand and caught only a clipping blow to my shoulder from the club. I might have taken care of these two but then two companions appeared, drawing knives.
“Bugger kicked me in the bollocks!” the thug pointed at me “do ‘im boys”
At that moment, a fifth man loomed behind these two, took both of them by the scruff and crashed their heads together, kicking the pair to the ground. The metallic hiss of a scimitar being drawn was heard as he stepped over them. I parried the weasel’s knife and opened his arm from wrist to elbow with my own.
“Bloody ‘ell, its Kharr” the thug yelled. That was enough. They all took off down the alley, the weasel trying to wrap something round his arm as he ran. Two of them stumbled, still dazed from the bang on the head.
“Having trouble with the local wildlife, my friend ?” The laconic voice was still edged with humour. I turned and offered my hand again.
“Once again, I owe you, sir.”
He shook it. “I really suggest that you do something about finding that name. I did warn you that the thieves guild will be a lot less interested in a common student than they will be in the son of one who might be able to afford a ransom or have wealth of his own.”
I nodded. An idea was coming to me. If I could not be my father’s son, then how about Finnmeyer’s son. He was no noble and I admired him, greatly.
“Finn” I said “how does that sound?”
“Not a bad start, my friend. It should serve”
“No, better, Black Finn” And there it was. Meyer meant black in the islander tongue. Finn-Meyer. Black Finn.
“Ah, now that, I like. It has a certain suggestion of roguishness or danger about it. I approve. Come, Black Finn, let’s walk”