This is part of an ongoing tale. Click here to catch up on past installments in this story arc or click here to learn more about Orsog and his previous adventures. ♦ Wind whistled between
Wind whistled between the hills, which lay on either side like the mounds of long-dead giants. Far off in the distance, rockier hills rose with deep shafts dug into the earth. This was a land of ore-diggers, of metal-workers, of blacksmiths. To their Volaki brethren on the broad plains north of Hathulia, such men were held sacred. To the Hathulians themselves, they were called Felar, and accounted the darkest of sorcerers.
Amidst the howling of the wind, a hooded figure approached the narrow valley. He made his way along a stony path to a long, low building, half buried in the earth. Its roof was built of turf and grass, and a casual passer-by might not have even noticed it. When the figure reached the dark door, he knocked on its oaken frame thrice, then paused, then twice, and then thrice more.
It opened to reveal a golden-haired youth, his lankily built limbs already knotted with muscle. Harsh Volaki words ordered the boy to let the stranger in, and he stood aside. The man in the hood entered, gathering darkness around himself like a second cloak. The door closed, shutting off the wind.
By the fire sat the very image of the youth who had answered the door, but covered in the lines, the scars, and the calluses of age. The smith’s golden hair had faded to gray, and a broad moustache flared out over his cheeks. He sat in a chair by the fire and did not rise to greet his guest.
“What is it you seek?” he asked in the Volaki tongue.
“Wisdom,” whispered the shadows within the hood.
“I cannot give you that. But I can give you knowledge.”
The hood tilted, as if in acceptance.
“Do not hide yourself from me, southlander. I know your name, and your folk, and I know your employment.”
The figure’s great hands emerged from voluminous sleeves and rose to pull back the hood. Orsog’s dark hair and hard eyes caught the gleam of the firelight.
“I do not come to threaten you, honored Vyelar.”
“Nor I, you. Sit. My son will bring you ale. It is not the sacred mead of your homeland, but I trust it will quench your thirst.”
Orsog sat by the fire, across from the blacksmith. The chair was well-made. Its comfort might have surprised a more civilized man, but outlanders knew that not everything far from the cities was crude and rough. This man made a living by his craft. It was no strange thing that his furnishings would be as well-crafted as his own work.
“I come to ask you of the Gwo Belin, whom the Asentic invaders call goblins.”
The old man nodded. “I know of this.”
“Then can you answer my riddle? How is it that goblins came where once there were none, and came empty handed? And how is it that where one clan came, a second followed? And rumor tells of a third and fourth. What does it mean?”
The boy returned with a horn of ale, and Orsog accepted it gladly. He served his father after, and then retired to a shaded corner to watch.
“It is not goblins you fight, son of Rend. It is their master.” He was silent for a moment, and the hush of the dark house was broken only by the crackling of the fire. “You know of Volaki blacksmiths, the Vyelar. You know of our wisdom. Do you also know of the Tampla, and of those that came before?”
“The Nemedians, we call them. Many empires have risen and fallen since they last ruled these lands. Yes, I know of their ruins, and that the Volaki hold them sacred.”
The smith shrugged. “Sacred is a word. Some we love, and some we do not. But all have power. And for some, their power is drawn from ancient sorcery.”
He paused, watching Orsog sip at the horn, judging the outlander.
“Once,” the old man said at last, “When Nemedians, as you call them, began to lose their sovereignty over the land, some began to turn to the black arts to maintain their rule. One of these was the man whose armies you fight. His name is forgotten, but his Tampla is known. It is a fastness in a great hill made of stone, a deep cave where he lurked in darkness. From that place, he called forth the Gwo Belin to wage war on the barbarians and the outlanders, those who threatened his empire. By the work of great heroes, he was slain. But not all who die cease to act in the world. There is, I fear, a spell still living in his Tampla.”
“Is this what has conjured the Gwo Belin?”
“It is. Listen, and I will tell you how the spell may be broken.”
Orsog listened, and by an awful pact, swore to give payment for the knowledge that was given.
To Be Continued…