This is the story of, and the contents of, a Helcrani
warrior’s daily journal during the First Sarvonian War. In “The Journal”, as it
is called, Thomas tells of many adventures he shared with his comrades, which
take him from invading the Goltherlon Forest to defending the Helsalari Pass
from attack by untold numbers of elves, to being held as a prisoner of war by
the dark elves. The story that follows is his.
The year was 54 a. S., North of the Hèckra
Franck Goldman was an old farmer who lived with his simple wife east of Cemphiria and farmed the land near the Ilis River. On a dry, dusty day in the month of the Rising Sun he arrived at the Pelasgarth fortress with an old wooden box held in both arms, a box he treated like an evil thought, not trusting anyone with his secret. His distrustful eyes darted around, his palms became sweaty, sweaty to the point that the box might have slipped from his grasp, but his hold was so tight around it that his fingers whitened, and he would never let it slip. The box itself was made of fire hardened Sahnrix Pine so it withstood the unmeasured test of time. The walls and bottom of the box were painted red, while the lid was black, and was fastened into place with sturdy twine and crafty knots. The old farmer’s powerful arms still strained under the weight. The measurements of the box were nine inches by sixteen inches by twelve inches, and the wooden sides were all five nailsbreadths thick. Carefully, and with a suspicious eye, the farmer placed it on the table in front of the Captain of the Guard, Ulric Retager, and began to tell his story.
“Yesterday morn I was out workin’ me fields out around the river thar...” He motioned East. “Thar I was, mindin’ me own business, and this damned thing got caught in the blade, no doubt. It’s awful heavy, so I din’t but scratch the paint, here on the bottom.” He clumsily flipped it over to reveal a four-inch scar in the red paint. “I don’t know where it came from, or who it came from, but I don’t wants it, looks cursed or sumfin, no doubt.”
Retager, tired but patient, looked up from his parchment and merely nodded.
“Aye, I’ll have a look.” He mumbled with a long, phlegm filled sigh. “Thanks for bringing it in, yer loyalty is appreciated.” The farmers had been warned. They were being forced to turn in all things found that were thought to be magical or militaristic, it was the law.
“Like I says,” pointed out Goldman, “I don’t needs it or even don’t wants it anyways. What’s inside is no business of mine. Take it, and may the Gods be merciful if its evil contained within the ugly thing.” As the Captain took the box into his own hands, Goldman’s eyes seemed to soften, and his agitated breathing relaxed. He looked as though a colossal weight had been relieved from his being.
“Hmmm.” Retager was scanning the entire structure hoping to detect some hint of its origin. At first the only thing he found was the large scar on the bottom, but on closer inspection, he noticed that two very minute letters had been carved into the black lid.
“T H… These could be initials, but of whom? The maker, maybe, or the owner.” Retager wrote down the location of the letters on a new parchment, and noted the care of the carving. “This was painstakingly well done, no doubt.”
Retager decided the box, having been externally inspected, should be finally opened, and the contents revealed. He said this out loud, and the old man backed away.
“I’ll have no part of this, thank ye very much,” he told the soldier. “If this angers a higher power, it’ll not be my neck on the block.” He backed towards the door, but once he got there, just couldn’t tear himself away from the prestige of the events unfolding, or away from his most precious find.
“Well? Open the damned thing, and make it quick. Me cows can’t feed themselves, ya know. What do you think is in there? Treasure, perhaps? Or some ancient artifact, so powerful it will make us equal with the gods?” He was dreaming of all the worship that he would receive, and all the world’s riches that would be given to him for finding the box. His dream was cut short though, when the veteran warrior opposite him sliced through the twine that held the mystery container closed. A tattered leather book, bound by metal clamps and locked by an old rusty padlock was all that was found inside, save for dirt and the broken heart of one, old farmer.
“What’s this?” He shouted. “What’s this piece of gurbage? This ain’t nothin’ but an old book!” He kicked the wall, but then, after the initial shock had subsided, he stopped short. “A book? Some old leather book? It’s a spell-book, no doubt, it is! It’s mine! I founds it! It belongs to me! Give it to me!” Goldman screamed out and made a grab for it, but Retager was too quick. The old man’s swipe missed poorly, and he ended up in the grip of two burly soldiers, holding him by the arms.
“Escort him out, and ensure he doesn’t come back any time soon.” Retager ordered. The two guards smiled grimly, which caused Goldman to whimper softly.
“I’m so sorry, I’ll be good, no doubt, I will,” he pleaded as the guards dragged him away.
Now that he was alone, Captain Ulric Retager would be able to give this matter his whole attention. He rolled up his sleeves, more out of habit than need. It seemed as if his heart had long quit, his chest was cramped and his throat locked. He couldn’t think of any reason why he shouldn’t go ahead, so he touched the book.
It did nothing. His heart began again and he could draw air into his lungs once more. He sighed deeply, and picked the tattered manual up out of the wooden house it had been held in for so long. As it was hit by the light of day, Retager realized that the same initials had been carved into the book itself, but this time the carving was large and elaborate, with the letters T and H covering most of the cover. Retager was at first perturbed by the look of the large, bronze lock that snapped into place around the covers. But after a few moments, even his neophyte skill was able to separate the lock from the front cover. He paused for a moment, then turned to the first page, and he read:
“7th day of the Falling Leaf, 16th year of my life.
I am Thomas Hielund, and this is my journal. Theodore Hielund sired me with the help of my mother, Adelle. My father is a farmer, one with many acres to his name and workers under himself. I was born near the village Ahaiwana sixteen winters ago. Twenty-one years ago my village received news of the fall of Ximax to the Drow Elves and my people were spurred into action. We Helcrani have since been hired as mercenaries and fought the elves. My father himself served, but after suffering a terrible arrow through his shoulder, he has not held a sword since. Now the men come again, the men that are searching for more fighters, more lives to give for the chance at safety from the Goltherrhim Tribe of Drow Elves. Word is the mighty Helcrani raising an army to build up a resistance force. I am finally old enough to enlist, and I have decided to fight. I leave tomorrow, but my father is too old and so he must stay home to protect our lands. All my life, my mother had taken me out of my daily chores to learn to write. Having been taught by her father, she felt it was a necessary part of my life, and gave to me a vast vocabulary. So, upon hearing of my choice my mother made this journal for me, as a way to send word when clearly no way existed. I have spent the last few hours carving my initials into the cover of the thing. I can hardly wait for the light of tomorrow’s sun.”
Ulric Retager put the book down and sat back in his chair. He had to think.
This book is over 700 years old! He thought for a moment longer. Impossible... it couldn’t be from that age, this is counterfeit. He tried to convince himself of this, but deep inside, he knew it was authentic. This book is over 700 years old! He repeated it to himself as he picked it up again and opened it. He turned the page, and read the following:
“9th day of the Falling Leaf, 16th year of my life.
I wanted to write in here yesterday, but it was far too hectic. I arrived at the camp early in the morning and enlisted in our great army, after which I was whisked away to receive my military equipment. Now, I’ve held a sword before, but none such as this. It is lighter than any blade I’d felt, and bigger to boot. After I was dressed and armed, I met up with a few of my childhood friends, most of which also volunteered to rid Caelereth of the dreaded Drow elf.
David Herdsman is here, as is Paul Weggner. David is a tall sturdy boy, two winters older than I am, he could be described as the ideal boy to become the ideal soldier. This judgement could be made because he has spent countless years bravely fighting the occasional Ashmarian wolf, and any other predator that thought he could get a quick meal out of his father’s flock of sheep. He is quiet and disciplined, and I assume he will make a grand warrior.
My other friend Paul is not so well suited for combat. His father badly needed the money, as all families feel the strain of war, and poverty is swelling, so Paul was sent to war to feed his family. He is childlike and foolish, and will do almost anything for a laugh or two. He sees his enlistment as a way to make friends and see the world, not as a way to free our people from the Drow threat. I fear he will receive a shrewd awakening during his first glimpse of battle, and he will not like it. But, all in all, I was very glad to see them, for now at least I won’t be alone in this strange, dangerous world.
It seems our brave leaders are wasting no time, and in a while, we will be forced at double speed towards the human fort named Blowcrusher, to the West. I have been told it’s a long journey, and I can imagine it is, as I’ve never gone more than a days walk from my home. There are over a hundred men assembled from here alone, and I grow anxious to see the total number of our great force. I expect we move out soon, so I must put the journal away. I do not look forward to the next few days.”
Ulric read these words and tried to think. The dating seemed right, and the facts were in order. But he still wasn’t certain that this book was real. He got up from the desk he was sitting at and went to the archives. He drew out a big brown book that was titled “The High War: The First Years” and leafed through it to the time-table. What he found were the bare facts.
“Hmmm... the dates are accurate, if this isn’t real, the forger did a lot of work, and for what? Just to fool an old farmer and the Captain of the Guards in a small fort? No. This must be the real thing,” he said with utmost belief for the first time since seeing the old man bring the box to him. He impatiently tossed the date book back on the shelf and briskly walked back to the journal.
“11th day of the Falling Leaf, 16th year of my life.
This has been a day from hell. We ran yesterday until almost midnight, then we stopped for a short rest, almost two hours of sleep, and then we were running again. We moved almost constantly for the entire day, with short breaks to eat and rest and irregular intervals. None of the breaks were sufficient for my friends and me, or anyone else for that matter.
But I’m told by Paul that we have crossed about two thirds of the vast Aurora Fields and tomorrow at dawn we head on the last stretch. No soldier knows what waits for us at Blowcrusher, but David says that’s where all the forces are meeting before we move out. He has heard a few men saying the word Goltherlon, so he guesses we will be making the trip back across this great plain before long. The Goltherrhim tribe of Drow elves lives there, in the Goltherlon Forest, and we are to drive them out at any cost. This, of course, is only rumour, and could be false as a baby’s tooth. At the very least, I expect to see action very soon, and the entire army present is aflutter with excitement. I am too tired to write anymore.”
After reading this Retager flipped forward a few pages and read the entry there, which read as follows:
“28th day of the Falling Leaf, 16th year of my life.
Our brief training has finally come to an end, and the fifteen hundred men here are ready for battle. It has been a long two weeks, learning the ways of war all day long and sometimes into the night, too. But finally, we are ready for battle. I look at Paul and see a vast change in his nature. He is no longer trying to make jokes and poke fun at everything anymore, and now he just sits there, in a daze, not talking to anyone or doing anything. He is as morbid as I’d ever seen him, and I should say I enjoy him a lot more as the clown, instead of the warrior. David, on the other hand, is excelling, as I had predicted. He made the rank of Lieutenant, and now he commands us poor foot soldiers. The promotion didn’t go to his head, as it typically would with most farm boys, and he still eats and sleeps near Paul and me. I, for one, am happy for him, for he really did work very hard in training, and plus, this way I won’t be sacrificed in the front line, as I have an inside connection. This would please my mother, I only wish I had a way to let her know of this.
David has notified us that our new Anactar, Curogane has given orders to move out tomorrow morning at dawn and head back across the green sea that we call the Aurora Fields. We are supposedly going to attack the heart of the Goltherrhim tribe and invade the forest. This time though, the trip should be much easier, for I have had a lot of time to prepare my body for the grueling run, and, although it won’t be fun, it won’t be as hellish as last time. Paul still cringes at the idea, and can’t wait to reach the woods, although it might be like the old saying, “out of the pan, into the fire”. I have to go now, as the horns have just sounded fires out. I won’t write until after the trip across the Field.”
The Captain read the next entry without pause for thought for he was completely entranced by this historic treasure.
“3rd day of the Passing Clouds, 16th year of my life.
Well, I had to pass right by my home village on the trip over here, and that is, to say the least, the strangest feeling I have ever experienced. It was a uncanny mix of sadness and independence, a feeling that I hadn’t felt since I left the farm for the army life. I haven’t been able to write in my journal recently for we’ve been setting up a camp here on the outskirts of the forest, to serve as a base of operations for the upcoming offensive being planned right now as I write in here. We had to secure the area, but no scout has seen a Drow yet, which means nothing for they hide extremely well. They might be directly in the trees above my head for all I know, and they are waiting to kill all my comrades and me at any instant. Thus is the uneasiness of warfare.”
Here Retager stopped reading, and set the book down. His weary eyes could go no deeper in the book tonight for it was late and he hadn’t noticed the time. He scooped up the book and headed towards his bunkhouse. He was half way to his cabin when he heard a shuffle of leather on stone, and he turned just in time to see his old acquaintance, Goldman, come running at him full force. The old man was bleeding and bruised, but he still came with vigour. The Captain drew his sword and stretched it out towards Goldman, letting the fool run himself through. The old man gurgled as he bled to death on the clean slate walkway.
Once inside his cabin, Retager locked the door and closed the windows, trying to seal out the world from his find. He stored the journal in his safe deposit box, and went to sleep, with one hand on the door of the safe and one hand on his still bloody sabre.