ACROSS THE WIDE SEAS
Michael D. Nadeau
Arrival in a Strange Land
He shook his head as he walked in to the tavern, his short white hair spraying sea water over the patrons nearest him. He whipped off his worn brown coat and spun a chair around to sit, keeping his longbow on his back. His old friend, Amonar, fluttered up as he took off his coat, then settled back down on his shoulder with a huff that was ignored with practiced ease. That was the worst sailing he ever had, and he was lucky to be alive, though where in the heavens he was this time was anyone’s guess. He laid his sheathed sword in his lap because the patrons were looking a little gruff about him being here. He would hate to kill someone his first day in this town.
“Hey, elf. Where you come from anyway? Ain’t never seen anything like that thing there.” The man pointed to the creature on the elf’s shoulder.
“You’ve never seen a longbow?” The elf said sarcastically, knowing full well that the man was talking about Amonar, the tiny winged imp on his shoulder.
“Seltemver, he thinks I’m a thing,” Amonar said, looking around the place for another exit just in case they pissed off his master. He hated violence.
“To him you are a thing.”
“I’m just saying…” He looked at the man and smiled, which never helped – or so he was told. “My friend here is harmless; and no, I’m not from around here.” He kicked the chair opposite him and gestured for the man to sit. The rest of the patrons waited silently. The man hesitantly sat, and the mumblings went back to normal once more. “My name is Seltemver Ashblade and this is my friend Amonar. Amonar, say hello.”
“Hello,” Amonar said, imitating a parrot.
“Anyway,” Seltemver said, smacking his friend lightly to make him behave, “would you tell us where we are, good sir?” The man stared at the ceiling for a couple seconds.
“You always find the smart ones, don’t you?” Amonar asked as he stared at a passing serving girl with his large round eyes.
“Hush Amonar.” He sighed and waved his hand for the girl to come over as she walked by.
The man scratched his head and looked at the ceiling for a minute, trying to think of what he had done to deserve this tonight. He had seen the stranger come in and knew from experience that he was going to be trouble of some sort; his kind always were. “You don’t know where you are? How did you get here if you didn’t know where you were going?”
Seltemver sighed, “You see good man; we were on my ship, the Seahaven, bound for Larishan Cove when we hit a terrible storm. We fought our way through it with some casualties and limped into port here…wherever this happens to be.” It helped that most of that was the truth. All right, sixty percent truth at least.
“Oh. Well, then you happen to be at the port town of Gnashar.” The man said. He leaned back as the serving girl came over and put down four copper pieces. “Ale if you could, Filden.”
“Yes, sir. And you, sir?” Filden asked, averting her eyes from the men.
“I’ll have whatever is standard. House ale or mead,” Seltemver said, eyeing the rest of the bar with suspicion. It had gone quiet once more and he didn’t know why. What was he missing?
“Mead?” the girl asked with a confused tone.
“Where have you brought me?” Amonar said, feigning a grievous wound and teetering on the elf’s shoulder as if he was about to plummet to his death. “She’s not heard of Mead!?”
“All right, that’s enough.” Seltemver growled, and felt the imp stiffen on his shoulder. He looked at the big man across from him with more attention this time, knowing he must’ve missed something. He had plain breeches and a tunic, nothing special there. His hair was short and well kept, his muscles were honed from regular use, and his skin bore a dark tan. Probably a farmer or some such, the elf thought. His eyes didn’t show any spark of great intellect, but Seltemver had gathered that from the conversation already. In fact, the man was the perfect example of normal. Too normal. It had to be an act. “I never got your name, sir.” He asked nonchalantly.
“That you didn’t stranger.” The man pushed his chair back and stood slowly, flexing his arms and cracking his back and neck. He held out his hand towards the serving girl. “Filden. Ale. Now.” The girl grabbed an ale from the table next to them without asking and handed it to the man. He drained it in one shot.
Seltemver hooked his foot around the bottom of his chair as he sat back, ready for trouble but trying to look comfortable. More patrons got up, but this time came over to the big man’s side. Well, there goes the ‘no killing on the first day’ thing, he thought sardonically. Then it clicked. “Gnashar, I presume?”
The man called Gnashar smiled and took a large club from one of the men nearest him, testing it for balance and weight. “You see stranger; this is my town, and newcomers with strange pets spell trouble.”
“Seltemver, he called me a pet.” Amonar said looking to the rafters for a safe place to fly to. He abhorred violence and blood made him squeamish. If it came to blows – and honestly, when did it not around this elf – he would bolt for the highest beam and wait it out like he always did.
“Not now, Amonar.” Seltemver said, sizing up the other men that had joined Gnashar’s side. They didn’t seem overly competent, mainly the type that use overwhelming numbers and intimidation. They would die quickly. “So, you want me to leave? Fine, I’ll be going.” Seltemver knew they wouldn’t let him leave. They already had weapons drawn and fire in their veins, but it gave them pause. They must be used to immediate violence, he thought as the men started to look to each other, where the Hells did I end up?
“Too late for that elf. Your kind always spells trouble,” Gnashar said as he advanced upon the sitting elf, “I just wanted to see if you were here for Lord Masonel or not. Since you’re not here for him, I can just kill you and be done with it.” He raised his club and started to bring it down, and Seltemver burst into action. He stood, flexed his leg, and sent his chair flying into the man to his right. He drew his blade and slashed at Gnashar in one fluid movement, opening his belly wide, and grabbed another chair and threw it at a third man. He backed up, avoiding the splash of blood and entrails. Gnashar dropped his club and grasped at his innards as they spilled from the wound, but they slipped through his fingers and splashed to the ground around his blood-soaked boots. The man dropped to his knees, swayed for a moment as his eyes glossed over, then fell to the ground.
Seltemver spun and danced with his sharp, thin blade, parrying blows with ease. No words were spoken as they danced around the table. Fear was creeping into the faces of his opponents as one after another fell to his blade. Amonar had flown straight up, probably hiding until it was over. He would never get used to an imp that hated violence. Imps, by their very nature were violent and malicious, yet this one had always been a bit of a coward. A club struck his shoulder, but he spun with the impact and came around with his sword to take the man in the leg. He finished the screaming man, and a second after. It lasted less than a minute. The attackers were all down and the rest of the patrons fled out the back door. All but the serving girl. Filden, I think her name was, he thought as he wiped his blade on one of the dead men.
Filden stood right where she was, daring not to move lest the elf see that as a sign of aggression. He had been talking so nicely and then suddenly he had turned into this…killer. Worse, he was good at it. Very good. Lord Masonel would come down on the town with a vengeance now; Gnashar was his pet enforcer. She saw the elf looking at her and swallowed hard. “You’re not going to kill me too, are you?”
“Why would I kill you?” Seltemver met her eyes as he sheathed his sword.
“I don’t know, just… you killed all of them and so quickly.” She had to sit down then, the scene getting to her finally. Yet she was awkwardly happy. Gnashar was an absolute brute, and she would never have to suffer his meaty touch again. Now they just had to survive the lord.
“Well I have this thing about people attacking me,” he said as he spied his friend in the rafters and signaled for him to come down. “I tend to retaliate with extreme force. It works very well, as no one that attacks me ever does it a second time.” He moved to her side with caution and laid a hand on her shoulder.
“Well, then you have to get out of here,” Filden said as she sat there trying to process all that she had seen. It’s not like she had never seen a dead body or anything, yet this was somehow different. “Lord Masonel will know about this soon, and probably send down a force to deal with you.”
“Great, more violence. Why do I stay with you Seltemver?” Amonar said as he alighted upon his friends shoulder once more.
“You stay because you are bound to my soul.”
“Ah yeah, there is that.”
Fight or Flight
Seltemver waited as Filden stood and walked to the bar to grab her bag, talking as she went, “Does he protect you?” she asked. She took off her apron and let down her hair. Her demeanor had changed, and he thought she seemed relieved to be free of this place.
“He is supposed to, but he doesn’t like violence.” Seltemver said, looking at his friend and smiling despite the remark. He grabbed his coat and shook it out, spun it around his shoulder, and settled it over his bow once more.
Amonar leapt up and came back down as the coat came on. He cleared his throat loudly and puffed out his little chest, trying to look dignified. “I am bound to keep him alive at all costs. If he dies, I would be thrust down into the pits of the Hells forever; burning endlessly in torment until time ends.”
“So,” Filden interjected before they really got into it, “do you have a ship we could take before the lord comes?”
Seltemver smiled. He had guessed right. She didn’t say ‘take me home’, or ‘let me leave before you’, she had asked to go with him. He looked at her and noticed for the first time how stunning she was. She had long blond hair and a slim build with piercing green eyes. Pity that he wasn’t thinking of leaving just yet. “No, the ship was heavily damaged and needs time to make repairs.” Seltemver noticed her frown and couldn’t help but laugh. “Don’t worry I know how to handle a lord.”
“This one is not a noble by any means, he is a warlord,” Filden sighed and hefted her bag over her shoulder. “Well, I’m going with you no matter where it is. My life here is done after all this.” She gestured to the carnage.
“You can’t just work for the bar still?” Amonar asked, truly interested on why she thought her life was over. It didn’t seem to be that big a deal to him.
“You don’t understand. Gnashar was my owner, and a slave can’t live when her owner has died and there was no transaction. I’m free property, and free property is always cashed out.”
“Slavery,” Seltemver said with disgust. He hated that trade and it was the one thing he would never stoop to. “Well, warlord or not, I’m still not worried about this Masonel.” He walked to the door and opened it, stepping out into the overcast morning. The little town of Gnashar – if that was what it was really called – seemed nice on the outside. A packed earthen road ran from the docks up through the town, side roads presumably leading to houses and the main road sporting what businesses there were. He could hear the blacksmith busy at work. Ahead, in what could only be a merchant’s area, boys cried out deals for their prospective masters. It looked quaint actually, until he saw the row of horses with armed men riding towards them with a heavily armored man in their midst. They moved with purpose and were bearing down on the trio, staring with smiles that had no mirth in them. Lord Masonel and his men, no doubt.
“Speak of the Demon.” Amonar said, looking for another place to hide.
“Seltemver are you sure we can’t run for the ship anyway?” Filden asked nervously.
“It’s fine, I’ll take care of this; just stay behind me.” He had faced odds like this before, but admittedly not while protecting someone as well. He drew his slim blade slowly, to add effect for the men watching. As they slowed down, he spread his feet apart and made notes on which man looked brave, and which ones seemed unsure. This was when reading people really came in handy.
Jacen Drake rode point with his lord behind him. This stranger had reportedly killed Gnashar – Gods above take his soul anyway – and the lord meant to deal swift and harsh justice. At least what he considered justice that is. Jacen shifted in his scale armor and fingered his short sword in its ornamental sheath. He had been leading the men of Gnashar under that enormous pile of filth of a man for over four years, and he despised the Lord just as much as his dead superior. His family, however, depended on his income. So here he was, killing another person for no good reason other than probably defending himself.
“Eyes front, Captain Drake. This man is dangerous and must be taken seriously.” Lord Masonel wasn’t taking any chances. When he had heard it was an elf, he had summoned all his guard under the captain of the watch and rode out immediately. Twenty trained cavalry would have no trouble against a lone swordsman, even if it was an elf.
Jacen kicked his horse in front of the other men signaling for them to wait. He proceeded slowly, keeping an eye on the elf as he neared. The stranger had already shifted his feet, a sign that he was well trained. Assuming a stance to sidestep any charge that the horse would make, and opposite his shield arm at that, showed Jacen that his foe was well-trained, and then some. “Hail, elf. I, Jacen Drake, Captain of the watch, hereby place you under arrest.” He had just finished the sentence when the elf ran at him at full speed. He had missed the movement until the stranger was halfway to him, that slim blade gleaming despite the overcast weather. Jacen whistled and pulled the reins of the horse, spinning the beast around in a blink to get his shield to bear and block the blow. The elf was going for the saddle straps!
“Kill him and the woman!” Lord Masonel yelled.
Seltemver slashed twice more, finally severing the strap to the saddle, and watched the captain fall to the dirt. He could tell the young man had no heart in this fight, and he wanted to spare as many that didn’t rush to their deaths as he could. Sometimes however, it couldn’t be helped. He leapt onto the beast bareback and kicked it around to meet the others, guiding the animal with his knees. He had been riding horses for over a hundred years and felt right at home. He was soon among the men, taking three of them down right away in the confusion. Seltemver felt blades bite into his off arm and back. The wounds were minor, so he grimaced through the pain and killed both that had drawn blood. Amonar had flown behind the girl and was holding onto her leg. “Don’t worry he does this all the time,” the imp said.
Seltemver could tell whose heart was in this fight and who’s wasn’t, so he turned the horse towards the main concentration of them and kicked forward in a rush. He slashed left and right, taking two more men before a man with a spear grazed his shoulder, almost taking him right off the horse. Missed that guy, I must be getting old, he joked with himself. Unless I miss spear guy again. He swung his horse around and slashed the spearman across his back, cutting clean through his hard leather armor. He spun the horse and kicked it towards the lord, parrying blows from the soldiers as he charged. “Fight me so that these men will live, monster!”
Lord Masonel shouted back, “You surprise me, elf. I had expected a summary execution, but instead you treat us to a display of expert swordsmanship. Challenging me might be the only mistake you made today. I would’ve let you off with a quick death, but now? Now you will learn what pain is.”
Seltemver swung his sword and caught the Lord in the chest as he passed, his sword ringing off the ornate armor like it was a mountain. The sword sounded almost like it was crying, denied the blood that it yearned for. The elven warrior came around and found that the lord was ready for him, slashing at the elf’s horse. He knew the animal was doomed, so he pulled his feet up and pushed off, leaping for the side to get clear of the falling beast. He landed in a roll, his sword flying away to his right, and came up covered in dirt and blood. He knew he was in trouble. He saw Lord Masonel dismount slowly; giving Seltemver time to gain his feet. A sense of dread crawled down the elf’s back. This man didn’t care. He lunged for his sword, rolling again and coming up as the big man charged at him, his own sword whistling through the air. Seltemver blocked it and riposted, the blade again bouncing off of the man’s armor. Not good, he thought backing up slowly.
“Give up elf, no weapon may pierce this enchanted armor, and many have tried. Even the joints are impervious to penetration; you have no chance.” Masonel laughed as he advanced once more, his wicked sword swinging for the warrior’s head. It was a feint though, for as soon as he ducked, Masonel’s other hand punched low, catching him hard in the sternum. The air rushed out of his lungs as he was hefted up with that same hand, easily held aloft. “Little…help…Amonar?”
Amonar was horrified. Never had he seen his friend and master thrown around like this. Then he heard the lord say that the armor was enchanted and knew Seltemver was in trouble. He saw the big man heft his master up in the air like a child’s doll and tried to stop his wings from shaking. The guards had all stopped and were watching the exchange with eager eyes; at least some of them were. Some were looking at the ground; unwilling to witness what they knew would come next. Amonar didn’t want to even guess what that was. If it could turn hardened warriors to look away, then it was bad. Then Seltemver actually asked for help and Amonar sighed, knowing that he had to act, or his friend would perish. He closed his eyes and concentrated, pulling his power up from deep within. He hated this part the most. When the power rose to the surface, he opened his eyes; eyes that now had a deep red glow to them. “Ackresh Firan Downen Hellin!” Amonar said, his voice resounding across the open road for all to hear. The sound of it cowed man and beast alike, the guards fleeing rather than face whatever could’ve said those words. Then the power took hold of Masonel and the imp looked away. “I’m sorry,” he whispered to himself. He held onto the girl with preternatural strength, lest she flee as well. She resisted only slightly, then relaxed and sat down in the dirt sobbing.
Seltemver smiled as he heard his friend’s voice. He had ever only heard it like that once before, but he knew what was coming. “Swords…can’t get to you…Masonel,” He said through gasping breath, “but how…do you feel about fire?” Seltemver watched as the man’s eyes widened in horror. Then he was falling, forgotten by the lord who was now aflame. Fire gushed out of the gaps of the enchanted armor, even coming out of the neck, licking his flesh like a hungry lover. The man screamed, thrashing on the ground as he tried desperately to remove the armor that had only moments before protected him, but now entrapped him with the flames. He screamed as the flames took his flesh first, then worked down to the bone, burning him to a cinder. The flames kept him conscious past the point where he should have blacked out from the pain. Seltemver knew this was a sadistic trait of the imp’s magic. Flames then sprouted from the very ground, forming hands that curled around the man and pulled him into the earth itself. It was over in moments, yet the man’s screams continued to echo as if from very far away, adding to the horror. Seltemver looked at the only people left: Filden, who couldn’t run because Amonar held her. Amonar, who was looking at the ground with tears in his tiny black eyes. And finally the captain, who couldn’t run because of a shattered leg.
“What have you done!?” The captain asked in hysterical tones.
“I’ve… we’ve stopped a tyrant that was holding your town in an iron grip of fear and slavery,” Seltemver said as he walked over and helped the man up, wincing at the sound of grating bone and the man’s whimpers of pain.
“But…” The captain was at a loss for words.
“Belt up, Captain; or should I say Lord?” Seltemver smiled despite his injuries. Let’s go to my ship, I have a healer there that can help you. He turned to Amonar and Filden. “Come on, you two; we can rest on the Seahaven.” He saw the reluctant eyes of Filden and knew that she had changed her mind.
“Filden, I’m sure that as the new Lord of…” he shook his head and laughed, looking at the new lord. “You really need a new name for this town, by the way.”
“Freeport,” Jacen said through the pain of his broken leg. “That was what it was called before Masonel came here with his warriors.”
“Good. So, Filden, I’m sure the Lord of Freeport will let you live now that slavery is going to be abolished. Right, Lord?” He said this last part with an edge to his voice, implying that if it wasn’t, there could be more trouble.
“Of course.” Jacen turned to the lady and smiled as best he could as they hobbled to the docks.
“I’m fine. No one bother to comfort me or anything,” Amonar said sullenly as he flew along behind them all.
Filden and Jacen were surprised by the crew of the Seahaven, as Seltemver was the only elf aboard. The orcs of the Seahaven had no problems with humans, but they knew how they would have been greeted, so they stayed on the ship when it docked at strange towns. The healer, Grunhilde, had the new lord’s leg splinted in record time, her trained hands working miracles on the wounded man. Filden helped Jacen with his recovery as they repaired the ship, but Seltemver knew that it would turn into something a lot more than that. He was good at reading people, after all. She stayed behind as expected, holding onto the lord’s arm as they waved goodbye.
Ten days later the Seahaven eased out of Freeport, its damage repaired and crew in good spirits. The new lord had some questions about the damage done to the ship, as most of it did not look to be storm related. Cannon fire had wrecked most of it and the mast was charred from fire. Seltemver explained it away as an attack before the storm. Now they were sailing on foreign seas and with the charts that Lord Jacen had provided, they would try for the shore of Handonin, to the west.
“Captain! Storm on the horizon!” The lookout called
Seltemver smiled as the seas breeze blew his short white hair. It always happened like this; just the time it took was different. “Well Amonar, where do you think we’ll end up next?” Amonar never answered the rhetorical question. No one could know.
“Great, here we go again,” was the only thing the imp ever said.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in the usual way, Michael D. Nadeau found fantasy at the age of 8 with Dungeons and Dragons. He loved being different people and casting magic. By the late 90’s he discovered his love for reading. His favorite teacher gave him her personal books to bring home, and he couldn’t get enough. He had even more ways to explore the great worlds out there, and it was harder and harder to come back. When he was much older, and had created and destroyed more worlds than he could count, he decided to delve into the literary world. He created Lythinall, a place where he could tell epic stories and invite his readers on the journey with his characters. The Darkness Returns is the start of the journey, but certainly not the end.