Rise of the Runelords
The air was cool enough that there were slight traces of his exhaled breath. He glanced back at the cabin’s chimney. It was both cool enough and close enough to evening meal to warrant a fire. He should be seeing smoke. He decided to wait another half hour. The new night would give him some possible advantage since he could see better than most with his low-light vision. Plus, it would give him some time to prepare.
He slipped the bedroll from his back, loosened the leather straps and rolled it open to search for some appropriate weapons. He decided against the staff he usually carried; he was going to need two hands for the crossbow.
He unwrapped the bindings on his staff to expose the pins that held the two pieces together. This was a very useful invention that came to him quite by accident. Once while learning the spell of mending, he had broken his staff as a test to repair it. He realized as he looked at the two halves, that now they would fit into the bedroll with the other equipment. Rather than having to burn energy to keep breaking and mending the staff, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to disassemble and reassemble as needed? After much trial and error, he discovered a pin combination that would hold the two pieces together as if they were one solid piece. The leather bindings were simply another level of protection that ensured the pins didn’t loosen.
After dividing the staff, he picked up the light crossbow and a handful of bolts. These were not the poisoned ones. It was rare for a half-elf druid to have any proficiency with a crossbow, but he had spent an entire winter learning all the simple weapons.
After several minutes of indecision which was unusual for him, Kefkolo grabbed the scythe and tucked it into a large pocket on his belt designed to securely hold the blade without impeding a hasty drawing.
People less experienced in his situation might have decided to leave the bulky bedroll behind the boulder to be retrieved later. Kefkolo however, knew it was a fool who thought the opportunity to return by the way one came was assured.“If battle occurs, fate requires flexibility,” he quoted silently.
He carefully wrapped the roll back up and secured it again to his back. He glanced at the house. Nothing had changed except the small wooden cabin seemed more ominous with the dark windows and the feel of abandonment.
But how could it be abandoned? For all his 21 years this had been his home. This had always been the home of his father and brother, well, step-brother. And this was the home of his mother for eight years of his life, until she left. This was the place he always returned to no matter how far he traveled.
Moving as a shadow, making sure to make no noise, he cautiously approached the cabin. He flanked away from the facing door and window, finding hidings the best he could in the mostly cleared field. He held his crossbow steady. His fingers entwined the bolts with a method he perfected to fast load a bolt one by one as needed. As he approached towards the back of the cabin, he moved quickly and with confidence towards the handholds that would give him access to the roof.
He paused on the roof searching for the latch that opened to the loft inside. Several years ago he and his brother, Damian had secretly built the trapdoor while his father was busy working in the mines. They wanted a way to leave at night without the old man knowing they were on the move. This was impossible on the main floor, with the only window and the front door both directly facing their father’s cot.
He found and opened the latch and dropped inside with a practiced ease making no more noise than a cat leaping to a ledge. He paused a few moments, listened in his special manner and relaxed. The cabin was empty.
He found a flint stone and sparked the wick buried in tallow which gave a golden yet still cold light to the room. It was musty and smelled of dirt, old cooking fires, and a very faint ghost of body odor. There was nothing to see in the loft. The palliasse was flat and uninviting; its straw old and brittle. Obviously, it was now unusable for bedding.
Ignoring the ladder, he jumped to the main floor and continued his investigation. His father’s cot was hanging on the wall. Dust had accumulated and a cobweb was presently occupied by a fat brown triangulate bud spider.
Near the fireplace Kefkolo spotted a letter pinned to the mantle with a cheap third-class dirk. He relaxed his hand that held the bolts and placed them on the ledge. He still kept the crossbow steady in one hand with its loaded bolt ready. He read the letter.
Father is dead. There was an accident at the mine. I’m not sure where I’m going, but I know damn well it’s not the mines. Hate that place. You were right to defy Father. I wish I could have but… I just want to say, I have no hard feelings on you running out on us. I hope you are well and find a place in the world. I’m planning to get as far away from here as possible. I’m going to find some adventure and some easy women. I guess that’s the same thing isn’t it. Ha!
I waited for you more than a cycle of the moon, but I can’t stay longer. I don’t know that our paths will cross again but thank the stars your mother insisted I learn my letters along with you. Otherwise I couldn’t even say goodbye.
Stay away from Wolf’s Ear or they might keep a morsel like you.
Your brother always,
Kefkolo reread the letter several times and blinked back the tears that threatened to come. He loved his bother even though they were not close. There were eight or nine years between him and his older sibling and there was an unmistakable difference in their race that Damian, and others, loved to point out.
He thought about his brother’s comment about Wolf’s Ear and smiled. When he was younger, Damian had teased him that if he was bad, they were going to drop him off at Wolf’s Ear and let the lycanthropes eat him. Not mentioned in the letter but his brother’s favorite taunt, was to tell him he belonged in Nybor with all the other half breeds.
Kefkolo finally relaxed and pulled out a chair and sat at the small slab of a table at the other end of the cabin to think out his next move. He took the letter with him and sat it on the table. Thinking over the letter he kept coming back to the phrase, “I have no hard feelings on you running out on us.”
“Is that what his brother thought happened? That he ran out?”
His head felt heavy as he looked down at the table, lost in thought, running his fingers absently over the indent in the table where he father had once slammed his fist down in frustration.
He was 14 on that fateful day when the path of his life had been set toward its true direction. For two years he had been a miner, having started his apprenticeship at 12 as was custom. Memories of that day, which marked his subsequent frequent comings and goings, rushed in, all sharp and bittersweet. Along with the memories came the feelings, the fear; the anger; his resolute will. Next came the sense of reliving it. He could almost taste the salt and copper in his mouth from the blood and adrenaline after his father slapped him.
“I won’t hear of it,” his father shouted. “You are not quitting. That is final. Not a discussion.”
“I am quitting. I won’t do it anymore. Hit me all you want, but I will not change my mind. You can beat me to death, but I will not be unbalanced anymore!”
“Why? What is so wrong? It’s not even living. It’s stone, dead stone. I could understand if it was slaughtering animals. Even cutting timber I could sort of understand, but wolf scat boy, this is damn dead rock!”
“Nature requires death. It’s part of balance. When we kill for food and clothing it’s part of the cycle. It’s natural that a culling takes place. When we cut into the forest, or even a wood, or grove, we take but a part for our homes and tools. The rest of the wood is left to grow back and thrive. But the taking of the stone and ore…it’s…it’s… unbalanced,” Kefkolo stuttered. “Nothing grows back; it’s not replenished.”
“So, who cares? It’s not like we don’t have enough mountains. By the holy Hanspur’s blind eye, are you insane?
Kefkolo pulled himself off the floor, his back sliding up against the wall to support his wobbling legs. He father was a huge man, standing taller than their door, having to stoop to enter. By contrast, Kefkolo was shorter than his peers and even one year below that. Though his father only slapped him with an open hand, his father’s muscles were honed by years of the heavy pick and shovel. Kefkolo felt lucky to not have his jaw shattered. But that didn’t matter. What was right was right and there must be balance in the world. His mother taught him that.
“If there are so many mountains that it doesn’t matter why do the goblins keep attacking, insisting we have no rights to any part of Fogscar even though we are only at the very tip?”
“Goblins, Bah!” his father spat on the floor for emphasis. “That is the very nature of goblins. They fight and kill over everything and for nothing. They don’t have to have a reason. Blood thirsty bastards all of them!”
He paused and took a settling breath. “Look Kolo, they love you at the mines. It’s ‘Hey Kef, how’s your air,’ ‘Kef, come group with us,’ ‘That Kef, he’s one great lad,’ I tell you I’ve been working the mines more years than I want to count and Damian started a year earlier than common, him being so big for his age. You think we get any reception anywhere near that? Not on Hanspur’s good eye I tell you. Every last one of those sorry diggers know they owe their lives to you. That’s the kind of goodwill neither money nor position buys.”
Kefkolo’s father was talking about the mine disaster. A few months earlier than this conversation, there was a rare, severe earthquake, creating a catastrophic collapse. Nearly every man in the village was trapped. Ironically, of the nine or ten men that weren’t in the mine that day, two of them were his father and his brother. They were at the sluices.
What happened was that Kefkolo, instead of giving up or panicking like the others, searched for hours on end in total darkness. Not even his ability to see in low light offered any help in the void. He had almost no air left and was about to pass out from the heat, but somehow he managed to dig his way into a natural cave and lead his companions out the other side of the ridge to an opening no one knew about. This led years later to his intensive interest and study of Dungeoneering. If there was one word to describe Kefkolo, it would be ‘survivor.’
What his father was failing to mention in all this “Kef” glad-handling, was that before the mine accident, the common reference he received was more along the lines of “hey pointy, or runt.” The diminutive “Kef” only occurred afterwards and would probably disappear in another couple of months after the dire memories lost their edge.
He thought about all the names he was referred to. Dismissing the insults, he was now ‘Kef’ to the miners, ‘Kolo’ to his father, and ‘Ko’ to his brother when Damian was feeling at least neutral to him and ‘Lo’ when he was mildly annoyed. For the rest of the time, Damian usually referred to him along the lines of the excrement of a particularly nasty troll.
“It doesn’t matter. I don’t care if they worship me and want to burn incense and chant my name. They take too much, destroy too much, poison the land around the mine, and damage the nearby animals. It’s unbalanced and thus wrong and I’m not mining anymore.”
“You ungrateful little cur, you’re just like your mother, wringing her hands over the stupidest things. Lying bitch said she’d be back to me shortly. It’s been six long years.”
His face got red and blotchy. Kefkolo could see his father’s fist clench and the knuckles whiten. Yet still under his breath, consciously or unconsciously, he said a prayer to Desna, the god of dreams, luck, stars, and travelers.
“Listen to me son, I love you and I won’t stand in your way if…,” he paused taking a calming breath. “If you decide to ignore the realities of the world and throw away the best opportunity you’ll probably ever get in this life, over a stupid, childish concept of principles. But I tell you this, I won’t be doing my duty to let you saunter through this mad thing you do, thinking high and mighty principle is the way of the world. Boy, I tell you this straight up. That is not the way the world works. Nothing will get you deader faster than idealism. I know you’re young, maybe younger in the realities than a normal boy for your age, even as bright as you are. That’s my fault, codding you like I have been.”
Kefkolo snorted at this and spat a stream of blood on the floor.
But by the god’s blood it stops here. Tonight, this very night if you are still insisting you won’t go into the mine tomorrow, you’ll leave now and without anything but what’s on your back. You stay away for three, no, four cycles of the moon. You survive that and you can come back with my blessing and never enter the mine again. But if you can’t make it, you’ll come back home and you’ll go back into the mine and I’ll hear no more nonsense of ‘balance’.”
“Fine. I know you’ve been wanting me to go. You’ve always hated the sight of me. You and Mother who left me like yesterday’s trash.” Kefkolo was crying now. Tears flowing, making trails in his dirt covered face.
“Damn you boy! Is that what you think? His father’s fist raised, his arm shook. He looked around frantically to expel his rage and slammed his hammer-like fist into the nearby table’s top.”
“Hated the sight of you? Do you know where your name comes from? Kef comes from my name, Kefin. And Kolo is from your mother’s name Koloana. You were the product of myself and the woman I have loved above all living things and the gods combined.
“Kefkolo,” his father said his full name very slowly and with reverence. “Your mother did not leave you because she didn’t want you, There was a war, one of the endless wars the elves seem to be involved in, and she was ordered by her father and liege to come back to fight. She left you with me as a gift. I told her that if she left me Damian and I would die. Me from a broken heart and he from the neglect of a shattered man. She left you as a piece of her so I would not die.
He stopped talking and the room was quiet like the silence after the crack of thunder. He wiped his sleeve across his nose and pressed the heel of his hands on his eyes. After a moment, he brought his hands back down and said “Now get out. Come back when you have decided to face the world as a man and not a child, or come back in four cycles proving you to be a man, or die in the wilderness; but either way get out of my sight now while I still have control of my anger.”
Kef had come back, but it had been after five cycles that first time just to show his father his will and his skill. They never talked of this again, but there was a quiet understanding between them, and love, but as equals.
Shaking off the memories, Kefkolo again thought about his brother’s comment “I have no hard feelings on you running out on us.” He decided that he could not let Damian think that he had ran out on them. He would try and find him.
He opened his bedroll on the table and took out his map and tried to deduce where his brother would go.
The cabin was at the southern tip of Fogscar with the Windsong Abby the closest to the south and Galduria to the northeast. Damian said he was looking for adventure and easy women. There would be a noticeable shortage of both at the Abby.
Galduria offered both women and adventure. Kefloko had spent a lot of time at Galdurian soaking up what knowledge he could from the scholars of the ridiculouly named, Twilight Academy. It was also at Galdurian where he found a group of druids that helped him on his calling. Admittedly, they were low ranking druids, but he was grateful for their help in educating him within the path. But the more he thought about it, the less he thought this was a city offering the type of adventure that Damian would be looking for.
He would want to join a band of adventurers. The nearest large city was the port of Sandpoint. It offered high-seas, sailors (and therefore many easy women) and there was even talk of a goblin raid on the city fought back by a hardy adventuring group. That was it, that is where Damian would most likely head and so that was where he would head also, to Sandpoint.