The Carpenter

Mendelhein 319 AC
Bergville – The border territories.

Working the broom Grayden Chalice swept the dust and wood shavings across the slate floor of his workshop, and out the door. It was just on dawn in Bergville, and the forty-two year old carpenter was already up and getting ready to start work. The crisp late autumn morning saw clouds of steam greet his every breath. Standing shy of six foot, his dark hair flecked with grey, the quiet, moderately good looking man was mostly unassuming. He was decently built, as one would expect from someone who worked with his hands, and even though he was in his forties, he had avoided the dreaded middle aged spread common to most men his age.
Taking up a rough-sawn cut of wood he began to plane it smooth, decorating the recently swept floor with fresh shavings. As the only carpenter in the small frontier town, not counting the wood cutters, he did brisk business and lived comfortably. Bergville had been Grayden’s home for the past sixteen years.
“Morning honey,” greeted a soft voice. Grayden stopped his wood-working and looked up. He smiled affectionately as Lea, his wife of almost sixteen years came in, carrying a steaming mug of broth. She would have just prepared it in the kitchen of their home, attached to his workshop.
“Morning darling,” he responded, taking the cup, and nodding his thanks. She pulled her shawl up over her shoulders and her slight frame shivered.
“Looks like the white season is right on time,” remarked the plain looking, slender thirty-one year old mother of two. She glanced out the window at the snow capped peaks of Shadowberg, looming over the small settlement.
“Aye,” nodded the carpenter, “Best we replace the bear skin rug. I’ll stop past Frugar later.” Lea nodded and smiled. She was most gentle by nature.
“Ayden got in late last night,” she mentioned, referring to their fifteen year old son.
“Aye,” sighed Grayden, “We will have to have words. Let me know when he wakes.” Lea nodded again and left her husband, taking his empty mug. The carpenter went back to work. It worried him that Ayden reminded him so much of himself at that age. The youngsters current preoccupation was Kendra, Gerald the miller’s daughter. The two had been sneaking off a lot lately. It would take some doing, talking sense to the restless, hot headed boy.
“What is this place Master?” croaked the wart covered, scarred, and deformed looking peon. His brethren milled about the blackened stones of the ruins.
“Home,” cackled the robed and hooded figure. He raised a staff and muttered an arcane sequence of words that rolled with difficulty off the tongue. The ground amid the ruins fell away and a broad stairway led down. The stunned peons gasped, oohed, and aaahed. Magic they feared, but were at the same time were fascinated by it.
The figure descended the steps. Below in the darkness the rest of his minions waited. It would not take long to reestablish himself.
“So was your father angry?” asked the pretty fifteen year old Kendra as she lay with her head in Ayden’s lap, looking up at his face, and his intense deep blue eyes. Brawny Ayden sat with his back to a broad gnarled tree trunk. Just down the grassy slope was Bergville.
“No,” smiled fifteen year old Ayden, “Father never gets angry, ever. He was disappointed in me though. He sure knows how to say just the right thing, to make one feel really bad!”
“Did he beat you?” checked Kendra with concern.
“No, but that’s not his way either,” explained Ayden, “I only remember him raising his hand to me twice.”
“So we can go with the others to Satyr’s Pool tomorrow?” smiled the pretty blond teen, sitting up.
“No,” sighed her young beau, “I will help father finish the cabinet tomorrow. It will be my penance.”
“Seems like quite a light punishment,” mused Kendra, disappointed that he would not be joining them.
“Well its not really punishment,” explained Ayden, “I mean he didn’t say I have to do it.”
“But you will anyway,” guessed Kendra. Ayden nodded and stood. Picking up a stone he flung it into the bush.
“Yeah,” he muttered, “And soon I’ll be apprentice to my father and the next Bergville carpenter!”
“It’s a good life Ayden,” pointed out the petite young blond, “Why do you seem like you hate the idea so much?”
“I feel trapped here Kendra!” he moaned, “Don’t you?” She shook her head.
“I like it,” she shrugged.
“I want to travel! I want to see what’s out there!” he exclaimed, “I want……more than this.” He cast an arm out toward Bergville.
“Maybe you should,” sighed Kendra with a forced smile as she stood and dusted the grass off her skirt. She was a little hurt that she wasn’t enough to make him want to stay.
“Imagine the cities, the empires, beyond the valley!” gaped the youngster, missing that he hurt Kendra. He stared off into the distance, lost in his own thoughts.
“Imagine,” echoed Kendra with a shake of the head. She could not understand why anyone would want to leave. After a while they returned to town to attend to chores.
“So I heard a group of youngsters were going up to Satyr’s Pool,” remarked Grayden as he smoothed the edges of one of the cabinet panels.
“Yeah,” confirmed Ayden, “The Manko brothers, Sam Potter, Alun and Beth Cooperson, and some others.”
“Kendra Geraldsdottir?” checked his father.
“Her too,” nodded Ayden focusing intently on getting the dove-tail joint 100%.
“Winter will be well and truly here in just weeks,” pointed out Grayden, “Don’t you want to go too? Might be the last chance till Spring!”
“So be it,” shrugged the youngster, as he continued to work. Grayden smiled to himself. At least his mothers blood tempered him somewhat, giving him far more of a conscience to do what was right than Grayden ever had. He sure hoped it was enough.
The father and son worked, and the rich wood cabinet slowly took shape. Grayden was confident that before sundown the unit would be ready for its first oiling. Before the end of the week he could deliver it to Pierce the Baker for a tidy sum.
“Come on Kendra!” chirped a red headed, freckle faced youth, “Hop in! You aren’t married to Ayden, not yet!”
Kendra just shook her head as Jerry Manko, his brother Reck, and Tyler the cobblers son, all splashed about, in their delicates in the dark water mountain lake known as Satyr’s Pool. They had already convinced Beth Cooperson to join them, and she giggled and shrieked as she got dumped under water by Reck.
“I don’t think so,” smiled the young blond as she sat on the long flat rock that jutted slightly out into the small lake.
“He just wants to cop a cheap feel,” scoffed Mary the daughter of the town grocer. Slightly plump, and not attractive, she had not been enticed in. She sat next to her friend Kendra and watched the others play.
Sam Potter was trying his hand at line fishing for mountain trout just a dozen yards away, away from the splashers. Only Alun Cooperson and Gail Black were not around. The two fourteen year olds had taken a ‘walk’.
“I know,” acknowledged Kendra, “And I don’t want Jerry to end up with a broken jaw.” Mary laughed. She knew what a temper Ayden could have. Now that he was older and had filled out some, his temper might make him seriously dangerous.
“So have you……you know….spoken about it?” asked Mary with a smile.
“Spoken?” blushed Kendra, “We kind of got quite far without talking!”
“What?” frowned Mary.
“Well one thing led to another and then…….What are you talking about?” she asked Mary who looked bewildered.
“Marriage,” replied her friend, “What are you……? Oh!” Both girls blushed and burst out laughing.
“We didn’t really do that much!” declared Kendra, doing damage control.
“Oh right!” scoffed Mary with a broad grin, “You tramp!” The girls laughed some more, before a scream startled everyone. It was cut off in mid scream and there was dead silence. All the sounds of the mountain woods seemed to vanish.
“Was that Gail?” asked Reck Manko as he and the others all got out the water. Both Kendra and Mary stood, looking in the direction of the mountain trail into the woods Alun and Gail had taken.
“It did sound like….,” began Mary but stopped.
A dark humanoid figure appeared out the woods. It was hard to tell height at such a distance but it looked tall. More concerning however was the fact it was jet black and its head was sort of wolf like. A figure just like it joined it. Both sniffed the air and gazed over at the assembled youngsters. Fear washed over the group.
“Run,” whispered Kendra, “Run for your lives!” Panic fueled muscles propelled the kids. The sprinted away from the lake, toward town, as the two figures, dropping on all fours, gave chase.
“What’s this all about,” muttered Grayden as, wood chisel in hand, he went to the door of his workshop. It was just an hour past lunch. Covered in wood dust Ayden joined him. Out in the town square people were gathering.
“Is that Reck?” frowned Ayden, leaving the workshop and joining the crowd.
The hair on the back of Grayden’s neck went up. He had a bad feeling. It had been more than a decade and a half since he had felt anything similar. He strode out after Ayden, his throat dry.
“And then…then they attacked us!” wailed sixteen year old Reck.
His face was flushed. He looked like he had sprinted all the way from Satyr’s Pool. Jerry and Tyler came stumbling into town just then, also looking absolutely finished. Tyler had blood all over his hands and shirt.
“Who attacked you?” demanded Ayden, barging to the front of the crowd, “Where’s Kendra?”
“I..I…don’t know,” babbled the youngster. Ayden stormed over to where Jerry and Tyler had collapsed.
“Where’s Kendra?” he snapped.
“It took her,” managed Tyler.
“Who took her?” he demanded, physically grabbing the kid.
“The wolf-thing. I don’t know what it was,” cried Tyler.
By then the crowd was basically the entire village of fifty or so. There were mutterings and murmurings, while there were cries of anguish from family members of those youngsters not yet returned.
“Alright!” boomed Jastikar, the town constable, “I want volunteers for a search party! Meet back here in ten minutes and bring lanterns, water, and a weapon!”
“This was up at Satyr’s Pool?” checked Grayden, normally a quiet, almost reclusive citizen who never made any public comment of any sorts.
“Yes sir,” nodded Jerry, “Alun and Gail went for a walk and then we heard a scream.”
“They weren’t, by any chance, walking in the direction of the old ruins?” quizzed Jastikar, his eyes narrowing.
“Possibly,” grimaced the Manko boy. There was a collective audible gasp from the crowd.
“I refuse to go anywhere near that accursed place in the dark Jasikar!” declared one of the townsmen. There was a murmur of agreement and many nodding heads.
The ‘ruins’ in question had once been a Medelheim military observation post, but it was mysteriously destroyed well over a hundred years back, and never rebuilt. Since then it was rumored that strange sounds emanated from it, and any livestock wandering close to it, disappeared. There were even stories of strange fey creatures being spotted in the area. The most memorable tale around the ruins was when a youngster, tending his fathers goats in the area went missing. It was several decades back. His partial remains were found days later. While most accepted it was probably a rogue male wolf, a few wondered about the ruins. Things had however been quiet there recently, but still none ever ventured there due to its reputation.
“We have to mount a search people,” declared the constable sternly. Having served in the military twenty years back, he was the only real warrior in town. Only three men stepped forward. They were the fathers of Alun, and Gail, and the older brother of Mary. Not even the aged fathers of Kendra and Sam Potter stepped up. Fear took the guts of most men.
“Count me in,” stated Ayden, stepping forward.
“No son,” ordered Grayden, placing a firm hand on his teenage sons shoulder, “You stay.”
The carpenter knew that this was more than some animal attack. He could feel it in his bones. When Grayson had a bad feeling about something, death usually was not far away.
“I’m going father,” snapped Ayden defiantly, challenging his fathers authority. His heart was ripped as he thought of loosing Kendra. Rational thought was not an option.
“It’s not up for negotiation Ayden,” declared Grayden more sternly than he possibly had ever addressed the boy. Ayden was a little taken aback. There was a look in his fathers steel grey eyes he had never seen before. It scared Ayden.
“I’m…….,” began the boy, as the villagers witnessed the confrontation. Suddenly Tyler screamed like a little girl. Everyone jumped with fright. There at the edge of the settlement stood a tall muscled humanoid with a wolf head, sniffing the air.
“It’s here!!” screamed fifteen year old Tyler, scrambling to his feet, and running for the closest building. That proved to be a trigger. While everyone else stood rooted to the ground in stunned bewilderment, the creature took off after the boy, dropping onto all fours and bounding into town with long loping strides.
People screamed and scattered, everyone being unarmed. Men ran to grab whatever might serve as a weapon. Thinking of Kendra, Ayden’s fear vanished. He grabbed a piece of wood from the closest woodpile and stepped to intercept the unknown beast.
He was roughly shoved off his feet and out the way as Grayden himself stepped in front of the sleek muscled charging black creature. It snarled and leapt at him. The mild mannered carpenters hand flashed out, mere seconds before the two collided. The beast rolled clear of the man and started to thrash about, lying on its side. Blood spurted forth from the chisel wound to its throat. It gargled and snarled.
Grayden came up in the crouch, bloodied chisel in hand. He leapt at the dying beast and savaged it with a series of brutal hacks with the chisel till it stopped moving. He stood, covered in blood and looked about. In an instant he was unrecognizable as unassuming Grayden the carpenter.
“Are you ok?” he demanded from Ayden, with concern. The wide eyed, somewhat shocked teen, nodded quickly.
“Are you ok Grayden?” asked Jastikar, shovel in hand, as he came over.
“I’m fine,” whispered the man, suddenly calm and quiet.
He hung his head and sighed. A door had been opened that he never wished to ever see open again. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He made his way back to his workshop. The stunned villagers parted to let him through. They were all dead quiet. Lea rushed over and hugged her son, and wept.
Ayden hugged his mother and then frowned. He kissed her forehead and ran after his father. He found him already in his workshop. His bloody chisel lay on the work bench, as he hauled a heavy wooden chest from under some other boxes.
“How did you do that?” he asked his father.
“It was what needed to be done Ayden,” replied his father quietly as he unlocked the chest.
“Yes I know,” nodded Ayden, “I mean how…….?”
“I wasn’t always a carpenter son,” cut in Grayden, “Just leave it at that, please.”
“I am still going after Kendra,” declared the boy.
“I know,” sighed Grayden. Ayden was his fathers son. Not even the appearance of a wolf-man beast shook his resolve, “I’m going with you.”
“Really?” gasped the boy.
Grayden nodded and flicked open the chest. He began removing items wrapped in oiled cloths. He would not be able to stop the boy, so he had to do what was needed to protect him. Whatever the menace was that had reared its head, it threatened the rest of his family too. Lea and little Neda were not safe in town with it out there.
From the oiled cloths Grayden removed several blades, the longest of which measured just over 10 inches. None thus could be considered a sword. He also took out a hard boiled leather breastplate of dark brown. He slipped it on. On the front was a sigil of an eagle. He then strapped on a set of arm greaves.
“Take this,” he instructed Ayden, handing him a softer leather jerkin. The soft leather armor would provide some protection.
“Can I?” asked Ayden, motioning to the array of daggers.
“Take this one,” suggested Grayden, giving him a shiny 8inch twin edged fighting dagger with a steel cross guard, “And take your boar spear too.”
Ayden did not hunt much but like most youngsters in town, did own a stout boar spear, 6 to 10 foot in length. Gayden strapped on the rest of the blades. He had one at his side, one in each boot, one sheathed in the small of his back, and throwing daggers in sheaths on both wrists. Taking a deep breath he shivered. Control the monster, he told himself.
“Please be careful,” whispered a voice.
It was Lea. A frightened looking six year old Neda clung to her mothers apron strings. In hand Lea had a pack with food, water, and other supplies. Not even she knew what Grayden had done before arriving in Bergville, but she had seen the knives and was fearful. She however never asked, as he vowed that life was behind him.
“I will be,” he told her, taking the pack, and kissing her. He scooped up Neda, kissed and hugged her, and handed her to her mother, “See you tomorrow.” He strode out as Lea hugged and said good bye to her son. The party of six men then left a very subdued Bergville.
“Was it Sam?” asked Toby, the eighteen year old brother of Mary. The chunky lad was ashen grey as he stared at the partially consumed remains lying in the long grass. Worril the Cooper, and father of Alun and Beth had tossed his cookies. He was still looking green around the gills. Ayden stoically stood there while his father knelt next to the body, examining it.
“It was the Potter boy,” he confirmed, “There’s not much left. It must have been hungry.” He spoke evenly and emotionlessly. To those that were there, it was like dealing with another man. The carpenter, known for his avoidance of confrontations and trouble, preferring to hover in the shadows of village society, was not this man at all.
“I don’t see any tracks leading away,” muttered Jastikar as he adjusted his weapons belt holding his sword. He never had a need to wear it about town, and was thus unused to the added weight.
“I do,” countered Grayden standing up.
They were more animal than man tracks he noted. He could follow them, although his experience was actually with the latter, not the former. He led the group all the way up to the lake, Satyr’s Pool. They found no more bodies but Grayden did point out three spots where scuffles took place. It seemed at least three youngsters were taken away by the creatures. Dead or alive, of that he wasn’t sure.
“So we’re really gonna have to go to the ruins,” muttered Trevayne, the big blacksmith, and father of Gail.
“We go where the tracks go,” stated the carpenter as he made for the trail into the woods. All the while his sharp eyes scanned 180 degrees. He was in an old familiar mindset.
It was just a few hundred yards further, in a little clearing, with a beautiful view of the valley, where they came upon the remains of two youngsters. Trevayne broke down at once. One was Gail. Worril was more reserved as the other was identified as his son Alun. He knew he had to keep going. Beth might still be alive.
“I’m done!” sobbed the big blacksmith as he sank to his knees in despair next to the body of his child, “I can’t….”
“Then stay,” cut in Grayden, “We move, now.” Having identified some spoor, he back-tracked the direction they had come from. The ruins were just around the corner.
“Father?” asked Ayden.
“Yes?” replied Grayden.
“Do you think she’s still alive?” he checked.
“Believe it with all your heart boy,” he advised, “Or we needn’t be here. When the fighting starts, you get behind me. If you don’t, I will knock you out. If you aren’t close by, I can’t protect you.” All the while he spoke it was in hushed tones, his eyes darting left and right, his danger sense on full alert.
“I’m not scared,” declared Ayden, “And I’m not a baby…”
“You will obey me!” snapped Greyden with a menacing hiss.
Ayden quickly nodded. He was stubborn, not stupid. He believed this man, his father, would crack his skull if he disobeyed.
Grayden suddenly stopped, placing a hand across his son’s chest. He cocked his head to the side, listening. Beads of sweat broke out across his forehead.
“What…?” began Jastikar, but a finger from the carpenter silenced him. He physically shoved Ayden behind him, drawing the long fighting dagger on his side, and one from a boot. Multiple movements could be heard from bush right in front of them.
“Ready arms,” ordered Grayden.
Nervously the others drew old swords or hefted up spears. Half a dozen wart covered, deformed humanoids, all of about five foot in height, came crashing out the bush and attacked. The solidly built creatures looked halfway between animal and man.
Grayden stepped forward, batting a rusty short sword, wielded by the lead creature, out the way, before slashing its throat and disemboweling it. It fell gargling as the next one was right on Grayden. He dispatched that one with a strike to the sternum, burying the blade to the hilt, before wrenching it free.
Ayden, his heart pounding, gripped his hunting spear, and as soon as he saw an opening, he thrust it toward one of the creatures. The spear head buried itself into the beasts side and it screamed. Jerking it clear he thrust again. It was a gut shot and creature, in its attempt to get to Ayden, further impaled itself, mortally. It fell almost ripping the spear out of the youngsters hands.
Toby cried out as he fell, trying to ward off the attack from two of the monsters. Grayden flicked his wrist and let fly with one of the blades in hand. It slammed into the temple of the one, killing it instantly. Grayden then turned back, grappled another beast, and slit his throat. In the meantime Jasikar stabbed the other one on Toby, killing it. It was all over.
“Are you ok Toby?” asked Ayden rushing over.
“Ah damn it burns!” complained the young man. He was moderately cut in several places. Worril also sported a shallow graze or two.
“You’ll live,” stated Grayden retrieving the blade he tossed at the one.
“I don’t know Grayden!” gasped the youngster, tears in his eyes.
“Take him back,” Grayden sighed, addressing Jastikar. The aged constable didn’t need a second invite. He nodded. Worril indicated he too needed to go. As far as his daughter Beth was concerned, he just had to pray that the lethal carpenter found her alive.
“What are these things?” frowned Ayden.
“Nothing I’ve ever seen,” shrugged his father, “But I do suspect magic here, dark, dangerous magic.” Ayden shivered, “Will you go back with Worril and Toby?”
“No sir,” stated Ayden assuredly.
Grayden nodded. Nor would he have, at that age. He grabbed the best blade from the bodies of the creatures they had just killed.
“This might come in handy,” he told Ayden, handing it to him.
The father and son continued on as the light began to fade. Ayden was somewhat in awe of his fathers clear martial prowess. He wanted to know where and how he learned to do it. He however knew that there and then was not the time or the place. Still, he had suddenly come to view his mild mannered father in a completely different light.
Holding up a finger to his lips Grayden warned his son to be utterly silent. He left the tree line and walked very slowly, one measured and balanced step at a time, toward the black rock pile that used to be the outpost. In the dying light he scanned for signs of danger. The place was more than quiet. It was as though a cloak of silence enveloped it.
Ayden, barely daring to breathe, followed. He placed every step exactly were his father stepped. Like ghosts the two reached the hole in the ground and the stairs going down. A dim light emanated from the murky depths. As Grayden started down, Ayden noted in the twilight, how drawn his fathers facial features were. His jaw seemed perpetually clenched as though intently focused. Ayden almost wanted to laugh. There and then he feared more for the enemy than for the two of them.
The stairs led down to a landing with passageways leading left and right. They seemed to be just less than twenty feet underground in some sort of stone built complex. The stench was near overpowering. Grayden seemed fine but Ayden struggled to focus as his eyes watered.
The right hand passage was quiet, while the sound of movement, paper being shuffled, and metal scraping against metal was faintly evident from the left hand side. The bladed carpenter motioned with his head toward the left and moved. The passageway was short and opened into a lit room, from where the light was coming. They were almost at the entrance when they heard a voice.
“Go and see where those useless peons are Makai!” hissed a raspy voice, “It was just damn villagers, not the Kings Elite Crimson Watch!”
Grayden backed up, barreling Ayden back, and stepped to the side of the entrance to the passage. Ayden scrambled silently to the other side. As the sleek muscled form of an upright wolf-man beast exited the passage, Grayden sprang into action. His left hand clamped powerfully over the snout and maw of the creature and wrenched back, as his right hand, gripping his long blade, sliced the exposed throat. In a flash the blade then plunged deep into the kidneys, as the beast collapsed, professionally executed.
“Makai?” hissed the raspy voice.
Grayden knew that the element of surprise had been utilized to the max. He turned and strode toward the lit room. Ayden followed. The sizable room contained numerous counters and benches, with vials and containers of all different shapes and sizes. A thin man with wispy grey hair and pale gaunt skin stretched over skeletal facial features stared angrily at the intruders. His eye sockets were sunken in and black rings showed under his pale eyes. He wore dark voluminous robes.
Two more of the wolf-men stood to the one side apparently guarding what looked like specimen cages. In addition to a number of woodland creatures, the cages also contained the frightened forms of Mary, Beth, and Kendra.
Grayden showed that it wasn’t the first time he had been confronted by a situation like it, or at least one similar. Without a word he launched the dagger in his left hand at one of the wolf-men, as he strode toward the apparent mage with Ayden right behind him. The dagger struck the beast square in the chest and it dropped to a knee, snarling.
“Set spear for charge!” he ordered Ayden who immediately stopped, planted is right foot, and set the spear as he would when hunting boar or bear. The other wolf-man leapt forward toward Grayden, but had to come through Ayden first. The spear tip buried into its chest as the forward movement of the charging beast buried it deeper. The shaft snapped and the wolf-man and teenage boy collided.
Ayden!!” shrieked Kendra from the cage. The other two girls also came to life, as did all the incarcerated animals.
“Insolent mortal!” hissed the mage.
He drew back his gaunt lips and began to incant. He was not however the first mage Grayden had faced. The carpenter flung his other blade at the mage. A blue shimmer flashed an inch from the man’s chest and the blade fell harmlessly to the ground. It was however enough to disrupt the attempted spell. The mage cursed and started again.
Grayden stopped. The mage had good protections. He let fly with both throwing daggers from his wrist sheaths and another two blue flashes lit the room as the daggers fell to the floor. However at the last flash the mage staggered back. Maintaining the protection was taxing. Grayden knew he had the mage as he drew his other boot dagger.
“Father!” cried out Ayden. Grayden spun around to see his son wrestling on the ground with the wolf beast. It was trying to get away from him, to get to Grayden, to protect its master. Ayden however had plunged his dagger into its back and was holding onto it as though his life depended on it. Despite being badly wounded twice, the wolf-man was much more powerful than the teenager.
As it broke free of the youngster, Grayden booted it under the jaw, snapping the head back. This momentarily stunned it, giving Ayden the chance to stab it again and again in the back. Snarling angrily it fell onto all fours and collapsed.
“Get back now boy!” ordered the deadly carpenter. He turned to face the mage to see the old enchanter had recovered. He spoke the final word of spell and a shimmer rippled all over him.
“No mortal blade can touch me now fool!” he cackled confidently and manically.
Grayden saw the other wounded wolf-man was still struggling to stand, the carpenters pig-sticker jutting out his chest. Grayden flung his second last blade at it, killing it with another chest hit.
“I don’t suppose I need that then,” muttered the father of two.
The mage frowned as Grayden leapt at him, bare handed. Too late he realized the loop-hole. A savage right hook broke the mages jaw. A left hook to the temple took the old mans knees. As he fell back he felt the man land on him, and powerful hands wrap around his throat. He wasn’t using mortal blades! Darkness took him as the life was wrenched from his wicked soul.
Grayden stood up. The lifeless form of the unknown mage lay at his feet. The carpenter took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It was done.
“Is he dead?” asked Ayden.
“Aye,” nodded his father.
“Ayden!” cried Kendra gleefully.
“Best you go to your girl boy,” half smiled the extremely dangerous man.
Ayden smiled broadly and nodded. He ran to the cages and released his Kendra. As the two young love-birds embraced amid tears, Grayden released Beth and Mary. The teenagers sobbed with relief. They were absolutely beside themselves as they hugged Grayden tightly. He comforted them, feeling awkward. He forced himself to remember that he could be compassionate, that he had not become his old self again. He was Grayden Chalice, father of two, husband, and carpenter of Bergville.
Once everyone was calmer he ordered Ayden to release the captured woodland creatures. He in the meantime retrieved his daggers and pilfered the mages body of some rings, an amulet, and a small ornate bejeweled dagger. He also dumped the contents of a small chest he found into his pack. Some habits died harder than others he mused.
Grayden then took the small group out the underground tunnels and away from the ruins. Somewhere near midnight they reached their small settlement of Bergville. Many lights were still on as the townsfolk held vigil. Many more went on as folk ran from homes, cheering at the arrival of the group. Sadness from the close communities loss, mixed with joy of the unlikely rescue. Many backs were patted in congratulations, but mostly it was Grayden and Ayden’s. The carpenter shied away from the attention, and the questions. Bergville had realized it didn’t actually know Grayden.
“That’s enough people,” declared Jastikar the constable, “Leave him be.” Grayden nodded his thanks to the law-man, as he, his son, his wife and his daughter went home.
“Father?” asked Ayden, “Will you teach me to fight?”
“If you so desire,” nodded Grayden, his arm around Lea, “But you must also learn that it takes a real man to avoid fighting.”
“I understand father,” nodded the teen. The passive nature his father had cultivated for sixteen years showed Ayden just what his father meant. Only rarely was fighting the only option, “Will you tell me where you learnt to fight father?” he asked as they got inside.
“I don’t think so,” smiled the carpenter, “It doesn’t matter anymore.”


This post was submitted by Peter.

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