When the sun turns to rest over the hills and the fire is casting dancing shadows on the walls of the surrounding tents, the village gathers to hear the stories of the Bard. With tankards filled and bellies satisfied from the spoils of the days’ hunt, the gathering begins slowly. Eager children, ready for the nights’ entertainment, sit crossed legged on the floor, getting as close to the village fire as they can. All the while, the Bard on his log seat, reclines with his already lit pipe, the fire’s reflection dancing in his eyes. As the first stars start to pierce the black veil of the evening, the Bard, with a pull on his pipe, begins to speak. An expectant hush falls over the village, with shuffling backsides and the cracking of the fire being the only other sounds. His soft voice, trained by many years, carries over the crowd.
Slowly, softly, the Bard begins to regale the village with his words. Like a weaving tapestry, his voice paints a scene. A green plain. Tall, snow-capped mountains. An eagle flies overhead revealing a scene of battle. Good against evil. Survival against extinction. The battle has been going on for many hours, the men weary, yet still they rage against each other. And in the middle, the mighty warrior – Kyren!
The village people take in a breath. Kyren is no stranger to them. This shall be a great tale. Probably the Bard’s best yet. Knowing this, the Bard pauses to refill his pipe. His other talent being a flare for the dramatic.
Kyren is on the battlefield, surrounded by foes. They call out taunts, hoping to find a weakness in his defense. One rushed from the left, yet with a mighty swing of the broadsword Litir Fuil (translated as Blood Letter), the foe is hewn in two, yet another takes appears in place. Like a serpent, they will not yield. Kyren looks around and sees his men, waging war all around him. All being over run. Too many foes. All the horses are lost. And yet, each man fighting with the strength of twelve. A slight breeze stirs up his leather armor, offering a brief respite to his sweat and blood soaked skin. Yet, on the breeze a whisper. The enemy all seem to lose their blood lust, and step back. The horde of black glad enemies, open a path, knowing what is to come. At the edge of the battle, on foot, approaches Cadryn – the leader of these foes. For too long has he tried to take the land from Kyren and his people. For too long has he been a thorn in his brothers side. The battle lulls – Kyren’s men have seen Cadryn approaching, his black steel armor sucking the life from even the light that touches it. He walks slowly, knowing that his Black Brotherhood has Kyren outnumbered and surrounded. Locking eyes, Kyren hears Cadryn’s voice ringing in his head as if the man were standing right over his shoulder.
So, this is to be it, brother. This is to be our deciding fate.
You knew of your fate when you set course for my tower, little brother. Do not act as if this is now unexpected.
But word of your passing…?
You trust too freely, little brother. Wanting to believe even the slightest bit of hope that comes across your path. Tell me, little brother, where now is Arthfel? He brought you this news, did he not? And yet, I do not see him on the battlefield.
You lair! You seek to turn my most trusted against me!
Oh, yes, he was the most faithful. Right until Neach-cleachdaidh Craiceann (which in the old tongue means Skin Wearer) took Arthfel’s skin for his own.
In a fit of rage at losing, not only his most trusted advisor, but also his dearest friend, Kyren charges forwards, down the path the Black Brotherhood have made. Charging forward towards his older brother. Charging towards his vengeance. Charging straight into the trap that Cadryn had made.
Laughing, Cadryn’s two-handed sword – named Gaoth Searbh or Bitter Wind for its swiftness at taking life – swings and collides with Litir Fuil, shattering the once mighty sword, breaking Kyren’s hand and flinging him back, forcing the wind from his lungs as he collides heavily with the hard ground.
“You are no match for me, little brother, for I have already drunk from the cup of death and been found worthy. The Brotherhood answer to me now.”
The village stirs uneasily. This is not the story they were told when they were littlings. Everyone knows that even though Kyren was outnumbered and had been tricked into fighting a battle he could not win, he triumphed over his older brother, defeated the Dark Brotherhood and restored life back into these lands. It was his unwavering bravery that guided his arm as he wield Litir Fuil, removing head from body and giving his men hope to overcome the odds.
The Bard knows this. He knows of the stories they have been told. He knows of the endings they wish to hear. He knows all of this, for it was he himself that had told this story to their fathers, and their fathers’ fathers. It was with his own eyes that he saw Kyren face Cadryn all those years ago. And it is now, that whispers on the wind speak of Cadryn’s return that he must tell the village, no, he must tell all men, of the truth. He must prepare them for what is to come, for there has been too many years allowing men to become plump. Too many years of good ale and merry songs. And too many years, allowing men to forget the power they once had to rule this land. The time draws near when each man shall have to take up their swords.
The Bard knows this, and so he must continue. As much as it may break spirits, as much as it may cause hope to be unfound. He must get them ready. For if the whispers are true and the shadow begins to stretch across the land, the world of men must stand against it. Too many years, allowing tales once spoken with warning to drift into legend.
The Bard draws deeply on his pipe and stares into the flames. The village is muttering. The story cannot be over. It does not end this way. The Bard stands and the murmurs are hushed. His soft voice no longer the beautiful tapestry weaving words into color, but a course wool that holds too much heat and scratches the skin.
Kyren clutches his broken hand, struggling to draw breath into his lungs. His sword, now just metal shards scattered over a battle field. With pleading in his eyes, he looks to his older brother. The brother he once knew. The brother he once loved. Together they were to stand – kings in the world of men, united with the Elves, and facing down darkness together. And yet, the man before him now is only brother in name.
Sensing the life it is about to take, Gaoth Searbh, begins to darken. No longer is it polished steel, but as black as the armour that adorns Cadryn. The sword continues to darken, and seems to be sucking the daylight from the very air. Kyren cannot look away, he lies there transfixed, bewitched by the instrument that is about to take his life. Yet Cadryn does not make a move to come closer to his brother. He stands and watches. Slowly he turns to admire his handiwork of defeating Litir Fuil.
The battle field is silent. No more clashing of steel against steel. No more yells of attack, nor screams for mercy. No more sounds of fallen horses, struggling against death. The Dark Brotherhood’s forces begin to retreat, not even raising their banner in victory. Their job, accomplished. All that remains is Kyren’s men, either dead or wounded. And there stands Cadryn. Standing over his fallen brother. Savoring his victory.
Again, Cadryn’s voice rings through Kyren’s head.
It is over, little brother. You have been defeated. This world is mine. As it should have been from the beginning.
Gaoth Searbh swings and cleaves head from shoulder with a peircing screetch. It has claimed another life, and so grows stonger. Cadryn begins to laugh. Men have been defeated, this world is his.
…. To be continued.