Day 1 - We Meet Our Hero

We Meet Our Hero

Okay, I’m not really that pompous. It just seems like I should start with something a bit more grand than just – ‘I’m probably going to die soon.’

I mean, I’m hopeful that I won’t, but I heard somewhere that nine out of every ten people who go off to be adventurers never return. Or at best, they return… broken.

But I’m going to give it my best. I don’t think I could keep going on the farm for the rest of my days.
Hmmm. I guess that brings up a point. I don’t know if anyone other than I will ever read this, but if it somehow manages to survive my travels and finds its way to someone interested enough and with enough spare time to read of my exploits, I should probably start by introducing myself.

My name is Morgan Winterstone. I’m the seventeen year old son of Thesde and Elurond Winterstone of the Port Birchcorf region of Queensguard. I grew up on my parents’ farm just outside Port Birchcorf and worked there until today.

They were really not happy about the idea of me leaving.

Still, when I explained that I wanted to see more of the world – to learn what else is out there, they listened. What’s more, they agreed to help me do just that. I’m lucky in a way that most people I know aren’t.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand that someone needs to run the farms. For many families that requires everyone to help. And sure – maybe it helps that I have two sisters and three brothers who can take up the slack while I’m gone, but I suspect that most would-be adventurers wouldn’t even get to finish explaining what they want to do before their families would shut them down. Honestly, I imagine that’s how it is for most folks – whether their family are farmers, bakers, or cartwrights. It’s the way of the world. You carry the torch for as long as you can, and then you pass it on to your children. They carry it as long as they can, and then they pass it on… and on… and on…

I think my parents have different reasons for wanting to see me get this chance.

Mom just wants to see me happy. She has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met, and really, that seems like it’s what drives her. She wants to see people happy. It’s amazing to behold when she supports people without a thought for herself. I know she will miss me terribly and spend her time terrified that I might be hurt or worse, but still she not only let me do this but she actively helped me on my way.

Dad is a little different. He’s responsible right down to the core of his being. He doesn’t know how to be otherwise. And his family needs to eat and keep a roof over their heads. So he will work as long as he possibly can. I doubt he ever even thought of any other option. So when he sees me look out into the world and see… opportunity? Adventure? Something somewhere in that general direction. He gets excited for me. He wants to see me do what I want to do because he never did. Call it living vicariously, I suppose, but that sounds so… cheap. It’s more than that. It makes him happy to see me have this chance.

Honestly, it’s amazing.

We have a small farm outside Port Birchcorf. Nothing glamorous. A few head of cattle, and some staple crops, but it’s enough to support us and sell enough to keep up repairs to the buildings and fences. It’s an honest living, but it’s not much more.

So how does a farm boy from Queensguard know how to write? Yeah, I suppose I should probably cover that.

My family weren’t always farmers. From what Dad says, the Winterstones were a family of influence a few generations back. Not royalty or anything, but we had titles, and a good deal more land than we do now, and we had several families who looked to us for leadership and livelihoods. He doesn’t like to talk much about what happened, but I get the impression that there was a single patriarch a couple generations back who liked his drink, women, and gambling a bit too much, and here we are.

But here’s the thing about being a ‘family of influence’ – it taught the Winterstones the value of education. More than anything else, education seems to show people where the opportunities in life are. So it’s become something of a rule. Elurond’s father – my grandfather – Papa Arnold insisted that Dad keep up his studies in the evenings, and now Dad insists on it for all of us kids.

Mom, too is more educated than most folks I know. Her family survived some terrible times that would have broken most people, and Mom attributes it all to their education. She won’t say more about it than that.

So in the end, I get it from both of them. Study. Learn. There’s no option not to.

I hated it as a kid, but as I get older, I see how it helps. It’s not just the big stuff either. Little day – to – day challenges are easier for me to overcome than some of my friends. I see how to work in a given situation. I see how to spend my efforts to best succeed.

And being able to read and write is pretty great, if I do say so. I mean, every book I read gives me the chance to learn from other peoples’ mistakes. It’s like being able to live as many lifetimes as I can find books. That’s pretty great.

Anyway – you get the idea. Education is important to our family even if we’re ‘just simple farmers’.

Next, I guess you’re probably wondering how I came to start this adventure. Well, in Port Birchcorf, there’s an Adventurer’s Board. Well, it’s more of a pole, but it serves well enough, and people call it a board. Not really sure why. Anyway – on the Adventurer’s Board, folks post things – jobs – that might appeal to those who live the adventurer life. Wandering warriors or wizards and the like can find paying work on the Board. I’ve heard there’s others like it in other cities, but I’ve never been to another city as big as Port Birchcorf, so I wouldn’t know personally. I’ve read of a few, though.

We kids always check the Board when we’re in town. We never really thought any of us would follow up on one of the jobs posted there, but we loved to imagine that we had. Many a sword was slashed and spells cast in the fantasy play of our youth. My sisters and my brothers and I would slay dragons, vanquish hordes of goblins and protect those who couldn’t protect themselves based on the few simple lines that adorned most of the postings on the Adventurer’s Board.

You can just imagine how my siblings reacted when I came home with one of those postings grasped in my sweating hand.

I can’t really say what drew me to that posting in particular. I’d seen countless like it in the past. A merchant caravan was to make its way all the way down to the capitol. A month’s trek in one direction. They needed support and protection and they were willing to pay just about anyone with a strong back and a willingness to brave the open road in order to get it.

My parents and I talked about the idea of me leaving enough that they knew it was coming. Mom wasn’t happy with the idea because it was such a long trip.

“Can’t you choose something that doesn’t take you so far away?!” She’d practically moaned when she asked.

“That’s kinda the point, Ma.” I’d said it gently – quietly. I hadn’t wanted to hurt her feelings, and I knew that she knew.

She’d gone back to preparing dinner for the family, but I’d heard sniffling occasionally. It was heartbreaking.

Dad’s response had been predictably different. There was a gleam in his eye bright enough that you’d think he was the one on the way to adventure. He pulled out an old map of the realms that he’d had stashed somewhere and we started looking over it. We plotted courses and discussed possible threats. Not that I would have any say in any of that – the caravan leaders would make all such decisions, but we couldn’t help it. We were partners in crime plotting and scheming, and it was glorious.

Later, well after dinner, Dad pulled me aside and the two of them brought me into the main room to give me something. On the table was a large bundle.

“Go ahead, son. Open it.” Dad said it, and again, I could hear the excitement in his voice. Mom was hugging him and said nothing. She looked so worried.

So I did. I untied the rope that bound the whole thing together and then rolled back the leather which enclosed the bundle. In mere moments, I realized what was in front of me and I almost began to cry on the spot.

On the top was a small, round, wooden shield. It was used – with small nicks around the perimeter and several longer slash marks across the front, but it looked sturdy. It looked like a warrior’s tool.

Below the shield, what I originally thought was more of the leather which had been the bundle’s wrapping was actually a long leather jerkin with studs placed periodically across its surface. Before I realized I’d moved, I’d pulled it over my head and wrapped a long silken sash that was within it around my waist.

That’s when I saw the last of the package’s contents.

Beneath the armor and the shield lay a long blade with a worn, but well cared for handle. A leather cord wound tightly around the handle and beneath the cross guard. I slid my fingers along the flat of the blade in awe and with tears in my eyes. I felt every nick and scratch, and marveled at the blade’s weight in my hand. I imagined those who’d carried this very weapon into battle before me, and every thing I could possibly say in response to all of this fled my mind.

“I…” I had nothing. I just looked from Mom to Dad and back again. We were all crying. We were all smiling, but we were all crying.

“It’s not much,” Dad managed to choke out as cover “ but we managed to put a few coins aside, and find some used equipment that we hope will keep you safe.”

I don’t know when it happened, but we were all hugging as we wept.

That was two days ago. Yesterday, per the instructions given us by The Grand Franchiser – Theobald Highriver – the head of the caravan, we spent most of the day gathering together, loading up the wagons, prepping the animals, and an endless list of other tasks to prepare for today.
I was exhausted by the time they let us go home to sleep. We were to be back and ready to leave promptly at first light. I dragged myself back to the house, mumbled something to my parents’ and then went straight to bed.

There I lay for what felt like an eternity. I just stared at the ceiling, with my mind racing. I was leaving in the morning. By the following morning, I would be further from home than I’d ever been in my life! I realized that my knuckles were white with strain as I gripped the sword my parents had given me and held it against my chest. I forced myself to relax my grip and lowered the blade in its scabbard to the ground.
I’m unsure how long it took, but some time after thinking about each of my family, and my gear, and the days ahead, I eventually managed to pass into slumber.

Then, this morning, I woke with a start. It was still dark out, but being farmers, we’ve always risen early. In my mind, I was late. I knew that I was going to be left behind, or so my head told me until I could get my feet under me and I realized that there was plenty of time to gather myself and my gear and get to town square in time for our departure.

Wordlessly, and trying to stay quiet, I worked on doing just that. I gathered the things I’d prepared and put in an old pack, pulled my jerkin over my head and cinched the waist with the sash I’d been given. I slid the scabbard of my sword through that. Slinging the pack over one shoulder, and gripping the shield by one of its straps, I made my way out into the main room of the house.

Mom already had breakfast waiting for me. I found myself wondering if she slept at all. The smell of the eggs and coffee were enough to make me think long and hard about staying.

“I’ve bundled some dried meat, some cheese, and a few fruits and vegetables for the road. The fruits and vegetables won’t last long, so eat those first.” She was stuffing a bundle into the top of my pack and I knew immediately she was keeping herself busy – keeping focused on tasks so she didn’t think too much about my leaving.

I ate my breakfast quickly – barely able to contain my excitement. While I was eating, Dad emerged from their room and the three of us headed outside. My sisters and brothers had apparently snuck out the window and created a sort of line in order to wish me well.

Even my excitement didn’t completely drown out the heartache, but I would be back soon. Or, at least, that’s what I kept telling myself in order to keep from getting too upset.

I hugged everyone goodbye and started down the road, forcing myself not to run. I just kept feeling like I was going to be late, though the sun still wouldn’t hit the horizon for a bit.

Once the caravan was actually under way, I finally let myself breathe naturally. Honestly, I didn’t have much of a choice. We (the hired help) were walking alongside the caravan. The pace was brisk, and it didn’t take long for me to get a bit winded. We would stop and take breaks occasionally though, and I’d always been physically strong, as well as the physical demands of the farm keeping my endurance up, so I was able to keep up better than most.

By the time a halt was called for lunch, I was more than ready, though. I was hungry and my legs were throbbing.

I ate some of the fruit Mom had packed for me then laid my pack up against the wheel of one of the carts. I figured even if I completely fell asleep, the movement of the cart wheel would wake me. I didn’t get the chance to test my brilliant scheme, however.

I was just beginning to doze slightly when someone started banging metal on metal entirely too close to me. Deciding that I should keep from making enemies on the very first day of the trek, I stifled the snarl that wanted to burst from me and I cracked my eyes and turned to see what the ruckus was all about.

To my surprise, and young girl of about 15 was smirking at me from the front wheel on the same side of the cart as me. Her deep, dark skin was glistening with a slight sheen of sweat and she had a heavy looking hammer in her and something in her mouth.

“Sowwy.” she mumbled around what I now realized were nails in her mouth.

“No – it’s alright. Umm… everything okay? Can I help? More hands makes less work.”

She paused briefly, pulling the nails from her mouth and looking over at me. “That’s true, as long as the owner of the hands isn’t an idiot.” She wasn’t being cruel – there was mirth in her golden eyes as she said it. “I’m good. Thanks, though.”

Now, however, I was curious. “What happened?”

Returning to her efforts, she continued without looking at me. “Some of the banding around this wheel started coming loose on some rocks back there. Just making sure it’s secured so it doesn’t come off later.
I’d done some work like that on my family’s own cart, and I told her as much.

She kept working without saying anything in response.

“I mean, maybe not exactly like that. Our cart is quite a bit smaller, and I think the banding is thinner and…” And why was I so nervous?

She raised a single eyebrow when she turned back to face me. “My name is Ariel. Ariel Fenwick. Of the Fenwick Family Smithy.” and she extended a very callous hand with veins bulging slightly in her skin.

I got up and tried not to show how much my thighs were protesting and offered my own hand. “Morgan Winterstone. It’s nice to meet you, Miss Fenwick. My family has a farm a little north and west of Port Birchcorf. Are you from there?” We shook hands. Her’s was warm and her grip was firm and friendly.

“Ariel is fine, Mr. Formal. And yeah. We only arrived fairly recently. We pretty much just set up shop, but this trip was too good an opportunity to pass up, so my brothers are handling the shop while my pa and I go and come back. We’re hoping to gather some good materials at an excellent rate while we’re in the capitol to use in the shop.

It made a lot of sense. The capitol city of Queensguard is a trade center beyond compare from what I’ve read. Better materials at a lower cost would mean better profits for them when their products sell. In theory, it might even mean better quality for those products.

“Did I lose you Mr. Formal?” she was smiling again.

“Oh, sorry. No. I was just thinking about… nevermind. And Morgan will do nicely, m’thinketh.” I put a tone of laughable condescension into the last few words and tipped my head back so I could look down my nose at her when I said it.

“Well, Morgan, it was nice meeting you too, but I’ve got more work to get done before we take off again. Take care of yourself.” and she was gone before I had a chance to respond.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I may have found myself thinking about whether or not I would run into Ariel again in the future later that day. She seemed fun.