Hopefully, that's enough of a pitch to be getting on with. Once you've read a few of these stories, you should get a better picture of what I'm talking about. I also hope that you find this concept as interesting as I do (I won't say 'inventive', 'cause no doubt someone has already beaten me to it), and I'd like to believe that it will one day lead to bigger things. We'll see.
Oh and one more thing. The two links below are for maps of the story's location: they were made before the story itself, so it was written with them in mind, but whether you use them is up to you. And because I'm a writer rather than an artist, they aren't the best quality, but please bear with me.
Anyway, enough talk. To the tales...
The Stuff Of Legend
by Matt Appleby
Montoud, South Elterrion
Year 1976, Third Age
Winter was coming. For an outside observer, it would be hard to tell: the Surlesonde
coast, trapped between the mountains and the ocean, was cold and wet even at the
height of summer, and winter would make little difference. The locals, however, knew
how to read the signs, to read the darkening of the skies and the increasing wildness of
the ocean, the animals and birds migrating over the mountains to the forests in the
north. Of course, the skies were always dark, the ocean always wild, the flora and
fauna sparse even at the best of times, but to those who lived in this land and were
used to its nature, the subtle changes were easy to detect.
Jacques Cerrard was one of those people. He was aged forty-three years,
already an old man by the standards of his place and time, and apart from a fateful
nine months many years ago, had spent all his life in the village where he was born.
He knew the landscape as well as anyone, and was probably more comfortable with it
than most. He had seen the world beyond the Neveau Mountains once before, and
with the welcome it had given him, he had no desire to see it again.
Jacques rubbed his leg. Unlike the others in Montoud, he had his own personal
ways of tracking the seasons. The scar on his leg still hurt most days, even after all
these years, and the ache always increased as the temperature dropped. This morning,
the pain was stronger than it had been for several months, but he knew it would only
get worse tomorrow, and the day after that, and every day after until spring returned.
The scar was courtesy of an orc blade, met outside the giant gates of
Tuhdericht over twenty years ago. Elterrion had many skilled healers, but the blow
had nearly severed his leg altogether, and no one had ever been able to heal the wound
completely. He had limped for many years, but that faded over time, and now he just
had to accept that the ache would remain. If nothing else, it served as a reminder that
his days were much simpler now than they were then.
Far below his feet, ocean waves crashed against the rocks. A storm could be
seen on the horizon, one that had sent all the surrounding waters into a frenzy.
However, Jacques considered himself safe. Ocean storms seldom came near this
coast, and the cliff edge on which he was stood was too high for the waves to affect
him directly. All he had to contend with was the ocean breeze, and the rhythmic roar
of the waves below. One thing he'd always liked about Surlesonde was its cliffs, or
rather cliff: it composed almost the entirety of the coastline, with no beaches for
hundreds of miles in either direction. Its sheer scale, the beauty and majesty of it,
made it a very peaceful place. He felt honoured to have it practically on his doorstep.
Jacques signed, the spell broken. Turning round, he saw his eldest son,
Charles, heading over the moor towards him.
Charles stopped a few metres away. "There's been a problem." he said.
Jacques sighed again. He'd been expecting a problem, had in fact been out
here to ruminate on it. Another group of those so-called "adventurers" had been in
town this week, trawling for recruits for a rumoured expedition against Ensturg. They
were supposed to be leaving this afternoon, taking Louis, Jacques' other son, with
them. Jacques had done his best to talk the boy out of it, but he'd always been an
impressionable sort, and short of locking Louis in the house, there was nothing more
he could do.
He knew full well how many problems war brought with it, and "adventurers"
were no better. All the same, he'd been expecting them to actually get out of Montoud
before something went wrong.
Charles paused, clearly unsure where to start. Then he cleared his throat.
"There's been a fight at the inn."
"At this time of the morning? Let me guess, one of them had hair of the dog."
Charles smiled, despite himself. "Something like that. They started drinking,
then things got out of hand. You know what they're like."
Jacques did. Everybody did. No one in Montoud liked having "adventurers"
around, but they were always generous with their cash, so no one ever turned them
away. Okay, so they always spent said cash on booze, leading to brawls and all the
damage they entailed, but you just cleaned up afterwards and were thankful that there
was still a net profit.
"Was Louis involved?" he asked.
"No, thankfully. He's still at home. The rest of the party are cooling off in the
cells. Mother broke it up pretty quickly."
Jacques smiled to himself. Isabelle was good at ending fights. She was a
Hulder, a very-nearly-human creature who lived high up in the mountains. For
reasons Isabelle had never elaborated on, they tended to prefer the company of
humans to their own kind, and this was ultimately how she and Jacques had come to
be married not long after he'd returned from war. Human-Hulder relationships were
unconventional, but not unheard of, and ultimately the other villagers had come to
respect her. For one thing, despite looking like a thin and frail woman, Isabelle could
break bones like they were twigs, and suffered no anxieties about doing so should the
need ever arise. Despite his dislike of violence, Jacques found this oddly endearing,
and he certainly preferred her over the more typical quiet and obedient housewife.
"Anyone else hurt?" Jacques asked.
"Not seriously, no. A few scratches and bruised egos, but thanks to Mother,
it's better than it could've been."
"In which case, it seems like everything's under control. What do you need me
"Well, I was hoping you could use this to talk some sense into my idiot
brother. I mean, you're the only one he ever listens to."
"Really? I always thought he only ever listened to Guillaume's ballads."
Charles laughed. "When you put it that way..."
"Come on then." Jacques said. "Let's go clear up the mess."
The two Cerrards left the cliff edge and headed back to Montoud. Thanks to
the flatness of the moor, the village appeared much closer than it really was, but still,
the walk took only about ten minutes. Montoud itself was fairly small, thirteen low,
thatched cottages scattered around a central square, at the heart of which was a tree. It
was small, no much higher than the cottages, but it was the only one for a day's ride
in any direction, and the villagers were proud of it.
"Are you still doing your demonstration?" Jacques asked as they walked.
"Yes." Charles said after a moment. "Ariadne wants to be off by this evening,
so it needs to be today. And besides, I still want Louis to see it before he leaves."
Of course Charles wouldn't cancel the demonstration. He and Federico, the
village alchemist, had been working on their project for a few years now, ever since
Charles had taken over his father's blacksmiths. No one, not even Jacques, had a clue
what they'd been doing, and from what little he'd seen, it resembled no weapon or
tool anyone had ever made before. But despite the village's curiosity, it was generally
assumed that this was just a side project, something they'd tinker with and eventually
get bored of.
Until, that is, the elves had gotten involved. They had a small community,
Silyero, up in the mountains, that often traded with nearby towns and villages. Elves,
as a species, had a limited ability to predict the future, and as a result, what they often
had to offer traders was not goods and services, but information. They would offer
you a brief glimpse of your future, and often a small, seemingly irrelevant item that
would prove essential in that future. Alphonse, one of the old goat-herders, was once
given a piece of scrap metal that he kept on him for over thirty years, before using it
as a makeshift pick to keep from falling off a cliff: whether this was its true purpose,
the elves refused to say, but Alphonse was grateful nonetheless.
In the Cerrard family's case, three months ago Jacques had been personally
commissioned to forge a sword for a Silyero noble. Though Jacques thought
otherwise, they considered him the best sword-smith in Elterrion, and being deeply
flattered by this, he had come out of retirement in order to grant their request. As
payment, he had been given a metal device, small yet highly intricate, the purpose of
which he couldn't even begin to divine. Charles, however, had immediately pounced
on it as an essential part of his project, and it was this point that Montoud finally
started taking him and Federico seriously. If the elves knew about them, cared enough
about their work to see it completed, and had even sent one of their own to witness
today's demonstration, then there was potentially no limit to what it could signify.
Jacques and Charles reached the square. Stood by the tree were Isabelle,
Ariadne, the Silyero representative, and Bertrand, the village sheriff and de facto
mayor. They were deep in conversation, and took a few seconds to notice the new
"Good, you're here." Bertrand said. "Louis' gone over to the inn. I think he
wanted to see what his new buddies were capable of. This might be a good time to
knock some sense into the boy."
Jacques took the hint. He walked over to the inn. The High Mount was at the
edge of the village, and its largest building, though all this meant was that it had a
second floor and a stable block. He pushed open the door, what he noted to be nearly
off its hinges, and went inside.
He immediately realised that Charles had been underselling the incident. Even
if no one had been seriously injured, and he couldn't see how that was possible, the
material destruction was nonetheless total. There wasn't a single piece of furniture or
equipment left undamaged, and most were in so many pieces as to be obviously
beyond repair. It didn't look like a brawl. It looked like a war.
The barmaid, Mathilda, was sweeping up what she could, and looking
increasingly forlorn. Louis, the only other person in the room, was leaning against the
wall, and seemed possibly even more dejected. He was already wearing his armour, or
rather the armour that Jacques had used in his own youthful misadventure. It had been
kept in a chest for twenty years, and time had not treated it well. The leather was
worn, the sword was chipped, and even the finest mail would be useless against orc
warriors, but it was still better than nothing.
Jacques picked his way through the debris until he reached his son. He waited
for Louis to speak.
"Mother broke Koron's arm in three places." he said eventually. "I mean, I
didn't see it, but that's what Mathilda said."
Koron was the leader of these "adventurers". It was a stupid name, but along
with the boozing and brawling, stupid names seemed to come with the territory.
"Well, if you go with him," Jacques replied, "I know you'll see much worse.
And do much worse."
Jacques already knew it was a pointless thing to say. He'd gone through all the
arguments before, told his son all the stories and shown him all the scars. Even at the
time, he knew it wouldn't work: all he'd done was tell the boy the same things that his
own father had told him twenty years before, and it wasn't as if that had achieved
anything at all. The Cerrard family could be irritatingly intransient.
Jacques looked at his son. Louis was twenty, a man in his own right, but in
that old and decayed armour, he looked more like what he really was: a lost little boy,
in way over his head, too intimidated to back out. He wasn't cut out for war, but then
again, nor were most people. Only Koron and his like could thrive there, and when it
came to lost little boys, that's what they preyed upon. Louis' head was filled with
childrens tales of epic quests and holy deeds, and Jacques was beginning to
understand that his son could only learn the truth the way he'd once learned it himself:
the hard way.
But still, he wasn't giving up on the boy. Not yet.
There was a long pause. Eventually, Jacques tried again.
"Why do you want to join that man anyway? He's a lunatic."
Louis finally looked at his father. "I don't." he said. "I never have. But it's not
about him or who he is. It's about where he's going."
"The front lines?"
Jacques' point exactly. Louis wanted only what all other lost little boys
wanted: to be in the thick of the action, where history was decided and legends were
born. A band of "adventurers", even if they were more hazardous to you than the
enemy, usually provided such an opportunity. Or a violent, painful death, but you had
to take your chances. In times of peace, or as much peace as such people could stand,
they would create their legends through raids and plundering, attacking the bandits,
trolls and other, more nameless horrors of the mountains and deep forests, then
making off with the treasure that such monsters usually hoarded. It was dangerous,
but it was profitable, and it kept them out of the way of civilised society.
The problem, if only for others, was that such times of peace were rare. The
human kingdom of Elterrion and the orc kingdom of Ensturg had been at "war",
officially speaking, for over a thousand years. They were effectively in a permanent
stalemate, as the only way into either kingdom was to cross the Marligne valley, then
attack the fortresses of Gardumela and Tuhdericht. Both were capable of repulsing
armies a hundred-thousand strong, and even if they did fall, it would cost so many
lives that the surrounding land could not be controlled, and so the conquerors would
be forced to withdraw and lick their wounds. Both sides knew they could not win the
war, and it had long since become a formality: every ten years or so, maybe twenty if
you were lucky, one kingdom would attack the other, get slaughtered, then let the
survivors try to pick up what remained of their lives.
Of course, it wasn't exactly a "formality" if you one of the poor souls on the
battlefield, being run through by an enemy's sword. But so long as men like Koron
and boys like Louis were willing to abandon their usual treasure hunts for the glory of
the front lines, then the war would continue. Like a gambler betting every penny he
ever earns, maybe the next throw of the dice would bring his fortune, maybe the next
assault would lead to victory. But it wouldn't.
If the only way for Louis to understand this was to go to war, then fine. This
was how Jacques had understood, and whilst he would give anything to keep his
children from repeating his mistakes, he was also able to realise that he might not
have that luxury. Trouble was, Jacques had been one of the lucky ones. He had gone
to war, but he had then come home. What if Louis did not? The thought of his boy
dying on a foreign field, screaming for his mother, was more than he could bear.
But he wouldn't say any of that, of course. Lost little boys didn't need to know
that their fathers were more afraid than they were. That wasn't what fathers were for.
"What's Bertrand going to do to them?" was what he said instead.
Louis shrugged. "Not much. We were supposed to leave today anyway, so
he'll give Koron and the others a few hours to sober up, get Mrs Attaine to put on a
few bandages, then we'll be on our way as planned. Close enough, anyway."
Jacques considered this fair. There wasn't much point in punishing
"adventurers". Hanging them in the square wouldn't slow down their successors in the
least, so it was better to just get them out of town as fast as possible, give them a mild
physical warning to never return, and then try to forget it had ever happened. Out
here, you didn't need justice so much as prudence.
"Wish you were a part of it?" he said.
Jacques didn't bother to point out the hypocrisy. Louis wouldn't understand.
Suddenly, Isabelle poked her head round the door. "Charles and Federico want
to do their demonstration." she said brightly. "I'll meet you outside."
Isabelle went away again. Jacques didn't blink. That kind of amiable bluntness
was typical for his wife. Besides, he was grateful for the distraction. Maybe the
demonstration would settle Louis a little.
Jacques turned to his son. "You want to watch? I know Charles wants you to."
"Yeah." Louis smiled. Jacques hadn't seen him do so for a long time.
There were many occasions when Jacques was grateful for Charles. His eldest
child was the polar opposite of his brother: content with the world in which he grew
up, dreaming of horizons no larger than inheriting his father's blacksmiths. Well, that
and this mysterious project he'd been working on, but even that wasn't likely to lead
to too much trouble. Of course, Jacques wanted his sons to reach out and grab the
stars, but trouble was, they lived in the kind of world where the stars would always
Mathilda was already out the door. Jacques and Louis weren't slow to follow.
The villagers were already starting to gather in the square. Federico formed
them into a large semi-circle, facing the open door of the blacksmiths. Only forty-
seven people lived in Montoud, so the crowd wasn't objectively large, but it was
impressive by usual standards. Everyone stood expectantly, curious to see just what
Charles and Federico had in store for them after all this time.
Jacques and Louis moved to the front, the other villagers letting them pass.
Jacques stood next to Isabelle. Briefly looking down, he saw the tip of her tail, a little
ball of hair peeking out from under her skirt.
"You're showing." he murmured.
The tail quickly flicked up out of view. "Thank you." she murmured back.
Jacques was relieved that the incident passed without further comment. The
tail was usually considered impolite, and perhaps for this reason, he was one of only a
handful of people who could get away with mentioning it. It was another one of those
things on which she didn't like to elaborate.
"Did you really break Koron's arm in three places?" he asked.
Isabelle smiled. Violence was always safer ground. "Yes. He went at me with
a chair, and I defended myself. Anyway, I thought you didn't like him?"
"I don't. I never said I minded."
Isabelle smiled again.
Federico clapped his hands, immediately getting the crowd's attention. He let
an expectant silence hang in the air for a few seconds. As typical of alchemists, he
loved the dramatic.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "boys and girls of all ages! You're all
gathered here today to witness something amazing, something spectacular! Something
that will change your world forever! The culmination of years of tireless labour, the
life's work of myself and my lovely assistant! So, without further ado, I present to you
Federico paused, then turned towards the blacksmiths.
"Uh, Charles." he called into the gloom. "What are we calling it?"
"I don't know." a voice called back. "We couldn't agree, remember?"
This got a laugh from the crowd. Knowing Federico, it was intentional.
Federico got his patter going again. "So, ladies and gentlemen, behold the
eighth wonder of the world...the Device!"
There was some applause, halfway between polite and enthusiastic. Charles
walked out of the blacksmiths, carrying a very strange-looking tool.
It was composed of two four-foot poles, a metal one above a wooden one. The
wooden bar curved downwards towards the back, and had two metal claws embedded
into it, one at the top and one at the bottom. It was obviously a weapon of some sort,
but what it could do, and how it worked, only its creators knew.
Charles was carrying the weapon in his right hand, about halfway down its
length. In his other hand was a small wooden block, which he hung on the wall next to
the door. On the block was painted a red cross.
Charles turned to Federico. "You want to do the technical bit, or shall I?"
"I'll leave it to you. It's your forte."
"Fine by me."
Charles turned back to the crowd.
"Okay, then. Here's how it is. I assume you remember a few years back, when
the fireworks troupe came into town?"
There were a few murmurs of agreement. No one was about to forget the
They were a recent invention, developed by the Genturans, and were being
spread throughout the world by small travelling shows. The idea was simple: a tube
was launched into the sky, and it would explode in a cloud of coloured light. The
display had been cripplingly expensive, and it had traumatised the animals, but it had
Jacques was beginning to understand what this what this was about. There had
been rumours that the Elterrion royalty were looking to weaponise the fireworks,
giving them the long-sought military edge over the orcs. It hadn't come to anything,
of course, but it looked like Charles and Federico were about to change all that.
"Well," Charles continued, "they gave me and Federico an idea. What we've
been working on is an...evolution of the technology. As to what we mean, it's best if I
just show you.
"But before I start, I just want to take a second to thank Miss. Ariadne.
Without her input, I don't think this project would've been a success."
The elf beamed, sparking brief clouds of annoyance from some of the younger
villagers, male and female alike. As it turned out, Ariadne had been the one who
crafted the elves' mysterious component, and so far as Jacques was concerned, she
was one of the best engineers he'd ever met. It seemed that Charles agreed, as the two
of them had already become fast friends. The village had come alive with the
inevitable speculation of marriage, expressed in both admiration and jealousy.
Jacques and Isabelle, as perhaps to be expected, were intrigued by the idea.
But Charles himself considered the elf to be out of his league, which she arguably
was, and had no wish to pursue it. Such was life.
"Anyway," Charles said with a mild blush, "to the demonstration. Federico,
could you please pass the ammunition?"
Federico took a small cloth bag out his pocket, and pulled out six metal pellets,
each no more than half-an-inch across. Charles pushed at a block of metal towards the
back of the Device, which slid out a round chamber with six holes in it. Jacques
recognised this as part of the component. Federico slid the pellets inside the holes, one
in each. Charles snapped the chamber closed again.
He held the Device with both hands, the curved end pressed against his
shoulder. His right hand was by the lower claw, and he was looking down the length
of the pole. The Device was pointed at the wooden block.
His right thumb pulled back at the upper claw.
"This is going to be loud." he said.
Charles pulled at the lower claw. He was right. The explosion was immense,
unprecedented, the end of the Device spitting a plume of sparks and thick smoke. The
Device jumped in his hands, almost flying out of his grip. The village's dogs and
horses cried in terror.
Eventually, the noise faded and smoke cleared. Everyone could see the
wooden block, or rather what was left of it. The pellet had damn near torn it in half.
There was a few seconds of stunned silence, then Montoud broke out in
applause. Charles and Federico turned to the crowd, grinned with pride, and bowed. A
few of the villagers approached them, offering their admiration.
Isabelle turned to Jacques. "I think we might have raised a genius." she said
with a grin.
Jacques just nodded. His ears were still ringing, and he feared they might
He realised that Federico's patter was entirely accurate: their Device was
going to change the world. This was the edge the Elterrion army was looking for, and
then some. Jacques could only begin to imagine what would happen to their eternal
war. Quite the feat for a humble blacksmith from Surlesonde, and in the case of
Charles Cerrard, the irony was almost palpable.
All of the above was the exact opposite of what he wanted. He wanted the war
to end, not accelerate. What he wanted most of all was to destroy the Device, to
destroy its plans and everyone's memories of it, and make sure its like would never
exist again. But he couldn't. There would be no point. The idea had been born now, it
was out in the world, and it was never going away. He could remove its physical
evidence, but it would return, at someone else's hands. He'd be able to ensure that his
son used his invention responsibly, but no more. Once others got hold of it, yes, the
world would change, but no one could tell if it would be for the better or the worse.
The war would end now, that was true, but with whose victory, and how many
thousands more would die at the teeth of this new weapon?
Jacques turned to Louis, only to realise that he'd already gone to talk to his
brother. There was a silver lining in this, if only a small one, and maybe the boy had
already realised it. Louis wanted to be a hero, to make history, to pass into legend?
Well, the Device would raise to godhood all who used it.
At the very least, he knew Louis would survive the war. He just had to hope
that the boy could handle his new legacy.
Jacques walked over to his sons, the two of them turning to face him as he
approached. He put his hands on their shoulders, then took a second to put on a mask
"That was amazing." he said to Charles. "I'm so proud of you."
That, at least, was true. In a sense.
"Thank you, father." Charles said with a nod.
Jacques suspected that he understood. Maybe that was a conversation for later.
He turned to Louis. "Koron and his boys still here?"
"I think so, yes."
"In which case, tell them you don't need them anymore."
"Do you think this Device is ready for field use?" he asked Charles.
Charles blinked. "I think so, yes. I'd like to test it a little more, see if there are
any kinks, and obviously Louis would need some training, but no, I don't think there
are any major problems."
Louis' eyes widened. He was catching on too.
"You mean..." he said.
Jacques smiled. He partly meant it. "You wanted a legend, son? I think you're
about to get one."
The Cerrard family was going to war once again. Maybe they would come
back, maybe not. The rest, only history knew.