Surviving the surviving of the Great Crusade.
Author: Richard Di Ioia
by: Richard Di Ioia (aka Longetalos)
Used with permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission.
A haggard figure shuffled his way under the blazing midday sun. His hand never straying far from the longsword strapped to his side. Squinting from the light he gazed towards a farmstead on the path up ahead. All doubts as to what his next course of action should be evaporated as the hunger in his belly made itself known with an audible groan. Swallowing his pride, he walked towards the door of the farmhouse and knocked on the wooden frame. A tanned farmer, roughly in his mid-40s, responded to the knock with a smile on his face. The smile faded as he saw the appearance of his visitor.
"I'm sorry, do I know you?" asked the farmer.
"Please kind sir, can I have some food and water? It has been a long time since I've had either" asked the traveler.
"Where did you get the sword?" asked the farmer while distancing himself from the stranger.
"I fought in the northern crusade and it is my only reward." replied the traveler with bitterness in his voice.
"Come in then friend, and I will prepare you some drink and food." Said the farmer with a knowing smile on his face. "Are you here to see the Earl?"
"Yes, how did you know?" the stranger asked with suspicion strong in his posture and voice.
"I will take you to his keep in the morning. Rest for the night and bath yourself. You are not the first, nor likely the last, to come here seeking the Earl."
The stranger was shown a small loft, padded with hay, above the barn. The farmer also supplied him with some blankets to fight the night's chill. After a brief bath in the cold water of a nearby stream the stranger prepared himself for sleep. He placed his sword on top of the blankets with his hand on the hilt. As with every night since the end of the crusade the nightmares came. This night was particularly brutal as he woke up several times fighting off his phantom enemies. Finally, Pelor's light filled the sky and put an end to the torture.
That morning, true to his word, the farmer led a slightly improved looking beggar towards Stone Hold. The sound of the Crystal river flowing in the distance lent an ambiance of peacefulness to the keep. The keep itself was built of what appeared to be seamless brown stone on top of a earthen butte. As the two travelers arrived at the paved road leading towards the keep's gate the farmer turned towards the stranger.
"This is as far as I go. Follow this short road to the entrance and you will be taken care of there." Said the farmer.
"Thank you." Muttered the stranger with a catch in his voice. The stranger started walking up the road leading to the keep. As he approached the entrance and the guards standing to either side, he hesitated and stopped. Sweat started to form on his forehead and well as his palms. This was his last salvation, spoken to him by old comrades in arms and tavern tales. If the Earl could not help him, his demons would come for him one last time and he would not be able to fight them off.
With a sigh of resignation he walked the last dozen feet towards the open metal reinforced doors and the two guards flanking them. When he was within a few feet of the guards they snapped to attention with weapons in readiness for an assault. The stranger drew his sword in response to this aggression and prepared himself to battle. The screams of battle started to fill his head. The children yelling out in fear and pain. The humanoids started to overrun his position. From hidden alcoves the priest of the Old One sacrificed their slaves to form the undead that attacked him.
A loud, commanding voice echoed across the battlefield. "Hold!"
The stranger's senses refocused and returned to the present. Standing before him, within the doorway, was a richly dressed noble. His warrior posture and the sword strapped to his side belied the indolent noble lifestyle his robes hinted at.
"I am Earl Kerjaka of Sone Hold. Why are you here and threatening my guards?" the noble asked in a stern voice.
"I am Fiolun. I served in the second brigade under Count Jakartai during the Crusade. I…need you…your help." Stuttered the stranger.
The two guards looked at each other in comprehension and nodded. Earl Kerjaka walked towards the stranger and placed his hands on the stranger's shoulders.
Meeting the stranger's gaze, the Earl spoke "You have come to the right place, Furyondy does not forget its patriots. Please, follow me inside."
A haggard figure shuffled his way under the blazing midday sun. His hand never straying far from the war axe strapped to his back. Squinting from the light he gazed towards a farmstead on the path up ahead. All doubts as to his next course of action evaporated as the hunger in his belly made itself known with an audible groan. Swallowing his pride, he walked towards the door of the farmhouse and knocked on the wooden frame. A tanned farmer, roughly in his mid-30s, responded to the knock.
"I am hungry and thirsty. Can you spare anything?" asked the stranger in a weak voice.
"Yes I can. Please come in and make yourself comfortable. I am Fiolun, what is your name?"