Fantastic World Ch. 01byLady_Blackhawk©
The letter came one early summer morning. It was delivered to Callia at her home in Shepherdstown. Perusing the outside thoroughly, she frowned, as she did not recognize the signet mark. Another job offer, she thought to herself. Shaking her head, she tossed it onto her table with the dozens of others she received on a weekly basis. Being a famed adventurer had its perks as well as its drawbacks. Someone always seemed to want something. Shaking her head, she grabbed up her practice swords and headed for the practice arena that Lord Darvic Eath had had built several years ago before he became the Lord of the town.
Today she planned to meet with several new followers who'd come to lend their services to her. She hoped to discover how well each of them could handle a blade. Training would commence as soon as she could ascertain what their strengths and weaknesses were.
As she reached the practice arena with her boon companion, Verrshaun, accompanying her, she surveyed the six new recruits. There were two elves, two humans, a half-elf, and a half-orc. She eyed each of them intently, mentally summing up what each of them might be able to do.
Although Callia was very friendly to her followers and took pains to make sure each was comfortable with her, she didn't always curry familiarity with them. There were a number in her service whom she'd helped along the way. She wondered though if she should've been more personal with them. Perhaps she would talk to Verrshaun about that.
"Form up," she barked as she dropped the practice swords on a weapons rack. She watched as they moved to form a straight line. She quickly took stock of each one of them. Both silver elves, a male and a female, were wiry and slight of build. She surmised that both could be trained to fire a bow and wield a light weapon with finesse. The humans, both males, seemed to be of similar stock. Their builds were very blocky with broad shoulders and deep chests. She surmised that perhaps they came from peasant stock and were no strangers to hard work. She guessed they could be brothers. Perhaps training them with axes would be good.
She flicked her eyes over the female half-elf. She clearly took more from the human side of her mixed ancestry than from the elven side. She also seemed to come from a heartier peasant stock as well, but she had a decisive edge to her. A certain look about her that spoke of experience beyond that of a commoner. Callia figured she'd delved into adventuring and would most likely have a preference in weapons.
She moved to the last person in the line. Never before had a half-orc come into her service. Callia had spent most of her life not having a fondness for half-orcs. And clearly this one was more orcish looking than those she had met in the past. This half-orc was big and muscular with a plethora of scars crisscrossing his craggy face and upper body. It seemed to her that he had led a hard life. He looked very much like a battle-hardened warrior and she suspected he was quite familiar with a great axe.
"I am Callia Blackhawk-Darksbane, but of course, all of you know that. It's the reason you are here. I am here not only to get to know you, but to be your friend. It is my goal to train you all to properly defend yourselves and this town as well. It looks like to me that some of you already know your way around the business end of a weapon. Some of you look like you've either been warriors or had some adventuring experience. I want to know all about that. I also want to know if you have never so much as swung a sword, fired a bow or the like. I am here to train you. I am your friend, your mentor, and your instructor. I will not laugh at your mistakes or make light of your inexperience. I, too, began as a novice. So before we begin, I would like to know something about all of you. Where you are from and what kind of experience you may have. We will start with you." Callia stated as she motioned to the half-orc.
He stepped forward, towering over her by more than a whole foot. "I am Londar of the Bloodfang tribe. I was one of the younger warriors of my tribe until humans attacked us. My mother was Orc and my father was human. It was his people who sought to destroy my tribe. They felt anger for what happened to my father at the hands of my mother's people. They chased us for years, slowly whittling our numbers. We fought back. We fought for our survival. Then two years ago, they launched a large attack and very few survived. My mother perished in that attack. I was one of the lucky ones to have survived. I have spent much of the time since wandering from town to town. I found work on the docks, but I wanted to do more than just be a lowly half-orc dock worker. I heard of you and heard of your greatness. It has been said you have befriended other half-orcs so I came here in search of you." Londar replied.
"It is true that I have befriended other half-orcs, one of which is a very good friend to me." Callia said, "You said you are a warrior. Have you a preference of what type of weapon you wield?"
"I have often been called a barbarian. I favor axes most of all and muscle powered weapons."
"Since you have experience, we will work together with a great axe. I have one I believe you will like. As you were."
Londar nodded and stepped back in line. She moved on down the line, stopping in front of the female half-elf.
"My name is Aeslin. My human father raised me after my elven mother left to return to her people. I hold no hard feelings toward her for it. My father does, but he remarried a human woman. My stepmother didn't want me around so I left his home five years ago and have made my own way in the world. I've done some mercenary work. I'm pretty good with a bow and a longsword. I heard them speak of you down in the Dancing Jug and decided to seek you out." Aeslin explained.
Callia nodded. "You had that look about you that you had some experience. The longsword is a very reliable weapon. We shall work together on that."
Callia moved down to the two humans who seemed to be brothers or of some close relation. "And you might be...?" she asked as her eyes flicked over each of them.
"I am Joss Tulach and this is my brother, Valthus. We hail from the Heartlands. We heard of you in tales told by a traveling bard. He spoke of your great adventures and bravery. We wanted to know what that felt like so we left home and came to offer our services to you. I fear, though, that neither of us have experiences as warriors. We are farm lads."
"Have you ever used a weapon before?"
"I have used slings to catch small game and both of us have used a farmer's scythe to harvest the grain. Father had a crossbow. He showed us how to load and fire it. Occasionally we had problems with goblins or kobolds." Valthus spoke up.
Callia eyed them carefully. They too were about a half-foot taller than she with broad shoulders and deep chests. Both had ginger red hair and bright green eyes. Freckles dotted their cheeks and noses. "How old are each of you? Have you always done farm work? Are you skilled in any trades?"
"I am nineteen," Joss spoke up, "and Valthus is eighteen."
"We have always worked on our father's farm. We both know all about how to run a working farm. We raised cattle, sheep, and pigs. We learned of animal husbandry. We both know how to shoe horses. There isn't much about running and working on a farm that we don't have knowledge of, but as far as skilled trades go, we don't have one, unless it has to do with a farm."
"Have you any hopes and dreams beyond working a farm?" Callia asked, praying that one of them had some kind of ambition.
"I always dreamed of learning more about the wild." Joss replied
"There is a grove outside of the palisade walls devoted to a nature deity. I am thinking you should learn the ways of a druid or perhaps a ranger. Perhaps I could speak to Lord Eath and have him recommend someone to instruct you in those teachings. Would you like that?"
"Very much so. Thank you. You are every bit as great as the stories say you are," he exclaimed.
"And Valthus, what of you?"
"I wish to work with horses. Perhaps work with my hands, become a blacksmith or a farrier." Valthus replied.
"I think that can be arranged. There is a good blacksmith here in Shepherdstown I can get you an apprenticeship with. I shall have you work with him." Callia replied. "As for weapons training, I will work with you in the meantime. I believe there are flails that are no harder to wield than the farm implement versions you are already accustomed too. We will start with that and work our way up."
Both Joss and Valthus offered words of thanks before returning to their places in the line. Callia smiled at the eagerness the two commoners exhibited before moving onto the last two elves.
"Good morning, it is good to be in the company of my fellow kind. I am glad you have come," she spoke in her native elven tongue.
"I am happy to be here, my lady. I am Ashaenaeth and this is my wife, Ly'stri. We hail from the Wildwood Forest. We heard tales of you from Enias. He said we should seek you out," The silver elf male replied.
"Good ol' Enias," Callia laughed. "I saved him from a hangman's noose and it seems he is forever sending me followers. I guess that is his way of repaying me. Well, Ashaenaeth and Ly'stri, you are most welcome here. So tell me, what are your skills?"
"I am an apothecary and an alchemist and my wife is an herbalist. I have had some training with a bow and my wife does well with a sling."
"I can see why Enias sent you to me. I think he knew I would be in need of your services. I will help you set up shop here in Shepherdstown. I am sure even Lord Eath will be happy to have you here. We will work together on training you both with ranged weapons and perhaps even rapiers."
Callia moved away and walked to the center of the arena behind them. She signaled for Verrshaun to bring two of the practice swords. Taking one of the swords from him, she motioned for her new followers to come closer.
"Some of you already know the basics of swordplay. The first thing you need to know is how to properly wield a weapon. The second is how to block and parry. We will cover how to attack properly. Watch very carefully."
Callia and Verrshaun worked their ways through a few weapon forms, clearly demonstrating how to block and parry.
Next she lined her recruits up. She paired Londar and Aeslin, Joss and his brother Valthus and lastly Ashaenaeth with his wife Ly'stri.
"Block and parry." Callia called out as she moved between them until she came up to the half-elf and the half-orc. "Since you two have a little more experience, I will allow you to spar with each other. I ask you that you keep it simple and set an example for the others who do not have your skill. Please no rough stuff."
She let Londar and Aeslin spar while she worked with the others on blocking, parrying and finally moving into how to properly attack, while incorporating the blocks and parries she had showed them. Some of them caught on rather quickly while others took a little longer.
"Very good...all of you. You are doing well," Callia praised them. She looked around and noticed that Sasha, Delaney, and Cree had come to watch. She called them over and paired each of them off with the new recruits and had them work with the new followers. She had Verrshaun work with Aeslin while she worked with Londar. She was able to go full out with this half-orc without too much fear of hurting him.
"You are highly skilled," Callia praised. "If I had a castle like Lord Eath, I would name you my captain of the guard. What is it you wish to do in my service?"
"I wish to be in a place where I may know peace. I would do whatever it took to defend the place you call home. In my journeys, I learned of one named Kurthak. He spoke of you. He said I would find my place if I sought you out. I wish to continue to be a warrior."
"I'm sure the town could find a place for you amongst the town guard and I shall help provide for you a place to live. As for Kurthak, I would rather not speak on that matter." Callia replied as her mind lingered on what happened last between her, Amakiir, Jaz'rin, and Delilah at the Golden Oak. She had fled away from Amakiir and her home. She settled in Shepherdstown, reconnecting with her boon companion, Verrshaun. She had also left word at the Dancing Jug of where she could be found. The Dancing Jug had long been a home away from home for Callia, especially since she owned a share of it. Her mind drifted to Delilah and the brief relationship the two had shared. Callia scoffed inwardly. It should not have surprised her that Delilah had betrayed her.
Callia walked away and motioned for him to spar with Aeslin and Verrshaun again. She moved amongst her recruits, giving instructions and praise to each. When she thought they'd had enough for the day, she dismissed them and went about finding each of them proper housing.
And as the weeks passed Callia began to become more familiar with her new followers. Both of the elves were beginning to handle a bow with ease. It took them much trial and error, but soon they were hitting their targets more often than not. She planned to take them hunting with her to try their skill against a moving target instead of a stationary one. She also helped procure an empty building for their shop. It was a two story building with rooms upstairs to serve as their living quarters. Ashaenaeth seemed very happy indeed.
Both Aeslin and Londar found their places amongst the town guard and also discovered that they both had feelings for the other. Callia smiled as they sought a house they could inhabit together.
And as for Joss and Valthus, she arranged for Valthus to become an apprentice to the town blacksmith and for Joss, she contacted one of the druid's at the nearby grove to help him on his way to becoming a defender of the wild.
She was happy to help, but knew this time of peace for her in Shepherdstown was coming to an end. She was growing bored and knew she'd soon set back out on the adventurer's trail.
So when the same letter arrived for the third time in as many weeks bearing the mark of someone unknown to her, she finally decided to open and read it.
Dear Mistress Blackhawk-Darksbane,
My name is Thanadar Shalazarn. I have a business proposition I hope you will be interested in accepting. If you would journey to my home, I would gladly give you the details. I warn you, this is a mission of great danger. I must ask of you your utmost silence on this quest. I wish it to be conducted as secretively as possible.
Thanadar Shalazarn, Archwizard.
Callia noted the address that was written below Thanadar's signature. She had never been to the Elverholme. Her kind had never dwelled in such a place. This should be interesting. It was just the right kind of diversion to alleviate her boredom. She was more than ready for another adventure.
She set about readying herself for the journey to come, stowing her haversack along with another bag of holding into her backpack. That should do it, she thought, as she tapped her foot. She should have enough extradimensional storage space for whatever she may find on this mission.
This mission...she wondered why it was so secretive and what she may be asked to recover. She wondered if she should take Verrshaun or perhaps even Cayden along with her. No, she thought as she tapped her foot again, Verrshaun needs to stay here to continue training the new followers and he may not understand if I ask Cayden to go instead of him. That was the trouble with boon companions and twin sister's who didn't quite see eye to eye. Callia shook her head. She knew Verrshaun didn't trust Cayden. She knew Cayden hoped to coax her to the dark side and Verrshaun would have none of it. It had become Verrshaun's quest to make sure that Callia continued to walk the straight and narrow path of goodness.
Putting it all from her head, she decided she would set out the next day. Callia headed out to the blacksmith's shop, the one that she'd gotten Valthus an apprenticeship with, to have them ready her horse for her. Her horse had become rather lazy lolling around in the barn and pasture. It was time for it to see some real action. She hailed Geirmund as she walked into his shop.
"Hello," she smiled as she approached his forge.
"Well met, Callia. It is good to see you. What brings you here on this fine day?" the half-elf greeted her with a hearty smile in return.
"I've been contacted by someone about a job and I'm leaving tomorrow. I need my horse readied. Some new shoes, maybe a little extra exercise. You know what I need." Callia replied.
"I'll be happy to do that for you. I'll get right on it."
"Good." She smiled.
"If you'd like, I'll send someone over to let you know when your horse is ready."
"Thanks, Geirmund." Callia replied, as she handed him a few gold coins and bounded away before he could give them back.
As she headed back towards her home, she veered off and made her way to Verrshaun's. She found him sitting outside on his porch, lounging in the sun.
"You are very much a cat, aren't you?" She chuckled as she bounded up onto the porch and smiled as she watched her Catfolk companion rock in his hammock.
"It's a beautiful day. Do you expect me to stay cooped up inside?"
"Of course not," she laughed. "Seriously though, dear Verrshaun, I have to speak to you."
"I'm going to be taking a job offer from some Elven archwizard."
"How soon are we leaving?"
"We? No, I'm leaving tomorrow. I need you to stay here and continue to train the new followers. I don't exactly know where I'm going or what the job is, so I'd rather do it on my own."
"You aren't taking Cayden, are you?" He asked, as he cocked an eyebrow at her.
"No, Verrshaun. I'm going alone."
"I don't like the idea of that."
"I didn't figure you would, but this is something I have to do. I have a weird feeling about it."
"Then you should take me with you. Someone needs to have your back." Verrshaun pointed out.
"I have already decided. You must stay here, mellonamin." Callia stated as she used the elven word for 'my friend'.
"I don't like this at all, but I will stay here."
"Good, someone needs to hold down the fort." Callia called back as she took her leave. "Hey, we'll have dinner together later."
Callia returned to her house and finished packing up a few odds and ends she felt she might need. She knew she'd have to stop by the alchemist's to stock up on some potions as well. She also felt it would be wise to send a missive to her father just to let him know where she'd be heading and approximately how long she'd be away. It never hurt for other people to know of your plans. She then straightened up her house and decided to take a leisurely bath.
It felt good to relax in a hot bath. Not that her day had been strenuous, but Callia knew it would be the last hot bath she'd be able to take once she set out on the road as she headed for Elverholme. Although if she planned her route carefully, she knew it was possible to stay at inns and hostels nearly every night instead of sleeping outside in the wilds. Being that she'd be on her own for this trip, she knew it'd be safer. She scoffed at herself as she thought about how pampered and spoiled she'd become since she'd become an adventurer. Living the life of one of the privileged certainly had its perks. She had grown used to living in comfort. It was a life that suited her well. She knew if she had remained with her clan, never seeking the adventurer life, she would have eventually settled down with a warrior elf that Karowyn approved of and would have born him a couple children. She would become a mother, a nurturer, and a helpmate, but she doubted she would have been truly happy. Much of her life had been spent indulging in dubious carnal exploits. She honestly could not recall any of Karowyn's men that she did not know on an intimate basis. She scoffed again. Her old life did not interest her in the least any more. She wanted someone who loved her as much as she loved him, who shared his feelings, hopes, and dreams with her and would allow her to do the same. Callia wondered if she would ever meet such an elf. It certainly wasn't Amakiir, the one she'd left a few months ago. The one that indulged her fantasies then threw them in her face when the going got rough. The one who had betrayed her to her family by disclosing the intimacies of their relationship. The very same one who professed to love her and vowed she belonged to him solely yet aired their secrets to the whole of their people. She recalled the looks on her mother and brother's faces when they'd discovered her tryst with Delilah and the dark elf, Jaz'rin. Yet, Amakiir had not told the whole story. Not a word had been mentioned of his own affair with the dark elf. To be scorned and betrayed was almost too much to bear. Who was he to judge her when he was doing it as well? Who were they to judge her when they knew not the whole story? Yet she knew it would be worse if she disclosed the whole truth. She knew she'd be painted as vindictive. It was easier just to leave.