he perfect recipe for a great story? That’s easy, every great story starts at Frodo’s tavern. After a couple of beers, trouble will come without an invitation! – Tibicus, Thais 2016.
If only Tibicus had known back then how right he would turn out to be…
The moon was at its zenith. Voluminous and bright, on any other night it would have been a boon to a traveller. Tonight, however, it was smothered by the storm that had blown up from Roshamuul. Its brightness was now only evident in the eerie halo outlining the clouds, heavy with thunder, and served only to bode ill to all who ventured out in such conditions. Only those weary of life would risk being out in the open during a Roshamuul storm. Weary of life, or fearful for the lives of others.
A piercing wind was sweeping through the bushes and fields, whistling through the cracks and niches of nearby houses and barns. Raindrops, heavy and hard as pebble stones, pelted down incessantly from the sky, filling the potholes and rivers to the brim. This was the maw of the storm, and it spewed thunder and lightning upon the trembling earth below it, sparing nothing and no one.
The shrill ululations of feral wolves died away in the distance as the rhythmic pounding of a warhorse’s hooves caused the ground to vibrate. The horseman, in saturated clothes, rode inexorably through the storm, the rain whipping into his pale face. His eyes, empty and without hope, squinted against the impact of the rain. He fixated on the destination which he could not yet see.
Water trickled off his broad nose and over his rough, chapped lips which had taken on a greyish blue hue. His thick, long, brown hair stuck in strands to his forehead, covering the deep, fresh wound above his temple. The angular features of his face were riven by worry. There was no honourable warrior sitting on that noble warhorse but a beaten man bent beneath his burden of guilt.
He had left Thais about an hour ago just as the storm was beginning to brew, although it now felt like a lifetime. Countless times had he looked over his shoulder just to make sure that he had not been followed. Venore was still a few gruelling miles away. Captain Bluebeard, that scurvy seadog, had let him down. He had refused to set sail during the storm. Too dangerous, he had said.
Had he been able to set sail from Thais he would not have been forced to undertake this perilous journey across the Tibian mainland. His next best chance of reaching his destination was Captain Fearless. He only hoped that he would live up to his name. However, maybe it was a better choice all along. In Venore, not many people knew his face - less chance of raising unwanted questions.
He was paying a steep price for the loss of his shoulder plates as the string of the warsinger bow strapped to his back cut painfully into his shoulder, mercilessly carving deeper with every hoof beat on the uneven ground. There was no time to stop, no time to rest. A scar would be a pleasant sacrifice compared to the pain and agony he would face if his mission failed.
But had he even been able to succeed? If the note he had left for Tibicus were to remain undiscovered, it would mean that the rider had as good as signed his own death warrant. Would Tibicus find the note he had left him? Why on earth was he thinking about his own fate, anyway? It was not about him, it was about Tibicus and above all, it was about them; those who had got entangled in this desperate situation through no fault of their own because of him, because of his stupidity, and now he was caught between a rock and a hard place.
He tried to stifle his thoughts and focus on the task in hand. In an effort to clear his mind he spurred his horse on and they careered down the muddy path.
Then – disaster!
A lightning bolt struck a tree next to him, throwing up a shower of sparks and causing the warhorse to panic. It shied, reared, and threw him off its back. The rider landed in a pile of mud. The ice-cold water slowly seeped through his armour, penetrating through the open seams below his dented breastplate. His olive-green cape was drenched by the same brown dirt that mottled his Dwarven Legs. His beautiful armour, once his pride and joy, was now sullied and stained, just like his honour.
He no longer had the strength to raise himself from where he lay. All his anger and frustration crystallised into one thought which resounded through his brain:
"This is where you belong, you pathetic excuse for a paladin."