Friday, August 22, 2008

Taran the Ranger

To the point of my first memory, I lived with my mother and father. My father was a hunter and woodsman. As soon as I was old enough, he taught me to use a bow. He would take me out on some of his shorter excursions, explaining to me about the ways of the land. My mother was a beautiful woman, although she could be a stern disciplinarian when I required it. When I was four, my sister, Aralee, was born.

We generally lived in happiness, although there would be times when both my parents grew very worried. My mother, especially, seemed to be distressed by some inner fear, although she kept it mostly well hidden. Those times were always followed by a move to another small village. Our family was friendly enough with the fellow villagers, although we never lived in one place long enough to truly become part of a community, and we always set up our lodging on the outskirts of the village. My father said this was because he could not stand to be apart from his beloved groves of trees and woodlands.

One day when I was eight, my father and I heard a commotion coming from our village as we returned from a hunting trip. We also smelled smoke. When we got near the edge of the glade where our cottage was built, we saw a band of orcs with my mother in hand. Our cottage was burning. My mother had been beaten and was bleeding.

My father turned to me and I could see the white hot rage in his eyes. Even so, I could also see the compassion on his face when he kissed me on the forehead and said, “Taran, I love you dearly, but I have to leave you. You must remain here in hiding, the way I taught you to stay silent when stalking an animal. With Ehlonna’s blessing, I will return to get you.”

Ehlonna did not grant her blessing. My father fought valiantly but was severely outnumbered and was subdued. The orcs, the leader of whom spoke Common and who referred to himself as the Great Grbac, killed my mother in front of my father, and then slew my father as well. Grbac laughed as he pulled the sword free. I had never known hate until that point.

It was then I noticed one of the orcs had a sack in which someone thrashed and yelled. I knew that sack contained little Aralee, and in my mind I saw myself rushing out to save her. Whether paralyzed by rage or fear, my body would not move. It most likely saved my life, which was the only blessing Ehlonna saw fit to bestow that day. I watched helplessly as the orcs absconded with my sister.

I walked to the village in a daze. I barely noticed that many of the homes were burning and that the surviving villagers were looking at me with contempt, as if I had brought this upon them. However, I was aware enough to know that I was not welcome. I wandered down the road out of town, foraging for food and water. Eventually I was happened upon by a troupe of minstrels and singers, along with their families, making their way from town to town to perform. They had pity on me and took me in as one of their own.

It was with this troupe that I learned my true identity. When I first joined them, one of the older men looked at me curiously. “Got the elvish blood in you, eh boy?” Of course I knew of elves – my mother had spoken of them often in her stories. But we had lived amongst humans our whole life, and humans were all I knew. It was then I realized that my mother WAS hiding something – her elvish heritage. I looked enough like my father to be mistaken for full human by the villages we lived in, but these travelers knew something of the world and saw my roots immediately. I made a personal vow to learn the story of my mother and why she had remained hidden.

I was well loved and cared for during this time. I enjoyed playing with the other children to an extent, although I was a tad too rough around the edges for most of them and had too much pain in me to ever truly open up and make friends. I was taught the elvish speech, as the minstrels thought befitting one of my blood. The bards tried to make me one of their own, and although I earned an appreciation for the art of song, I was not skilled at it and my heart yearned only for the woods…and for vengeance.

When I was 15, the longing for a life in the woods was growing too strong for me to bear. It was then that I happened upon a man who would change my life. I was sitting in the audience at one of the shows when I noticed a lone stranger, cloaked and hooded sitting near the back with his tankard of ale. At that same moment he looked up and seemed to stare right through me. He beckoned me over. Curious, I went.

As it happened, he called himself the Dark Star – he did not give his true name, and I did not ask. I had heard snatches of song about this man, an accomplished ranger who wandered the forests as a vigilante, bringing bandits and other evil creatures to grim justice. He was a tall man, skin black as night, with a black star embroidered on his stained leather tunic. He told me that he was seeking an apprentice, and Ehlonna had guided him here. When he asked my name and story, I broke down and told this complete stranger everything that had happened. When he invited me to join him in his travels, I went to gather my meager belongings and left the minstrels with only a note of thanks pinned to one of their wagons.

The Dark Star continued my education where my father left off. He taught me to track, to use weapons (especially his favorite, a flail he called “Rage,” forged of black iron), to understand plants and animals, to forage, to move without a sound – anything I could learn. I asked him often about his past, but I was mostly met with a grunt and a scowl. Even more frustrating, I would hear him mutter angrily in his sleep about a brother and a kingdom I had never heard of. Finally, after several years of persistence, and after a particular harrowing battle with a group of bandits, he opened up somewhat.

“I am in self-exile, Taran. I come from a place far from here, where I was the younger brother in a family where younger brothers mean little. I was allowed a small role in the family “business,” but I had much different ideas about how that business was to be carried out. After an argument with my brother came to blows, I departed with only that which I could carry on my back. I am not proud of that past, but neither do I regret it. I have since devoted myself to a land which needs no governance, and protecting without the knowledge of the protected.”

We traveled together for 15 years, him and I, but that was the most he ever told me. Finally there came a day when he looked at me and declared, “I have to leave you now. I have taught you everything I know – you have much still to learn and do, but you are an able ranger. I know that you still burn for vengeance – I urge you to seek that vengeance and exact it. I know you still desire to know the fate of your sister – find her, if you can. I go to finish a matter that I began long ago, one from which I do not expect to return. I leave you all that I have, including Rage. I also leave you this.”

He reached into the folds of his cloak and handed me a medallion I had never seen before. On it was emblazoned some sort of family crest, a star partially hidden by a cloud, from which was shooting a jagged bolt of lightning. He said that if I was ever to happen upon a member of the House of Lord Bolt, to return this to him, as it was taken long ago without his knowledge. Without another word, he turned and left.
Since that time I have journeyed far and wide, searching for traces of the orcs that destroyed my life so long ago, searching for any sign of Aralee, implementing justice as I go, in the same way the Dark Star did before me. The trail has long since gone cold, even for my tracker’s skills, but still I search.


Lord Bolt said...

Grbac like Elvis Grbac?

Taran said...

Lol yeah, I was hoping someone would catch that.