The Thief of the Rose
Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy
In a time before man rose to prominence, when magic flowed like water from every rock and plant, three great races vied for dominance. They built great cities, and places of learning. They harnessed the power innate in metal, wood, and gem; forging great weapons of beauty and power. They constructed great roads, enchanted with power to hold back the forest and field, and they built transportation platforms to make travel to different realms easier. They expanded their knowledge to include movement to other lands within their cosmos. In their arrogance they even challenged the Gods, and almost succeeded. The Gods ensured that little evidence remained of their achievements and knowledge. That however, was about to change.
The edge of the Thangdaemon Forest, near Realto on Andor.
The forest of Thangdaemon was one of the oldest on Andor. Power and magic still flowed from tree, stone, and animal; an old power, radiating out from the center of the forest. The forest also marked the eastern edge of the inhabited lands of man. What was farther east was unknown in this age. It was rumored that strange beasts walked the land that could strip a man to the bone in mere moments. Other stories told of fell things that would eat the brain turning its victim into a walking zombie. What was truth and what was fiction was hard to tell. What was known for fact was that no one who ventured into the forest returned -- ever!
In a clearing, at the edge of that forest, by a section of the Old Kings' Highway, that connected the Duchy of Realto and the township of Dria, a small herd of red deer grazed. Also, in that clearing rested a large circular platform, with a slender column erected at true north, and a small tabletop, inset with gemstones. The gems were arranged in seven rows, with differing numbered columns. An emerald in the first column of each row, with sapphires filling out the rest of the columns, and finally, a ruby inset in each bottom corner of the top. Some rows had three columns of sapphires, while others had as many as seven. Even though the clearing was overgrown, and the path from the highway was completely gone, the area around the platform was clear, and well maintained.
A young hart and two hind looked up as a hum began in the center of the platform. The emerald in the 5th row began to pulse and glow, followed by a sapphire in the 2nd column of the same row. Soon, the emerald in the 3rd row began to pulse as well. The air above the platform began to swirl and coalesce, as the sapphire in the 4th column of the 3rd row began to glow. The hart looked over at the larger of the two hinds, who nodded her head and bolted into the forest. The air in the clearing began to hum and vibrate with power, while the swirling mass of energy began to consume itself. When it disappeared all that was left on the platform was a small bassinet, holding an infant. Lying next to the bassinet was a scabbarded longsword. As the hart slowly approached the bassinet a large stag stepped into the clearing, followed by several other harts, and the hind.
The stag was old, with a silver mane and silver velvet on his massive crown of antlers. The other deer stepped back as he approached the infant, and gazed into its eyes. The stag looked up and tilted his head toward the road.
Returning from Dria with a small contingent of guards, was the Lady Tara, Duchess of Realto. As the carriage approached the edge of the forest her men became alert and ready for attack. This section of the highway cut through the western tip of the forest and there was always fear of bandits attacking travelers, or worse, fell things dragging unwary travelers into the forest to consume their souls.
The tips of the stag's antlers began to glow with a silvery light as the forest receded from the clearing's path. A hart bounded down the path toward the highway and crashed into the lead guardsman causing the horse and rider to go down. The captain of the guard called for a halt and went to investigate.
"Is everything alright?" called out the Lady Tara as she stepped out of the carriage.
"Yes milady," answered Captain Damon, "Rogers took a spill when the deer hit him, but he is fine. Lady Tara please stay in the carriage, we will be off in a moment."
"Nonsense, let me see to him, he may be hurt, besides there is no one around", she responded. She moved up to look at the guardsman who had been knocked off his horse.
In the clearing, the stag turned back to the infant and rose up on his hind legs, and struck the platform causing the baby to cry out. The rest of the deer faded back in to the forest, but the old stag remained to ensure his efforts bore fruit.
Lady Tara looked up, "Is that a child crying? Captain bring a man and follow me."
The captain hurried to catch up as she started down the path toward a clearing. Entering the clearing he looked around and got a quick look at the stag as it stepped into the forest and then he saw the bassinet and sword. Lady Tara gently picked up the infant and rocked him.
"It is a boy, a baby boy, and there is a signet ring on a chain around his neck" she exclaimed. "I wonder what he is doing here?"
The captain picked up the scabbarded sword and whistled as he drew the blade, "A remarkable sword, light and balanced".
"Come Captain, bring the bassinet and the sword," the Lady Tara called out to him, as she took the child back to the carriage.
The captain hurried to follow her, re-sheathing the sword along the way. With the Duchess back in her carriage, the entourage re-mounted and continued on their journey home.
The stag stepped back into the clearing, and again his antlers glowed. The fallen hart jumped up and bounded in to the forest, and the path closed over once again.
Stillness settled back over the forest, but for how long?
A wooded area west of the kingdom of Aithen, on Andor, 30 years later.
The man (far removed from the infant in the clearing), moved like a wraith amongst the trees. The dense woods were an excellent camouflage for the stalker. A slivered moon provided excellent cover for night work. The wooded area was alive with the sounds of night insects, bullfrogs calling to one another and the occasional hoot of an owl, masking the sounds of the stalker. All in all, an excellent environment for stalking prey. He looked up watching the smaller of the two moons, The Hunter, hide behind the clouds.
"I have been trailing this idiot for a week," he thought to himself. "He leaves a trail a blind man could follow."
"At least my woods training did not go to waste, Father," thinking of home.
"Perhaps after this mission I will go home and see him," he thought, but knowing he probably would not.
Back to the work at hand: in truth he thought this particular assignment from the Guild Council was petty, even for them. There had been numerous small thefts from the merchant trains and the Merchant Guild had complained, and now here he was, tracking the thief.
He was Aaron Blackmoon, Lord Inquisitor for the Guild Council of the High City Aithen. He was of medium height; a troubadour's build, but muscle underneath. An unimposing man, that is except for his eyes. The color of emeralds, specked with gold and slightly feline, devoid of emotion, the eyes of Death, staring back at you. White hair, not blonde, pulled back into a warrior's knot, a slight point of the ear and arch of the brow, giving him an almost Elvish look. Although he was not an Elf, at least he did not think so, truth be told his parentage and race were unknown. He had been found as an infant, by the woman who became his mother.
He was a master of the sword, being a Warrior and a master of stealth and death, being both Thief and Assassin. That last two to the bane of his father. Truth be told, all three were an embarrassment. He had strayed from the chosen profession of his father and his father's father.
The House of Blackmoon had been Rangers of the Wood for generations, from father to son until now. Although Aaron started his professional life as a Ranger, his anger and his rage had ended it. But that was a story that just brought up old pains and best forgotten.
"The matter at hand, Boy!" his Swordmaster used to tell him. Back to this incompetent thief.
Aaron had tracked him from the site of the most recent theft, wondering all the way how the lad knew the location of the Guild payroll. If his trail obscuring tradecraft was any indication of his overall competence as a thief, it was a wonder he was able to find and remove the payroll.
"There must be someone else," he mused. "This is most definitely not the brains of the outfit".
The thief had made camp in a clearing just ahead of where Aaron laid hidden. The lad looked to be waiting for someone. He did not have much longer to wait long, for a rider approached the camp.
"Well, well, well," thought Aaron. "If it is not Geoff Wheatstone, second-assistant to the Merchant Guildmaster."
Aaron tested his sword in its scabbard and stepped into the clearing. "Master Wheatstone, I am surprised to find you here."
"Lord Aaron, what are you doing here?" Wheatstone stuttered.
"Tracking and catching a thief and his informant apparently," Aaron replied pulling his sword.
The thief pulled a dagger and threw it at Aaron, who dodged and buried one of his own in the surprised thief's throat.
"Wheatstone, do not do anything stupid, I need to bring you back alive".
"No, wait you do not understand," Wheatstone pulled a shortsword swinging it at Aaron. Aaron parried the haphazard attack with his dirk, bringing his sword up to prevent another thrust. Wheatstone, unbalanced by the parry, fell forward and impaled himself on Aaron's sword.
"Well that went wrong," he thought, as he cleaned the blood from his sword.
Aaron still marveled at the uniqueness of his sword. Made from an unknown metal and process, and Aaron had asked every armorer he had crossed paths with. The only thing that all the masters agreed upon was that the sword was not guild crafted. He ran his finger over the runes cut into the metal. He often wondered what they spelled out; again multiple scholars were at a loss as to the language. Even the gem in the pommel was unique, blood red like a ruby but with a fire and brilliance that rivaled the sun. The only thing that was familiar was the embossed rose in the grip. The grip itself fashioned from some type of leather, tanned red with the rose in black relief, the blade thinner and narrower than the standard long sword but strong just the same, never needing care or sharpening.
His birthright, his mother used to tell him. The sword, along with the ring on his left ring finger, was left with him when his mother found him alongside the road. Possibly fashioned from the same metal as the sword, a jeweler once told him, although said jeweler could not explain how the single rune was inscribed within the gem, also of unknown type.