The Shadow of the Rose
Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy
A brief interlude:
Meanwhile, in a small shanty in a seaport town, far to the south:
"Dunin? Dunin? It's time to get up," his mother called.
Dunin rolled over and sat up, scratching his head. The room was still dark, since it was earlier than even the false dawn.
"Another day, another couple of pounds of shrimp," Dunin sighed dejectedly. "I am up, Ma."
Dunin was tall for his age of 16. He had started a large growing spurt during the spring, and now at the beginning of summer he was approaching six feet tall. An unruly mop of curly brown hair resisted his best efforts to control it. Splashing tepid water on his face, he tried to remove the last vestiges of sleep from his coal black eyes. Throwing on a pair of shorts that had been trousers just a few months ago, and a faded and stained long sleeve shirt, he pulled aside the curtain that sectioned off his room from the main room of his mother's two room shanty, located off of the wharf district of Re-An, the largest port city in the Southern Reaches. After his father died his mother tried to insist that he take the lone bedroom, but Dunin would have none of that. It was and will always be his parent's room, no, he kept his space behind the curtain.
His mother set out breakfast: cheese, fruit, bread and cow's milk, which Dunin consumed in moments. Giving him a kiss on his head and handing him his lunch pail, she wished him good luck and sent him on his way. After he left she sat down at the table with a sigh, looked over at a small covered jar and sighed again.
The jar held all of their wealth, which pathetically was not very much. She knew he had dreams of being a merchant-marine, but it seemed as if more came out of the jar than went in. Her sister had offered for her to move to Malkur and live with her there, but that would kill Dunin's dream of entering the academy. If he could bring in enough shrimp, coupled with the meager sum she earned at a local tavern, then maybe, maybe someday ... She sighed dejectedly again. Maybe gold grows from trees too.
Reaching the public wharf, Dunin carefully removed his net from the stand he used to store it on and to make any needed repairs. Carefully rolling it up, he hoisted it over his shoulder and walked down to the docks, where his small sailboat was tied up. Loading the boat with the net and his lunch pail, he untied the mooring lines and stepped in, pushing the boat back away from the pier.
Rowing away from the pier, Dunin turned and pointed his dinghy out to sea, raised the mainsail and jib, and then piloted his vessel out of the harbor and toward the fishing grounds. The area south of Re-An was an archipelago made up of over 100 different reefs, islets, atolls, cays, and islands. The archipelago had been created from a subduction zone of two oceanic plates, which also created a deep water trench through its center that was used by shipping traffic.
Leaving the harbor Dunin sailed south-southwest toward the established fishing grounds. He had shrimped this section for several years now, when the death of his father forced him to become the primary source of income. Not that he wanted to be a shrimper; no, he had dreams of being a merchant-marine.
Malkur might be famous for its Guardmen, but the Re-An Merchant-Marine was renowned on all the seas of Andor. Every day after tying up, Dunin would stop by the Merchant Academy and watch the mariner cadets train in the courtyard. Even while he was shrimping he would spend time with a wooden sword, practicing the moves he had seen at the academy. He had visions of rescuing damsels from pirates or boarding black market ships on the high seas.
Arriving in the area that he normally shrimped, Dunin threw out his net and began sailing up and down and back and forth. Every few passes he would haul in the net and empty the contents. The wind was not cooperative this day so Dunin pulled in the sails and set the oars in their holders. This was not the first day that oars were required to catch shrimp. Many hours at the oars had built up Dunin's arms, legs and back. He had the strength and stamina of a man years older. This day was a poor day for shrimping, and after several hours of back and forth and up and down he didn't have nearly enough to call it a day. Deciding to move farther south, he hauled in the net, set his sails and started a southerly track.
He had traveled several nautical miles down range when he noticed storm clouds forming to the west. Summer squalls were not that uncommon, but this one looked severe and from the wrong direction, so Dunin turned the boat and tried to tack northerly back to the relative safety of the atolls and islets closer to Re-An. He was having zero luck; the sudden onset of the storm took him by surprise, and moved in cutting off his retreat to the north. Dropping the larger mainsail he tried to run with the jib, with a little better result. At least, it didn't sound like the main mast was about to be ripped off. Turning the boat back to the south he decided to make for any large land mass that would provide some protection from the storm.
The storm's ferocity surprised the seasoned sailor. He could not remember a storm of this magnitude anytime in his past, and he began to worry. The waves picked up and his little boat was too small to cut through them, so he was reduced to riding up one side and down the other. The wind whipped the jib, and Dunin was having a hard time controlling the craft. He had no idea where he was, though definitely farther south than he had ever been before, and the wind was causing him to eat up the nautical miles in great bites. The wind continued to increase until the jib finally ripped free and fluttered away, leaving him completely out of control.
Dunin hung on in sheer terror as his boat was rocked and knocked about in the storm. At one point he must have blacked out, because he woke up on a beach to the sound of lapping waves and the screech of gulls overhead. Dunin looked around at what was left of his boat, which wasn't much. Standing up, he walked farther up the beach and looked out at the sea, past the little lagoon. The storm had passed and blew out all the clouds as well. The sky was clear blue and Dunin judged the time by the angle of the sun to be late afternoon. He should have been back by now and knew that shortly his mother would begin to worry. Looking around he discovered a path leading into the underbrush of a jungle, so he took it.
The path ended in a small clearing by a pool of clear fresh water. In the middle of the clearing was a small house, seemingly abandoned and falling apart. In front of the home sat a man on a stump in front of a small fire drinking from a steaming cup. To the left of the man a horse was tied to a hitching post, but not just any horse, a warhorse, in shiny silver mail. The man was likewise dressed in a suit of armor, his helmet sitting on another stump just to his right.
"Well, come over and let me have a look at you," the knight commanded, for that is what Dunin guessed he was.
Dunin stepped up to the knight and appraised him as well. His hair was red and cropped short and his eyes were the color of the sea and twinkled when he smiled, which he was doing right now. He was a handsome man.
"Care for a cup?" the knight asked.
Dunin nodded and the man poured him a cup of the steaming brew and passed it over. Dunin gladly accepted the cup and smelled the distinct aroma and sighed in contentment. The knight watched him for several moments.
"Where are my manners? I have not properly introduced myself," the knight stood. "I am Randolf."
"I am called Dunin, Dunin Brandson," Dunin replied. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."
"As I am yours," Randolf chuckled, eyeing him intently.
Dunin sipped the hot brew as he inspected the clearing, his focus returning time and time again, to the pool, and more importantly, a path that started at the pool.
"Go ahead," Randolf chuckled again. "I am not going anywhere, take a chance, take the path."
Dunin turned and stared at Randolf with wide eyes, wondering how he knew what Dunin was thinking. Finally nodding to Randolf, but mostly to himself he sat the cup down and walked over to the pool.
The pool was fed by a small waterfall coming off a cliff where a path continued up the side of the hill. The path leading up the side of the cliff intrigued him. Not that he understood why, but he felt compelled to climb, so he did.
The path wound back and forth up the side of a hill, turning into the side of a mountain. The path ended at a large crevice in the side of the cliff face. Dunin squeezed between the rocks and entered a large cavern in the side of the mountain. Dunin stopped in his tracks in amazement, for standing in front of him were a set of doors.
The doors were massive, at least ten feet tall and arched, made of some yellow or blonde wood, banded and riveted in gold. Intricate runes were inscribed on both doors with a large rune inscribed through both doors where they met. Finally, there were two large solid gold pull handles and a keyhole on the left hand door.
It was not as if the doors were unattached, no, they were built into a brick wall which flowed right into the sides of the cavern. It was just that the doors dominated the cavern. Having no thought to his own safety, Dunn walked up to the doors and grasped the handles and pulled.
Dunin's hands and arms burst into a silvery fire as an intense tingle run up his arms and down his spine. Voices whispered in his head in an unknown language and it frightened him. He tried to let go but was held fast as the rune intersecting the doors flared brightly and went out. The doors creaked a little as they swung open, revealing a magnificent hall. He felt like he had been weighed and measured and found worthy.
The hall was separated into three segments by large intricately carved ivory columns, with alcoves on both sides of the hall and a large dais at the far end. Suits of armor stood between the alcoves, their shields bearing an image of a jumping deer. The outer aisles held chests overflowing with gold, platinum, and other precious metals, intermixed with chests overflowing with precious gems, jewelry and other trinkets.
Armor, swords, and other instruments of war filled several of the alcoves. Most of the alcoves however, contained tombs for the dead. The tomb alcoves had white wrought metal scalloped gates, while the alcoves holding treasure did not.
At the far end, placed on the dais, apparently arranged in some specific pattern, were several black stone blocks, with sword hilts sticking out of them. The stones were arranged in clusters, each cluster on its own separate platform.
In the center closest to the back wall on the highest platform rested a single stone with a hand-and-a-half sword hilt sticking out. Just in front of that, on a shorter extension of the same platform, but lower than all the rest, were two stones diagonally in line with the center stone without hilts. A few feet in front of that was another platform lower than the first, but higher than the extension. Two stones sat on that dais, the stone to the left slightly higher, also missing a sword hilt. Diagonally to the left and right of that platform were two more platforms, slightly lower, containing three stones of equal height. Eleven stones in all, eight of which contained swords. All the hilts were single handed except the one protruding from the stone on the highest platform.
On either side of the steps leading up to the dais stood two large ivory statues. The statues were intricately carved hulking shapes, covered in scales, with taloned hands, pointed ears flat against their skulls, bald with the exception of a single braided stalk of hair in the center of the back of their heads. Dunin shivered at the sight of them.
Dunin felt a pull toward the dais, so he completely ignored the gold and jewels, even though just a handful would keep him and his mother in comfort for quite some time, as well as paying his academy entrance fee. What Dunin did not know was that if he had made a move to take any of those precious items or gold, those two hulks would have stopped him, and not as statues!
Dunin stepped between the statues and up the steps to the dais. His focus was on the second tier platform with the two stones, one of which was missing a sword hilt. The one on the right caught his focus and kept it. Dunin walked up to the stone and stared at the sword hilt. He finally reached out and grasped the hilt.
"What is your name?" Dunin heard. The voice was calm, pleasant, almost comforting.
"Dunin Brandson," Dunin replied. "Who are you?"