Merand was a warrior, a strong swordsman and a fairly competent tactician. He could go for days with little sleep, catching naps whenever and wherever he could for that was the mark of a true solider. In all of his long wanderings he faced all sorts of trouble, and one of the difficulties found on the road that he disliked the most were bandits. It had never mattered to him where he had run into brigands, for they were essentially the same all across the Realms. The only difference that he had found among the lawless who plied their thievery outside of the cities (and in some cases inside of the cities) was the local dress and weapons that the bandits carried. The faces didn't really matter for they were all the same in the end. The same kind of language was used among all bandit types, for they all used the same sort of threats that were usually understandable by their intended victims. For instance, having a knife held to one's throat is a good indication that the person wielding it wants something from you, and is not afraid to use violence to get it. True, there were the odd times when a brigand grew powerful enough to become a chieftain and therefore a serious hazard to the land. Merand of course dealt with those types the only way he knew how. He used his swordsmanship and the blade handed down to him from his father to send the scum to their judgment in the afterlife.
His mind was wandering, reviewing his past as he always did when Elideira and her fellow priestesses went on as dangerous a mission as a High Hunt by themselves. He was a man, damn it and he was supposed to look after a woman and keep her safe from harm. He was Merand du Pentar, son of Gaenef du Pentar, and it was his duty as it was with his father to take proper care of a woman. The last thing he should be doing is to allow the ladies to run off into the darkened landscape without so much as a single escort to watch their backs. Yet here he was, waiting morosely by a cooking fire with a huge chunk of deer meat being slowly roasted on a spit. He sighed and took out a small piece of tough-as-leather beef jerky to chew on while he waited for the women to return.
Merand shifted his position on the log he was sitting on without him even really noticing what he was doing. He tore off a piece of his dried ration with his teeth and slowly ground it to a mushy consistency with his jaw. As always, whenever he thought of where he came from his musings drifted towards memories of his father and his life before he became a Harper…
Gaenef was an imposing man, almost six feet in height and with arms so muscular that as a child Merand truly believed that his father could crush rocks to pieces just by hugging them. His sire had a full head of medium brown hair with two locks of hair braided on either side of his face, from which he hung bits of stone and feathers. He also had a hearty laugh, though the oldest member of the du Pentar household could go from jovial to angry in the space of a heartbeat. No one ever wanted to get that man mad for he could do terrible damage in his rage, and if you were negligent in your duties Gaenef would be quite wrathful. Or this is what Merand had always believed until his mother Sarah, Gaenef's wife, became ill after the birth of her fourth child.
It had been a hard year for the family's plot of land that summer for their fields had been starved for water due to the lack of rainfall. So every member of the family household had pitched in to tote buckets of water out to the fields of beans and potatoes that they were growing before their crops could become wilted and useless. They had to use the largest well, in fact the only well on their property as their main source of water. Sarah had been heavy with child and her dark blonde hair was soaked with sweat as she worked, even though she kept it wound in a tight bun. Merand's father was not home at the time for he had gone on the road to take yet another job with a mercenary company to, as he had said so often, put food on the table for his wife and children. His eldest son knew how much it pained him to be away from the household, but Gaenef had told Merand before he left on his travels that he was the man of the house now and it was his job, no his sacred duty to look after Sarah and his siblings.
That speech, which he had heard countless times in his youth, always puzzled Merand for why did his father rarely refer to Sarah as his mother? It was that summer, when the number of children in the Gaenef family was to increase to six that he was told the truth.
"Sarah, I mean mother, why is it that I have black hair while my brothers and sisters have either blonde or brown hair? And why are my eyes dark while they all have blue eyes like you and father? Why?" asked the fifteen-year-old Merand as he dropped two buckets full of water beside the pregnant woman. It was a question he had posed countless times before, and he was being especially persistent that year about the answer.
Sarah had glanced at him with her sun-browned face, and then she focused her attention on the careful watering of a potato plant. Beads of sweat dotted her upper brow, and she looked flushed and miserable as she worked. "It is because you are special Merand that you look so different. Now stop asking such silly questions and put your strength to work to help me finish with this field."
"Yes mother," he replied, mollified by her obvious lack of strength for the physical labor. What Merand failed to tell her was that he was sick and tired of being a farmer, even though he took his duty as the head of the household seriously while his father was away. It was just that, well… he was tired of grubbing around in the dirt for a meager existence when adventure awaited him around the corner. He wanted to follow in his sire's footsteps and become a mighty warrior who, with the sheer strength of his body and skill with a blade, would save entire villages of women and children besieged by the tides of war. But he was also of the opinion that his mercenary father should hang up his sword and stay home to take care of his family. After all, war did come often enough to the Dales, so there was plenty of opportunity for his sire to make a stand to defend his home, and puff up his wife's chest with pride over her husband's prowess in battle. On the other hand, Merand was young and strong enough to strike out on his own, and he made up his mind that day in the scorching summer sun to tell his father his plans for his future when he saw him next.
However, later in the afternoon when the sun was a few hours away from setting, Sarah had collapsed in the field from utter exhaustion. Merand had been thrown into a bit of a panic when she fell, and he had only found the strength to carry her back into the house when he thought of how disappointed his father would be if he saw his failure to take care of his mother. The young man was scared that his mother was going to die, and he had screamed his throat raw ordering his younger brother and sister to go fetch a healer. He had been torn between duty to his mother and duty to his siblings for he was charged with the responsibility of both, and he loved them all though he was loath to admit it in the presence of other people. Finally, after what was only an hour but felt to the young adult like twelve hours later the healer, an older woman with a wrinkled face, arrived at the farm. Merand had been told by the woman to stay away from his mother's room. He found out the reason later that night when he heard the first cries of his newest sibling.
The next morning Sarah had developed a fever, yet her skin was cold and clammy to the touch. One of the local girls from a nearby farmstead had been summoned by the healer at Merand's behest to watch over Sarah's health and to take care of the infant, a healthy baby boy. Gaenef returned home later that same day, flush with gold and a desire to see his wife and family. One jumbled report from Merand had sent the large man straight to his wife's bedroom (which was in effect her sickroom). The young man had paced frantically in the hall, sure that he would lose both the company of his mother and his father's respect. When the toughened mercenary and sometime farmer finally emerged from the room his hair was disheveled and his eyes were… tired, as if he had seen too much already.
Gaenef had invited his eldest son over to the kitchen table to share a mug of ale with him, which surprised Merand to no end as this was the first time the old man had done such a thing with him. Once they were seated and the golden liquid poured into a pair of wooden mugs the older man told Merand something that would change his life forever.
"Merand, you are a fine young man with more than your fair share of wanderlust running through your veins. Now, don't you worry none about Sarah for she was just feeling overworked while carrying that baby with her," his father reassured the young man. "You have willingly taken charge of the household while I selfishly tried to hold on to the freedom of my youth by taking the odd mercenary job. That isn't right for it should be you who is off wandering the Realms and making a name for himself."
"But father, I have so many duties here… " Merand protested, all the while trying to figure out just how long his father knew of his heart's desire.
Gaenef held up a large beefy hand, which had the desired effect of shutting Merand up. "That is not what you are meant to do son. I have been selfishly keeping you here on the farm, meanwhile I should have sent you off to Boric to learn you a trade. You see Merand, I have something that I have been meaning to tell you for the longest time. Sarah is not your real mother though she loves you just as much as she would if you were her own. And I am not your father at all but your uncle. My brother Roland, your real father, was a real swell warrior with a desire to see the world. He met a Rom woman in his travels, a dark eyed lady named Herkela. She was your mother, and shortly after you were born she died during a bandit raid on her camp. Your father was too late to save her and he blamed himself for her fate. He gave you to me and Sarah since we didn't have kids back then. I'm sorry to say that he died while taking out the base camp of them bastards that did your mother in. But at least he avenged her death, that much I can tell you."
Merand slowly came back to the present when the lilting, musical sound that signaled the speech of an elf reached his ears. He ignored the person who was talking for he was still thinking about the day he really became a man. He had been sent to Boric's mercenary training camp with his real father's sword and armor soon after Sarah's collapse. Luckily the woman had pulled through her ordeal, but with an extra mouth to feed Merand had volunteered to leave his home more or less permanently, for Gaenef had announced his retirement from an adventuring life with the birth of his youngest child. He wrote his employer a detailed letter regarding that decision, and with the trade of Merand for the old man, Boric had accepted the older man's departure with the cold, calculating practicality that he was famous for.
Merand absently spat a wad of saliva on the ground as he rapidly went over his training at Boric's Iron Wolves compound. Boric had used him a lot on his assignments over the years, which had said volumes about his opinion of Merand's skills as a warrior. But there was a clash of ideals between Merand and the mercenary overlord for while the dark haired young man stopped caring about how much gold he was going to get, Boric was of the opinion that every job was about money and nothing else. They had parted on speaking terms at least, and Merand had found a home for his ideals with the Harpers. Merand had some regrets about his path, but all in all he was pretty satisfied with his lot in life.
"That is a disgusting habit of yours, but then again what can you expect from a mere human?" a curiously accented male voice said.
Merand gave the person a sidelong glance that carried no hint of friendliness towards the speaker, and then he deliberately hocked another mouthful of spit on the dirt. God damn annoying prissy fellow, he thought irritably. I wonder what it would take to shut him up?
The person who had made that remark about Merand's personal habits was not a man but a male elf. He had the same finely wrought angular features as any member of the elfin race did, and his hair was golden and flowed like silk down his shoulders. He was dressed in a bright green outfit of which he was enormously proud, and he walked as if he was the only creature in all of existence that was blessed with extraordinary grace and beauty. This elf had a Moonblade as a weapon that, while being possessed of an annoying personality, was more welcome in Merand's company than its wielder was. The warrior regretted that this particular elf, who obviously considered himself to be the pinnacle member of the fair folk, was also a Harper who happened to be married to one of the priestesses currently attending the Hunt. If he had not had been Harper and husband to a cleric of Eilistraee, then Merand would have found an excuse by now to "invite" him for a private round of sword fighting. Merand had a pretty good idea of who would emerge the victor in that contest.
"You are so uncouth that it is a wonder how you ever became a member of the Harpers in the first place," the elfin male said. "I tell you the Herald must have been desperate for help the day you joined."
Merand turned his head to stare at his bothersome nemesis. "He must have wanted someone to talk to that wasn't so grating on the nerves Blisterwart," the warrior responded while deliberately mispronouncing the elf's name.
The elf's eyes practically bugged out at the insult. "My name is Belis'terweirt!" the elf replied shrilly. "And I will have you know that my wife Ser'lentianna is one of the priestesses participating in the High Hunt, so you had better be showing others some proper respect!"
"Good for you," Merand replied in an even voice. And because he knew how much it irritated Belis'terweirt when he expectorated the contents of his mouth, the warrior gathered a large mouthful of saliva and spat it on the ground near the elf's shoes.
The results were predictable as the elf began hurtling all sorts of insults at the human who held an obvious dislike for him. If the elf had thought to ask his human antagonist why he didn't care for his company then Merand would have given him an earful of the choicest curse words at his command, and he knew an awful lot of swear words. Eventually Belis'terweirt stopped talking when he realized that his speech was falling on deaf ears, and he moved away from the human male in a huff. That suited Merand just fine for shutting the elf up had been his goal the entire time. Then he glanced up when the sounds of females chanting and laughing reached his ears. Finally the women, and more importantly Elideira, had returned from their ritualistic hunting. Merand waited until he heard the sounds of music before he walked towards the campfire to see how well the priestesses had fared during their hunt.
Dreams and Sacrifices: Part 4
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