Another shorter story, this one is set during Nathaniel Drakkon's exile and takes place in the desert land of Ahm-Shere.
The ship journey had been long. It had finally arrived on the coast of Ahm-Shere. Nathaniel had been told by Galthrain the captain of the Starry Night that they were coming in to the harbour of a port town which was called Ath-Amn. The Starry Night was a merchant ship which made trips between Ahm-Shere, the White Realm and Rifelindor, amongst other lands. Galthrain as well as most of the crew were Ahm-Sheran. It was more of a cargo ship than a passenger ship. On this last trip Nathaniel Drakkon was one of seven passengers. Thankfully none of the other passengers were overly curious about him. He had little desire to be asked his life story and even less desire to tell it.
The journey had been taxing on him. The spirit of Lilith Albrecht was railing against his will, as she always did when he was trapped in a single place. He had actually been glad when that pirate ship had attempted to board them; it gave Nathaniel the opportunity to vent.
As the pirates closed with the Starry Night, Nathaniel had launched a sheet of flame at them, setting fire to their sails. Then he lifted the pirate captain up, snapped his neck, and dropped him into the water. Nathaniel finished by scattering four of the pirates from port to starboard. Naturally, pirates being cowardly and craven at heart, acting like scavengers preying on the weak, they thought better of this and veered away.
Two days later and the Starry Night pulled into port. Nathaniel had disembarked with the rest of the passengers and headed into the town of Ath-Amn. He had spoken in detail with Captain Galthrain during the voyage. The captain had said that the pirates were encroaching on the shipping lanes more and more each year. They were getting bolder by the day and while the proper navies of lands like Weissland and the White Realm could handle the pirates, the seas were no longer safe for merchants. Galthrain was planning to join with several other merchants to form a flotilla for mutual defence, unfortunately that would mean any profits would be shared amongst the group, and Galthrain and his crew would have to tighten their belts to survive. It was worrying, but there was little Nathaniel could do. Galthrain had thanked him for driving off the pirates but Nathaniel replied “The passage and information was thanks enough.”
As Nathaniel Drakkon walked through the harbour area towards the interior of the town, he took in the atmosphere of the place. It was a port, but much different to Ordail, which he was familiar with. In Ordail there was a coolness, often even a chill. But here there was no cool air, in fact the air was warm, almost stifling. Yet there was still a breeze with the tang of salt water.
The town was positively bustling with people but from what Galthrain had told him Ath-Amn only had a population of around one thousand. Most of the people were traders, merchants, ship crews and passengers who did not live in Ath-Amn. Nathaniel was looking for an Inn to stay at for the night. His plan was simple, even if the execution of it would be difficult and tiring. He would travel northward, first to the city of Dorsgiliath, then to another called Remmus. Galthrain had shown him a map of Ahm-Shere and told him where he should go. Nathaniel would purchase his own map here, but its main purpose was to aid him in travelling out of Ahm-Shere to reach the Golden Empire. It seemed more likely Nathaniel would find a way to get rid of that damned spirit in the Golden Empire than here. Yes, that’s right, he thought, I’ll be free of you soon.
Inside his head, he could hear Lilith speak “Five years mage, five years and you’ve had your hopes dashed before. All those possibilities you’ve followed and none have worked. Some you’ve even given up because of your pride and morality. Face it I’m with you for the long haul.” Her laughter reverberated in his mind and Nathaniel knew she was right. Other plans had failed, but one would work eventually. It was all a matter of time and patience and a battle between her will and his. He was sure he would come out the stronger.
After about five minutes of walking he reached a suitable place to stay, the horse and rider Inn. When he stepped inside Nathaniel found it to be not unlike every other tavern, pub, Inn, bar or alehouse he had been to. Even during the day the Inn was fairly busy and he had to wait for a while to speak with someone who worked there. The barkeep asked “What can I get you?”
Nathaniel leant over the bar and looked at the woman, who seemed to be in her early thirties with dark brown hair and tanned skin. He said “I need a room for the night. How much will it cost?”
The woman replied “We’ve still got some rooms spare but it’s the busy season, so it’ll cost you. Twenty gold for the night, that includes dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow. Drinks are separate.”
Nathaniel nodded, drinks were always separate. He said “I’ll take it, here’s the gold.” He handed the barkeep the gold coins.
Taking the money, she said “I don’t have time to show you the room just now, we’re kind of swamped. But if you’d like a drink I’ll get it for you.”
Nathaniel thought for a moment then said “Sure, I could use a drink, a beer, please.”
The barkeep returned quickly with the pint of beer and placing it down, she said with a smile “It’s on the house.”
Nathaniel raised the pint, returned the smile and said “My thanks.” He turned and headed over to a small empty table. It had only two chairs around it, so he would be left alone unless the Inn became even busier than it already was.
Nathaniel nursed the pint of beer, drinking it slowly. He had discovered over the years that if he drank too much, he could not control the spirit. He could not keep her concealed as easily. But Nathaniel Drakkon had spent many years drinking before the spirit had been bound to him. He could have a few drinks and still be fine. He knew his limits. As Nathaniel sat at his table, many sailors entered in small groups. He spotted Galthrain enter with his first mate and a couple of others from the crew of the Starry Night. Galthrain went to the bar and ordered a drink. After he handed over some coins and took his drink he turned around to look at the large room. Galthrain saw Nathaniel and waved “Nathaniel, nicely chosen Inn. Come and join us.”
Nathaniel smiled and nodded, standing up and walking over to the bar beside Galthrain. He said “Galthrain, good to see you. Crowded in here isn’t it?” He took a drink of his beer.
Galthrain leant against the bar and said “Yes. This is one of the more popular drinking establishments, especially for captains and senior crew. The rabbles stay closer to the ships, less distance to stumble back!” He laughed and slapped his first mate on the shoulder.
The first mate of the Starry Night was a lean but heavily muscled man with bronzed skin. His arms were covered in many tattoos, one of which was the silhouette of a ship surrounded by stars, the Starry Night. His name was Baris. He said “If you think its busy here now, wait ‘til tonight. It’ll be heaving.” Baris had been a sailor his entire life, born the son of a captain, raised a cabin boy and deck hand, Baris was the stereotypical sailor.
A few hours passed, evening setting in, and Nathaniel saw that Baris was right. The place was packed, and the three men were crushed into a line at the bar. Even as Nathaniel took a drink he heard her, that blasted spirit. She said “It won’t be long. You cannot keep me contained, not forever. I’ll break free, I’ll destroy, I’ll ruin, and I’ll kill you and all your magic-using kind. Every last one of them.”
Nathaniel thought back, I’ll never allow it. You have no true power; you are just a minor obstacle in my life. A short while later and the crowds had thinned out a little. Still a host of voices filled the Inn. Nathaniel had been talking with the two Ahm-Sherans for a while, telling them of some of the places he had travelled to. They in return told him of trading in Ahm-Shere and beyond, frantic chases with pirates, time spent in the ports of the White Realm and other places. Galthrain was just saying “The last time I was in Port Village--” When another man at the bar bashed into him.
The man split his drink and gave an angry look before saying “Watch where you’re going. Stupid bastard.”
The man was bigger and burlier than the merchant captain. Galthrain swallowed hard “Sorry friend.”
The other sailor was either too drunk or too belligerent to leave it at that “I’m not your friend! You better watch yourself. I don’t like the look of you, shifty little bastard.” What was worse was that Nathaniel could hear the Weissland accent in the man’s voice.
Galthrain tried to end the argument again “I apologise. I’ll buy you another drink.”
The Weissland sailor was having none of it though “I don’t want your stinking apology you smarmy git! Don’t want yer drink either. You sand-sifters are all the same, I’m sick of you.”
Things were getting out of hand. Galthrain tried to just turn back to his drink and ignore the man. Nathaniel debated whether he should say something. His keen eye caught a glint. Nathaniel pulled Galthrain away behind him and stood in front of the man. Nathaniel was six feet three inches tall and stood a clear head above even the Weissland sailor who had drawn a dagger. Nathaniel spoke, his voice a deep rumble with a clear Weissland accent “You better put that knife away boy, before I shove it up your arse!”
The sailor said nothing but growled and tried to bring the knife to bear. Nathaniel wasted no motion, grabbing the man’s wrist and slamming it down skilfully on the bar. The knife skidded free, landing in the floorboards behind the bar. The sailor grunted “Bastard!”
Nathaniel pushed him back a step and said “Do you know who I am? Nathaniel Drakkon, mage of Weissland. I’d think very carefully about your next move. Why don’t you just stop embarrassing our country and leave before I boil you from the inside out?”
Even as the sailor was beginning to comprehend what he had gotten involved in Nathaniel could hear Lilith. Her venomous voice was filled with excitement as she said “Kill... kill, kill... kill, kill, kill, kill! Do it, do it now! Teach him a lesson mage, teach them all a lesson they’ll never forget. Burn this town to the ground; you know you can do it!”
As the sailor said “I don’t want no trouble mage. I didn’t know who you were.” Nathaniel could only think, that’s not an excuse. You don’t get to do this. I’m sick of bullies who back off and want to get a free pass when someone stands up to them. I’m damn sick and tired of seeing people like you strutting around when I struggle to live my life to show how good we are supposed to be. How can I be an example when men like you are cutting us down all the time? Maybe you do need to be taught a damned lesson! Maybe she’s right for once. In the background the spirit was urging him on.
Nathaniel’s emerald green eyes seemed to take on a hard edge. A grimace spread across his face and he grabbed the sailor by the shirt, balling up a fist and drawing back. The fist came within inches of connecting before the mage stopped himself. He boomed “You don’t get a second chance. Get out now!”
The sailor nodded slackly and rushed out of the Inn. Nathaniel turned back to the bar, keeping his head low as he breathed deeply. You don’t get to win, not that easily, he thought. I won’t throw it all away for that, you don’t get to beat me spirit. The other people in the room turned back to their own business after a few moments. Galthrain said “Thank you Nathaniel, I was a bit out of my depth there.”
Nathaniel replied without looking at him “That’s ok Galthrain. People shouldn’t be like that, you shouldn’t have to go through things like that. Some people need to learn some manners. I’m just sorry that he was a Weisslander.”
Baris said “You can’t be held accountable for other people’s attitudes.”
Nathaniel nodded “I suppose you’re right, but I still don’t like it.” He drained his beer and said “It’s getting late; I’m going to get some sleep. I’ve still got a long journey ahead of me tomorrow.”
Galthrain raised his glass “Well, goodbye and good luck Nathaniel, unless we don’t see you again before you leave. And thank you once more. I do hope our paths cross again.”
As Nathaniel walked away towards doors at the back of the room which led to the stairs he said “You’re welcome Galthrain, and you never do know who you’ll meet along the way.” When he had safely entered his room and closed the door, he leant back heavily against it. Nathaniel cast his staff aside and drew his sword. The runes flared briefly before fading to the colour of the steel. Clasping the hilt in both hands, he held it before his face, before finally laying the flat of the blade against his head. The mage growled with barely contained fury, eyes forced shut, and teeth grinding. The moment passed, and he put the sword away. There were times when the spirit came close to getting the better of him, when situations infuriated him and he struggled with her, and with his own darker side. He had come close this time, too close, and now it seemed clear that he needed a cure. Nathaniel had to find a way to get rid of the spirit, before he really did lose control. More than that he needed to be away from people, to truly be alone to deal with his problems.
Lying down on the bed, still feeling the intense uncomfortable heat of Ahm-Shere, he tried to sleep. Slipping fitfully into dreams, he found faces surrounding him. Everywhere Nathaniel looked he saw dead men and women, those he had failed to save, and those he had put in the ground himself. None of them seemed happy to see him, and all of his reasons seemed vague, petty, and meaningless. He felt hollow, empty and weak. Drifting through the dream Nathaniel found himself in a cavern and something was chasing him. The mage ran with ragged breaths until he reached a chamber and stopped dead in his tracks. There he saw the sword, suspended in a stream of light above a well. Looking into the blackness of the well, it seemed to go on forever. Waking with a gasp, Nathaniel found it was morning once more. His staff lay where he had left it, and the sword sat neatly against the wall, despite Nathaniel remembering putting it in the scabbard on the chair beside the bed. Still, he shook off the dream and prepared to leave Ath-Amn. With only a few hours gone since the mage had awoken, he took the freshly bought horse, a detailed map of Ahm-Shere, and provisions for the road and rode away.
Looking back at the small port town behind him from the dunes, Nathaniel Drakkon pulled the black hood of his robe up to cover much of his face, and fitted another piece of dark cloth around his mouth and nose. Now all that could be seen were his green eyes. There was a long journey ahead of him, through the cities of Ahm-Shere, the deserts and whatever else was in this country, so that eventually he would reach the southern border of the Golden Empire. A long way to go, and Nathaniel had no idea what might happen as he went. The sun was rising into the sky as he moved out of sight of Ath-Amn. Even now he attempted to shut out the torment of the spirit.