Timeline: Sixth Age, 45th Year, Mid-Autumn
“HER?!? Grandpop, you mean there was a girl on the battlefield?” Emcorae was shocked to hear the revelation just levied by the elder Azop, thinking surely that it was just another of the old man’s many stories.
For his part the gaffer just laughed, “No, Emcorae, there weren’t any women on the battlefield for, like us, the Drokka don’t let their maidens fight – but before you go thinking girls can’t fight, you best think again, boy. Some of the best warriors I’ve ever seen were Amorosi women – fierce warriors who are experts in their craft.” And raising a hand to quell the boy’s questions, Alfranco continued. “You wonder why I’ve never mentioned that before? It’s simple – ‘cuz these old coots’ around here have closed minds – they can’t fathom what they haven’t seen and they sure as hell ain’t never seen a girl that can kick their butts.”
“I’ll bet if you told them about it in one of your stories, they might change their mind.”
“Alas, son, you’re wrong on that one.” And here Alfranco sighed. “Don’t matter what I might say, they’d never believe that. Fact is that you can’t change someone’s mind if it’s already made up – no matter how great the storyteller may be.”
“Ok, then well what about your friend who helped you find the dagger? Tell me about that.”
“I’ll get to naming my friend, but first just listen up. You see, Em, my team and I spent hours searching through the bodies of all those men, trying to figure out what happened. We learned real quick that not only was King Ortwin and General Snorri dead, but so were all of his royal guardsman — they’d been separated from the main force by the myz knight and a bunch of vizigobs and it was pretty clear that was the intention of the evil horde from the beginning. We could see that Ortwin and his crew put up quite a fight — heck, I ain’t never seen so many dead goblins before! But in the end, it was all for nought because it appeared that everybody on both sides died.”
“How do you know? Perhaps some of the enemy ran away?”
“We didn’t see any tracks leaving the battlefield, Em, so unless someone sprouted wings, they didn’t escape.” Then, shaking away the vision, Alfranco went on, “So, anyway, we put a cairn over King Ortwin and Snorri exactly where they died ‘cause I always heard that’s how Drokka like to be laid to rest – right there on the battlefield. Then my fellows went searching through the rest of the bodies trying to see if there was any other intelligence we could pick up. I was the closest one to the myz so I began to search him. I found a few maps and stuff; naturally I was pleased, thinkin’ I’d found some important papers and that maybe I’d get medal or something. I was about to move on a nearby goblin when I saw something odd — something that had absolutely no reason for being there!”
“What?” asked Emcorae.
“A perfect lock of blond hair.” Alfranco smiled.
“Ha, ha, Grandpop! You got me. I fell for it. C’mon, now what’s the real truth?”
Holding up his palms, Alfranco persisted, “I tell no lies, Em. I noticed that the myz had something shiny under his shirt and when I lifted it up, I was as surprised to see it as you are to hear it — but there it was, a strand of blond hair, sticking out of the stomach of this myz. There was a bloody hole all around the area, but that hair was as clean as anything I ever saw. Weird! Now, heck, I ain’t never heard of the myz having blond hair on their bodies, but then again I hadn’t ever seen one this close before. I was fascinated by it — I couldn’t help but reach out to touch that hair.”
“Yeah, I know it sounds pretty weird, and that’s why I don’t tell this part of the story. Don’t want the guys thinking I’m a freak or something. But listen good now — the way I figured it was if this was a mark of all myz, then bringing back the lock would prove to our superiors that there really was a myz who fought here. See?”
“Hey, that makes sense. Very smart, grandpop!”
“Yeah, well, that’s your grandpap for ya! But listen now ’cause here’s the best part — once I made up my mind to touch that hair, I still had to DO it — and that wasn’t easy! I hope you never have to see a myz – unless you see them dead like this one. Arg, they are a sight.” The old man paused, but then quickly rambled on, “OK. Let me just finish — the point is that I did it — I pulled on the hair sticking out of his stomach, and although it took me a tug or two, finally the strand came out. But something else came out of that bloody gash too.”
“The dagger!” guessed an astounded Emcorae.
“You got it, sir!” Said the oldster, proudly brandishing the black blade.
“But, grandpop, what does it mean? There’s got to be more to the story? What happened next? Why didn’t the War Generals take it from you? And who was the girl you mentioned? What happened to her? And why do—“
“Whoa, whoa,” Alfranco held up his hands to fend off Emcorae’s barrage. “Slow down. I’ll tell you all that I know, Em. I have to, because one day this little prize will be yours, and there’s a few things you need to know. First things first, even though I turned in that lock of blond hair to our leaders – who by the way couldn’t make hide nor hair of what it was doing on a myz – I have to admit, yes, shame on me, I didn’t tell anybody about the dagger! I mean, c’mon now, it was nothing more than an ordinary derk, and hey, I needed something to remember my travels with, neh?” And here he winked slyly. “It’s not like this sort of thing doesn’t happen all the time – warriors in battle ditch their weapons for betters ones all the time – it’s not like fallen soldiers have any more use for them, right? And while this little baby probably wasn’t any better than the dagger I had already, I couldn’t resist pocketing it. There’s just something ab–“
“Emcorae, time for bed.” Beckali interrupted the party as she came out to the porch.
Shocked to be interrupted on the verge of gaining such monumental knowledge, Emcorae pleaded with his mother, “Just a little longer, OK?”
“Only a quarter candlemark, honey, that’s it.” Beckali compromised.
Sensing the need to be quick, the boy was about to encourage Alfranco to go on, when just then came another voice – Pallina’s!
“Alfranco, what are you doing keeping Emcorae up like this?” chided the boy’s grandmother, now standing in the front door. “It’s time for both of you to go to bed.”
“Oh, psshaw, General Pallina,” Alfranco shot back, “I weren’t doing nothing wrong. Go back to bed.”
“Yeah, c’mon, Gram,” pleaded Emcorae.
“No, no, no, Emcorae,” said Pallina came out the door to fetch her dearest, “I don’t want you ending up like this drunkard here.”
Realizing the battle would surely be lost, Alfranco’s shoulders slumped, “She’s right, Em, you best get to bed.”
Despondent, the boy resisted, “But, what about our conversation, Grandpop? What about—“
But the old man shushed him, and once more appeared to be but a drunk old gaffer as he slurred, “Don’t ya’s none worry about that, Em, all’s in goo- time.” And seeing his wife’s disapproval he joked defiantly, “You’se two go in the house and get some shut eye; I thinks I’lls stay out here. I can’t stay this handsome looking without some fresh air and goo- night’s rest!”
Frustrated, Emcorae had no choice but to go with his grandmother into the house to get ready for bed, thus the unfinished tale of Alfranco’s dagger remained locked away for another day.
As he watched his grandson and wife leave, Alfranco softly called “Good night, Emcorae, good night.” Then, with a little tear in his eyes he spoke even more softly, “And good night, my dear Pallina, I love you too.” Then the old man slumped down and promptly fell asleep on the porch bench, snoring within but a few minutes.
Thus it was that Alfranco never noticed the beastly creature that was watching him from the woods.
After going to his bedroom – a semi-private, little affair which he shared with his baby sister Teree — an exhausted Emcorae promptly into a deep sleep. Unfortunately for him, it was not a restful slumber, and after numerous fits and kicks, all at once the boy jolted awake.
“NIGHT!” He screamed, strangely finding himself staring out his bedroom window. He didn’t recall getting out of bed, yet he had little time to ponder this curiosity. Instead, “Black Night!” He moaned, viewing a strange scene brewing on the landscape to the fore.
Taking a step back from the window, he saw his Teree sleeping in her bed and taking a step closer to her he called out “Teree, wake up. Do you se–” That’s when Emcorae realized no sound was out of his mouth. “Hey! Can’t you hear me, Teree, wake up?” Then in a panic, “Mom! Dad! Help!”
But it was to no avail – no sounds came out of the boy’s mouth and nobody came to help. Emcorae suddenlty felt more alone than he’d ever felt been before. He wanted to run screaming out of the room — but instead he found his gaze pulled back to the window. “What is that black smog? Is it coming closer? Is it coming for… me?”
Watching through the window, Emcorae witnessed a strange play unfolding — the slow, ominous, captivating dance of an ever-growing wisp of black smoke. And with every beat <boom-boom> of Emcorae’s quickening heart, the dark fog <boom-Boom> appeared to be getting closer him. The swirling, twirling haze <boom-BOom> was so dark that its blackness bespoke of the very essence of Night — so much that <boom-BOOm> despite the fact that this was the darkest part of the nighttime hours, the black smoke did <boom-BOOM> cut a clearly defined gash through the nighttime air through which it flowed – making all else seem like <Boom-BOOM> nothing more than a pale shade of gray – and always the smog crept closer to Emcorae!
Time crawled along as the boy remained captivated by the scene outside; and still the Blackness flowed towards him. Emcorae wanted to run, to rip his gaze from the evil vision that was approaching him, calling to him, wanting to suck away his soul! <BOom-BOOM> Yet, he could not move! <BOOm-BOOM> And even as his mind became engulfed in the Blackness that was nearing him – the forward fingers now just a few yards away from his window!
Emcorae allowed his sight to trail backwards along the now huge expanse of the snakelike, inky stream. And as the smoky yarn’s tongue came ever closer, <BOOM-BOOM> Emcorae’s gaze raced farther back towards its tail, and once he finally reached the end, there it was that he got the greatest shock of all – for, about a hundred yards away, <BOOM-BOOM!> obscured by the cover of trees, <BOOM-BOOM!!> Emcorae saw a ghastly, gray-green scaled creature with giant wings holding a large clay pot in its arms — a vessel out of which the evil Blackness was pouring forth!
Although the boy didn’t know it, the man-beast that taunted him was a Deliverer and the creature was holding the source of <death> in its arms – an ancient evil that was now coming for Emcorae.
As the ebon smoke crawled up the side of the house and towards his window, <BOOM-BOOM!!!> the scaly beast-man locked eyes with Emcorae. With burning red eyes and the creature proffered a maleficent grin and pointed with a lone finger – as if staking a claim to the boy. Frightened out of his wits, Emcorae struggled to break his gaze — for the wisp was now at the level of his window and was threatening to come through the cracks. Yet, just then, the Deliverer did something amazing — it spread its massive wings, pulling them to their limits and showcasing the surging blood within their veins, jutting them out in a display of brute power! And then the beast dropped the pot and raised its arms to the high heavens just as, <BOOM-BOOM!!!>
“Gargoyle!” Emcorae screamed out! “That’s a gargoyle!”
“Em, be quiet!” an annoyed Teree whined out from her bed. “I’m trying to sleep!”
Suddenly Emcorae realized he was back in his bed and no longer at his window looking at that macabre play. Confused, the boy ran to the window – fearing what he might find, but irresistibly drawn to look for the evil creature and the soul-sucking smoke it had unleashed — yet when Emcorae gazed out, he saw…nothing.
“Was it all just a dream?” he whispered softly.
“Ssh,” Teree admonished. “Be quiet or I’ll tell mama.”
“Oh, shut up, Teree.” He snapped back, annoyed – for he was still frightened and needed to let off some steam. “Just get back to sleep.”
For his part, Emcorae was determined to remain awake for the rest of the night – for he did NOT want to re-open the doorway to his earlier nightmare. Yet it was not a promise he was able to keep. Like most boys his age, his mind wandered and eventually he forgot what it was he was so afraid of.
In a short time, Emcorae was sleeping again — and this time, as he dozed, he dreamed of happy thoughts.
Meanwhile, Alfranco was also experiencing a fitful sleep out on the porch bench. Eventually one of his many coughing fits woke him up. With his head pounding, he tried to breathe through the coughs – to no avail. Fearing that Pallina might hear him, the oldster staggered out to the front yard, away from the house.
And there in the grass before him stood the Goddess of Love — Alyssa!
Smiling with delight, the immortal wore naught but a loose sundress of verdant green — a garment that barely stretched down to her upper thighs.
“Alyssa!” Alfranco nearly shouted. “What in the devil are ya doing here?” And, he rushed up to her. “Is that really you?”
“You know it is, my love.” The goddess said in sing-song reply.
Suddenly sober, Alfranco was already corralling his visitor to the side of the Azop house, towards the cover of some oak trees that marked the beginning of the southern woods of Monthaven. “Ssshh, we can’t let nobody see us, you should know better ‘en that!”
“Oh, Al-Corragio. What is there to be afraid of?” Alyssa played coy, shaking her blonde curls to cover her eyes — not wanting to reveal that she’d sensed a Disturbance, nor that she had arrived just in time to dismiss the gargoyle that was stalking Emcorae!
“What’s to be afraid of?” Alfranco hissed. “Well, for one thing, there’s my wife, General Pallina! Goddess or not, she’d kill us both if she saw us talking here!”
“Well, then, my love, think of me as nought but a sweet dream.” Alyssa sighed. “After all, I’ve always been your Sweetest Dream, right? Dost thou forget the kind of dreams we two used to share during your time in Arbola?” And the goddess’s hand caressed the oldster’s weathered face in a gesture of romance – for to her, in spite of Alfranco’s age, Alyssa’s heart saw only the handsome young man of days long past.
Alfranco blushed at those remembrances, as he gently, but firmly, removed the goddess’s hand. His shoulders slumped and he slipped back into his drunken persona, “What brings ya to see me now? Ya know I can’t do nothin’ for ya no more? Oh, Alyssa, what do ya want from me? I’m nothin’ but a tired ol’ drunk now. Ya can get better than me, that’s for sure.”
“Nonsense, Al-Corragio. Speak not such falsehoods.” The goddess admonished, raising Alfranco’s chin so that he could look at her. “Fear not your spouse, for I come not to claim you again. Instead I have news — concerning Emcorae. Grand news indeed!”
Alfranco didn’t see the beautiful smile the Goddess of Love was flashing at him. Nor did he notice Alyssa’s excitement that was clearly evident by her heaving bosom. Instead, at the sound of Emcorae’s name, the old gaffer immediately sobered, as he growled, “Emcorae! What about him?”
“Fear not, my heart, for I have assured his place in history. I have devised a plan to have our Emcorae Azop become the first man to ever become an Azora warrior!” The goddess was almost giddy with delight at the anticipated happiness she was sure the statement would bring to her former lover. “And I personally will ensure that he succeeds. I will even have El-Janus be his mysstro. And—“
“Alyssa, no!” Alfranco’s voice was stern as he straightened up to his full height. “I won’t let you have Emcorae! And my grandson will not be a warrior! I want him to see the world as a merchant, NOT a fighter! I can’t bear the thought of him in any danger.”
“Oh, Al-Corragio, dost thou not trust me?” Alyssa pretended to pout, her blonde locks cascading in waves over her shoulders. “Dost thou think I would e’er let anything come to pass that might bring harm to our precious Emcorae? Foolish man, you know me better than that.” Alyssa laughed, but at the same time, she leaned quickly towards Alfranco.
The elder Azop tried to back away from the goddess’s advance, but his reflexes were too impaired, and Alyssa was easily able to bring her luscious lips in contact with Alfranco’s.
It was a kiss that packed a powerful punch, for Alfranco was instantly asleep!
“Ah…good.” The Goddess smiled in delight at her handiwork. “Rest, my sweet lover. And when you awaken you will find that your beautiful Alyssa is correct. My plans are already unfolding and will not be stopped. Soon I will send a messenger to call for Emcorae. And then it will be you, my heart, who will convince your family that my plans are for the best for everybody. For, although you know it not, it seems our favorite boy is now in danger – he faces a menace that will not go away – an ancient power that has found Emcorae because of you.” Then, brushing away unwanted thoughts, Alyssa brightened again, “But all will be well. I will protect you forever. And you will send Emcorae to me. And when you see him off, you will provide him with the dagger I revealed to you, and that talisman will help me to fulfill plans of that will change the history of the world!
“Sleep. Yes, sleep and dream.” The goddess continued, whispering her spells into Alfranco’s ear. “Dream of Alyssa your lover, as we once were. And know that your goddess will take care of everything, just like I always do for you.”
And with that Alyssa disappeared!
The next day, Pallina went to the woods behind the Azop house to look for some mushrooms for a special meal she was planning. There on the ground, lying next to an unusual, yet broken, clay pot, Paulina saw her husband Alfranco passed out. Assuming that the old man had stumbled out here during the night — the result of yet another of his drunken stupors — Pallina merely shook her head and walked around him, continuing to picked mushrooms as she went. She even spotted one next to Alfranco’s head, which she scooped up, before continuing on her way, however the old woman failed to spy the blonde lock that Alfranco tenderly clutched in his hand.