Grimwood tapped his foot. Once, pat-pat, twice. Same with the rain, it continued its relentless drips and drops. He looked out from his shelter. A cave, more like an overhang, was cut into the side of the mountain – high on the mountain. Lament’s Perch. He’d been looking for it for a few days now, one of the peaks around here had been the famed home of Lament, North Watchman of the past era. He’d certainly done more than watch though. Why Zohar had sent him up here, he didn’t know. Somewhere though, there was something and he would ‘just know’ when he found it. He could replay their conversation a thousand times and it still left that same empty feeling of not knowing what he was doing up here.
“Just go there, Grimwood,” Zohar said.
“Yeah, but why? What am I looking for?”
“Hmm, that is a fantastic question. You’ll know when you get there. Trust me, once you see it -you’ll just know.” Zohar had a way about him, gestures and all, you ended up going along with it, like a gut feeling you know is right.
Grimwood had gone on to figure out that Zohar didn’t rightly know what he was looking for either. He had ‘had a feeling’. Well, it wasn’t Grimwood’s place to wonder what the storming nonsense was about, Zohar was from the Story Forge, that was enough. Still, Grimwood liked to know what he was getting himself into. It was always better to know, then, to not know. Although, he could admit there was plenty he didn’t want to know. Like, how high up he was, Zohar had been happy to let him know that kind of details too. He was careful not to look -down- over the edge, that twisted his stomach into a knot tight enough to wring him out.
He was getting close to the top of this mountain, near enough, he’d have hours of climbing ahead of him, but the storm had come in. Hours later he was still sitting in this alcove, it was dry, big enough for him to stretch out and faced away from the buffeting storm winds. Not that it mattered, he couldn’t see much beyond the cloud-wall. Just wind, whipping rain, a perpetual howl that neared the edges of a wail. It was enough to drive anyone mad. No wonder Lament had gone and done what he had. Grimwood didn’t know the gritty details, but he knew he’d find any reason to get off this desolate slope. It was out in the middle of nowhere. Well, everyone knew where it was, buried in the Rangforne Mountains.
Zohar had found out where. Amazing the lengths some folks would go just to figure something out. Like finding Grimwood. He’d been sure no one would have tracked him down at Faulke Hill, he’d done alright as a hunter, not that it had much excitement, not compared to his battles with Tremmel. Not much had, until Zohar showed up. Grimwood didn’t even know it was him, not until it was too late, he could have slipped away, disappeared again. There was only one reason a Forge Master came for you.
He passed the hours by in thought, lost and wandering the ways of his mind. He remembered times of home and family, of growing with his brother and sisters. He replayed the days before, him and Arandt running off heads full of glory and battles, the fight of life and death and driving it to the edge. His thoughts flashed through those days, they had been a storm on the field. Those had been the good days. He nodded off, letting the storm outside, calm the one inside. When he woke up, hours had passed, the heavy clouds had run off to the north, he could see flashes of lightning, streaks that raced to the ground, sometimes they’d get over the mountains, and trap themselves in the Stormlands beyond. The night wasn’t far from arriving, but he wasn’t about to sleep again.
He stood and stretched. The scene was beautiful -now that he could see. Mountains marched up the horizon, the Timberlands – a massive uninhabited forest – grew right up to the slopes, eventually giving way as their roots couldn’t take hold. It was a solitary place, it unnerved Grimwood. He didn’t mind being by himself or living off the land, a man does what he does, but to live out here, so starkly alone, it wasn’t natural. Maybe though, he thought, his feeling was unnatural. Maybe, this was how it was supposed to be. Well, that wasn’t for him to worry over either. He had to do, whatever it was he was supposed to. This had a lot to do with getting to the top of this damned mountain.
Grimwood slung his pack over his shoulder, checked his sword, the one Ezrano had given him and started his ascent. The whole way up he was lost in thought, he couldn’t escape the musings of how Lament had survived over a hundred years up here alone, he knew someone had ferreted food back and forth, multiple someone’s, but aside from that who would bother to come out this way? No one, Grimwood. Lament was long dead. It irked him that he didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing. He’d know when he saw. He scoffed, internally and outwardly, and climbed.
It took four more hours before he found himself walking around the edge of a clearing. The path had swept wide, winding up the mountainside, encircling it. It wasn’t really a trail anymore, but this high up, vegetation didn’t grow, so the old grooves, the age-old stone markers stood, they marked the way well enough, he’d done the hard part and found the mountain. Zohar had done a good job at tracking it down, he made a note of that, despite his oddities and eccentric ways, he was effective.
Grimwood didn’t know what to expect. Would it be a grand monolith that had been erected in the memory of Lament? Or would it be a dust blown remnant, a desolate reminder of what used to be? Those were in all corners of the world. Grimwood had seen many himself. It was easy to leave the past forgotten, to let it become overgrown, buried. Mostly people wanted to get on with their day, relax, enjoy the company of family or friends, whether those were tangible or imagined, they tended to leave alone the relics of the past that had stopped moving, stopped growing. There were a few shrubs, misshapen by the height, the wind. Not much grew at this height, he was amazed to find even those up here. It made Grimwood want to look back, over the edge; he didn’t.
The wind was strong, whipping by him, tugging at his hair and clothes, it was cool too, even in the dead of summer the breeze held a chill, it gave him a wave of goosebumps. The ground was dusty, each step sent a shiver of it drifting through the air. He felt a weight, like the land itself, was heavy with something. Some places were like that, they had something more to them. He could feel it here, he looked around carefully. The path ran to what looked like an old firepit, there were two worn and weathered stumps that looked like seats, a stone chair was set on a rise overlooking the timberlands and to the north, along the mountains. The view was staggering. On top of it all, he imagined at one point it towered over the stone seat, was a Golden Maple.
All its leaves were gone, its bark had been peeled off in agony, it was dead. They were sacred trees, rare, so invaluably rare. He stared at it for a while, he’d only ever seen one once before. In the Bastille of Riant. There had been wars over who owned them. He walked up to it. Bootsteps crunching on dirt and gravel, he held his breath and traced his fingertips along it’s cracked and fraying bark.
“What happened?” He wondered aloud.
There were things in life, that just didn’t happen. Like, burning one of these trees, they grew only on the highest reaches of the world. Even Grimwood saw their beauty, felt that way of being, of a constant flow of growth. They defied the way other trees and plants grew. Up high, where others straggled, where the tree trunks and branches grew stunted, twisted and gnarled versions. Of themselves, Golden Maples would be tall and smooth and bore broad golden leaves. At one point this had been one. There was a time when Lament had stood watching the world from here, beneath that tree. Grimwood supposed he had been -in part- its protector too.
A piece broke off, brittle, in his hands. It crumbled and fell, much like the way time can slip from grasp. He turned away, looking at the rest of the mountain top. It was wide, and comfortable enough, for a mountain top. There was what looked like a hole dug into the side of the mountain, that turned out to be a two-roomed shelter, he would have called it a comfortable home, had the door not been broken inward, and bits -chunks- of stone missing from some of the walls. Like the tree, he guessed at some time this was a pleasant place. He kicked a bit of crushed stone around, it skittered across the floor. There wasn’t much to look at, a couple of decrepit pieces of furniture, an oven or fireplace or something carved into the wall. A chunk had been broken from the western wall, exposing the whole place to constant wind, it cut through the rooms and echoed loudly.
“What am I supposed to find here Zohar?!” He exclaimed.
He’d just walked clean across the country and this place was deserted. A relic of the past, gods he hated wasting his time, more than anything. It was the one thing he couldn’t earn more of, the one thing he couldn’t reach back for. There had to be something out there. He searched more thoroughly, scouring the room. He pushed aside the crumbling bits of wood, nothing but clutter and frustration. Finally, not that it was too long, the shelter wasn’t a palace, he found his way outside. He wasn’t about to start the climb down this late in the day, going up is one thing, but downward was a whole different story.
Instead, he trekked down the path and gathered a bit of wood, a couple of quick armloads which he tied together and dragged up behind him. All in all, it took him about a half-hour, there was a patch of stunted trees not far below that hadn’t been pillaged for years. The sunset, a fire crackled, the wind blew a constant wail in the background, Grimwood watched as the day ended. He sat below the remains of the Golden Maple, he was surrounded by pieces from another time, another age. The things here, they had witnessed the life of a different time, a different flavor. He lost himself in thoughts of what life was like then. Probably not too far different from now. Hardships, friends, family, laughter, pain, life and death, how much did that change?
With the fading day, the cold crept in and Grimwood moved inside into the stone-worked shelter. Even though there were some gaps in it, it was far better than outside, exposed. He got the fire going, bringing some warmth and life to the long-forgotten bit of earth, none had returned after Lament. It had been left to be scored from memory. He pushed what he assumed was the remains of the bed and other bits of rubble into one of the holes -for what little that helped. It made him feel better, warmer. Once everything was cleared a piece of the floor under the bed stuck out. It was slightly raised, out of place.
As he was prying the stone out of its place he grew excited, he disliked wasting his time. Dust puffed up, sand and broken bits of stone fell and ground as he pulled it free. There, in the opening sat an ancient-looking book. Great, thick pages, a volume if he’d ever seen one. Just the kind of thing Zohar would have been looking for. He pulled it out carefully, gods knew he’d pay if he damaged the damn thing. He opened the first page, sand poured off it even as he did. It was the accounts of those that had lived here, that had spent thousands of years watching this very spot. Overlooking the northern reaches of Rangforne, guarding the Golden Maple, until Lament.
He held the book in his hands. It was centuries of information, a wealth of knowledge, and certainly what Zohar had sent him here for. He wrapped it and put it in his pack, he’d let Zohar worry about what was in it, Grimwood was more the ‘experience it’ type anyway. Sleep came crashing in, even with the howling wind. The morning came quick. He stretched, made sure he hadn’t just dreamt up finding the book -he hadn’t and walked outside. The air was crisp, but a warmth found its way in on the first day’s rays of sunlight. He was excited to be on his way, a fresh day, even if the chill had woken him, it was the kind that welcomed a walk, the kind where you didn’t start sweating two minutes in.
He looked at the fire pit, there had once been laughter there, instead a lonesome settled in. Something caught his eye by the tree -what was left of it, it looked like some more of it had flaked off through the night, carried off by the wind. Even as he walked closer, it seemed bits flew off, pieces broke away and drifted by him. It seemed to be shedding, every step more dropped, fell, and fluttered away. Then, as if a great billow of wind flew through, the rest of the blackened, brittle bits of the tree blew away. In a wave, they were gone, cast into the winds and beyond the mountainside. He watched as the last bits drifted out of sight.
Grimwood turned back to where it had stood, where the sacred tree had once grown, proud, pure, a representation of life. Something seemed to glisten. It was golden. A new growth, in place of old. It was wonderful, it was unheard of, it made Grimwood groan. He set his pack down, sincerely hoping that Zohar hadn’t known about the book. This little tree had a new companion, Grimwood couldn’t just leave it. He cursed his luck and started to get used to the scenery.
For love for life, where the powerful rise and fall, into the wilds of Rangforne we go.