The five of us walked into the city. Rint was at the front, he’d never been to Rangforne and he couldn’t help himself. “No way!” He bounded ahead, disappearing into the crowd.
“Rint!” That was Shorne, don’t forget the ‘e’, he hates that.
I’ll never forget that day, walking below the Arch of Halar, they say no man is the same afterward. Maybe it was just the way all folks talk of their home. Maybe not, I was never the same. Rint came running back, he carried a fruit, a rippleberry I think, I never knew. Funny how those things seem important sometimes, mostly afterward. You know, when you can only look back, and you’re left with the fuzzy remembrance you’ve barely held onto. That’s how I think I remember that day, by the bits and pieces I had paid attention to. There were birds, gulls, that flew back and forth below the highest reaches of the Arch, and on a day when the wind was high, there would be a low hum that echoed.
We used to call it the ‘Song of the Storm’. How fitting. That low hum still fills my dreams, the ones where I sit, looking out from the top of that wall, and the wind blows, the sun sets on a fire-filled city. Sometimes those thoughts stick more than others. That had been the first time I saw that kind of storm. Not the natural kind, though those could be something fierce on their own. That was the day I met Flint and Alanna. You’d never believe it, but I did, he had a storm in his eye if I ever saw one, her too. That was later.
This day was exciting enough without that. I remember a team of horses, Fardoran Chargers I think, surged through the middle of us, Shorne nearly got trampled, they blared a trumpet and sent my ears ringing. I’m sure Shorne cursed, he was always good for some colorful language. The kind that pickled some ears. Others didn’t seem to mind, I didn’t, Shorne could swear ten times his weight and it didn’t bother me. They thundered by us without heed. It’s funny how something like that can irritate you, instead of making you stop to wonder what they were rushing for in the first place. Of course, the way life works, that didn’t happen.
“What in the storming hells!” Shorne yelled after them, I laughed at that, sometimes you just have to laugh.
“Trent.” That was Zara, I had always thought she was beautiful.
“Yeah?” I asked.
“Look, to the North.”
I did. Sometimes, when you don’t know what you’re looking for, you can just miss the thing you’re supposed to see. Then I saw, though really, I heard it first. Shouts that carried themselves across wind and plain. In the distance, I could see figures running. Beyond the outlying vendors of the city, passed the small village that harbored the horses of Rangforne, Saddlebirth. It happened like a wave, at first just a few were running, at the farthest reaches where I could scarcely see. We all watched, Rint chewing on his score, Shorne was cursing under his breath. Nolton and Zara watched quietly. None of us moved from beneath that Arch for long minutes, the kind that stretches out way beyond the normal passing of time. Where it seems each flick of it takes hours to pass.
At first, we all thought it was something to worry about, but soon it was apparent that it was a growing excitement. As the wave of shouts grew louder, closer, bigger, when we could see the rushing crowd more clearly, our worries abated. Sometimes a moment is showered in exhilaration. This was one of those. The horses that had thundered by were forgotten and we watched as the crowd from afar drew closer, and the one behind us grew larger. This was the day I met Zohar Raine and as I said, I was never the same. That happened later though.
“What do you s’pose this is all about?” I asked.
“Probably chasing those blasted horsemen.” Shorne retorted, I knew he wasn’t upset with me, he was the kind of guy that wanted to face a thing head-on.
“I’m surprised you’re not,” Zara said, she liked to poke at him when he was irritated, most of the time he didn’t mind, we had an odd entourage.
The crowd around us grew, at first, a handful of the Halar Guard had rushed out to the front, fervent in their shouts, trying to root out the cause of the commotion. Once it became apparent, they had quieted and watched alongside everyone. The crowd murmured and shifted, antsy, that’s how I would describe it, they milled about, unsure of what to think, asking amongst themselves, some cried out war was on the foothills and would soon consume us all. Others shouted for them to shut up and move to Fardoragh if that’s how they wanted to act. Most people here in Rangforne assumed it was that way there, brutal, full of fights, the blood-letting kind, constant battles in the provinces. I’d been there, can you blame me? A guy’s got to follow some curiosities. Truth is they were much the same as the people here, the ‘common’ folks that are. They aren’t much different than you or me.
“Let’s get going. We didn’t come to join a party.” Nolton said, his voice was deep, sometimes hard to hear, he mumbled a bit too, but he was right.
Rint scowled, he liked this kind of stuff. When people gathered, and you can feel their energy; whatever kind it was, he relished in it. I liked it most of the time. Then, looking out from that massive archway, I enjoyed it. For a little bit, it felt like we were part of it. But, we turned and continued, Shorne at the front. He was very good at working his way through a crowd, I always thought it was because he didn’t like them, maybe it was that, or the way he’d growl walking through it. Regardless, we were out of the milling group of excitement in a few quick moments.
Inside the city seemed just as busy. Hundreds rushed toward the Arch, curiosity-driven, people don’t like being left out, or missing something. “I hope we don’t miss anything,” I remember Rint saying that at the same time I thought it. One of those times I’ll always remember, when a coincidence coalesces, I had laughed, hard and loud.
“Don’t worry Rint, there’s always something else to miss,” Zara said with a small smile, maybe it was meant to console him, it made me laugh again.
“Yeah, like when we went to Crescent Bay?” Nolton chided.
“Just like then!” Rint agreed, he bobbed his head.
I liked the smell of walking into the city, a low wind brings all the aromas together into this amalgamated scent that is both pungent and sweet, sharp and welcoming, maybe that was just the way I looked at it. We made our way toward the center of the city. Long roads wound around shops and homes, built-in more styles than spices at Amni’s Exchange, some towered above us, stacked the way bricks would, house on top of the shop and so on. Some were from the days when Rangforne was built, though it hadn’t been called that then. Those were beautiful, unique, worked by masterful hands and more. There isn’t any place like it, in all honesty, every place is like that though, even if it’s by the scantest breath, it’s different.
We were here, looking for something. I’ll be damned, I forget what it was, it’s one of those things. Now, later, it doesn’t matter what we were there for, we never found it anyhow. Chances are those kinds of things were never there to begin with. It was Zara that would keep track of what we were doing, what our real destination was. Me and Rint, Shorne, even Nolton, we were mostly along for the adventure, the traveling, and companionship, maybe not Nolton, I always thought he had a thing for Zara. It was a rare time in my life. One of freedom and careless wanderings. Don’t get me wrong, I cared alright. I cared about something good to eat, somewhere warm to sleep, I cared about the secrets ferreted away in the corners of the kingdom. Lost ideas, and legends, and those tales that make your skin crawl, all the wandering ways of a curious soul. I cared about trying to change the world. And, I cared about the coins it put in my pocket.
“It is not here,” Zara said.
I knew it wouldn’t have been. We stood in a hallway of a stuffy library. There were old swords and relics of the past. Scrolls, some opened and drawn for all to see, others were cared for out of reach, it was a place where old things gathered, not just books. Seems odd to me that we always ended up in a dark lit building, where dust was as present in the air as the air itself, and a musty smell could be nearly tasted. I could taste it in the air. “The air tastes terrible here. Next time remind me to wait outside.”
“C’mon Trent, you know we both love these spots Zara drags us to, especially on a beautiful sunny day, when half the city is murmuring to themselves at the gates,” Rint said, he was always quick to throw a little sarcasm around, and he didn’t let things go easy, we all knew that though, so it was one of those things.
“You’re all the ones that insist on coming,” Zara said.
“Yeah, that’s because we’d never find you after. Imagine how we’d explain that. ‘Well, you see, Zara went ahead…and we lost her between two pages of some book.’ That’d go over well.” Shorne said.
Nolton laughed, we all did, even Zara. There had been a time that had nearly happened. Some books were more consuming than others. “More like, you just couldn’t find where they keep the books. When was the last time you read a book Rint?”
“Why are you picking on me? I read that one you gave me.” He had too, I had watched him struggle with it for three days, not because he had a hard time reading, but because Zara had chosen one of blandest books written. I had a suspicion it was simply for her amusement.
“He’s right Zara, he read every page of that thing,” I said, laughing to myself, remembering that night by the river where we had camped, Rint had been complaining about the book, wondering how anyone could have survived writing the thing.
‘How can I forget? He seems to remind me as often as he can.”
“If it’s not here, then let’s get going. I feel like I’m turning to an antique.” Shorne muttered, he did not like stuffy places, I think it had to do with something that happened to him, but, you never know with people, sometimes they just have a way of feeling, sometimes a place just makes them squirm.
“Fine! I’m ready too, let’s find somewhere to stay tonight and we can plan our next move. I was sure it was going to be here, turns out not.” I wish I could remember what it was, because it had seemed so important then, and that makes me feel like it’s important now.
We left the Rangforne library, Rint and Shorne said they wanted to go see what was happening back at the gates. We could hear a roiling noise that can only be attributed to a crowd of people. We had the rest of the day to ourselves, Zara, Nolton and I made our way to get some rooms for the night. I always found those two, funny. Rint and Shorne. Rint would wind up getting them into some uncomfortable spot, usually at the wrong end of an argument, and Shorne, being Shorne, would put an end to it. Of course, sometimes that argument would be between the two of them. Some friendships are like that, and they were great friends.
Turns out all the commotion was over a group of citizens from Crescent Bay. Fardorough had descended on their city and they were under siege.
“That’s what we heard,” Rint said, he had burst into telling it as soon as he and Shorne had returned.
“It’s true,” Shorne confirmed.
I couldn’t believe it, I don’t think Zara or Nolton did either. There had been a sort of peace for centuries between the three nations. The folk from the Stormlands kept to themselves, and few were insane enough to travel there. I’ve found generally it’s the same wherever I went, people trying to survive, enjoy their lives, spend time with their loved ones. Now don’t get me wrong, not everyone values that. That was something that took me a long time to realize, I think my travels with everyone, Shorne and Rint and Nolton, Zara too, we all valued different things. But hearing about Crescent Bay, that pricked something in all of us. Rint had grown up there, Zara and Nolton had met there and started their journeys. I couldn’t imagine the beautiful city bristling with battle-torn families, or the sight of an army entrenched in the fields that surrounded it.
We didn’t know then, but that was just the beginning. Sure, we suspected, we talked about it, about how this could just be the match to the fire.
“What are we going to do?” I remember how heavy that question had hung in the air, the kind of statement that leads to a silence you could taste.
Sometimes, all your life leads you to a moment that just changes everything, and as I said, I was never the same after walking through the Arch. The door opened to the inn, it was a quiet place, it was one I had suggested and used a few times throughout the years. Maybe it was just being at that place at just the right time, or wrong time, I still can’t tell you which it should be, but it was that time. The way the door creaked opened, the silence that blanketed us, the scar, there was only one person I knew of that held that. It was the mark of the Keeper. No one ever returned from that valley. No one except Zohar Raine.
“Trent.” His voice carried the way a gust of wind does across the water, in a rush we were surrounded by it. Looking back, maybe I was the only one that felt that way, he had that effect.
“Zohar.” It felt right to show I knew who he was. “Forge Master.”
He was young then, not much older than I, and when he laughed at the way I said that I could see it. That moment of youngness was gone though, in a flash. Duty, responsibility can be heavy, the kind he put on himself was the heaviest, that stepped in. I knew what was coming. Everyone did, I was sure Rint shuffled a step or two away, maybe he was trying to hide, and not get caught up in a Forging. The thing with those was, there was no way out, not for anyone. Not even Halar if he had still lived.
“Trent, I am calling on you. You are to travel to Crescent Bay within the hour. There you will find a thief, don’t let his profession fool you. You two will get along just fine. He’s held in the Fardorough camp right now, but I’ve got a feeling by the time you get there, he’ll be sitting pretty beside the water.” He shook his head, “He likes to stare at the boats right at sunrise.” Zohar paced the room, he had an energy that seemed to fill the empty spaces all around them, I felt like I should be pacing with him.
What was I supposed to do? It wasn’t like I could just abandon Zara and everyone else, Rint, you know, he needed looking after. The truth was, I had no choice. “What about after I find him?” I took a step back when he turned, there wasn’t any anger, nothing like that, it was a presence. I could feel it, I swear. Now, I know a bit more about it, it wasn’t like he was special in that way, he just had found it, and could hold it.
Nobody said anything. He went on a bit more, but the moment washed over me, so did his words. He was going to meet me beneath the Arch and travel and we were going to travel to Saddlebirth. Standing there in that softly lit room, trying to comprehend it all. No one I’ve ever met expected to part of a Forge, no one that ended up involved in one, at least on my end. I suppose Zohar, other Forge Masters knew, that was their job. Rangforne was built by their lives and will. Though I suppose it ended up falling on the shoulders of folks like me, those pulled from their lives to carry that will.
The door closed shut, Zohar was gone.
“Zohar Raine,” Shorne said it with awe that fringed his voice.
“He’s just a man,” Zara said.
“Tell that to the Keeper.” Shorne shot back.
“That’s just a fairy tale!”
Shorne just chuckled and shook his head. That was the thing with legends, no one knew what to believe, or rather, maybe it was more everyone thought they knew what was true. I knew he was as close to the legend as any man had a right to be. The five of us spent the next hour together, awkwardly avoiding what had just happened, skirting around the news of Crescent Bay. I had no doubt the four of them would travel to that city on their own, and maybe we would see each other then. Though, you never know where a Forging will take you, and more often than not they took up years and whole swaths of land. We all knew the stories, at least the ones that were remembered. A good Forge Master’s work would last ages.
I think I was stuck in not comprehending it, in a way my thoughts seemed to avoid the whole thing. That last hour flew by before I knew it I was beneath The Arch of Halar. The wind blew strong, and that low hum resonated off the wall, I felt a storm raging inside. My gut twisted, there was excitement, a piece of me had always wanted to be part of a Forging, a bit of the telling. Zohar waited, he stood alone, unassuming, as if he was a simple traveler wandering through Rangforne. I knew the forlorn looks from my friends had known, the way my fingers pricked on the edge of numb could tell. Yet, Rangforne seemed to move around him. That’s the only way I can describe it, everyone seemed to just miss him.
“Trent.” He smiled, a soft thing, he had a reputation for understanding what he asked from those he chose, “This won’t be easy.”
I nodded, words stuck in my throat. There wasn’t much for me to say anyway. There are moments in life where listening speaks as loud as voice. The kind that tests you, will, determination, your self-worth. I knew little then about sacrifice, I knew enough though, that it was required. I was about to give a part of my life to a Forging, maybe it would be one that would last through the ages, maybe not. Maybe I would lose my life. We walked from Rangforne, the shadow of the Arch of Halar darkened our first steps, a low tone hung on the winds. The ‘Song of Storms’ echoed my thoughts, my worries, it harried our footfalls, I walked beside Zohar, to Crescent Bay, to a Forging, something in me changed then. I remember looking up, staring out toward Saddlebirth, that moroseness faded, every step it bled into the ground, and in its place, resolve. I would do this, choice or no. I took my first steps toward the wild.