Nathaniel held his breath, and jumped. The water in the aqueduct was cold, “Tarrasque’s Tail!” the young monk muttered as the cold bit in. Nathaniel kicked with his legs to keep his head above water, his arms over his head, holding the oilskin package as high and dry as he could. As he bobbed into the dark tunnel several thoughts crowded his mind, all at once. “Am I going too far? Have I become careless? Has my curiosity with Eastlander, and the truth, become an obsession? If I die tonight will all my efforts be lost? Could Barrick really drink as much as the stories claim?”
He had heard the guard’s dogs barking just as the last bit of light faded away. He floated along with the current, always holding his hands over his head. He risked a lot making the copies he held aloft. He thought he had been as careful as he could. He had waited patiently as that overweight Master Windebagg and his beanpole lackey went through their rounds. He had shuttered his lantern, yielding only the slight bit of light necessary to copy from the holy manuscripts. He wrote so quickly that he barely knew what he was copying. For now it was simply word after word; he would read the sentences later. He had made no more sound than the quiet scratching of quill on parchment. Yet somehow they had known that someone was there.
He had first heard the dogs’ collars jingling, followed by a gruff “He must be in here!” Even knowing his body was in grave peril, he carefully replaced the Eastlander tome and took the time to seal his copies in the oilskin wrappings. But then he ran with a ferocity his legs had not felt since pilfering old man Mena’s bottle of port on a dare so many years ago.
Knowing he could not escape through the main entrance to the library, he headed toward the back. There, just as he remembered was the small vented opening to the water supply for the buildings down the hillside. If they knew his identity the running would be for naught, but it was the only chance he had. Better the cold dark water than a trip to the Chamber of Understanding. Nathaniel held his breath, and jumped.
It was not long before he saw dim moonlight ahead. Less than a minute later Nathaniel was hauling himself onto the shore of the far bank and moving quickly into the forest beyond. By the time he had circled back to the rear entrance of the abbey his tunic had stopped dripping and he was able to make his way back to his meager room without being seen. He quickly changed and spent the rest of the night lying awake, wondering if or when he would be rousted and taken away. But the night passed without commotion and no one so much as looked at him during the morning’s repast.
During the meal he vowed to himself to stay away from the Eastlander writings, at least for a little while, until he was sure no one would be searching for the intruder. Maybe this was a sign, a sign from Heaven that this was the time to pursue his own writing, a true recantment of Eastlander and the iconic characters. The more he thought about it, the more he convinced himself. It was time to emulate the strength of the heroes, not just copy them.
The excitement made his heart beat almost as fast as the fear had the night before. The day’s chores seemed to take much more time than usual, but finally he was back in his room, with no expectations, and could finally start writing. He knew he would begin with a clear description of the eight virtues. The church touted the virtues, and Master Ofit frequently chastised young Yewprick for failing to adhere to them all, but despite Master van Laangweend’s supposed expertise, the reasons behind them were always somewhat vague. Everyone knew they were based on the three primary principles: Truth, Love and Courage. What child did not remember the rhyme often said during the weekly scripture lessons: “When your heart does stray, while on bended knee, remember your church, and its TLC.”
Nathaniel decided to use the Eastlander writings, and the heroes within, to give clear examples of the eight virtues. But as the church never provided details, and he had encountered none so far in his readings, he knew he would have to use their actions directly. He decided to use his most recent copying, Eastlander’s “Wizard’s Island”, for the examples; surely the characters embodied all the virtues in every undertaking. No longer believing the tales to be pure allegory, the monk decided to share his interpretation of the renowned scrivener. He pulled out the most recently hidden treasure and some blank parchment and began taking notes:
The eight virtues of the church: Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Justice, Honour, Sacrifice, Humility and Spirituality. He started through Eastlander’s lengthy missive, ascribing virtues to the actions in no particular order, but as they made sense:
Honesty: composed of Truth: Through his discoveries whilst reading, Nathaniel had discovered that the church was hardly honest in their description of the Eastlander characters. But then again, Eastlander himself hardly seemed to believe the tales the characters told. So what was the real truth? Eastlander had written, “When Felsmon told me about following a flying ship toward the island I snorted, but let him continue. But when he said they were able to keep up with the airborne pirate ship in a little square sailed dingy, I could only assume he had been sneaking some of Barrick’s ale.” What really happened there? Was there really a flying pirate ship? Nathaniel had always considered the church’s use of the flying evil city of Black Wind to be an allegory to the fact that Hell can exist anywhere, at any time, and that one’s heart must always be prepared for an attack.
Reading on: “Then my good dragonborn friend tells me that suddenly a huge shadow passed under the tiny boat, followed by an explosion of tentacles. A kraken! I have never heard of anyone surviving a kraken attack before, so I sat up straight, slid my mug to the side and really paid attention. But when Felsmon went on with how he alone flew out to meet the beast over open water, I again reclined in my chair. I was taking a long draught when he said something about Rift creating a giant mirrored ball around the beast that reflected all damage. Ha! A ball that large could not float in water, let alone air, and even if magic held it aloft, how would the party be able to see through it to know what to attack?”
Nathaniel caught his breath. Here is the origin of the church’s core of Honesty: the Monster in the Mirror. All his life the young man had been taught that the Monster in the Mirror was a way of seeing your inner self, the portion of one’s soul that was lesser than the almighty. Never did the monk stop to consider that Eastlander was actually referring to a real monster in a real mirror. Shaken, Nathaniel had to pause for a few minutes before his curiosity of the monster’s defeat overwhelmed his disgust at the church’s blatant twisting of Eastlander’s tale.
“At this point Rift sat down and interrupted saying how she threw a fish in the kraken beak. What rubbish, everyone knows fish do not have beaks. And then the lady wizard brags about how she blasted the beast with fire. Felsmon laughed; I thought he was going to contradict her, but instead he added that not only did Rift blast the kraken but Felsmon as well, almost burning his wings through. I stopped their jovial banter and asked just how they got the kraken to release the little boat. I did not ask why the thing just didn’t drag everyone under, as I did not want to point out the obvious hole in this particular story. To give them credit they both said ‘Tira’ at the same time. I guess Tira had a particularly strong blast of fire that scared the kraken off the boat.”
Nathaniel smiled when he read this. Of all the companions Tira seemed to get the least direct praise, or rarely was reported to make the final blow. He had a soft spot for what he thought of as the kitten in the pack of lions.
Continuing his reading of the Eastlander scrolls, or his copy of, Nathaniel realized that the theme of the story had shifted from the virtue of Honesty to that of Spirituality.
Spirituality: composed of all three principles, Truth, Love and Courage: Of the exalted heroes, good Z’alden was obviously the most spiritual, honouring not one, but two of the gods that were claimed to exist at that time. Eastlander was interviewing the mighty cleric now: “Z’alden told me that the kraken was not defeated, but enraged and came back directly under the boat, grabbing it on both sides as well as dragging both Z’alden and Felsmon under water. Ah now this is starting to sound like something I can sell. But instead of regaling me with swords and wand blasts, Z’alden reported that one of the crew stabbed at the creature’s beak (again with the beak), right through the bottom of the boat. What was this, comic relief? Do these characters think I will write a comedy with their ramblings? Anyway, Z’alden goes on to report that he escaped, and then called on his god. He created a zone as bright as the sun, and then with another prayer his god simply made the sea beast disappear and the party rowed away. My head was starting to hurt, why didn’t his god just save them before? My days as a scribe are doomed, no one will ever believe this dribble and my time spent writing this will only be used as paper to clean up drunken drool.”
Nathaniel nodded to himself. Whilst Torbin might not have understood, the young monk himself knew the power that a god can provide to one that believes. This would be an excellent way to show spirituality via Z’alden’s actions. He moved on to the next virtue…
Compassion: composed of Love: This one could be tough; how many of the group showed compassion? Tira seemed to care little about anything but fun and her appearance. Barrick once killed a restrained prisoner. And Z’alden even killed an unarmed merchant in the middle of a crowded pub.
Searching through Eastlander’s writings, Nathaniel found a passage he could use: “As Z’alden was telling me about their little boat crashing onto the rocks and being thrown onto the sand, I could visibly see him tensing, his hands starting to ball into fists. I first assumed he had been hurt in the wreck, but then Z’alden grunted, ‘Orcs. There were three of them. Orcs. Easy targets, all three. Orcs.’ I waited for the cleric to continue, this could be good, knowing that Z’alden never left an orc alive. He continued, ‘I had my chance, but my friend’s words affected me. Three orcs. I watched them walk away. Let them live.’ He exhaled and looked back up at me.” Knowing that orcs had gravely wounded Z’alden’s soul, and that he chose to let these go free, was a better example of compassion than Nathaniel could have hoped for.
Humility: now this one is strange Nathaniel mused. The absence of all three principles was pride. But the church always taught the opposite of pride, humility. Nathaniel was not sure how the church made the switch, but he knew he had to maintain the virtues known to all. He was not sure if any one of the adventurers ever displayed humility, but he had not thought of them as full of compassion either. Not that the party needed to be, gods, and even heroes, were to be feared and revered. The monk read on, looking for any sign of humility in any action.
They found a castle, against a cliff, muddy moat but no water. Hmm, so far nothing helpful. A black knight stood stolid on the drawbridge. Interesting, but hardly humble. Wait, what was this? Felsmon spread his wings and flew upward to explore the castle from above. Suddenly 4 gargoyles launched from the parapets and flew to block the dragonborn’s way. Instead of the usual brash behaviour of challenging any creature in a fight to the death, Felsmon quietly lowered his head and flew submissively back to the ground? Nathaniel had to reread the last few lines to ensure his sleepy eyes were not playing tricks on him. No, sure enough, in Eastlander’s own words was the first real example of humility the group had demonstrated in anything the monk had read so far.
These last two touches of human spirit in the revered adventures almost brought a tear to young Yewprick’s eye. Surely this was almost as good as proof that they were real characters, not fictional devices made up to tell stories to the peoples. But as Eastlander seemed to frequently doubt his own writings, could one monk really believe otherwise?
Nathaniel had too much to think about to stop now. Besides he had to find out how the party vanquished the black knight, the symbol of evil used in countless stories. Fighting such a creature could only be the embodiment of one virtue: Valor: being composed solely of Courage. Returning to his former foolhardiness, Felsmon challenged the knight to one on one combat. Nathaniel’s heartbeat increased as he read about Felsmon charging the knight in mid air, feet first even, and throwing his shield, trying to knock the fiend into the mud below. Time after time Felsmon flew, and time after time, he missed. Some of the other party tried to help with spells, but also, to no avail. Could this knight be unbeatable? Was this something that the party could not surpass? But if Eastlander was recording this, then the party must have survived. “It was then that Barrick staggered up and pushed Felsmon off his seat, ‘I knew it was time for me to act! I charged as only a dwarf could do, low quick and solid as an owl bear. I hit him so hard he exploded!’ And with that Barrick slumped over on the table. Felsmon easily pushed the drunken dwarf off the chair and onto the floor and sat back down, unperturbed by the actions of his friend. I looked at Felsmon quizzically waiting for either confirmation or denial. ‘He did not so much as explode, as just left, vanished, disappeared. No idea where he went, but he did not return.’ A black knight that does not fight back? Whatever kind of story will this be?” Nathaniel shook his head; Torbin was constantly missing the real value of what the heroes did. Could he not see that Barrick’s rushing toward the black knight took valor beyond courage, especially after seeing how his companions were unable to inflict damage?
The young monk was starting to wonder about this particular adventure. So far they had encountered one kraken, three orcs, four gargoyles and one black knight, and yet not a single one of the enemies had been killed. Perchance the adventurers were getting soft, maybe getting old. Wise and old certainly has its place in the church, but to sell the word to the masses the stories had to keep the attention of the people. He wondered.
As he wondered he read more. “Tira then came over to talk with me, nice girl, but not the sharpest sword in the rack. I asked her what happened next and she told me they heard laughing. I almost laughed myself at this. This was surely turning into a comedy, I imagined myself as Torbin the Jester, but bade her speak. ‘As soon as the black knight disappeared, this large troll climbed out of a cave in the moat and moved to attack us chanting ’Fe Fi Fo Fanning, tis your death, I am planning.’ Before I could so much as flick my dagger the beast slugged me, and hard. We fought back and soon had the beastie bleeding heavily. Norfand dealt a particularly nasty blow.”
At this Nathaniel halted. Norfand? Had Norfand been mentioned before? Maybe this monk was the one not so young anymore. He could worry about that later, if he remembered to. He turned back to Eastlander’s page and what Tira was saying. “‘I thought this would be an easy victory, but suddenly another troll appeared, this one larger and definitely female, probably Fanning’s (that’s what we decided to call it, not that we were thinking of adopting it or anything, but we had to give it a name). Oh sorry, where was I? Oh yes, I think the new troll was Fanning’s mother. Anyway, it, or she, appeared, jumped up and smashed into Rift. I decided to try a new spell I had just mastered, or thought I had mastered. I got hurt in the process.’”
Aha! Nathaniel made a mental note. Tira hurt herself during an attack. This is precisely what was needed to show the virtue of Sacrifice: which was composed of Love and Courage: He wrote down the essential points of the strike. Tira made two attacks, one on each troll. Both attacks collapsed inward on the sorceress, but Tira did not falter. She stood through the pain and directed the attacks through her body and back out. One blast was strong enough to kill the troll she called Fanning whilst the other dazed the mother. But because of it all, Tira herself was left mentally spent, with barely enough energy to make one small movement. Truly a noble act of sacrifice, and the first kill of this chapter as well!
From here, a seventh virtue, Justice, became evident as the heroes banded together to deal their brand of justice against the unprovoked troll attacks. Tira set the mother on fire and pushed it back with lightning. Barrick slammed her off the edge, knocking her into the pit. Z’alden blinded her. One after another they all worked together to force the large troll back into a corner. Nathaniel could tell by Eastlander’s tone that the scribe was excited by this latest set of actions. “Oh ho, the damage these folks dealt! Oh what I would have done to witness it. And the ending sounds magnificent. Tira claims, and now I must say I believe her, at least in this, that she quickly did a double teleport whilst igniting the mud beneath the troll at the same time. Two teleports back-to-back, amazing. And a few seconds later Tira again fires off more lightning, killing the flaming bleeding troll hag! Wow, I think I need a drink.”
Nathaniel could not help but to smile. Rarely the focal point, here Tira was flitting and blasting like he had never read before, and getting in both killing blows as well!
Only one virtue remained with no notes written beside it: Honour: composed of Truth and Courage. Finally the entire party was acting and fighting with honour, but for the new scriptures he knew he had to select one character for each parable. As he read more, he wondered if Tira could continue her current streak.
“I returned to the table to find Rift sitting there, her companions nowhere to be seen. Maybe it was the light, maybe it was my last drink, but I could swear that Rift looked more charismatic than I remembered, maybe even magically enhanced. But I was hired to write, so I wrote as Rift described what happened next.”
“‘We found the troll cave and entered. The tunnels were filled with wet spider webs. Not wanting to try to burn them (I wonder where Erik is now) Tira brought forth her magical stone spider to do the cleaning. As we passed into a larger cavern I cast a small light to help us. This must have startled the creatures that lived there as four large hairy spiders dropped from the ceiling. I quickly released a fire bomb singing their hair, or is it fur? Felsmon let loose a nice blast and Z’alden stunned one of the larger ones. Tira tried a blast, and whilst it did kill the three smallest spiders it also blasted poor Barrick, Norfand and little Stewie. As Z’alden healed Norfand I put a mirror sphere on the last spider. But even with my wonderful charm, the spider still managed to get off a poison blast. One last blast from, who was it, Tira I think, defeated the final spider and we had the caves to ourselves.’”
Nathaniel was stunned; Tira had killed both trolls and all four spiders. After the crushing realization that Prescott was not the saviour, Nathaniel was not sure if a single saviour was needed at all. Maybe he had someone else he could use. But more than one chapter from Eastlander was needed.
Nathaniel now had something next to all eight of the virtues. It was a good start, but every additional example would help. He realized he only had a little more to read of the writings he had copied this time. A few more minutes would not hurt.
The party continued deeper into the tunnels, but finding nothing exceptional. Suddenly they stopped, something was there, albeit very hard to discern. A slurping sound made it obvious, they had almost walked into a tunnel-filling clear gelatinous monster! At least the cubes were slow, the party turned around but no! Another gelatinous blob blocked both escape routes; they were trapped! Nathaniel could barely keep his hands from shaking as he turned the parchment over, needing to know the next move. He almost screamed out loud as his eyes only encountered blank parchment. This must be as much as he had copied before he heard the dogs. Nathaniel knew now that there was nothing that could keep him from going back into the library to find out what happened to the characters he was beginning to think of as friends.
A bird chirped outside Nathaniel’s window. Startled by the unexpected sound of nature, Yewprick rubbed his eyes. Could dawn be nearing? Nathaniel stretched and put away his writing, time enough later to expand the words, add the eloquence needed to convince the masses that the writings were divine. Today’s chores would be hard enough as is, with the little amount of sleep he would get. Wondering if he should share his new works with the only Master he considered a friend, the half-elf Master Renithar, Nathaniel sidled under his woolen blanket, hoping to get but a few minutes of rest before the bell tolled for the rising of the new day. He quickly dropped into a deep sleep, dreaming of a sword that spilled not blood, but ink, when it made a cut.