Morning arrived in the town of Riverwatch as the new sun sent shafts of light gleaming over Middle-Earth’s horizon. One of those shafts made it’s way through the window of the town’s fortress alighting the face of it’s newly ‘appointed’ Lord Protector. Rufius stirred grumpily and shifted his slumped over form to cut off the light from view. The movement caused a sharp pain in his head, ‘How much had he had to drink last night?’
He thought he remembered three bottles of wine for sure as he made a half-hearted attempt to rise from his chair but after that things became…fuzzy. Screwing his hands into his eyes, Rufius tried to clear his head and get a handle on the situation. In his haste his arm struck an empty bottle that fell to the floor with a crash causing a couple of his new guards to stir from where they had laid down in their own drunken stupor. The Lord Protector lurched clumsily to catch the bottle, but succeeded only in almost sending his self crashing to the ground. His foot struck a goblet, sending it skittering noisily across the floor. Finally Rufius decided that sitting down and collecting his wits was a safer option.
Where was Jaxton?
Squinting his eyes against the light, Rufius searched the room for the outlaw leader. Half a dozen men lay dozing in various positions around Merigal’s office, but he could see no sign of Jaxton. Rufius groaned in irritation. It had been a spirited, rowdy celebration the evening before with wine being passed around as fast as men could down it. And there had been Jaxton, acting as the master of ceremonies, laughing the most and making sure that each glass was always full. He drank at least as much as Rufius if not more, and was now nowhere to be seen.
When Rufius had finally given up the search and resolved to focus his efforts on recovery, Jaxton himself burst through the door. Heedless of the pained groans such noise caused, the bandit walked across the room to where the Lord Protector slumped in his chair. In his hands were two bottles of wine that Rufius noticed were from Merigal’s own personal store. Although he supposed (even if supposition was difficult in his current state) that it was his personal store now. The thought made him smile in spite of his splitting headache.
“I see you have finally recovered from last nights festivities”, Jaxton said with a grin.
“What time is it?” Rufius managed with a groan.
“Oh! It is early yet,” Jaxton replied, placing both bottles on the table. “But not so early that we cannot fight off last night’s revelry with an early morning refresher. Rufius eyed the first bottle warily, but underneath felt a certain sense of anticipation. But that he supposed would have to wait.
“Nay, I must start my morning street patrol,” Rufius told the one-eyed bandit and attempted unsteadily to rise from his chair. His head was throbbing, but his duties as Lord Protector awaited and he was eager to establish himself in his new position, allow the citizens to get used to the new order. However Jaxton put out a hand and pushed him slowly back into his seat. His one-eye held a crafty and mischievous glint and his lips parted in a crooked smile. Rufius found himself both mesmerized and repulsed and could not look away.
“Do not worry yourself about such trivial matters dear Rufius,” Jaxton purred silkily. “I sent a couple of the boys to make the rounds for you. Even now they are making the first impressions of our brand new day for Riverwatch.”
Rufius was paying no attention though, for as Jaxton spoke, the old fox’s hands popped open the first of Merigal’s wine bottles and poured them both a small portion into tall goblets. After this he took a water skin from his side and added water to both goblets, filling them to the brim. Rufius looked confusedly at Jaxton but then his eyes widened when he noticed the elvish brand on the bottles and understood completely.
It was Dorwinion, the wine that was reserved for the table of the elvish king in Mirkwood. Merigal had received the bottles in gratitude for services rendered to the woodland monarch in days gone by. Rufius had dreamed about those bottles since the first day he had set eyes on them, but Merigal had kept them locked away in his office. It was reputedly potent and powerful stuff which was why Jaxton had to water it down greatly. The Lord Protector’s lips parted and he began to salivate in his eagerness.
“Perhaps I can worry about personal patrols later after all,” he finally managed as Jaxton handed him his goblet. Jaxton tipped his own goblet in salute and grinned.
“That’s the spirit,” Jaxton said grinning. “I’ll take care of Riverwatch for now…in your stead of course.”
“Of course,” Rufius repeated as he felt the wine pour down his throat like fire. After a while the world grew unsteady and uncertain and then faded out.
This is all that Mericc can sense for the longest time. The pain is everywhere but mostly from his left shoulder, flaring intensely to a consistent rhythm. The darkness is worse though as it threatens to surround and engulf him, pulling him back down into the void.
After a seemingly endless period of internal struggle, he manages to break free causing a small dot of light to appear before him. Mericc focuses all of his will on it, forcing it to stretch until it is a thin line on the horizon. Sweat glistens on his forehead from the strain, or is it from the heat he feels emanating from the bright line? He is not sure. Concentrating even more intently, he pushes the line wider and wider until he can make out indistinct shapes and colors above him. Ruling over them all is a glaring ball of light and heat in a sea of blue.
‘The Sun’ Mericc thinks hazily as his mind shakes itself from the darkness. Terrible memories flood back as a fresh round of intense pain washes over him. A name repeats itself in his head and the boy grabs at it in an attempt to maintain conscience.
But it does no good. The pain is too much and he feels himself slipping. But before he does another word comes to him in the approaching darkness.
The torches of the training room flicker as the two combatants circle each other and prepare for another round of swordplay. Mericc feels like he is making progress against his father and the thought makes him happier than he has been in weeks. Not that he has landed any blows, in fact, he has never come close to striking his father in all of his years of training. No matter how hard he studies or trains, Merigal always counters each lunge, each thrust with an effortlessness that is maddening in it’s regularity.
The only way that Mericc knows he is improving is because the complexity of his father’s counters increases and sometimes he imagines the slightest smile pass proudly across Merigal’s face after a particularly spirited exchange. In those moments he is closer to his father than at any other time in his life and that feeling of pride makes him all the more eager to train and study even harder. After a final round they disengage and Merigal lifts his sword in a salute, a signal that the day’s exercise is over.
“You are showing much improvement Mericc,” Merigal says as he looks down at his young son. Even though he is now only a few inches taller than Mericc, he will always seem to tower over the boy who always see’s his father as that hero of legend. “Your footwork is improving and you are not overextending as much as you used to.” The child smiles up at his father and awaits the inevitable ‘But’.
“But,” Merigal says on cue. “You really should give up that 2-handed sword as your weapon of choice. It is too big for you for one and while the weight of it helps you in some ways, it hurts you in many others.”
“I like the power of it,” Mericc replied. “And I suppose I shall grow into the weight with time.”
“Have you ever considered the shield?” his father asks.
Mericc rolled his eyes and started to laugh, but was cut short when he looked at the seriousness in Merigal’s face. “Awww Father!” he sighed. “A shield is just for protection, no one ever gained fame hiding behind a piece of wood.”
“I see,” Merigal said, his eyebrow lifted. “Go get my shield if you would please.”
His head slightly down, feeling as if a lecture was coming his way, Mericc did as he was told. Merigal’s shield was of heavy construction and Mericc remembered with aching muscles the many times his father made him lug it around to build up his stamina. The task was made all the more awkward by it’s design, a five-pointed star with the image of a mountain in the center. After giving the shield over to his father, he placed himself once again into a fighting stance.
“Now attack,” his father instructed.
With sudden speed Mericc swung his sword at his father, but with an even quicker movement Merigal thrust his shield forward in a bashing movement that caught the boy mid-swing, nearly jarring the blade out of his hands. The Lord Protector followed this up with a sword thrust that Mericc barely countered and then swung his shield in a murderous sideways arc, the edge of one of it’s five points missing the boy’s wide-eyed face by less than an inch.
The two continued to spar but Mericc found it increasingly difficult to counter his father’s blows. It wasn’t Merigal’s amazing speed that was the issue (though that was normally enough), it was the shield’s ability to mask his father’s movements so that his son couldn’t anticipate what was coming next. ‘Watch your opponent’s wrist movement’ he was always taught, but now he found that next to impossible.
The worst of it though was the way his father would use the shield to push and prod him in whichever direction he wanted to. Finally his father feinted another arcing attack with his shield and Mericc dodged but suddenly found his father’s sword at his chest. Hawk eyes glared hard at Mericc who withered before their intensity.
“Anything is a weapon in the hands of the well trained Mericc,’ his father said. “A shield is a weapon, a castle is a weapon, even words are weapons. Never forget this.” Mericc nodded in penance.
“You were wrong on the second point as well,” his father continued. “If the past years have taught me anything, it is that putting your life on the line to protect something you care about more than yourself can give more glory than any mindless quest for personal fame. Remember this as well.”
Mericc nodded, but found himself suddenly slipping. Darkness swam before his eyes and a sense of falling enveloped him as a voice called his name over and over.
“Mericc please help me, I can’t lift you by myself!” the voice pleaded. It was a pleasant voice and he tried to comply, but found his legs difficult to locate in the dark. With an effort he found his feet and felt himself lifted up and placed across something solid. The smell of horse hit him confusedly and he struggled to find the light from earlier.
“Lets get out of here,” the voice said.
Finally Mericc managed to open his eyes slightly. The smell of horse was strong and he watched the grass as it bobbed up and down under him. His shoulder hurt terribly, but the biggest shock came when he turned his head to the side. Staring him in the face, filling his vision with sudden clarity, was his father’s shield.