A Night in Midgaard Graveyard
The low hoot of an owl was enough to nearly make Jethro jump out of his skin. The lantern in his hand swung wildly in his grasp, casting strange shadows upon the ground, and a light cold sweat broke out over the youngster's body, soaking his homespun.
His toes involuntarily clenched against the hard packed soil, readying for flight at a moment's notice. A sharp twig poked his heel, but he barely noticed it. The laugher of his mates on the other side of the wall was a distant prod to force him to take another step along the cobbled path, but the strange sounds coming from the Sanitorium made that step hesitant.
The outline of a tomb nearby stood out in stark contrast against the moon and star lit sky, the gargoyles and crenellations along its top making it look like a painting he'd once seen of Baron Marel's castle. Cracks marred its walls, and moss and other vines crept up the columns that held up the roof. It looked like the perfect home for every horrible creature imaginable: spooky, desolate, and as cold as death. Fortunately, it was not his destination.
Continuing along the path, he passed the spot where the flower seller's cart usually rested, deep ruts pressed into the earth. Here and there, fallen petals of several varieties scattered the ground like those cast before a bride on her holy day. But there were no weddings here, no joyful events to be certain.
Clutching his thin blanket closer, he stumbled down the indistinct path, pausing here and there to cipher out the names on the stones. His quest took him deeper and deeper into the graveyard, to the oldest section. There he found the stone, tucked off in one corner, unadorned by flowers or the marks of kneeling relatives come to visit. Dark evergreen trees seemed to loom around it, rising up like prison bars. He traced the deeply carved words that marked the grave, trembling at the wrath that must have caused them to be put into place.
Swallowing hard, he spread the thin, ragged quilt atop the large stone that ran the length of the grave. It took all of his courage to lay his head down upon the marker stone. Then he remembered, and snatched the vial of holy water he'd dipped from the chalice in the chapel. Leaping up, he drizzled the liquid in a circle around the grave. A small amount was left in the bottle afterwards, and after a moment of thought, he drank it. It couldn't hurt, anyway, or so he reasoned.
Settling down once more, he wrapped himself mummy-tight in the blanket and stared up at the sky. The bet was that he couldn't last the night; he'd show them! The earth was icy and hard from the first frost, but he swore he could hear the movement of the worms as they gnawed upon the corpse buried only a few feet below. Shivering and fearful, he started counting the stars to distract himself, but the dark shadow of a raven flying overhead made him loose count.
Despite his fear, the cold and exhaustion took their toll, and Jethro slid into sleep.
He came to in a small, cheery room, lit by a fireplace. It looked like one of the rooms in the Adventurer's Inn to the distant north, atop the Mountain of Knowledge. A tall, scarred elf with skin as black as night and hair the color of molten silver was sitting across the table, a sardonic smile twisting his lips. The Drow leaned forward, and glared intently at him with eyes the color of rare emeralds.
"So. What are you doing using me for a mattress, hmm?"
Jethro nearly fainted, and his answer was little more than an incoherent babble. "uh… I… uh… they… uh… I.. um… said.. um… I.. uh… couldn't… you see… uh…. You're… You're DEAD!"
The elf laughed, a rich, resonant sound filled with personality. "Indeed I am. Do you know who I am, then?"
Jethro nodded violently, answering, "Welverin Do'Urden… one of only a few mortals ever buried by the gods in unholy ground, so your spirit couldn't ever return."
Grief crossed the elf's features, and he nodded. "I did more than bring down the wrath of the High Ones. Are there no tales of my valor and glory left? What of my family line?"
Jethro shook his head mutely. Welverin's shade snorted inelegantly, crossed one leg, and leaned back in his chair. He folded his arms across his chest, and one long finger tapped against the opposite arm in a gesture of indecision. The fire cast long shadows over his face, accentuating its thinness and dark tone. The thin lips pursed a moment, and then the Drow nodded.
"Very well. I shall show you. I am more than simply the despoiled. I was a hero once. A father. A loyal servant." He made a strange, twisting gesture with one hand, and the room faded from view.
It felt like Jethro was adrift in a void of nothingness. All was dark, and there were no scents, no comforting blanket to curl up under, only the whispering voice.
"I was not always so bitter. I was once quite innocent, much like yourself. Saruman ripped that from me, when he slew me. I think he was the first. I was … young." The voice's tone slid from reminiscent to self-scornful. "But I learned quickly, mastering many skills and growing more and more bold. I fell many times, but it is more important that I always picked myself back up, and was never undetermined to go on."
"Im those days, the gods were arrogant, believing themselves above us, while walking among us, a constant interaction. Only one had the integrity and strength I respected: Kalten. It was the banner of the Rose I flew, and I shouted his name as my battle cry."
Images began to flow through Jethro's mind; the tall spire-like trees of Loth-Llorien, and the enraged elf driving off the Ebon horde, yelling at the top of his lungs. Some times the madcap charges into battle resulted in death, but as the elf grew older, wiser, and took on new paths of learning, more often, it resulted in victory.
"I learned the way of the woods, then magecraft, then sleight of hand and thievery. I made many friends, walked with the heroes of the ages. But the world changed the day I met her…Twinklefire… the love of my life."
"Though it nearly broke my heart to do so, I left Kalten and joined my beloved on the Path of Virtue. Under JohnPaul, we grew together as man and wife. It was one of the happiest times of my life, surpassed only when my son, Dinin, was born. I watched as friends reached the pinnacle of achievement, and stood by them in those battles, shoulder to shoulder, blade to blade. I was the Starless Night… I was hunting companion to Lancelot, hunting those of evil, and being hunted as relentlessly by them."
The Drow's lips curved in a rueful smirk. "I have been the death of some who later became immortal themselves - Khore, for one - but he got his revenge when Ivan slew me. I have battled beside Tokugawa and Lorna, Baconbits, Viceroy, Vecna, Sohcatoa, Shrike… names that have gone into legend… and I fought and fell and fought yet again to vanquish Scar, the pet demon of Madman, with the valiant aid of my friends Asia, Kaern, and Foolkiller. Do not look solely upon my grave for words of my deeds, for they can be found within the room of records as well."
"But I also did things I cannot be proud of. I spoke often and ill of many, and my voice was raised in mockery of even the gods themselves. But those ill acts are not my sole legacy…. They cannot be. I have slain dragons, bested the executioner, reached the pinnacle of my skills, sired children, and loved with all my heart. I have accomplished deeds practically unimaginable, such as slaying half the beasts of the entire world in a frenzy of battle. I have spent more time rescuing the fallen, recovering artifacts, and laying down enchantments than I can easily remember. Do not reduce me to the words on a gravestone. Remember me as a whole person, not a boogeyman to scare children with."
The voice at last fell silent, and darkness washed over Jethro like the incoming tide.
Something brushed across his face, waking him with a start. It was only a leaf; nothing to fear. Jethro stared up at the early dawn sky, shaken from his dreams but filled with wonder. Raising himself up on his elbows, he gazed around the graveyard at all the other stones, and wondered what stories they might have to tell...
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