The Broken Crown
A young woods guide who is slowly realising that he's a powerful wizard
Tree leaves in the valleys of Woodcrest are many different hues of green in spring. Birds sing out their lungs, creating an inharmonious yet appealing noise, like a babbling small stream flowing over pebbles. The world was waking from the slumber and chill of winter.
Gethman Brightrivver walked slowly along a small overgrown track on the outskirts of his woods. As a guide, he had excelled in learning the arts of nature and understanding how the valleys around his home were shaped, how they flowed with water and life, and how death was always part of the cycle. There was a sense of renewal and hope about him as he walked, but it was death that preoccupied him at a time when the world was anything but.
Gethman sighed as he stopped walking, lifted a flask from a hook at his waist and drank the fresh spring water he had collected earlier. He was alone. More alone than he’d ever felt in his young life. He absently surveyed the land around him as he thought to his father. Arnuo Brightrivver had passed away earlier that day. Gethman was numb. The beauty and wonder of the waking world around him brought him no consolation. Losing his father, who had nurtured him, taught him the ways of the world and made him the man he had become, was almost too much to bear.
Gethman was full of an immense sadness that Arnuo had died. He had not been ill and was not yet of an age where it was his time to pass on. It seemed he was cut by a strange thorn while trekking in the northern parts of Woodcrest, along the foothills of the mountains that bounded the lands to the north west. That thorn was certainly not of the valley. Gethman knew this much after he’d pulled the thorn out of his father who had been crying in agony. There was something else. The thorn seemed to glow to Gethman. Yet it gave no light. It was unnatural….almost…….he could almost sense something about it……crack…
The almost gentle sound brought Gethman back to the present and out of his thoughts and his head jerked up. He looked around. The woods had grown silent. Even the stream nearby seemed to be whispering quietly. The sun was no longer shining through the treetops. Gethman gripped his staff tighter. SNAP. Gethman’s keen hearing heard the direction that it had came from and spun around to see four swarthy men clad in black armour and wielding sharp tempered swords.
The tallest one of the four stepped forward from the others and spoke with a voice like gravel rubbing on sandpaper, “Time to die, little one”.
So that’s the leader, Gethman thought as a wry smile came to his face. “You know, for a group of hunters it took you longer to find me than I expected. Are you sure you’re ready for this?” The hunters looked at each other before bursting out in laughter.
“Get a load of this guy!” said the shortest hunter who stood to the left of the three behind the leader. His voice sounded like air being forced out of a balloon. Gethman was unafraid – he had learned to prepare for anything thanks to his father. Oh…his poor father ?
“You have courage, little one. But it will not help you. We’ve come far from the East to bring blissful Nothingness to your life”, taunted the leader. He turned around and ordered the others, “Stay here. This won’t take long.” They laughed.
The short one sat on the ground and the other two leaned against some nearby trees as their leader lurched forward. Now that he was closer, Gethman saw the eyes of his masked opponent. They were angry. Full of veins. Not evil. But not intelligent either. Clearly a soldier on orders. “Goodbye little one” said the leader as he drew his sword above him.
“Don’t call me….” murmured Gethman as he closed his eyes and began the incantation. This, his father had not taught him. In a split second just as the leader’s sword was close to cracking Gethman’s head, an amber glow grew from his clenched fists. In his mind, time had no longer any meaning. He felt like he was standing on top of a high mountain. And the sky around him was black. He could see a white light, it formed helixes around him as they spun upwards, appearing from all directions. The light felt good. He wanted to touch it. But there was something else. Barely perceptible. A tiny sliver to black. It felt……oily. Slick. He felt repulsed by it……but it formed another helix around him in synchrony with the white light. The swirling light pulsed around him. It hummed and vibrated with bristling unbounded energy. He realised he was barely able to hold onto the power. He felt unbridled. Almost…out of control.
Searing, almost white hot fire, wound up Gethman’s his arms and engulfed his body entirely. Hues of blue, amber and white glittered around his body as the flame roared.
“Destiny…….your destiny,” Gethman heard a voice in his head as he unleashed a fireball straight at the leader. What was that voice? It had never happened before, Gethman thought to himself. He ‘let go’. Gethman didn’t really know what he was doing. But he did something to tell the power to go somewhere. The ball of fire almost shot away from Gethman instantaneously slamming into the lead guard. He gurgled and then screamed as he was blown backwards off his feet. His body smashed against a huge trunk fifty meters away and crashed to the floor with an almighty clash, like an overloaded kitchen cupboard had dropped all its pots and pans to the floor. The leader was dead. Quite dead.
“……little” said Gethman in the silence that followed. The three living guards had jumped up by this time, the shortest one scrambling to get back on his feet. They looked at each other.
“I suggest you run along and tell whoever gave you this mission a message from me: I’m coming for you”. The shortest guard swore under his breath and all three stepped back into the forest, silently. At least it was silent to them. To Gethman’s trained senses, they were making as much noise as a wild boar.
Gethman looked down and around him. The forest floor was scorched black in jagged arrows pointing in all directions away from him. It had turned the soil into solid blocks that were firm to walk on. Gethman brushed himself down,and took another swig of water from his flask. The land had returned to its familiar noises, the birds overhead, the stream nearby and the usual creaks of the forest all around him. He reflected upon his…..fireball. He didn’t know why he knew……well he had to call it something. Magic. It just came to him naturally. He knew things. But this had only happened just after his 21st birthday. For someone who seemed to have such incredible power, he was taking it quite well he thought. He didn’t know why he could do it. But he knew he was going to find out.
The last words of his father stung him as he walked onwards through the forest, past the crumpled, burning remains of the lead guard. “Gethman, my boy”, Arduo had gasped. “I now….need to tell you something. You deserve to know this”. Arduo had reached his arm out from where he lay in the bed of the small hut they had both lived in as far back as Gethman could remember. Gethman had stopped making the stew and came over to his father, taking his hand. “My dear boy….you have become a man!” said Arduo as he caressed Gethman’s face. “But you are so much more. So much more than you think you are,” gasped Arduo. Gehman frowned. “I…..am….not…..your…..father….”, rasped Arduo with his last utterance of breath, wide-eyed and consumed in pain. “Go. Find. Who…you…..”. Arduo had passed on from that world. Arduo looked peaceful now. Almost asleep. Content.
Gethman on the other hand fell backwards and sat on the straw floor of the hut in shock. Wide-eyed he mouthed, not my father? And then he began to cry. For the loss of the only person who he had cared for and who had cared for him.
He kept walking onwards as his thoughts lingered on his father’s last words, and the assassination squad sent to kill him just moments earlier. Not his father. He was in disbelief. He knew his mother had passed away when he was young. But it was Arduo who had told him that. Why had he lied about being his father? Why had he looked after him and raised him? Was his mother truly dead? Who was he? Why did he seem to be skilled in the arts of magic? The only way he could find out any answers was to seek help. He had to find a band of people who could help him. And to do this he had to leave the valleys he had loved since he was a child. Had he even been born here? He was lost in his thoughts as he trekked onwards. Soon he was out of the forest and the small mud path he was on joined a larger gravel path. That eventually became a small road. Gethman looked around in wonder. He’d never ventured this far from home. Up ahead he could see what looked like a naked forest of trees in a huge circle. It was in fact, the settlement of Grenscombe, and it would be the start of Gethman’s odyssey to find out who he was. Gethman lightly tapped the tightly bound book in his pack. His father……Arduo….had been holding onto it as he passed away. Gethman had never seen it before. It was his spellbook. He didn’t know how he knew. He just did. Gethman took a breath and walked onwards….to meet his destiny.