From the private journal of Tenebrent Dorn II Second Mesday of Freyat, 58CR
When I was but a boy, my father was busy with matters of estate, running the burgeoning house of Dorn. His father, Tenebrent Dorn, my namesake, had earned the title of noble serving in the Imperial Army, fighting the Snake Tribes in the south. Grown weary of fighting and ill at ease with the tropical air, my grandfather chose to establish his house and lands as far from conflict as possible. Settling in the town of Northwall, we were one of the first Noble Households to return to the city after the economic collapse caused by the repeal of the Emperor Regulus’ bounty. Grandfather worked alongside the construction team, building our manor house. The erection bled dry most of the Imperial Funds granted us, and the stipend was barely enough to keep the house fed, let alone clothed in the unaccustomed cold.
The completion of the manor house in 43BCR was a great relief to all involved. My Grandfather was elated and set himself to finding a way to support his estate. Since 62BCR, when the townsfolk rioted and attacked the Imperial Bank, there had been no established banking system in Northwall, persons needing to deal in large sums of currency had to have cash on hand and no one was willing to trust letters of credit. Having little funds to assume the airs of nobility, and possessing a strong utilitarian streak from his days with the Army, Tenebrent was well respected by the beleaguered people of Northwall. It wasn’t long before a close friend leaned on the House of Dorn for financial help. After that, Tenebrent quickly leveraged his title, and in exchange for a small fee, he would sign Letters of Mark for the locals.
From this small trade, the House of Dorn was able to survive the coming years. Tenebrent had two sons, the elder, my father Damiel, named for his grandfather, and the younger Adonis, named for a slain Army comrade. Both took after Tenebrent, though each in different ways, Damiel inherited all the traits of the responsible businessman that my grandfather had become, and Adonis showed every sign of succeeding the young adventurous bravo that Tenebrent shed with the war in the south. Damiel married and settled into the role of managing the estate and Adonis left a string of lovers and lost money. This caused no end of trouble for my father, but we were family.
I was born in 3CR into this, flanked on either end by a sister, older and younger. Father was ecstatic to have a son to carry the name and Uncle Adonis was relieved, he had enough trouble trying to makes sense of dealing with a little niece, a nephew was a welcome diversion. Much to my father’s chagrin, I idolized Uncle Adonis, but as I said, he was to busy keeping the house in the black, to be too concerned with what kind of influence my uncle posed. Adonis taught me all the things that a proper noble shouldn’t know, fighting dirty, cards, swearing—all under the pretense of schooling me on things like fencing and hunting. It wasn’t until Adonis had taken to summering in Calamity that my father had stabilized accounts enough to start paying attention to me. And I was rife for the attention, with Uncle Adonis away all summer; I was left to get into my own trouble without a watchful eye and the quick tongue to keep me from getting caught.
Father set about teaching me the proper methods of running a business, and I took to it like a fish to a frying pan. After two summers, I was desperate to get away and jealous of my Uncle’s excursions. It took me most of the winter months to convince Uncle Adonis to take me with him, and then we spent the spring convincing my father. After the last two less than enthused attempts at teaching me bookkeeping, Father was more than happy to have a break.
That summer was Calamity’s third and last, and I loved it. The Calamity townsfolk had accepted my Uncle into their less then couth fold. They shared many qualities, not the least of which was a love of a good time. Every day was filled with hunting, singing, and drinking, and each day ended in the Bad Deal tavern, recounting adventures to the enthused ears of the other patrons. Uncle Adonis was teaching me archery; he’d even bought me my own fine yew bow. I remember my first kill, a stag. The shot flew true, and we didn’t have to track it far. Together, Uncle Adonis and I gutted it and skinned it. I still have the belt we made from its hide. Those were my happiest days.
But you all know how this ends. It was the last week of the summer, and I was trying to draw out the time as much as possible. Uncle and I were just making ready for a quick ride to plan the following day’s excursion, when Derik Untregart, a powerful dwarven hunter with a huge black mane, came sprinting into the town. We were the first to him.
“Goblins! A whole mess of them, marching fer here. Be here by night.”
I still remember that moment, crystallized in my thoughts—the dwarf had this mad look in his eyes, his nostrils were flaring not from lack of breath, but for excitement. Uncle Adonis, too, had the look about him, an almost perverse excitement. I couldn’t help but be infused. I didn’t know what new wonders this announcement would bring. Those next few hours were a flurry of anticipation, as we made fast the town, as best as we were able—I was too young or too naive to notice the undercurrent of fear. Scouts were sent to ascertain the goblin’s numbers. I don’t think anyone expected the total we received. I knew the town had repelled invaders before and a handful of goblins harrying a hunting party were always a possibility, but no one had ever even imagined that the disorganized and feral creatures could arrange the numbers we were facing.
It was then that talks turned from defense to flight. Straws were drawn to choose who would ride for Northwall. I, and the other children, was chosen to accompany the riders. Adonis was staying; he was to lead the group on foot. I don’t know what I was thinking when I hid, watching the group of riders leave. I was passed over in the confusion. It wasn’t hard to miss me—the twinge of fear was thick in the air—people were running everywhere, stuffing whatever they could into any pack that way available. I remember the first day, how quickly those packs were left, littering the trail behind us; they quickly became less important than our lives.
Uncle Adonis was understandably angry with me; however, he didn’t really have time to yell. He handed me off to Derik while he saw to the preparations. We struck out only a few hours ahead of the horde. The fighters and battle-hardened were in the back, urging the rest to a greater speed. I paced Derik, his stout legs easily matching my own childish strides. We each had a number of waterskins and jugs, filled from the town well, as they emptied we left them behind us. It made the trip easier to drop things, especially when we could see them, the green mass undulating behind us. By the third day they were almost constantly in view and we were harried by riders on their accused dogs. That was the first time I’ve seen a man die, carried down by a pack of those things as he turned to fight them.
By this point it was clear that we would be overtaken. We all knew it. The ride to Northwall was just over four days, at a pace. Riding hard it could be done in three. No one there would know of our plight till at least this day was through, and behind us was the grim promise that we wouldn’t make it that long. As we jogged, Uncle Adonis argued with Derik and some of the other warriors. They had already decided to make for Watchpost, it would save us a day’s travel, and the ruins might be able to provide a solid wall to hold the goblins until the Northwall Militia could save us. Uncle Adonis was sure we’d be overtaken before we ever made it there. He said we needed to delay them, he said he knew of a place—a choke point—where a small group could hold off a larger force. They argued it was suicide. I could see that Uncle knew and he didn’t care.
Four other men volunteered to hold the point. They had time enough to whisper goodbyes. My uncle took me aside, I told him I wanted to stay too. He laughed. The proud look he gave me still haunts me. He gave me his bow—I had admired it all summer—and told me that I could help, there would be a group of archers on the hill, covering him and the other four. He asked me if I thought I could do it.
“If I shoot good enough, you can escape, right? You don’t have to die.”
He looked me in the eyes, and told me that if we all did good enough, he would be just fine. Then he hugged me.
Derik stood with me on the hill. He had wanted to stay behind, too, but Uncle made him promise to protect me. He was in charge of getting all the archers to safety. From the hill we could see the dry stream bed that funneled the valley between two rocks. Uncle was nestled behind the one on the left. We could also see the goblin horde; the outriders had been called back, the horde was hungry for the slaughter. They were close now; I knew that Uncle was right, without this we would have never made it through the night. I watched, poorly hidden in a thicket of bushes, as the horde convulsed like a creature, reforming, squeezing into the narrow valley. They scrambled, vicious, over the rocks, over each other—each fighting to be the first to descend on the villagers. Behind them, larger darker shapes urged them onward. Bugbears.
In the failing light, I could see Uncle Adonis tense, his hand tightly gripping his sword, Gwendyln. He pulled the rapier from its sheath; his mouth was drawn in a battle roar, although I heard nothing of it over the goblins. The enchanted blade alit with magical fire. That was the signal to attack. As one they surged, plugging the gap, holding the horde at bay. My uncle was magnificent, fighting with Sumner’s own fury. The goblins withdrew away from him, the fire and his fury giving them pause.
We archers sprung from our hide and let fly. We were supposed to keep the goblins from climbing the rocks, to prevent them from surrounding the fighters. However, I sighted on a goblin moving to attack my uncle. I saw it sliding under the breach of the man next to him. I wanted to protect you. I wanted to make you proud. Instead, I watched in horror as I, unused to the pull of your bow, let fly a sin. The fouled arrow buried in your back, my first and only shot with your magnificent bow.
As you crumpled, the goblins broke the line and quickly surrounded the others. They didn’t last more than a heartbeat. Derik rallied the other archers, they let fly many killing shots, but it wasn’t enough. I stood there; clutching the bow in disbelief, as the goblins came running towards us.
“Scatter! They won’t find us all.” Derik shouted. He scooped me up—I was still struck dumb with disbelief. That night was a blur, skittering from hiding spot to hiding spot. We managed to evade most of the goblin forces, Derik’s wood lore keeping us invisible to their patrols. I once heard it said that a dwarf’s axe is sharper than his mind. If this is true I never wish to be on the wrong side of Derik’s axe. He kept me safe through the trip back to Northwall, a full five days.
Later, I heard that the goblins had stopped their march long enough to hunt down the other archers. We had accomplished our task, at the cost of more lives than expected. The main group made the ruins of Watchpost a half day earlier then expected. They even had enough time to bolster the walls and doors against intrusion. The goblin horde pounded the fortifications for a full day before they were sandwiched between the Volunteer Militia riding hard out of Northwall and the Calamity Refugees inside. Their spirits broke and their numbers decimated, the goblins returned to whatever hole spawned them.
We quietly slipped back into Northwall just in front of the victory cheers of the Militia. I was returned to my father a changed boy. No longer did I strive for freedom and adventure, I returned to my studies, wholly and fully. I was shamed, and my shame drove me to greater and greater heights to seek the approval of the father I didn’t want. I was on my way to becoming the respectable son Damiel would be proud of.
Meanwhile, I heard the stories they told around town. I heard retold countless times how Adonis Dorn had slain countless goblins and given his life so that others could live. I let the legend grow, assure in the fact that he would be happier with that story than the truth. When the South Hills were renamed for my Uncle, I wept, knowing—had he been alive—that he would have boasted on that endlessly. I told no one how he had died, betrayed. I know not, to this day, if Derik suspected the truth. If he saw the fateful shot. If he did, he never once marked me ‘murder.’ Though sometimes I wish he had. I have heard naught of him since that day he left me on the manor’s doorstep.
And now, again, adventurers and heroes begin to trickle past the safety of the Northwall. I envy them. Some nights I sit, old cloak wrapping my shoulders, hood holding my face in deep shadow, and listen. The cheer, the boasting, the stories. The Bad Habit reminds me much of that summer long past, before everything went wrong. But, now, that too has run afoul. Last night I heard a story of a ghost plaguing a familiar narrow valley. They told how phantom arrows had pierced their backs. How his flaming sword had burnt their flesh. How he lifted them by the cuff of their shirt and how his piercing red eyes bored into their soul and how he spoke, his gravely voice uttering a single word—betrayer. I was cut deep into my own heart.
I had prayed this shameful thing was put in the past. I had dreamt that he had forgiven me. To hear that his soul blights the land and that he searches for me has withered all hope I have left. I don’t know what to do, other than write the story of my shame and hope for a way to expunge its stain.