Vol. 1 Prologue
By Kenneth Mulholland
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Copyright 2002 Kenneth Mulholland
Varlar, so named by the first to sail her seas and walk her shores.
Varlar, world of the elves: a mystery and a wonder. The earth, our own fair
earth, fraught with many unknown, unseen dangers; terrible and beautiful as
the west-rising sun.
Who then could say as to what lay in the darkest depths of her oceans, who
guess that doom?
And yet, upon a later time, it was foretold, 'The Nardred awaits Its moment
to arise from the deeps; there to bring forth chaos, and the downfall of
By night, floating across the broad sheet of sea, where above stars strewed
the vault of black sky, the few survivors of war and calamity looked out
from the salt encrusted decks of their battered hulk, last vessel left of a
handful to cross such strange and desolate waters. In fixed horror, they
gazed ahead to where two vast, unmoving orbs hovered beneath the surface of
the waves. Baleful were those great, pale lights, and sinister. And it
came to the wretched watchers that some almighty creature, drawn up from
far below, was about to engulf them. And they were struck mute with terror.
Some, indeed swooned. Some covered their eyes. Others, too exhausted
through deprivation or wound, could merely strain forward, staring; their
haggard faces yellowed in an icy gleam of the sickle moon.
Only the lapping waters broke the stillness of the world, whilst that
crippled craft, alone on all the ocean, passed slowly across the menace
that lurked beneath, where it faded from sight in the wash astern.
By day's first glimmer, the refugees lifted their eyes and hands and hearts
toward the bowl of rising light that was the sun, and gave thanks at their
deliverance into another morning. And yet still they were alone, without
hope of landfall and succour. Food they had, for carried with them were
fowl and livestock, and fish were to be taken from sea; but water, life
giving water, had dwindled to a swill. Perhaps a madness would have
overtaken them long before then, but for the strength of three men; Edrun
their king, Bartram, his stout captain, and Forinth, a simple fisherman who
had piloted the wreckage of their poor ship through carnage and tempest.
His scant knowledge of the sea beyond sight of land, learned as a child at
his father's knee whilst plying the coasts off the margins of their
country, had kept them from total disaster.
Though as it was, the wide southern land of The Raven, Bran Anweald, had
fallen to fierce, dark-skinned invaders; and an end had come to the once
mighty line of the Bran kings, kings who had ruled for nine generations in
dignity and peace. And even as that realm trembled, overrun with rapine and
slaughter, and most of the champions and captains met death, clutching
bloody swords in failing hands, Bartram had marshalled the king and his
family out of the fray raging toward the sounding ocean, and thence aboard
the few craft left unscathed. With flames licking at their timbers, some of
these set sail, hounded by the enemy until rolling banks of fog hid the
vessels from pursuit.
During the following days five ships drifted together, banished forever
from home harbour, until a dreadful storm overtook them, blowing hard out
of the south. So that when it had passed only a single craft remained, a
speck against an empty horizon. The other ships, including
that bearing Brenna, Edrun's queen, Qwilla his daughter, and Ernole his
eldest son, had vanished without trace.
Forsaken, those remaining were told that their king was dying from the
effects of a wound sustained during the defence of their realm, and that he
had already passed authority and responsibility for his surviving heir, the
princeling Weldun, to captain Bartram and Forinth the fisherman. The first,
to guide the boy of eight summers as guardian, and the second, charged with
the command to make landfall in some far country where a new kingdom of The
Raven might be founded unassailed.
As they endured many more days on the open sea without hint of relief and
the king drifted ever closer to death, hope waned amongst his peoples.
Some, hurt beyond help or sickened by ocean-malady, died and were sent
overboard. Grief and lamentation at the loss of loved ones mingled with
despair so that the only sounds upon the waterlogged vessel were those of
mourning, together with the bleating and lowing and cackling of livestock.
Clinging to life by the merest thread, Edrun bade Bartram and Forinth fetch
his son, and there they watched over him, weeping all three, as the noble
heart ceased to beat and the fingers fell limp from the garnet pendant
strung about the king's neck. Edrun, son of Eran, ninth of the
monarchs of Bran Anweald was stilled. And almost on that moment, the shout
of a parched throat told of land's sighting, somewhere northward!
There were grey cliffs rising out of the sea; solid walls of rock, veiled
in foam. Impenetrable they seemed, and inhospitable. Night-shrouded reefs
loomed whilst the fickle tides hauled at the ship, drawing it closer toward
doom upon the vulture crags. New-risen hope turned to fear. Then, except
for Forinth's skills, would all have foundered. Yet battling the helm, he
fought the swirling waters and had the mastery until a yawning channel
opened before them where stars glimmered and the moon lit their course.
Between glistening barriers, reared on either side, the fisherman steered a
passage, the sea booming in his ears; and so caught first glimpse of a
sandy strand, a bay enclosed by lofty stone.
Without warning, the vessel struck hidden teeth, and water boiled through
the cracking timbers. Amidst the madness of panic and the frantic cries of
men and animals, Forinth managed to swing the craft away from those jutting
shoals. But too late, for even as he called to those about him to abandon
ship, it was already awash and sinking.
In the confusion that followed, some were thrown into the surf and carried
away. Others struggled ashore, clinging to cattle and horses, and the
debris of flotsam. Captain Bartram waded through the shallows to the
windswept beach, cradling the young prince in his arms and there, after
setting him down, splashed again into the freezing waves.
Many were saved that night, and of the last was Forinth himself. The ship
had long vanished, gurgling to the bottom, when Bartram dragged the
fisherman from the curling waters and both lay, panting and spent, on the
desolate stretch of pebbled sand. Children, men, women, and creatures all
gathered about them; shivering from exposure and ordeal.
Few words were spoken then by any, but Forinth, without need of words,
lifted both a token and a sign. One, the great green pendant Andradite,
meant for the child-king; the other, a branch plucked from out the sea,
still laden with dark berries, blown from the heights above. And so, on
that very spot, he named the bay Berry. And those there with him gave
thanks to each other for landfall, and the prowess of the fisherman.
Yet the labours of the refugees from across the southern ocean were far
from ended, nor were their wonders at the strange new land before them.
On the morning of the next day, Bartram and Forinth led the strongest out
of the bay; climbing a steep, broken slope that rose toward the summit of
the cliffs. Thirsty and weakened, they gained those heights where the
lonely mew of gulls came floating down the wind, and there beheld an
awesome sight: the bleak outline of vast, ruined buildings; walls and
parapets crumbled, stone overturned upon stone.
No pennon or standard flew above the tilted spires and empty towers.
No sentry or watch looked out from turret-slit, or paced the walkways
No hand was left, even to halt the nesting of sea birds on the ledges or
Only past doom unknown, lay upon those stark battlements in brooding
Nought much else did the survivors discover, save shards of cup and plate,
and a few rusted things that once might have made weapons. That folk of
their own kind had dwelt there in the long ago seemed plain enough, though
who they were and why they had gone, there was never a sign. The mystery
deepened when a huge cracked bell, wound about with queer symbols, was
found at the foot of a tower. Later, Bartram ordered it melted down and
recast. Yet when the task was completed and the bell restored to its lofty
place, only leaden sound could be wrung from it. And in the end it was left
to hang mute.
For the remainder of their lives the first folk, come of Bran Anweald
overseas, pondered the secrets of that mountain locked land without avail.
In time, Bartram and Forinth saw to the rebuilding of the fortress and
explored the surrounding lands. Slowly, those hardy people forged a new
kingdom, Bran Feld; later to be called Ravenmoor. And there they
flourished, as did their animals, amongst an abundant supply of bird life
and fish, and fresh water.
Small farms, that would become villages, were established; fields tilled
and planted, overgrown roads cleared, and timber hewn from the forests, by
the farmer-settlers and their descendants.
Much of the story of migration, told over and again, formed a part of their
lore; and songs were made to remind folk: not the least of which was the
lay concerning the sleeping land of Ravenmoor, and the secrets it might
give up if ever awoken.
But on that very first day when Forinth and Bartram and the boy-king Weldun
gazed out thankfully across the long valley stretching away before them,
they were unaware that distant, savage eyes watched, and plotting, waited...