Hrothgar's Hall

A place where songs are sung

Onwards

The Wanderlust sets in,

On old bones tired of life.

Eyes look towards far horizons,

Adventures new and tales retold.

The land beneath a flowing river,

One twisting this way and that.

Lay your head on ground untouched,

Lay your heart in lands unknown.

Thor the Warrior, Questor the Elf, Merlin the Wizard & Thyra the Valkyrie from Gauntlet (2014)

http://www.gauntlet.com/

Freedom

The balled up fist came smashing into Elwin’s jaw once again and his vision flickered between utter darkness and the stone cell that had been his home for three days now. Elwin let himself go slack and felt the hot pain flaring across his jaw and up into his skull. Even though his right eye was closing over he could still see the trickle of blood dripping from his cracked lip onto his lap. A few flecks of white punctuated it at odd intervals, the remains of some of his teeth no doubt. He was in a sorry state.

"The sooner you tell us the truth Elwin the better" said a voice that swam into the flickering blackness that invaded Elwin’s mind. "We found you with blood on your hands and everyone know the disdain you felt for the master. I guess it was only a matter of time before you snapped like a twig".

Elwin was tired of retorting now. He had professed his innocence at first but the jailor was having none of it now. Elwin genuinely thought that his captor knew he was innocent but enjoyed the brutality of ruining his once beautiful face. A strange thought entered Elwin’s head at the that moment as he remembered those lovely ladies of the night who would probably never look at him again in the same way. Whatever effort Elwin had left he used to grimace.

"Smiling are we?" the voice said again from somewhere else in the room now. "I think we better wipe that smile off your face; or what’s left of it."

Elwin didn’t even bother looking up. He closed his left eye and waited for the punch to land once again. He didn’t hear anymore voices after that.

***

A few hours later Elwin awoke in the same cold stone room and immediately wanted to close his eyes again. The pain was unbearable and it was coursing through every fibre of his being. He could feel the bruises all along his stomach and chest, the brutes had clearly kicked him around after he’d blacked out. Elwin had given up on innocence now and instead was wondering how long it was going to take for him to die.

It was a shame that the jailors were so good at their jobs. He had heard of other places in the Empire where prisoners ended up dead within the first few days but here in the tower it was another thing entirely. Even if your body was beaten within an inch of death there was always some way to preserve it for more punishment. Elwin could taste one such way on his lips, likely another elixir from the alchemists.

Watching the shadowy room and the huge metal door at the other end Elwin lifted his manacled hands into view and looked at the glowing runes constraining his power. In the beginning they had flickered and roared as Elwin struggled but now they were dim, sensing he had given up. Elwin moved his wrists around inside them and felt the red raw scrape of the metal on his blistered skin. It was agonising. Elwin wondered if he could even have summoned up the power to fight his way out of here even if his manacles were off.

Reaching out he pulled a bowl of food towards him, or whatever registered as food down here in the towers dungeons. He dipped his fingers into it and sucked at them absentmindedly. It tasted terrible but it was better than nothing. Elwin was sure he was most likely going to throw it all up in a few minutes anyway but least for now it was sitting reasonably well on his battered stomach.

"You really are in quite a state aren’t you" said a light-hearted voice from the shadows. "Such a shame that the great Elwin has been reduced to this."

Elwin shut his one good eye and tried to ignore the voices. He was clearly going mad and even though his body was broken he was keen to hold onto his mind if nothing else.

"Fair enough. Maybe I’ll take this keystone elsewhere and let out another more worthwhile prisoner."

Elwin opened his eye a little and watched as the shadows unfolded and the shape of a woman emerged from it and knelt in front of him on the stones. Her boots were made of rough leather and she was garbed like a vagrant save for her stunning face. Her hair was tied back into a series of plaits and knots and was black with hints of red and blue mixed throughout. She had pale skin and fine features, a thin nose that was freckled across the ridge. Her eyes were emerald green and regarded him with such pity that Elwin had to fight the urge to not cry. No, that wouldn’t do. Even if this was a figment of his imagination he was going to go along with it. Sod it, let his mind break.

Elwin reached out with his wrists and the mysterious woman smiled. Her lips, tinged with a purple dust split and he saw brilliant white teeth within. She reached into a pocket at her side and pulled out a blood covered keystone. Whomsoever it had belonged to no longer had need of it. She fitted the rune stone into the gap on Elwin’s manacles and the runes flickered and died, coming loose around his wrists. Elwin froze in surprise.

"Now the sooner you get out of here the better" the woman said, standing up and brushing herself down. "I will find you later my dear".

She retreated back towards the door, pulled it open and Elwin heard her boots wandering off down the long hallway outside. She had left the door open.

Elwin forced himself to sit up and he felt freedom within touching distance. Holding his hands up the magical energy that had been repressed began to surge to the surface once more. The same feeling he had had in his study chambers came over him and almost without thought Elwin felt his bruised and battered body knitting itself back together. A moment later he was standing, his skin was pale and pure once more and the red run of his wrists had vanished.

Stepping out of his cell, his legs still shaking from the renewed feeling of free movement, he looked up and down the dimly lit hallway. A guard lay dead not four feet from him, his neck twisted in an unnatural way. The vambrace they all wore with the runic keystones on them had been torn off his arm and a hand lay, still twitching, on the cold floor. Elwin wasn’t entirely sure he liked freedom if it meant having to say thank you to someone who could do that. Right now however, he had little choice.

Footsteps sounded behind him and Elwin span round. A guard turned a corner and looked up at him his eyes alight with panic. In the moment that Elwin had frozen the guard reached down and picked up a whistle from around his neck bringing it to his lips. Elwin swore and reached out his hand, twisting it into a fist. The whistle flew from the guards hand and bought him along with it, the guard falling face first into the flagstones knocked out.

Elwin ran over and held his hand over the guards prostate form. His fingers crackled with spells newly remembered and he thought about burning the man to a cinder. Maybe he had been one of those who had beaten him hour after hour and he deserved it. But Elwin was no killer. He might have been reduced to nothing by his captors but he wasn’t about to sink to their level. Elwin was many things but he was not a murderer.

Bending down Elwin tore off the guards leather boots and uniform. The fit was overly roomy but it was convincing enough. As quickly as he could Elwin grabbed the limp body of the guard into his open cell and propped him against the wall. He did the same with the corpse too but decided against touching any of his apparel. He had enough of people finding blood on his hands.

Quickly and with a brief search of his subconscious Elwin remembered his glamours and pressed his palms against the unconscious guards cheeks. Elwin hated doing this at the best of times as it was entirely unpleasant but right now it was the only way he was getting out of here. A moment later he was looking at himself and as he looked down his own hands had been replaced with that of the guard. It wouldn’t last long, but hopefully long enough.

Gathering up the guards club and belt of keys Elwin stood up and winced inside the roomy leather boots. It was time to get out of here.

***

Tiphon rubbed his temples and brushed his hair behind his ears. He had had enough of mages. Kneeling down he slapped the unconscious prisoner across the face and watched the image ripple strangely. A simple glamour.

"I think your man has escaped sir." Tiphon stood up and watched as the unconscious guard started to come up, the image of Elwin fading from his own features and returning to normal. "I would suggest sending out a search party right away. He cannot have got far."

The other man in the room rubbed a grizzled chin and paced the stones occasionally throwing a dirty look at the other guard whose neck had been snapped. Tiphon had little regard for Jailor Lin but he thought it best to maintain a certain degree of formality.

"When I find that mage I’ll hang him from the top of the bloody towers!" Lin said, spittle flying everywhere in his rage. "He has another murder on his hands!"

"This other guard was killed by another hand sir" Tiphon interjected "Why kill one and leave the other alive to tell of his escape or how he might look? A galmour works despite the life energy of that which you copy. I believe if anything your Elwin had an accomplice, possibly unwittingly so".

Lin stopped his pacing and furrowed his brow. Tiphon had clearly aggravated him.

"I don’t care for your theories Commander Tiphon. I want you to get your men and find that damn mage!" Lin roared loudly and the shout echoed out of the door and down the hallway. The jailor soon followed it bellowing orders and he raced away from the cell.

Tiphon sniffed unimpressed and walked out of the cell. Outside his second in command, Janir, stood with his sword out, spinning the tip on the stone beneath their feet making a grinding sound.

"Lin seems in even more of a mood than normal. I think he was enjoying brutalising that mage." Janir smiled and lifted his sword, sheathing it and removing his helmet.

Janir was from the West and it was unmistakable. Unlike Tiphon and the others in the Tower Guard who were all born in the North to hardy winds and plentiful snow Janir was from the deserts of the West. His skin was almost as black as obsidian and two jewel like eyes looked out from beneath white eyebrows and a shock of white hair atop his head. He was fearsome looking despite his jovial smile and he had been Tiphon’s right hand on more than one occasion.

"Quite" Tiphon smiled in return and started off down the hallway with Janir beside him. "Still, his wish is ours to follow and we will have to begin gathering scouts to hunt this Elwin down. The glamour has already faded and a thin stick of a man like him shouldn’t be hard to find. I bet he’s hardly got halfway down the mountain."

Janir laughed “It’s quite like the old days sir. Guards hunting down errant mages.”

Tiphon went to answer but thought better of it. Those days had been dark and Janir had thankfully never seen them. Tiphon on the other hand had witnessed them first hand and the brutality that both sides had wrought on each other. It was a blessing that they had managed to find some peace in recent years despite the Emperor and his constant warmongering.

"Get my steed ready and meet me at the eerie" Tiphon said instead. "The sooner we find this mage the sooner I can go home."