Author: David Martin © 1999
It has been said, by others more learned than I, that the Time of Reckoning is at hand. The future is obscured by uncertainty, the skeins of fate twisted and tangled, and all souls, from the humblest peasant to the greatest of kings, will play a hand in this last epic game of Chance. I am no eloquent and enlightened warrior-poet, nor wise and insightful seer, but I would guess that no matter how each of us chooses, whether we believe in fate or fortune, history shall make all endeavors and events appear as if guided by divine destiny or gratuitous luck. Time seems to magnify the events while diminishing the men, the untold labours of the unnamed dead swept aside and lost in the bloody maelstrom of battle. Indeed, though I can barely recall my own father´s face, I can conjure vivid images of the glorious last battle in which he fought and died.
In his great Codex the Captain inscribes all of the conceivable paths and ominous portents he foresees in our futures, guiding us through these uncertain times like a shepherd tending his flock. The Lieutenant, if I´m half as good a judge a character as he believes of himself, chronicles all he myopically surveys for the benefit of future historians, so that they may gaze upon the glorious battles of the past and marvel at the heroic deeds of a few great men. As for me, I´m just an unhappy insomniac with little power, few choices and too much time, and this is my sad account of these mad times, nothing more or less than the ridiculous ravings and soporific scribbles of a forlorn lunatic. I shall try not to write much of the enigmatic past, as I have poor recollection and know little about the lives of those long dead, and have no wish to dredge up from the dark depths of our tormented souls painful memories better left undisturbed and forgotten. Nor will I speculate on the future, as I have little hope left and the end seems uncomfortably close at hand. Such grim musings can only bring cold comfort, as Old Night is a frigid bedmate and the grave a bone-chilling bed. Instead I shall write in earnest of the myriad choices made, and the mortal men who made them. I shall begin with what little I know well, my own life, and the choice I made so long ago.
My name is Jarek Mark Darkwald, and at the age of nineteen I heard the twilight call my name. I no longer mourn the relatively peaceful years before, for I know we must all sacrifice peace now or lose its sweet serenity forever. Even the promise of eternal slumber is but a slim hope, so we all embrace war like a long lost lover and join in the danse macabre. My only fear is that all we have sacrificed will be for naught, and all that we are, ever were, and could have been will be snuffed out like firebrands under a flood of blood.
I was born in the Year 283, thirteen years after the Founding of Chronopia. My father served as waldgrave to the northwestern hinterlands bordering the lands of the Untamed. As a boy he fought in the Vengeance War, a peasant archer raining death from above with his great longbow. As a man he died during the Great Betratyal, a noble Repulsar Knight Marksman defending his charge from the encroaching Devout as they marched to overthrow the One King´s rule. As the Devout overran the wood, my mother, invoking the power of the Goddess, shrouded the trees in nebulous mist and twisting thorns, shading us from evil eyes as we hid in the foliage, until the unholy army had passed.
Afterwards, my mother and I found the corpses of my father´s foresters scattered like rag dolls about the wood, surrounded by the bodies of the devout they had felled with their longbows. While I had cowered like a catted mouse, those Firstborn knights had fought bravely, though in the end they were overwhelmed by the manifold Devout. Among the fallen we found a Necromancer, impaled by my father´s thorns, the distinctive black and white fletching nearly flush with the corpse´s withered flesh. Under a great ash, twisted and shattered by a Warped Lord´s vortex, I found Thorn, my father´s beautiful bow of black yew. Concerning the fate of Mark Leoric Darkwald, the legendary Shrike, we found no other trace. We buried the noble knights beneath that dying ash, it´s fallen ashkeys taking root to mark their grave and embrace the honoured dead. The Devout we burned on a pyre of cleansing fire, their vengeful spirits carried away with the black smoke and ashes on the chill night wind.
Following my father´s death, my mother Siobhana El´Idanach Winter Rose, bore upon her weary shoulders the mantle of wildwood protector, cloaking the forest with impenetrable gloom and fateful doom. No one could unravel her shadowy weaving, and those that ventured too deep quickly became lost amidst the whispering pines and shadowed ash. She hated the One King, blaming him and him alone for the Dark Prophets´ betrayal, the rise of the Devout, and the death of her husband. With that hatred she wrought a penumbrous wall to gird her dark wood and guard her only son.
For ten years we lived alone and undisturbed, free to wander beneath the eternal twilight as the timeless trees cast dancing shadows under the kiss of the wind. On rare occasion I would leave the wood to scout the surrounding lands, cloaked by the cunningly crafted charms I carried. From a distance I watched how others lived and died, learning a little of the ways of the world, though I could never gather the courage to break with taboo and talk to the strangers I watched from afar. From my mother I learned more about the ways of her people, the Sons of Kronos, including a little of the way of the wyrd, such as the runes I use to write these words. Left to my own devices, I mastered archery using my father´s bow, and learned to hurl the forester´s axes with deadly precision, mimicking the methods of my Untamed warrior kin.
Only once during those ten years were we visited by an outsider, a man I saw only briefly, nearly seven years after my father´s death. Returning from a late hunt, I spied him standing with my mother outside our cottage. He was cloaked and cowled in darkest blue, and though I couldn´t see his face, I witnessed his weathered hands gently wipe tears from my mother´s cheeks, before he walked off into dusk´s lengthening shadows. Though I tried to track him, all traces disappeared after a hundred paces. When confronted, my mother refused to acknowledge anything had occurred, turning venomous when pressed. Though many years have passed since that night, I have yet to discovered the identity of that mysterious stranger, or how he traveled unhindered and unseen through our wood. For seven years we lived without visitors, for ten years we lived in peace. After ten years I heard the twilight´s clarion call. For ten years vengeance festered and boiled in the Dark Prophets´ putrid black hearts. After ten years the Devout returned.
First version from 24.03.2008. Last Version from 24.03.2008.