In the Shadow of the Tyrant

50 Years Prior, Part 1

There was a flash, a short clap of thunder, and a body fell from empty air onto the dark cobblestones below. It lay there motionless for a moment, then stirred, and rolled sprightly to its feet. The dim light of distant torches revealed the figure of a young, handsome Elf, briskly dusting himself off and adjusting his brightly-colored clothing. Beyond his long, golden hair and brief, mischievous grin, he also sported a long, elaborately-patterned scarf, its ends dangling loosely behind him. His clothes were ripped in places and bore some recent bloodstains, but he yet held himself with the elegant poise of a dancer.

The man looked about him, studying his surroundings as if seeing them for the first time, when he was interrupted by the rough approaching scratch of leather boots against the street.

“You there!” two guards peered suspiciously at him from behind their lantern, each one every inch the consummate watchman, “What are you doing out here after curfew?”

Hesitating for but a moment, the Elf fell easily into a well-practiced routine. “Good evening! My name is Awrthyr Gentlestar,” he said, with a grandiose bow, “A simple travelling minstrel. Tell me, what fine city do I find myself in today?”

The guards exchanged a look before one spoke again, distrust heavy in his voice. “Alright, Mister Arthur, I don’t know about any travelling minstrel business, but nobody’s allowed out past sunset, Lord General’s orders.”

Awrthyr gave them an ingratiating smile. “Ah, you see, my name is Awrthyr, not Arthur. It’s got just a bit of a flourish right in the middle the- …Oh,” the tirade was cut short by the brief snap of metal on metal as one of the guards forcibly clasped his hands in manacles. Awrthyr’s surprise lasted only a moment, before it was replaced with a rakish, suggestive grin. “A bit forward, aren’t we? I like where this is going.”

Looking uncomfortable as Awrthyr leaned in closer, the guard cringed as his comrade slipped a black leather sack over their prisoner’s head. “Oh, where are we going? Is it a surprise?” There was a crack as something massive and solid connected with the back of his head, a rush of pain, then darkness.


Awrthyr awoke some time later, sprawled out on an uncomfortable cot and looking at a damp stone ceiling. His head was exploding with pain where the guard had struck it, but testing gingerly with his fingertips, he could not feel any serious damage. With some effort, but no less grace, he swung his feet around and sat up, pausing for a moment as a wave of dizziness overtook him before examining his surroundings.

The walls and floor were hewn of the same rough stone that had greeted him upon his awakening, and rows of heavy iron bars shut off the room’s only exit. A prison, by all accounts. This theory was reinforced by the two hard gray cots fastened to the walls, and the room’s only other occupant, sitting silently and watching him from the other side. A hulking, muscular figure, he sat hunched over, hands clasped before him and his face cloaked in shadow. The barest gleam of light reflecting off his eyes was the only indication of his alertness toward the newcomer.

His headache receding ja bit, Awrthyr smiled and rose swiftly to his feet. “Right then,” he said, gesturing grandly about him, “A prison! I’d love to say it’s my first time in one of htese, but that is sadly not the case.”

The other manponderously stood, unfolding further and further until he towered over Awrthyr in the gloom, a black mountain looming over him. Awrthyr faced him, as if seeing him for the first time. “And you must be my cellmate,” he enthused, reaching up to pat the silent giant lightly on the cheek, “I’m sure we’re going to get along famously!”

There followed a short, dangerous silence, then, like the slow rumbling of an avalanche, the huge man began to laugh. “You’ve got balls, lad,” he said, in a voice like rocks grinding into each other, “I respect that.”

Visibly relaxing, he leaned down to better examine Awrthyr’s smiling visage. “I can see why they’d throw you in here, lad. You look like a fairy if ever I saw one.”

“Well, I do sometimes lean a bit in that direction but I never considered it much of a crime mysel-,” he paused as realization dawned, “Oh, you mean that kind of fairy. Litle wings, sparkles, fluttering about, yes? Are they a problem around here then?”

The other man gave him a long, slow look. “Where are you from, stranger?”

“Oh, here and there, all about the place,” Awrthyr said jovially, deftly uncoiling the scarf from his shoulders, “The scarf, you see. They never check the scarf. Aha!” His questing fingers found a hidden pocket amongst te scarf’s fabrics, and returned with a slim leather volume, filled with every manner of thief’s tools. Smoothly, he drew a lockpick and bent to one kee, fiddling with the lock even as he continued to speak.

“I’ve been in worse situations than this. Once, a servant girl caught me in bed with the youngest daughter of the Khoroushi dynasty. Matriarchal society, warrior women, very fierce and all that. I do love them fierce. Anyway, they threw us all in the most magnificent dungeon I’ve ever seen, walls all made of marble and engraved with grand mosaics, it was like a palace! Ærhyn was furious! We had to use little Foebreaker as a battering ram and crash through the wall to escape. Hold this,” he passed one of the picks to the big man, who palmed it and stood in stunned silence, “A few more jumps and here we were! Ærhyn and the others should be nearby somewhere, I just haven’t- Aha!”

This last was accompanied by a soft lick as the door’s mechanism gave way. Awrthyr stood up, dusting himself off, and wrapped the scar back around his neck, careful not to let it drag on the floor. “Say, I never did get your name.”

“Bergholdt,” the other man replied, still off balance, “Bergholdt Armbruster.” He seemed to regain a bit of his composure and looked about wildly, “You aren’t really trying to escape, are you? Do you have any idea what they’ll do to you if you get caught?”

Awrthyr looked genuinely surprised, as if the thought of continued captivity had never occured to him. “Of course I am,” he said simply, stepping through the now open portal, “Are you?”

Bergholdt placed one leathery hand on the side of the bars and peered out cautiously into the torchlit hall beyond, then back at Awrthyr’s grin. “Freya’s shining tit, you’re serious,” he cursed. Hesitating a moment, his jaw then gained a determined set it had lacked before. “I’ve got a wife and a daughter out there, and these are dark times for Freystadt. …I’l come with.”

Awrthyr’s grin widened and e reached up to place a hand on the big man’s shoulder. “Good answer! Come on then, I’m fed up with being buried down here.”

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