In regularity I'll find myself reminiscing, casting, through the fog and boggy stench of my mind to myriad memories of my time as an adventurer. I spent decades of my life marching through storm battered nights, scratching the nettle welts left on my hand after going on the long Autumn hunt, sharpening the dull edge of my blade after forcing the soul of a rampaging marauder in to the cleansing judgement of the Seven.
I have seen the beauties of the world (he chuckles) and I have seeded some of the beauties the world too. I have seen the best in men, and the worst. Seen some of the finest men gasp their last breath and the worst take them.
However, the tale I tell tonight, is not one of them. On my last night as Chief of the Alt Eterriu branch of the Crimson Wolves Warrior Company involves none of that. I will leave you with my strongest memory and, in that, the most important lesson.
I was just a young lad, first few months of the guild, brave, but reckless, confident in carelessness. Me and a few of the lads were on our first leave and were restless. We had spent our whole lives leading up to these moments we wanted more. The hunger was insatiable, no drink could quench, no arse could distract. No.
So we decided to do find a piece of action, I remembered the old, near forgotten catacombs on the outskirts of Eterriu Shire. Where the old city was. It had been overrun by undead, used as fun for a dark wizard and had been left to rot and forsaken to the ever shifting sands of time.
So we set out for there, two days of drunken wandering on an overgrown trail, I tell you, I swear on my wife's Boar Pastry, that I am still picking thorns out of my arse to this day. Poor Nechtan here almost got dragged off to his death by some infernal hags a day in.
Finally, after much scratching, flea bites and vomiting, we approached the entrance. A once beautiful ivied arch way, boarded up, some strange runes I've never seen before painted in blood up both columns welcomed us to the defiled resting place of my dynasty.
Now, none of the lads knew this at the time. It was, however, something that had haunted my sleep for my whole life, dark magick this is. My Mother said, it was this place which cost my Father his life, driven to despair having lost his arm (and his mind in doing so) to this place. To me it was time to claim back my honour and lay my father's weeping spirit to rest.
I'll not bore you with the usual. Unlike my father who ventured with my Uncle, a fool and barely trained in combat, the new inhabitants of the catacombs were no match for a trained company, the marauder responsible, was waning in power and barely sustaining himself and the corpses of my family in being so. My mace crashed against his chest within the hour and launched him near 10 foot with the force, he was so frail.
The magic was broken, the remaining unholy puppets of my family without arrows and fragments of iron stuck in them collapsed to the ground. Finally, at peace. In honour, of our victory, we broke open the cask again and drank deeply.
Now, I don't know, if it was some resonant magick or the effects of the ale, but I will always remember the strangest single occurrence in my life, even thirty years later and having participated in over a thousand quests, I still remember, as if it was etched in my heart.
I remember me and the lads staring at an ancient archway, my torch in hand, however, it wasn't the beauty of the archways captivating us, it was a the pale blue shape of a maiden standing in the archway. Sublime, not overwhelmingly bright but enough that we could see her gesturing for us to come. Despite Nechtan's meeting with Eterriu's finest, drink seemed to compel us to follow and we were Kings of the Shire, in our heads, for that night.
We entered into a large decrepit dome, the defiled crypts of my departed loved ones lining the walls, the sight made the tears near flow from my eyes. The spirit, however, was not beckoning to this, but some ancient musical instruments strewn in a raised platform in the center of the dome.
Now, me and the lads, as you know, always loved a bit of music, so we felt compelled by the spirit and the fact she hadn't tried to chew our throats, picked up and began to play a few of the laments (since none of us can actually sing as you know and we didn't want to anger any more of the dead we left that section out).
Now, it started off a low key affair, the guys seemed a bit too far gone to notice at first, but my eyes never left the spirit, in fact, after the second song it really started to catch my eye. It slowly began to dance it's way around the dome, cutting in and out of my sight, stopping at each crypt in turn as it done, at first the reasons why it was doing so were unclear but that soon became apparent. After a few songs there was no longer merely one spirit in the dome, in fact, they were crawling out of the woodwork, so to speak. Spirits of all sizes and shades were now surrounding us, some dancing too, others merely witnessing, but I can say that they was a definite feeling of joy in the air from all of them.
The drink continued flowing and I could feel their joy and relief through me. Whether it was the magic or the ale, it was a real feeling that resonated through my body and my own spirit. It was near unreal. At last, we played a final lament having reached the end of our drunken recital.
However, it didn't end there.
With sweat dripping down my fingers, a fine, yet dusty lute in my arms. I expected to hear no sound. Instead, what i did hear resonates in me to this day.
And it enveloped me completely.
The spirits were all in formation around the platform on which we stood holding musical instruments of their own, some recognizable, some looked like they were from another realm entirely.
The result, however, was of this and it became me.
As I stood in awe. Not just sweat now dripping down me, tears in amongst the falling fluid. The Maiden Spirit who originally guided us here had made her way through the throng of serenading souls. she clasped my hand in hers and took me into the mass of energy surrounding us.
All I can remember is waltzing, in warmth and lights of all colour engulfing us. A high of which no herb or ale could replicate. An energy that flowed through my spirit, I felt an overwhelming sensation...
I woke up.
I was on my back at the entrance of the archway, morning light piercing the cracked roof. The others were on their feet, slightly worse for wear but very much on the go, far more than I was at least.
Shall we get going? they said.
I took one look back at the archway and the darkness beyond, physically never looked back.
Mentally though, I am always there.
With my final words to you as Chief of this Company. My lesson is to you is look to your future, it is will be truly bright, let your mind lead you there.
But keep your heart in the past and in your heritage.
It shapes your now and your future.
-The Final Words of Gartnait, Fifth Chief of the Crimson Wolf Warrior Company.
Once Through an Ancient Archway