The darkness of morning slowly faded into the pink/blue light of dawn as Rhogar approached the strange gates of a tiny walled village with an old weathered sign that read, “Lochsburg.” The gates themselves seemed to be ramshackle creations built with a careless haste, made from a random assortment of debris. Broken wine casks, old horse carts, and iron stoves were but a few of the items that seemed to comprise the makeshift gates and, indeed, the entire wall which encircled the village itself. Rhogar had seen such measures taken before in times of war, when materials grew thin one must make due with what is at hand. For all the work put into it, Rhogar could hardly believe that it would keep anyone out for very long, if one was bent on getting in.
As he got closer he noticed an old human man sitting on an overturned barrel and leaning on a rusty halberd. The man wore what appeared to be newly, not to mention poorly, made leather armor and hoisted himself up to a standing position as Rhogar got closer. The main’s face was pale and drawn with long wrinkles, his beard looked haggard, and his eyes were set in deep cavernous grey pits and he stared out at Rhogar with something that looked like a mixture of hatred and sadness.
“I hope you’re traveling west from here!” the man’s gravely voice blurted out.
“South… or so I’d hoped.” Rhogar said cautiously.
“Hope?! HA! Your hope is about as good as anyone else’s around here, which is to say – it’s NOT!” the old man spat out the words and a flash of utter sorrow passed over his face. “I’ll tell you what I told the last stranger to try and get through, go to HELL!”
“My name is Rhogar, I mean you, nor your town, any harm. My word is my honor, friend.” Rhogar placed his weapon on the ground and knelt before the man in supplication.
“Ah… dammit, the name’s Garret, I can see it in your face that you mean what you say. But the villagers here, they won’t let you through even if I did. I’m under no illusion that you couldn’t fight your way through me if you’d wanted, course you’d have a mob of childless mothers and fathers with nothing left but vengeance in their hearts to contend with, and even you couldn’t stave off a terrible thing like that.” the old man slumped back down onto his barrel. “Best if you just headed west, or you’re welcome to try and find a way around the village, it’s been done before.”
“You mentioned childless mothers and fathers? Has your town been struck by plague?”, Rhogar stood back up and slung his axe over his massive shoulders once more.
“No… that perhaps would have been more merciful than what did happen. Our children were taken from us, stolen by a man we had come to trust and call one of our own. He was an Eladrin fellow by the name of Cessil. He saved our village from a band of goblins once, or at least at the time that’s how it seemed. We’ve come to realize it was probably all an act, a way to gain our trust. Well, it worked, to say the least. We aren’t fighters, we’ve never had to be. But this past season a band of goblins laid siege to our village. Cessil came and fought them off nearly singlehandedly. Afterwards we called him brother and before long he’d set up residence in our town. He told us he wanted to teach our children about the dangers of the world, how to fight them so that our village would remain safe for generations to come. We realized that it was true , we were helpless against any evil that would look our way. We agreed to his proposal and he set about meeting with the children every week. One day we awoke to find that they were gone, all of them, just vanished. We found cart tracks on the road heading west, but every villager that has gone off in search of them has never returned. Just this morning I tried to stop another handful of angry fathers from going, but in the end I can’t blame them, I’d do the same… So, that’s that, the people of this village can’t properly mourn the loss of their children because they can’t be sure that they are dead, and it is nearly impossible for them to have hope that they will ever see them again either… we’re all just stuck somewhere between hope and loss, and not able to feel much of either…”
“I’m sorry, I’m no stranger to loss. As for hope… what if I could find your children? Or at least bring back some word of what’s happened to them?”, Rhogar felt as though he was standing taller for the first time in months.
The old guard shook his head and said, “You can try. I can barely stand to hope that you’d find anything, but you seem to be more capable than any of our men and women. Hopefully you’ll have more wits about you than they have as well, or at least wit enough to know when to run at any rate.”
“Yes…”, Rhogar replied slowly and his eyes seemed to be staring off to somewhere distant. A long moment passed and he snapped back to the present. “You… you mentioned other strangers on the road? Is this something that’s happened recently?”
“Yep, just this morning, in fact. A tall hooded man came here, same as you, only he seemed to appear out from the underbrush, rather than the road. He claimed he was a hunter looking for game to the south. I told him no way in hell he was going to go through our town to get there. He asked some questions and I obliged him. Funny thing, when I mentioned that Eladrin fellow, Cessil, to him he grew anxious and then disappeared like a ghost into the forest to the west.”
Rhogar nodded gravely and unslung his axe. “Perhaps his game isn’t animal in nature… Thank you, Garret. I’ll see if I can bring your town some peace, even if it is only in mourning.”
Rhogar then turned on his heel and stalked warily down the western road until Garret could see him no longer.