ipsa scientia potestas est

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Rule of Thirds


Nullus est liber tam malus ut non aliqua parte prosit

There is no book so bad that it is not profitable in some part



       The mountains loomed in the distance like a dark impenetrable wall – “Impenetrable” being an almost true description except there was one path which cut through them.  The “Valley of Shadows” they had called it countless years ago and for many a good reason.  It was said if the cold and treacherous path didn’t claim you, the creatures and bandits that called it home would.  It was not an inviting place by any account but, nonetheless, it was the shortest route from the south to the north and as time was of the essence, a course he must endure.


Standing motionless at the foot of a tree, he looked at the mountains in the distance.  He pulled back his hood and thought about the camp-town north of the mountains and how it would be at least five more days’ journey from where he stood.  Four if he pushed hard through the valley, but more like seven if he stopped at the inn called “The Mine,” which sat, nestled at the southern entrance to the Valley.  “The Mine” was just three days away and most travelers passing would plan a couple days there.  Between the beautiful serving girls, the fine music and the myriad games of chance there were too many reasons not to “delay” one’s journey and let’s not forget, as well, its’ legendary claim of, “the best ale to be had south of the mountains.”


Rumor had it, “The Mine” was conceived out of the old mining quarters and converted into a tavern and guest house.  It was an old establishment and like any ancient and notable tavern had countless stories and tales to tell.  The barkeep, a masterful narrator would, on rare occasion’s treat everyone in the place to one of his many tales of lore.  Recounting the great battles fought centuries ago, adventures of epic proportions and the heart-breaking love stories; it seemed there was no story he hadn’t knowledge of and none that anyone could deliver better.  He had a way of almost hypnotizing his audience with each spoken word and those travelers who were fortunate enough, would say his voice was more intoxicating than the very ale he served. 


But his thoughts of “The Mine” drifted as there were still the plains to cross and many dangers lurked in the emptiness of the night these days.  He looked at the sun and knew the day was growing late.  He would have to press hard now to even make it to the “Inn of the Flats” just ahead and he had been delayed once already by unexpected weather and then again eluding a band of rogue hunters.  Three additional days added to an already two-week journey and the thought of a tall pint of ale and food gave him reason enough to press on.  He would hate to have to forgo an evening or two at “The Mine” to make up for lost time on the road, but if that was what had to be done then so be it.  “Sacrifices one must make.”  He thought.  Such is the way sometimes and the rendezvous would be in six days.   There were still many miles to go and time was of the essence - There was much riding on his purpose and he couldn’t allow anything to delay him, not even “The Mine.”


Pushing off the tree he was leaning against, the Traveler took a long drink from his leather flask and drew in a slow, deep breath.  He closed his eyes for a moment and contemplated his plan for the rest of the journey.  He knew where he must be and all that remained now was getting there, through the plains and then the dark valley ahead.  Exhaling, he sealed the flask and took a step onto the road once again.

*          *          *

He had pressed hard through the late hours of the afternoon and was surprised to see he had made it to the “Inn of the Flats” much quicker than anticipated.  As he neared the Inn, he noticed something very uncommon for this time of year - It appeared vacant.  Devoid of the many travelers and wanderers that are roaming these parts late in the season. 


It had been just a few months, maybe a little longer, since he had been here and approaching the structure, he saw the front door hung open.  He stepped in and his heart sank – he had been looking forward to a good meal and a warm fire, but by the looks of it, he would get neither here.  It was lifeless - there was no fire burning, no weary travelers quenching their thirst and exchanging news of their journeys and no stew brewing in the large cauldron in the center of the room.  All was quiet…


His boots left shallow impressions on the dusty floor as he walked towards the giant mantelpiece on the far side of the dining hall.  Many of the tables had been over turned and most of the chairs had been smashed and left scattered about the floor.  It was hard to tell if a struggle had taken place or if vandals, or looters, had simply entertained themselves.  Either way, by his reckoning, whatever happened, it must not have occurred long ago.  The darkness it seemed was growing across the land and the raiding and pillaging was becoming more frequent as he neared the “Valley of Shadows.”  It disturbed him and he grimaced as his mind found thoughts of “The Mine” – empty and desolate at the base of the Valley of Shadows…

He turned to exit when he heard a muffled sound from the back room.  Loosening his cloak and with staff in hand, he made his way to the rear of the Inn taking caution as he approached a large wooden door - Upon it, the word  “Private” was carved with great detail.  He knew this could be but the entrance to the proprietor’s quarters and inn storage.  He pushed it open and entered… 


The door had just closed behind him when - without warning – a sword blade came swinging down at him.  Eluding the attack and bringing his staff up towards the sword’s host, the battle was over almost as swift as it began –


The staff sounded as it hit home at the wrist of the wielder, the bitterness of the wood biting deep into his flesh, almost breaking the joint.  Rendered weaponless, he could see the aggressor was stunned and the staff was brought around once more –


It struck across the side of the man’s knee, knocking him off balance.  The weapon, following it’s prey downward, found it’s home upon the man’s throat with enough force to allow him to live at the sole will of the wielder.  The attacker cried out in pain, pleading.


“Pleeze don kill me … Pleeze sir … Pleeze…” He gasped out, swallowing with difficulty under the pressured wood.  The Traveler looked at the pathetic man and spoke; “Who is it that decides my company is not desired that they try to kill me?”  Lifting the end of his staff just enough to allow him to speak.  The man looked up at him wide eyed, “Oh thank you sir - thank you.  I am the proprietor here. I was only trying to protect my home.  Thank you for sparing me, take what you like, but there isn’t much left.” 


He looked into the proprietor’s eyes and could see the man was afraid but there was something more, a much deeper fear lurking in him - Something very dark had been at work here.  “I am no thief innkeeper.  But I ask you - Why do you not flee?  Why do you wait and attack without provocation?”  The Proprietor replied without delay, “I have no place to go.  I was to protect my daughter while awaiting my son’s return.  He left weeks ago to seek counsel and bring warriors to protect the establishment.  I meant you no true harm sir, but I have seen things these last few nights that I wish to never recall. I can trust no one it seems these days...” The Traveler looked at the man and deemed he spoke the truth.  He removed the staff from his throat and extended a hand to help.  He could see the scars and ugly bruises on the man’s face as he ascended into the light from a nearby window.  The proprietor had been beaten not long ago. 


“It looks like you were in quite a fight?”  He queried.  The man lowered his eyes and nodded in acknowledgement as he rubbed his wrist where the staff had made contact.   He reached out and lifted the man’s chin.  “The wrist and the knee will both heal over time, but I would suggest you do not attack your guests again for at least a fortnight.” He smirked.  The comment brought a faint smile to the man’s disheveled face.  “You mentioned a daughter?  There appears to be only yourself here?” He asked.


The man sat in a chair, almost collapsing at the comment; “She was taken.  Seven days past.  I was too weak to fight them off alone but I tried…you cannot imagine how hard I tried to save her…but … in the end… I can only remember her screams as they stripped her of her clothes and took her away.  They haunt me her screams do … they haunt me whilst I sleep or not … I have failed my daughter and I must fear too that my son now has been slain in his endeavors.  Alas I have lost everything good sir, everything.”  He finished, sobbing. 


The Traveler looked upon the beaten man,  “Which way did they ride with your daughter?” He asked.  The Proprietor looked up from his chair and said, “They rode northward.  They rode towards the Valley of the Shadows … the place where all the dark things live…” He looked at the proprietor and felt his pain but also knew his words were true.  Indeed dark things did live in the Valley of Shadows, but none so bold as to venture this far into the plains and abduct the townsfolk.  It seemed dark times were indeed upon them and they would seem to be growing worse. 


He continued to listen as the Proprietor told him of the strange occurrences of the past few months - Of the first raids on the Inn and the exodus of the travelers.  Of the ensuing raids and the last one in which he had almost been killed and his daughter had been kidnapped, ravaged before his very eyes. 


As he went on about recent events, the Traveler’s own thoughts drifted again to “The Mine.” - Had it befell a similar fate?  It would be a dark day indeed if that happened but, the “Inn of the Flats” was just a small inn, located in a vulnerable spot.  “The Mine” stood within the walls of Tanin, which was a large town with a rather well organized guard and always full of hoards of mercenaries and hunters.  It would take more than a roving band of thugs and bandits to terrorize that town.  “The Mine,” no doubt could stand quite a bit longer than the “Inn of the Flats” did.


Finishing his story, the proprietor excused himself as he limped back to the pantry.  The Traveler took another look around the, once lively, establishment and seeing no inhabitable area, decided that his best course of action was to press on as there was no reason to stay here.  He pulled out the sack that contained his provisions and looking through the meager supplies he had, sighed heavily.  Perhaps if he could get a few strips of smoked meat, some bread and a little water from someplace, he would have enough to make it to “The Mine.”  He drew on his cloak as the Proprietor returned from the back room with a small sack and a flask in his hands…


“I’m afraid I don’t have much to offer you but I will give you what I can spare.” He said, handing the items to the Traveler.  “Thank you.” He said grateful for the man’s generosity and drew his hood over his graying locks as he left the establishment.  The Proprietor had offered him lodging as well, but he knew it to be but a gesture and he declined all the same.  His one fleeting thought as the “Inn of the Flats” fell into the background and the mountains loomed larger ahead was he would have to wait yet another day before he could enjoy a warm meal and a soft bed to sleep in…


As the sun began to dip below the mountains, a cool breeze swept across the plains and enveloped him.  It sent a chill through his spine and it was but a gentle reminder of the cold darkness that was beginning to overtake the lands…


*          *          *

He journeyed on in the darkness and stayed to the main road although he would, at times, abandon it at the sound of any approaching travelers.  He was almost caught in the open and lucky to find a copse of trees to hide within as a band of armored riders hurried along the road towards the mountains.  It appeared on passing that they were from the Lord’s guard and must’ve been on a mission of urgency by the speed of their party and lightness of burden.  This distressed him further as he again resumed his trek along the road towards “The Mine.”


Just before sun-up, he paused to rest a moment and try some of the provisions the Proprietor of the Inn had given him.  The flask as it turned out had been filled with ale so he left it to be consumed during a better suited, less dangerous time and instead, bit into some dried meat and fruit and was quite pleased with their taste.  “A shame.” He thought that he hadn’t been able to visit the Inn under better circumstances.  Eating in silence, he contemplated what darkness might be rising in the North…


*          *          *

As the sun rose up over the plains he returned once again to the road.  He felt relieved that the night spawned no ill will for him and that he would make good time now, traveling under the protection of the sun.  It always seemed that “the darkest deeds happened during the darkest hours” and whether that old adage held true, he couldn’t be sure? … So, he had heeded its words all the same and onward he traveled; “The Mine” and the “Valley of Shadows” drawing ever closer.


*          *          *

The day was uneventful and the Traveler pushed hard to try and make it to The Mine before nightfall.  The gates of Tanin shut at sundown and he didn’t wish to identify himself or his business if he didn’t have to.    In these times the town guard tended to be suspicious of strangers that traveled after dark…


He could see the base of the mountains now, looming in the shadow as the sun’s last rays stretched out across the landscape, and then, there they were the walls of Tanin.  He could see them, sitting just above the tree-line on the East slope of Mount Khoron and the road that he followed, snaking its way to the still open, main gates.  He smiled as he marched onward.


*          *          *

Tanin was perched on a narrow plateau that backed up against the face of a sheer cliff.  Its’ rear was shielded by the mountain while a wooden stockade provided the bulk of the protection for both the town and it’s inhabitants.  Looking at the great barrier, he could see the columns of smoke rising into the darkening sky; several of them no doubt coming from “The Mine” and his legs gained a little extra strength as the trail made it’s final turn up the slope of Khoron – “Finally.”  He thought…


It sounded like rolling thunder, and looking up, he was almost too late to even catch it – a comet streaking across the sky.  The roar of the comet was loud and although comets were not uncommon this time of year, this one was a little different and in these strange days, that commanded one’s attention.  It had an unusual Red glow about it unlike many of the others and it was big but, more importantly, it was close.  Very close…


His eyes followed it across the sky and to his surprise, it appeared to fall into the “Valley of Shadows” itself.  If it did, that would be rare indeed as he searched his memory for the last time such an event had happened.  With any luck, he pondered, this won’t cause a problem for his passage through the Valley - as the last thing he needed was a comet to have blocked the route.  Nevertheless, it was a most impressive sight to behold and one that many in the towns and villages would talk about for years to come…


       He pulled his hood over his head once more and made way for the open gates, and as he hustled through them, he felt some relief.  He thought of the long journey that brought him here and how the land was changing; people no longer felt safe within their own villages.  The evil to the North was spreading like a dark plague across the land … “And now a comet strikes the Valley of Shadows.” He mused aloud.  “It would appear the hour draws near…”


Heading up the cobblestone and turning past the last row of houses, the winding road made its last stop at the door of “The Mine.”  Flush against the side of the mountain, its tall “A” frame structure seemed to protrude from the mountain itself.  A sign  -

“Welcome Friend”

Was carved above the door and it brought a grand smile to his worn features.  It was not an invitation one received much in these dark days, but there it was, written in bold letters and so tonight, he would accept it.  For this evening was drawing to a close and his journey could spare but one night of rest.  The problems of the world would still be awaiting him tomorrow but, for now, they could do as they pleased and he planned on forgetting all about them…


His face was illuminated from the firelight that streamed out the front door with an exiting patron.  Judging by the level of noise that followed him as well, it was apparent that “The Mine” was quite alive tonight.  Maybe the barkeep could be persuaded to take a moment from his chores to tell a tale or two?  “A tall ale and a tall tale?”  He thought.  Two things that can warm a man’s heart no matter how cold and dark it might be? …


The door opened to a lively throng of folks - some were eating at tables, some at the bar and many others were gathered in chairs about the three large fireplaces.  The smell of burning wood mingled with the smell of pipe smoke and simmering stew was welcome to his senses and it was pleasing to see some things hadn’t been changed in the strange days of late.  He pulled the door shut and saw a vacant spot next to the fire.  He grinned as the door clicked home - leaving the cold … and darkness …outside...