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Welcome to Imaginary Realities' mythic memoirs. Each month you will find here a new story; tales of astonishing adventure, daring deeds, surprising success or terrible tragedy - the stuff of myth and legend.
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As is to be expected, our narratives are connected in some way to muds. Some are real epic adventures that actually happened on a MUD, recounted in a grand style. Others might be taller tales based on MUD events or merely inspired by a MUD world.
Yet, these stories do not simply leap forth, fully formed. No, these are your stories, sent in by you so that your words and deeds will live forever rather than fade into obscurity. This means this column will die a rapid death if no one sends anything in... Here's your chance - if you want us to continue presenting mud-fiction, contribute something. It doesn't have to be a fully fledged, polished product - anything is better than nothing and we can always work to give it a shine ourselves.
Regrettably we missed last month's issue so I'm making up for it this month with a new story of my own. This one falls more into the category of "inspired by" a mud rather than based on actual events. This tale tells the story of a critical moment in the history of Karathnor - the primary city in the world of Dawn Whispers, a mud of my own making which is slowly getting closer to opening. I hope you enjoy it! - Scatter ///\oo/\\\
It is almost three hundred years before the present day. Humankind is in the process of colonizing the mainland. Their native islands have grown too small for them and their sailing skills have developed enough to let them cross the treacherous seas to the continent.
Karathnor was a town on the north bank of the river Faothen, where it met the sea on the west coast. It was sited at the meeting of two trade routes with the river and was founded a century earlier as a trading port and market town for the new farms on the western plains. Despite a slow start, the town was beginning to thrive but its future lay in doubt. A dark shadow lurked on the horizon.
To the north of the town was farmland, giving way to foothills and eventually mountains. The hills and mountains were riddled with cave systems, many of which are occupied by a people previously unknown to humans. They were an unfriendly people - small in stature but built with surprising strength and speed. In temperament they were vicious, warlike - quick to anger, violent in response and dangerously xenophobic. Their society was primitive in comparison, a network of tribal hunter-gatherer groups. Each tribe was dominated by females who measured their status by the number of strong male husbands they had and number of children they produced. The males in turn sought to demonstrate their strength and aggression to win status and be chosen as husband and father - wars between tribes were a common way to do this. These were the Magar.
So far there had been little contact between humankind and the Magar. A few bands of human explorers moving into the mountains had encounters - some passed and some were killed, but as yet there had been no significant contact. This was about to change. The Magar were beginning to realize their traditional hunting grounds were being invaded and taken over - and that the humans could provide a new way to for them to demonstrate their strength and skill in battle.
Morten was out of breath and beside himself with anger and had to make a concerted effort before he could speak calmly. Lord Falen, anticipating the news, simply waited for him to pull himself together.
"It is as you expected, my Lord," Morten admitted, his tone strained but resolute. "The council is tied, and Rath won't make his casting vote. He says the issue is not urgent and can wait for more evidence!" Morten practically spluttered his disbelief. "As if enough people haven't already died!"
"Lord Rath always was a cautious man," Falen responded. "An admirable trait in an administrator for much of the time, perhaps. I suspected he would be too fearful to take decisive action. As you say, it is as I expected."
"He wouldn't even accept we are in a time of war," Morten continued ranting, "Nine farms and four villages razed to the ground and he sticks to his original statement about 'the unfortunate raids' - unfortunate raids!'" Words failed him, and he pounded a meaty fist on the table in frustration.
"Calm yourself, Morten," said the Lord, "If Rath will not take action then we must. How long do we have before the Magar reach the town?"
"Two days at most, perhaps much less if they travel by night," Morten answered. "But so far, they haven't done that. Your man Trethen says we're fortunate they tend to eat horses rather than ride them."
"Then we must act swiftly," Falen decided. "Go now, tonight, to each of the names I gave you before and to each of the Lords who voted in favor of the militia. Ask them to commit their men to me. And send a rider to Trethen, have him evacuate the farms and villages between the Magar and us. Tomorrow, we move against the council."
"It shall be as you say, my Lord," Morten bowed his head in respect. "Though what you plan be treason."
"From Rath's point of view, yes. We've been through this, Morten." Falen sighed. "The council was elected in a peaceful time of prosperous trade. They weren't chosen as war leaders. Though we act against the people's choice, we act in the people's interest. If the council will not protect them, we must. Karathnor must not fall, it is the keystone of the west."
Morten bowed himself out and left Falen to his thoughts. Treason indeed, but what other choice was there? He didn't even have a vote himself, these days - his plans for expensive town defenses had cost him his seat on the council. Perhaps he should simply sit back and let those who had decided against defenses take the consequences of their choice. No, Falen sighed. His sense of duty forbade it. If nothing else, he couldn't let his own people and holdings fall to the Magar and the town was the only sensible defensive position.
Morning sunlight streamed through the upper windows, filling the council chamber with a misleading warm ambiance. As Lord Falen strode purposefully to the great crescent-shaped council table, he noted with grim amusement that the stalls were full - gentry, nobles, merchant leaders and landowners, all seemed to have heard that something big was going down this morning. As he stopped before the eleven lords, he let his cloak swirl around him and the sun glinted from his armor underneath.
Lord Rath, seated at the peak of the crescent, was the first to speak.
"Lord Falen, your presence delights us yet the agenda offers no hint of your - "
Falen cut him off. "I come to present my final petition to the council." He placed a scroll on the table, without breaking eye-contact with Rath. "The council must act and act now, without delay, before it is too late."
Rath made no move to take the scroll. "We have heard your petition and your reasoning many times before," he responded, wearily. "The council has made its decision."
Falen pitched his voice to carry to all corners of the almost silent chamber. "The Magar will be here in a day. As we speak their warriors trample our fields and crops to mud in their haste to drive us from the land. Nine farms already destroyed, their workers burned in their barns, their supplies lost - supplies we needed for the coming winter."
"There's no - " Rath began, but Falen overrode him- the breach of etiquette not lost on anyone present.
"Four villages destroyed. Hundreds of people dead, slaughtered by the Magar. A large host of Magar, more than have ever been seen together before. A host that is marching here. That will be here, very soon, to find a choice gem indeed - ripe for the plucking."
"Lord Falen, you will defer to the council." Rath spluttered. "There is no evidence of such things, other than your word, hearsay from your own men. We have sent our own riders and none have reported back with word of such destruction."
Falen darkened at the slight. "You doubt my word? Must I bring you the ashes of the crops and buildings? The gnawed bones of the children they ate at their evening feasts?" A shocked murmur rippled through the stalls. Even the other lords on the council looked unsettled. "Would that convince the council to act? My men are trained and combat ready, they have always been so. Your men are soft and green, trained to look regal and fancy and impress maidens at tournaments. If you riders have not reported, they are dead - lost to Magar scouts."
Lord Rath rose to his feet in anger. "Falen, that is enough! We have heard your petition and we have voted on it before. You bring motive words, but no new evidence. We will not panic the people on a rumor and we will not waste the town's hard-earned wealth on unnecessary militia and we will not sacrifice the time and effort of thousands on unnecessary defensive work! This an end to it. The council has spoken."
Lord Falen straightened. "So be it," he declared. "The council is hereby dissolved." Rath drew breath to speak, but Falen drew his sword in one fluid movement and Rath found the point hovering before his eyes. He swallowed his words.
"Until the present emergency is over, I am assuming command of all military and civic responsibilities for Karathnor and its dependent settlements," Falen continued in the deathly silence. "I cannot stand by and watch thousands die because of your own bumbling bureaucracy. If you will not defend the people who elected you, I will."
Lord Burthon, always a staunch supporter of Rath, leapt to his feet. "Treason!" he cried, "Guards!" Immediately the doors to the guard rooms behind the council were thrown open, but the men who entered were not wearing the uniform of the town guard. They wore Lord Falen's colors. Efficiently, they arranged themselves through the chamber, covering all the exits.
"Stand with me." Falen urged. "Stand with me and defend your people, your homes and your holdings. Three days is all I ask. By then the Magar will be here, fought and defeated or it will be clear they are not coming."
Five Lords stood from the council table and moved to his side. Falen nodded to himself - these were the men who had voted in support of his proposal. After a long moment, two more Lords moved to join him and he allowed himself a moment of relief. A majority of the council in support of his action would help to smooth things over with the towns people.
Rath and three others remained at the council table, in opposition. As Falen sheathed his sword, Rath hissed, "There will be a reckoning for this, Falen."
Lord Falen nodded to him. "Aye," he replied, "There will. It will happen in a day's time, or maybe less - when the Magar host arrives. We have little time to prepare." He turned to his men. "Put these four under house arrest. They are not to suffer any hardship, but neither must they be permitted to put the town in jeopardy.
As he turned to leave and faced the audience in the stalls, a hesitant cheer began amongst them. Rapidly, it gained strength and Lord Falen strode from the chamber to the accompaniment of rousing acclaim.
As the setting sun hung low over the sea, Lord Falen rode the perimeter of the town's new defenses. A great ditch had been dug and an earthen wall raised within it from the spoil. It was topped by a makeshift stockade and reinforced with sharpened stakes, pikes and spears. It wasn't much, certainly not as good as he'd wanted, but it was all there had been time to make.
The first shift of the evening guard was settling in as he passed, orange torches starting to appear as the shadows lengthened. Tomorrow, the Magar would be here. Tomorrow they'd find out if the hasty defenses were enough. Falen began losing himself in plans, tactics and strategies as he circled, until Morten rode up and broke him from his reverie.
"My lord," Morten began, "We've had a message from Trethen."
"What news?" asked the grim Lord.
"The Magar are camped only a league or so north of here. Trethen says they will move out at dawn and reach us maybe two hours later. He says his force has been harrying them, but they've been whittled down to too few to have any real effect anymore. He says he'll watch until they start marching and then try to circle around and reach us before they do."
"A brave man," Falen sighed, "And a good man. How many will like him will die on the morrow? How many good men will die at my command?"
Morten looked strangely at him. "Few, my Lord." As Falen frowned, he continued, "Few indeed, compared to how many would die were you not here, in command."
Falen smiled, a fleeting ghost of a smile but a smile nevertheless. "Your confidence warms me," he replied, "But we will need more than confidence when the battle begins." As the sun sank beneath the waves, the Lord turned his horse and resumed his patrol, once again pondering strategy and tactics.
The following day dawned with a dull grey pallor. Lord Falen was roused with dire news. A thick sea fog was smothering the valley, and seeing more than a few feet had become more or less impossible. The men on the morning watch were on edge and jittery, peering into the gloom and jumping at shadows.
As the sun continued to rise, the dull grey brightened to a whiteness that confused the eye but Falen was concerned to find the fog showing little sign of lifting. He was busily revising his mental battle plans when Morten brought Trethen to him.
"Trethen!" Falen exclaimed in surprise. "Already?"
"I'm afraid so, my Lord," the veteran replied. "The Magar are about half an hour away. They'll most likely pause on the valley rim to collect stragglers and then charge straight into battle."
Falen sighed. "I had hoped the fog might discourage them," he said. "I hate to fight in this murk. I'm almost surprised you found us."
"Nothing discourages them," said Trethen, heavily. "Nothing stops them, nothing scares them and to the last man they'll fight to the death. We're facing a host of at least seven hundred, maybe as much as four score more than that - some reinforcements caught up with them last night and we couldn't get a good count in the fog."
"We're outnumbered two to one then," Morten pointed out. "And most of our men are green. Do we really have a chance?"
"It will be a hard battle, and we'll take heavy losses, but I think we can do it," Trethen answered. "Their host is big, but they fight as individuals, man to man. They even seem to compete with each other. Disciplined, coordinated opposition can beat them."
"I hope you are right," Morten commented. "Though I'm not even sure discipline is something we have in abundance. Many of our men are towns folk - not soldiers, not trained."
"You speak truth," Falen said, "But they are fighting for their lives, for their homes, for their families and loved ones. That can count for a lot. It will have to."
"Is everything prepared?" Trethen asked. Falen looked to Morten.
"As prepared as we can be," the big man replied, slowly. "If only we had enough men to meet them in the open, then..." He trailed off as a horn's mournful wail sounded in the distance then abruptly stopped.
All three pairs of eyes met for a silent moment.
"They are at the ridge," the Lord announced, solemnly. "We have no more time for if-only. Take your sections." He turned his horse towards the stockade, calling out, "Sound the call-to-arms!" A nearby boy obediently began sounding his horn and the strident call rapidly spread along the lines, taken up at intervals further and further away. Temple bells began to sound in response, back in the town.
All along the barricades, men readied their weapons and strained their eyes into the thick white gloom. Lord Falen raised his voice to the men in his section. "Remember - don't cross the line. If you do, you're on your own amongst thousands of enemies. Let them come to us. Let them struggle up the bank and break themselves on our pits and stakes, then pick them off when they reach you." He drew breath to continue with words of encouragement but a new sound stilled his words.
Amid howling guttural battle cries, a black mass emerged from the fog and swarmed towards the defenders. Along the full length of the defensive line, the Magar horde clashed with the towns folk. As the twisted dark creatures scaled the bank, many fell. Archers fired blind into the mass and brought many down. Many more slipped in the mud, falling prey to sharpened stakes and unexpected pits.
The Magar didn't even seem to notice the fallen, trampling their own in their blood lust to reach the town. Soon the fighting was a vicious, hand-to-hand melee, fought over and through the makeshift barricade. The carnage quickly sickened Falen as he moved along the line directing reinforcements where defenders were falling. As towns people struggled to remove their wounded, the Magar simply used theirs as better footing to climb the stockade.
Soon there were large numbers of dead on both sides of the line and the mud underfoot was as much blood as water. Still the accursed fog refused to lift, contrarily it seemed to thicken until it became a struggle to see more than a few feet. Fortunately for the defenders, the rule was simple - if it moves and it's not on your side of the wall, kill it.
Judging his moment, Falen spurred his horse to the barricade for what little visibility that vantage point added of the Magar's situation. The ditch seemed almost full of their bodies and the bank too seemed deep in them, yet an endless number still came screaming out of the fog to crash against the defenders. It was impossible to tell if his enemy were where he wanted them. Falen sighed, he could wait no longer. He lifted his own horn to sound a signal but an unseen Magar chose that moment to attack. As the Lord's sword met the barbed blade of the creature, the horn was sent spinning into the mud.
Cursing, the Lord turned quickly, looking for the boy with the horn he'd seen earlier, but he was nowhere to be seen. His battle plan depended on the signal at the right moment... seeing no other choice, he leapt from his horse into the mud. The veteran war-horse stayed at his side as he scrambled to retrieve the horn, rearing to deliver punishing kicks to the Magar threatening to clear the top of the stockade.
His horn recovered, Falen swung himself back into the saddle even as the horse retreated from the fray. He lifted the soiled instrument to his lips, but his first blast produced nothing but a spray of mud. The second was much more reassuring - a long, high note echoed through the murky air. He followed it with 3 short blasts and then repeated. The signal echoed again, relayed further up the line and Falen allowed himself a relieved sigh. If things were going to plan, men at the east end of the line would now be frantically digging. And soon...
Spotting a gap in the defenders line, Lord Falen dismounted and filled it himself. There was nothing more for him to do - finally he could let his rage and hatred spill out in a cathartic release as he dispatched Magar after Magar with machine-like efficiency. Then a welcome sound began to reach his numbed ears - screams, but enemy screams. And defenders cheering. A roaring sound.
Suddenly the attackers in front of him were gone. A wall of water swept through the large ditch, scouring away all before it, a seething torrent of water, mud, blood and bodies. The redirected might of the river Faothen stormed around the defenders' arc, trapping the Magar attackers and spilling them into the rising tide on the beach. Unable to swim, they were easily picked off by towns folk as they tried to struggle ashore.
For a moment, Falen thought the battle won with that stroke. Instead it became apparent that a large number of the Magar had escaped the ditch ahead of the flood. As the water's force waned, battle cries rang out again and soon the ring of steel against steel once more filled the air over the barricades. Grimly, the Lord began again his rhythmic sword strokes against the targets presenting themselves over the defenses.
Gradually the intervals between enemies appearing before him got longer and longer until the defenders were spending more time waiting than fighting. Eventually there came a time when there was no more fighting, just waiting. Lord Falen allowed himself a glimmer of hope. Withdrawing from the barricade, he claimed the nearest horse and begin to ride the line. The story was the same all the way along - the fighting had ended and the line was intact along all of its length.
A strengthening easterly wind began to disperse the fog and soon the midday sun was shining down on a scene of devastation. Lord Falen raised his horn and signaled the defenders to stand down. The realization of victory seemed slow to penetrate but as it did so, the men began to cheer and congratulate each other. The mood did not last long though, as they began to count the dead and wounded.
Trethen joined the Lord as he began arranging for the treatment of the wounded and the burial of the dead.
"My Lord," the veteran began, "I'm pleased to see you whole. Your idea was a success, certainly the stroke that saved us."
"But at what cost?" Falen gestured to the bodies littering the land. "We have lost more than half our men."
"And five of them dead for each man of ours." Trethen answered. "We have paid a heavy price for victory, but victory it is - Karathnor is safe."
"You have sent scouts? We have truly beaten them?" Falen asked.
"They died, almost to a man, my Lord." Trethen replied. "Though it looks as though a few ran, at the end. Which means - " Falen spoke the rest of the sentence with him. "They will be back."
"How long do we have?" Long enough for reinforcements to arrive from the islands, Falen hoped.
"Months at least," Trethen reassured him. "Maybe years, for them to gather a greater host. We have time. We can be ready again."
The two joined the remnants of the army returning to the town. To Falen's surprise, Lord Rath met them at the town's edge. Falen paused, preparing a comment that Rath could now see the bodies for himself if he wished proof of the Magar's attack. But Rath spoke first, and surprised him.
"Lord Falen," Rath began, "You are our savior. Where we were fearful and weak, you were strong. Where we denied the truth, you spoke it. Where we would have hidden and died, you fought and are victorious. You were right to take action and I was wrong to oppose you. Truly, you are a prince among men. We owe you an enormous debt."
Subverting his anger, Lord Falen contented himself with a warning. "You call this victory," he said, his voice quiet yet carrying a great distance. "This is but the first battle in what may prove to be a very long war."
So saying, he left Rath standing and returned wearily to his home.
Throughout the afternoon, Karathnor buried its dead. That night, the people celebrated their victory with music, drinking and feasting. But for many, the events held more of a wake than a banquet. So many had died and their loss was keenly felt. On the beaches, a grisly reminder of the battle remained - pyres burned for days, heaped with the dead Magar.
Lord Falen made several attempts to restore the Council of Lords but without success. No one seemed to want responsibility for the prosperity of the town and its dependent lands anymore. After a few months, Lord Falen was crowned the first Prince of Karathnor, by popular acclaim. His reign was punctuated by great events, like the raising of huge defensive walls, and great battles with waves of Magar warriors.
>From that day to this, the line of Prince Falen have ruled Karathnor, now the capital city of the Western Realm. Only a few breaks mar the line of inheritance, each marking a dark time for the city until the rightful heir to the throne was restored.
This column will depend on your contribution - all of you out there who are exploring, adventuring, creating legends on muds every day. Send in your stories and become a part of the bigger myth. We can polish any rough spots, smooth out any bumps - or if you wish, even write your story for you if you give us enough detail of what happened and why. Simply use the form provided, or send in your story via email.
December 2000 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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