Storytime Sunday is a weekly meme hosted here at The Book Nut in which I share the stories I have used as writing practice. I also share the stories of some of my friends! They may be long or short but what is the point of a story if nobody can read them?
This particular story was written several years ago for one of my earlier creative writing classes and it happens to be one of my favorites. I did a lot of research to make the names work. My idea for the story came a prompt from one of my writing exercise books, from the idea of taking a story I knew and changing it, giving it a very different ending.
Nestled deep in the ebony mountains of Turin, a two days ride from the Great Forest, lay the small, simple village of Lancar. A village like any other village, it had nothing extraordinary about it to set the place apart from any other. Like most villages its size it had a blacksmith of its own, a small apothecary, a tanner of some talent, a butcher, and several men who dabbled in multiple trades when the need struck. However, most of the population of Lancar and the surrounding valley were farmers.
Farming was not an easy living nor did many of the practitioners have much choice in the matter. Many of them have inherited their lands from their fathers who were farmers before them, and their fathers before them. Sons were needed to help tend to the fields and livestock if you had them. Those families that had more than two sons could sometimes afford to apprentice them into another trade.
This was not the case for the family of a boy named Brand. Strictly speaking Brand was not the son of the people he lived with, he was their nephew. His own mother had come to the farm seeking her brother Caleb, with child, and with no father to be had. She begged him to take the boy before dying in childbirth, leaving her son with the work-hardened Uncle and his family. Not long after, his own wife died of a plague that swept through their sheltered valley killing many of its inhabitants. The farmer raised the two boys as best he could and they grew into strong and healthy teenage boys. They grew up together as close as brothers, for they and the man they both thought of as Father were all they had. Their personalities though could not have been any different.
Brand’s older cousin Rory was strong and muscled but also responsible and cautious, having inherited his father’s work ethic and his stubbornness. Neither he nor his cousin ever learned to read or write, it wasn’t necessary for a farmer. They were taught basic arithmetic though, so that they would never be cheated by another. Rory had sandy blond hair and brown eyes just like his father and his skin was tan and rough from work.
Brand however, looked very little like his uncle and cousin and had a very different personality to go with it. He was much smaller than his cousin and very lean of muscle. He was an oddity in the village, with flaming red hair and pale skin. Where his cousin’s talents were put to feats of strength, Brand’s were more of mind. He was a skilled hunter and very good with a bow. He was able to sneak up on his prey with such art that some likened him to a cat.
To the chagrin of his uncle, Brand had none of the patience or determination to work the farm like his cousin. His head was far and away, lost in fantastical tales of magicians and dragons. He had a habit of wondering off when he should be working, into the village to see the old storyteller and fill his head with more of his stories.
One such day when he and Rory were in the field Brand looked around to find that his Uncle Caleb had gone back to the barn for something. Rory was hard at work planting.
“How much more is there?” Brand asked, throwing seeds every which way.
“Stop that,” his cousin scolded, grabbing his arm. “don’t waste it.”
Rory tossed more seeds onto the plowed earth. “Just this section, why?”
Brand set his bag of seeds down. “You can handle this, I’m going to go see Dryden.”
“No, no Brand, Father will be furious if you abandon your chores again! You’ll get a whipping,” Rory protested as he set his own seeds down and stepped in front of his cousin.
“Not if you don’t tell him Rory, you could have this finished and tell him that I left after,” Brand said smoothly. “I’ll make it up to you Cousin, I swear it.”
Rory looked at Brand and sighed, knowing that his cousin would never be persuaded. “Fine but I’m not covering for you if he figures it out, I don’t want a whipping too.”
Brand agreed and set out for the village.
Dryden the storyteller lived on the far edge of the village on the crest of a small hill, between two very large trees. The smell of spices wafted from his house on a regular basis. For many years the young children of the village would come to see the shaggy old man begging him to recite one of his numerous tales of adventure. As they grew older, fewer and fewer of them came, but not Brand. He because obsessed with the stories of long dead heroes and the monsters they fought.
He imagined that it was one such monster or some evil Lord that had driven his mother to seek refuge with her brother, his Uncle, where she had died giving birth to him. His Uncle never spoke of her and claimed not to know what had become of her between the time she’d left the valley and her fatal return. He fantasized that she had married a Lord or maybe a knight who had been killed or imprisoned. Maybe she was a great magician employed by the Kingdom or a great Lady of the high court. He imagined her beautiful, with the long curly red hair that his Uncle had once described the only time that he had spoken of her. In his mind she was dressed in rich fabrics and expensive jewels with absolute grace and the same pale skin as he.
Dryden’s stories embodied everything he wanted to be. He craved the glory and admiration of the country and the praise of his family and friends. He wanted adventure and danger and everything that came with it. It was for this reason that Brand kept returning to the storyteller’s house on the hill to hear more.
Brand made his way through the village avoiding the crafter’s guild as best as possible. If they caught him going to Dryden’s again they would tell his Uncle and he would be in very big trouble. He slipped silently between the blacksmith’s forge and the tannery and took a shortcut behind the butcher’s shop. From there he had a clear path to Dryden’s home at the top of the hill. Dryden was waiting for him under one of the trees, smoking his pipe and deep in thought.
“Sorry I’m late, I had to convince my cousin to cover for me,” Brand said, a little out of breath as he sat down next to the old storyteller.
“You should not be so keen to forgo your chores to hear a bunch of old stories,” the storyteller replied shortly, not moving his gaze from the bird he was watching. He blew a ring of smoke in the air.
“My cousin doesn’t mind,” Brand protested, “Anyway it’ll be his farm someday, not mine! Why should I work it my whole life only to be dependent on him when he inherits? I don’t want to be a farmer as it is! I want adventure!”
Dryden eyed the boy for a moment and broke out into deep chuckles, “Indeed? Well that is an ambitious dream isn’t it, Boy?”
Brand huffed and sulked to himself, not pleased to have his dreams laughed at. Finally Dryden stopped and looked at his young listening. “Well then, what is it you want to hear about today? The Elves, perhaps? The great Dwarven mines deep in the caverns of Turin?”
Brand shook his head, “I want to hear about the dragons of the East and the Great King who tamed them!”
Dryden smiled, “Ah yes, King Ormris. That is a favorite of yours, isn’t it? Well then, let us begin.”
Dryden thought for a moment, drawing on his pipe and blowing the smoke into strange shapes above him. “As you know our people came to this continent from across the seas to escape something there. Most believe it was some kind of war or a crime that they had avoided prosecution from. Other believe that some great evil drove them from their home.”
Dryden drew another long drag from his pipe. “It is said that the land was very wild then, filled with many creatures that had never even been dreamed of by our ancestors. The greatest and most numerous of these were the dragons. These were creature of enormous size, the largest could be mistaken for a small mountain. They were usually dark shades of blue, green, brown, and black. An adult dragon could breathe fire up to two miles and had great leathery wings that allowed them to fly. They were the most fantastic kind of predator and soon after our ancestors arrived, they developed quite a taste for a new food source, humans. Human’s posed a better hunt than the animals that dragons were accustomed to. They fought back and made a much more satisfying dinner,” Dryden grinned a sardonic grin.
“The humans became angry for none of their weapons could pierce the dragon’s hard scales. They worked day and night to find away to kill the humongous beasts while their families hid in fear for their lives. Finally a boy servant of a great family called Garagon discovered a hard metal in the earth and forged from it several great weapons that could sever the hardened scales of the great lizards. They called them the Kegrah, the Devil Killers. With the two sides being more evenly matched it became an all out war. The blood of dragon and human alike stained the ground for hundreds of miles across our land creating the red clay that the Kingdom’s great buildings and pottery are made from. It was after a great battle that a boy around your age called Ormris was wounded and he crawled into the Great Forest to escape dying on the bloodstained fields. As he was resting, a small dragon hatchling found him. Ormris raised his sword, about to strike the young dragon down but he stopped. The dragon hatchling had done nothing to him and it was only a child. He let it go and it disappeared as a band of his people found their way to him.”
“Another year passed and the fighting continued, both sides sustaining heavy loses. Ormris healed and went back to fighting the dragons. The two sides met again on the battlefield when Ormris began to fight a green dragon that would not fight back. He became frustrated and yelled at the beast. Dragons may have been beasts but they were not unintelligent. The dragon snorted smoke and relieved him of his horse. He pinned the young warrior to the earth and let out a loud roar. The dragons and humans like stopped fighting. The green dragon looked at his victim but instead of killing him, he let him go. Ormris was confused until he looked into the dragon’s eyes and recognized him as the dragon hatchling he had spared. The dragon snorted at him again and nodded his head at his brethren, taking flight. The other dragons hesitated before following the young green one into the sky. The dragons have never been seen again in this country. No one knows why they left or why they followed the young one. Ormris was hailed a hero and made King.” Dryden set down his pipe and glanced at Brand.
“He and his people settled the land and the wild creatures of this country disappeared. Today the world is a less interesting place because of it, but so is progress.”
Brand grinned excitedly, “And Ormris was my age! He fought dragons and became King!”
“It was a different time,” Dryden reminded him. “The adventures of the great heroes are not those of now. One cannot run off to find danger and make a name for himself anymore. Wars are full of rules and there are no individual honors to be had. There are no more monsters to be slaughtered.”
“That’s just because no one is brave enough to go looking for them anymore,” Brand protested. “There have to be more creatures out there and adventures to be had! The world cannot be so boring as our little village.”
Dryden shook his head. “That is the world, Boy. Best accept it and move on. You’re too old to still hang on to these hopes of adventure. Notice that the rest of the boys your age don’t come to me anymore. They’ve found their place in the village.”
“I don’t have a place here! I’m different. I don’t belong here anymore than my mother did!” Brand stood angrily, not willing to accept what Dryden was implying.
“You are very much like her,” Dryden said softly, “But you don’t understand…”
“I understand quite enough! You have become cowardly and arrogant in your age Old Man!” Brand spat, “I will prove you wrong. You and the rest of this village!”
Without another word Brand turned on his heel and left him sitting there. Dryden puffed again on his pipe.
“Very well Boy, the hard way it is,” sighing, Dryden got up and went in to his house.
Brand was furious. He ran all the way back to the farm and snuck into the old house and into his room without his uncle or cousin spotting him. He quickly filled his pack as if he were going on a hunt, strung his bow, and slipped silently into the barn. He saddled his cousin’s horse, Cafall, and before he could be detained he rode across the far edge of the farm and into the Great Forest.
There were many stories about the Great Forest but the foremost mention was that it was the home of the Elves who few men had seen and lived to tell the tale. The Elves were supposed to be a beautiful but vicious race that valued privacy and did not take kindly to strangers. Other than the very superstitious, most people didn’t really believe in the existence of Elves and Dwarves anymore but avoided the forest and the deep mountains anyway. If he was to make a name for himself, what better way was there than to fight one? After all no one in the village could match his archery skills, who was to say that an elf would be any different?
Brand rode through the rest of the day and made camp when the sky began to get dark. He built a fire in a cleared space, tethering his horse to a tree. Soon the trees would get more dense and the animals more numerous. He killed a rabid for his supper and roasted it on his fire as his mind ran through tale after tale that he had heard over the years. He wished that the dragons were still around. He could kill one and create a story of his own. He lay down beside the fire and soon fell asleep, still fantasizing.
Brand woke with the dawn and breakfasted on dried fruit from his pack. After that he mounted his horse and turned him east towards the foot of the mountains of Turin. He rode all morning and reached the foothills by noon. Dwarves, he decided, would be a much better adventure than elves. Elves were too human. He knew that the foothills were full of caves and the hideouts of hermits and criminals. Not that this concerned him, he was confident that neither would pose much of a threat.
He was concerned though when he heard a loud growl from ahead. His mind raced for a moment through possibilities. What would make such a sound? A mountain lion? No, they stayed away from this area since the hunters had chased them into the mountains. A tiger? But they lived far in the east on the other side of the mountains. A dragon? The possibility excited him. Maybe they hadn’t all left the country? Perhaps some had gone into hiding. He dismounted Cafall and tethered him before going to investigate. The sound was coming from the other side of a large outcropping of rock. He came around one side of it and glanced around to see nothing at all. He moved further behind the rock and still saw nothing. He frowned, confused until he heard the sound again, closer. And right behind him.
Brand spun around and came face to face with not a dragon but a giant grizzly bear. And it was on his hind legs. Brand froze, not having even considered the presence of a bear in favor of a chance at seeing a creature of legend. The animal swiped at him, knocking him to the ground and sending his bow skittering across the rocks. His bravery gone, Brand closed his eyes, covered his head and waited fearfully to be torn apart by the creature. He prayed and pleaded with whatever God existed to spare him, promising to never again wish for heroics and adventure. And the death never came.
Instead he heard the roar again but this time it was different. He opened his eyes and saw the bear above him with an arrow embedded in its ribs. This time he heard the whistling of the arrow as it flew through the air and struck the bear again. It roared its pained, mournful roar before falling down dead, inches from him. He stared at it in shock.
“Still want to be the hero, Brand?” A voice asked behind him. He turned and went red when he saw his saviors. Dryden and his Uncle Caleb. His uncle has his bow strung and resting on the saddle of his horse. Dryden sat smugly on his old grey mare, looking at him expectantly.
“No,” he muttered, ashamed. He had just almost been slaughtered by a bear only to be saved by his farmer uncle and an old storyteller. He was properly humbled.
“I thought not.” his Uncle rumbled calmly. He didn’t shout or scold his nephew, knowing that if the experience didn’t change the boy’s mind, nothing would. He was a simple but a rational man. Brand hung his head.
“I just wanted to find where I belong, it’s not in Lancar! I thought if I had adventures, left like my mother—” he was cut off by his uncle’s hard voice.
“Let me tell you about your mother, Boy. She did not go have adventures when she left our valley. She was not some noble’s wife or spell weaver. Your mother, my sister, followed a boy she had fallen in love with who was apprenticed to a tradesman in the capital. There she lived with him until he had what he wanted and left her. She wandered the city looking for some kind soul who would help her and found work as a servant girl in some Lord’s estate. There she worked until she again found love, this time in the Lord’s son. Whether he loved her back I know not but as soon as he found her with child, his father gave him no choice but to turn her out of the house. So here she fled and here she gave birth to you, and it was here that she died of a broken heart. This is the way of the world, Brand Mothersson. Those with their heads stuck in a fantasy world get eaten and die broken.”
His voice then turned kind, “This is where you belong, Lancar, though maybe not on the farm. Yes, I know of your conversation with Dryden. You do not have the mind nor the inclination of a farmer. I will look into apprenticeships for you in the village.”
Brand looked disconcerted. “My mother—”
“Was a good woman who also was quite taken with stories as you are. You have inherited her mind as well as her imagination. These are not terrible things if tempered with reason and rationality,” Dryden cut in. “These are the makings of an artist. Or a storyteller.”
Brand shook his head, “No stories,” he said. “The outside world seems to me wild and dangerous enough without them.”
His Uncle Caleb let out a throaty laugh. “Learning already. Come, Boy, I believe you have had your fill of adventure now.”
Nodding, Brand picked up his bow and mounted Cafall. As he spurred him into a trot he glanced around, disturbed with what he had learned about his world. Indeed gone were the days of heroes and dragons, if even they really existed. And with them the days of chivalry and honor. Men had become the wild beasts.
Pronunciation and Names
Brand- a name meaning Sword
Cafall- Welsh, spoken Cavath.