A Sharp Whisper
Prologue: Heavy Steps of Pain and Betrayal
A sharp whisper cut through the noise of the rambunctious midwinter night. Presiding over the Arena of Volhol, Sicarius Anatar, the Count of Dagalur frowned looking at the secular entertainment. The public roared in unison as the nimble Neran fighter, and a dark-skinned Janoa barbarian clashed against each other with great fervour. The closing battle had been raging for over fifteen minutes, neither of them giving the other an inch. Flashes of steel and the sound of metal on metal rang through the arena and stoked the excitement that seemed to provoke the fight in a never-ending cycle of wanton violence. A keen observer could see the hint of worry glimmering in Sicarius’ eyes as the event of the night drew close to its end. As the Janoa made a deadly overhead strike at his opponent, swinging his massive claymore, the Neran feinted a block, sidestepped, smashing his shortsword into the Janoa’s neck. All the way up to his brain. The fight was over in a split second, and the noise halted, allowing the silence of death to settle on the arena for a few moments. As the Neran was declared the new champion of the Valhol arena by the citadel’s lord, Baron Narrax Fornsbran, the crowd again erupted in an ecstatic, frenzied roar.
The brightly lit arena was crammed full of people. A burnt smell lingered, and the taste of blood and sweat surrounded the place while choking dust crept higher and higher. A true pinnacle of entertainment of midwinter festivities. This is what the public demands, what true freedom and independence are meant to look like, albeit somewhat deprived of virtue, not regarding what Kedryn the Kind, or Modestos teaches.
“He isn’t his father. The Anatar family is not the same. They grew weak,” a voice whispered in harsh response to someone. Sicarius’ nose slightly twitched, somehow catching every word the lesser nobles quietly exchanged a few rows behind him in the turbulent mob, but couldn’t match the voices to a face. “We all know he holds no real power anym–”
“I just don’t understand why he allows Fornsbran to do as he pleases,” another interrupted, rather loud. The voice’s bearer couldn’t have been in his second decade yet as a Mann, his voice still just cracking. “And why not –,”
“Hush now, it is not the time,” muttered the man in a low raspy tone, glancing in the way of the disgraced count.
Sicarius glared at the arena, his nostrils lightly flared, brows furrowed, his face looking sullen with conflict. Narrax, his once friend, was standing in the middle of the arena, just about done giving his meaningless yearly speech on the benevolence of Harbos and other gods. Aside from the ax he always carried, his simple clothing and furred cloak were replaced by an immaculate ceremonial armour, glistening with impossibly ornate turquoise jewellery which made an oddly grotesque view in the blood and sand arising around him.
“The new champion has inaugurated the Arena of Valhol with the blood of his enemies for this new year,” Baron Fornsbran bellowed theatrically. His lush braided beard was flowing in the wind, the Baron carried himself with the confidence of a veteran soldier. Standing strong, the young Baron looked formidable, unlike Sicarius who was well within his second half of life, his shoulders now slumping without him putting in an extra effort. Narrax waited for the moment to reach its climax and finished his speech. “Now I shall open the new year with new food, drinks, and glory to Valhol!”
The crowd approached an uncomfortable quiet as the Baron spoke. Aside from some snickering breaking, the lull muttering, the air became stale. Some spectators kept looking in the direction of Count with disgrace, others looked at the Baron dumbfounded. The whole arena was embarrassingly gauche, staring expectantly at the present nobility.
With a deep heave, Sicarius Anatar stood up solemnly with a look of resignation and lifted his hand. The rattling sound of metal followed within seconds. Armoured knights flooded in the arena from every direction. Baron Narrax Fornsbran paled with incomprehension. He kept eying the spot where Sicarius sat a moment ago, looking for answers. None came. Sicarius has turned his back on the arena by now. Even the dark whispers of the masses were gone. With slumped shoulders, he left the Arena of Valhol. His heavy steps echoed in Valhol like drums, louder than the death of many fighters, louder than the cheers of the crowd. These were steps of pain and betrayal.
Chapter 1: A Joyful Monarn Night
“Oy, ye better be movin’ on, we no need yer kind round ‘ere,” the constable said. He glanced at the packed shabby wagons accompanying us, then eyed up Renthan again.
“Oh, we don’t want trouble,” Renthan laughed lightheartedly. “On the contrary! We are the Fairtale troupe. Licensed you know. Under Duchess Zhin Khovi’s patronage.” He flaunted a weathered piece of parchment for emphasis.
“Is that so?” hummed the constable, still leery of the group. I watched Renthan with awe. I never get tired of this. The redhead youngster began to methodically disarm the constable of all his concerns and reassure him of our trustedness with ease. It always amazes me how this gingerly young man can reach to anyone.
The rest of the troupe had caught up with us by now as the conversation went on. All eight of us finally arrived at the bottom of the valley marking the beginning of Saint Rothgard’s Solstice. We had a smooth journey recently. Unlike of Vitalis, Thearyn was free of treacherous river crossings and unscalable mountains. For the most part of the duchy, it was grassy plains, sometimes as wide as the eye can see, making the illusion of a serene green sea encompassing us all. The small town of Saint Rothgard’s was seated in the southern part of Thearyn, close to the sea were hills were creating the perfect grazing grounds for goats and other animals. The town was known to be one religious centre of the kingdom, full of Virtori faithful seeking serenity and the Grand Church was rumoured to be breathtaking. Yet to me the most intriguing feature of Saint Rothgard’s Solstice was its academy. Nobles all around the kingdom sent their children here to learn and grow as Mann.
“Take a turn left once you pass the chandler’s to reach the market. If the weather permits it, you can perform at the town square,” said the now cheery constable to Renthan with discernible anticipation in his voice. “Kedryn be with you.”
“Thank you, m'lord.” Renthan curtsied and bowed to the now appeased constable with practised ease. Somehow he managed to do so without noticeable mockery in his tone. “We can’t wait to perform to the good people of Kedryn.”
I gave Renthan a quick tug which he repaid with a barely noticeable smirk. The cheeky bastard. One day, someone will beat it out of him. Oh well. I walked back towards the rest of the group, eagerly awaiting our news.
“We got a free pass, and the right to perform on the town square,” I summarised the talks. “However, I think Woshh and Kdeinyo should not perform today.” No eyebrows were raised at the statement, we knew all knew it might come to this. The town was one of the great pillars of the Virtori religion after all. Woshh, our Waerd flautist and Kdeinyo, the exotic Dras dancer, understood their predicament and nodded without objection.
It was a fresh Monarn afternoon, the wind lightly caressed my cheeks as we passed through the narrow cobbled street leading onto the town market. Some good spirited children's laughter echoed down the alleyway, their feet slapped down hard on the cobbled road in a steady rhythm, playing tag in the maze-like town. The houses were absolutely packed one on another. There was a distinct spin of the common Thearyn-style architecture observable on the buildings, with the local ashlan-wood’s flexibility being put into good use, allowing walls to slightly curve, giving the roads an eery, nature-full shape. As we walked deeper into the city, the low buildings gave way to the taller shops and houses. The smell of the valley got replaced by the ooze of beer, rot, and tar. The sounds of a bustling market hit my ears as I passed the small chandler’s shop, decorated with fresh flowers, likely to keep the other smells away.
“We have arrived,” I said to my companions without looking back, as my eyes glued to the grand view. The narrow street opened into a grand square, tightly hugged by stone buildings which were connected by overarching pathways above the streets flowing into the market square. Seas of people billowed between loosely set carts, shouting and haggling for better deals. The town was outright jubilant.
Saint Rothgard’s Solstice was breathtaking in a peculiar way. I have travelled through many places of grandeur, but this town was different. The town itself was fairly small in size, but it was crammed. A sharp contrast to the open, empty grasslands of Thearyn, the solstice was a bustling little city. The buildings were set to wrap around the Grand Church in layers, filling the small valley and providing the town with a sort of elongated circle shape with the church of its centre. As space in the valley was limited, the buildings arched higher than usual, many of them being joined overhead, creating a second level for passage.
The Grand Church was the crown jewel of the square. It lay in a slightly elevated position, chiselled marble stairs leading up to a two-mann-tall ashen-wood gate standing wide open. Each of the two door pieces was carved out one massive chunk of wood, intricate figures decorating every inch of their surface, depicting the chronicles of Elyria. Through the wooden doors, I could see the well-lit antechamber, full of diligent students hurrying in and out of the Grand Church with nonchalance. For them the building did not shine so brightly anymore. To each side of the gate, there were small windowless windows allowing light and air to simmer into the grand building.
Wild roses and green vines climbed up on the walls in delicate, symmetrical patterns formed an exotic flower-tapestry. The blue roses could have symbolised the Queen-consort Violet Everlynn just as well they could have expressed the wisdom of the Chevaliers or the grace of Kedryn, god of Kindness. Regardless, they were definitely a sight to behold.
The building had an air of serenity, demanding reverence from the observer. In front of this highfalutin building was where we played that fateful Monarn night.
Chapter 2: Some Tales are Spun Thrice
“So what did Londo say to that?” A voice shouted a question from the crowd with keen anticipation. Several repeated the question in some shape or form, most of them in a more… vulgar manner. By now we had been playing, entertaining and cajoling to the gathered population of Saint Rothgard’s Solstice for several hours. The dusk had fallen, and the brightly lit town square was brimming with people, listening to us. We used the elevated area in front of the Grand Church as an impromptu stage, giving us a great view of the enclosed space. I never cease to enjoy this kind of view. The gathered people listened to us with every fibre of their being, with wild excitement. We played with the atmosphere precisely, like if it were a harp or flute. Every emotion there is in the book came alive within them; mirth, joy, sadness and desperation. One by one, we made them go through them all. And they loved us for it. And I loved that they loved it.
“He said fook if I will pay for it!” I cried out with a deep, belly laughter. The crowd erupted likewise in a pandemonium of giggles, laughs, and mirth. By now we had a few mugs of beer. Or a lot. The night had been long and gleeful for the citizens of Saint Rothgard’s Solstice, as it is not often that the greatest of Ryhddian troupes visit. Most of the town’s population were made up by sons of nobles who were sent to study medicine, art, politics, and religion at the city. And the youth sure liked their entertainment.
It would not take long for the laughter to subside and I knew the assemblage will demand their next piece of entertainment in no time. A slight hiccup there. We were spent. As we had to perform without Wossh, our Waerd flautist, we were forced to skip most of our songs. We fell back to our old routines. Theatrics, stories of adventures and jokes. I even improvised some and to keep the commotion entertained, I had to tell that horrendously silly story about the merchant trying to get Count Londo Mollari to invest into producing golden-haired blackrock goats. Ridiculous.
I looked at Renthan questioningly, hoping that he might have an idea, but he just shrugged and threw his best cheeky grimace at me. As the famous Kairosi saying goes, ‘the show must go on’. Just as I predicted, the crowd had taken all their joy out from the buffoonery of the golden-haired goats, and slowly turned their attention back to us, awaiting their due; the next tale.
I gulped as I looked back once more at my troupe before telling them a tale they never heard before. No wonder, I just made it up by putting a twist on the story of the Blooded Arena.
“So you all remember of Ghitten Tigari?” I started the tale with the dramatic question, and the audience shouted yays and ayes in unison. “Well, then sure you already know this story about Princess Nilyara sneaking into the arena of Balthar.”
I told them a story full of ridicule, mishaps, and laughter. The crowd improvised with me as they shouted bits of events that we wove into the tale, creating a more and more absurd story over the night. We had a good time. The stories progressed, each with its own twist. I began to retell the story for the third, this time centred around heart-clinching action and drama.
“And what about the treacherous tale of Baron Narrax Fornsbran?” I asked my audience in a deep baritone ‘storytelling’ voice. “I’m sure you know how the baron got indebted to the arena-master Ghitten Tigari.”
The crowd cheered and nodded and began to create a tale of betrayal with us. That night, the stories went on and own until dawn. We had more drinks and a better time. We left Saint Rothgard’s Solstice the next day with a sizeable escort and an even more massive hangover.
Chapter 3: Says Everyone in Okenton
Over a month had passed since we departed Saint Rothgard’s Solstice. We were now deep into the month of Terrarn, just after the harvest festivals, fresh cabbage, pumpkins, and apples colouring every market in the western end of Thearyn. We were slowly making headway towards the town of Okenton. Indeed we couldn’t have been more than a few hours of distance, as the vast fields surrounding us have stretched to immeasurable proportions and peasants started to appear alongside smaller huts left and right. Some kids ahead were playing with sticks, pretending to be swordsmen fighting out the great battles of Alésia.
We travelled in quiet, the only sound was of the horses rhythmic trotting on the soft ground. I liked it that way. If you make day by entertaining and telling stories and tales in every village, the quiet gains in its value. You will understand one day. Renthan sure didn’t.
“So once we get there, I want to try that famous vegetable mince,” Renthan started it again, oblivious to the rolling eyes in his surroundings. “I am not sure which one though. The carrot one is known to be the duke’s favourite, but I’m kind of partial towards pumpkin…”
“For the love of all that’s miserable and unholy, Renthan, please tell us more about the ‘pies’, and which of them you will marry!” snickered Kdeinyo sarcastically. I let out a soft chuckle as Renthan had the most hilarious stricken look settled on his face. The point was made, and we regained our peace of mind for a short while.
As we got closer, the two younglings ahead took notice and started to run towards us playfully giggling, as only children could. “Troupers, troupers are coming!” they were shouting. Renthan looked visibly relieved as he finally had some justification for breaking the silence again as he hailed the children waving in their direction.
The older of the two boys couldn’t have been more than twelve. The freckled boy was lean but muscular for his age, obviously already working on the fields. His short brown mop of hair was dirty with mud and leaves, so were his clothes. After almost getting trampled by Stelphie, one of our carriage horses, he spoke up first.
“So ya really are troupers rite?” he asked the pointed question with no trace of worry, shame or fear that we might not be who we look like.
“That’s right,” I answered with a warm smile and a nod with affirmation. “We are the Fairtale troupe travelling from Caeruleum to the Anemoi. We bring tales of wonders and songs of heroism to Okenton, hopefully, today.”
“Gen, I told you they were the real thing,” remarked the older boy with a thick western accent. The younger, his spitting image, maybe ten years of age had a lighter, blondish hair and a sparkle in his eyes. He shyly positioned himself behind the other boy, who was likely his brother.
“For the seven butts of Karcion, sure we are real!” laughed Renthan heartily, as he juggled seven coins in the air, bewitching the kids into a look of splendour. The boys began to walk with us, peppering Renthan with questions. Renthan sat on the side of a wagon, somehow made himself comfortable. How he does that is likely a bigger mystery than all our stories combined. The young man did not mind the questions. He was always fond of engaged listeners, and there are no who’d be more enamoured with magic than youngsters like the two brothers.
“So what kind of stories you bring?” asked Gen, the younger brother with fascination. The kids have effortlessly kept up with the pace of the horses and tagged along in a carefree manner.
“All kind of stories,” Renthan replied with a smirk. “Have you heard about the singing blade of great hero Varrgrym? The ghost ship of Duke Robert Rochfort? How about the Academy of stars?”
“There is an academy of stars?” the older brother queried.
Renthan gave them a thin sliver of a smile. “Of course there is! A few months to the north of here, there is the County of Keplr which houses the great Academy of the House Flamel. They study the stars and all of the sky,” he explained. Renthan closed his eyes for the space of a breath, then opened them again. “There is so much more,” he continued.
“The red army of Erzhaden. The battle of Skovgaard! The soft wooden club of Phyllain. The grand ball of Ailurus. The lost island of Mira. The trained bees of Badger Rhiessi. The sorrow of Ghitten Tigari. The novice of-“
“Mister you shouldn’t talk of Ghitten Tigari.” Gen interrupted. The boy for the first time had the semblance of worry and discomfort on his face. Renthan surprised, looked questioningly at the boy, waiting for him to elaborate.
“Well.. my mother doesn’t like him,” Gen begun nervously. “It is known that he beguiled Baron Fornsbran and made him betray his count.”
I snapped my head towards the kid in shock. I was dumbfounded. It was something I was utterly unprepared for. What was this about? Surely can’t be our story of Narrax…
“Who says that?” I demanded to know with vehemence in my tone.
“Everyone in Okenton,” the older brother said factually. “It’s well known that the baron has traded loyalty for coins, and the count does nothing about it. You shouldn’t tell stories like that mister bard.”
I hummed and nodded, letting Renthan and the others handle the kids for a few more minutes when they decided to return to their farm, after making us promise that we will perform in the town. We spent the rest of the time towards Okenton disturbed. Stories are meant to spread, but we did not think the stories we made up of Narrax would spend so far, so fast. I just hoped people would not take it seriously.
Epilogue: The Weight of a Softly Sang Whisper
”Don’t do it!” I tried to shout, but what came out was at best was a sharp whisper. Blood ran out of my face, I was pale as the ghost of Kaiozz. I nervously looked at Count Anatar as he observed the fight. I caught as he kept glimpsing at his guard captain, secretly motioning with his left palm under his waist for him to hold. Sweat broke out on my face, I was hoping that the count has heard me, that it is not too late to prevent what I know would to come.
The audience of the Valhol arena went into an absolute sheer frenzy as the long midwinter fight ended quite abruptly. I think the Neran won the battle. I’m not sure. Time flew without construct, the faceless mass of spectators turned into one gobbling blob of whispers and malevolence. The Baron declared the victor and held his speech.
“That bastard,” a voice said.
“Unbelievable! Scum of Tigari!” exclaimed another.
“Weak, he can’t control him. He isn’t his father. The Anatar family is not the same.”
The cacophony of whispers and murmurs became unbearable. All the faceless faces, demanding justice and order. But there was no injustice. None of it was true. But they did not care.
I watched as Count Anatar stood from his place, signalling for his knights to enter. I did not hear anything anymore aside from the blood pumping in my ears. It was all a flash, watching the scene unfold as the armoured knights marched in onto the disgruntled Baron.
I watched as Count Anatar turned and walked towards me with heavy steps. I could see a tear etching through the lines of his wrinkled face. He did not look back. His gaze cast at the wooden pallet flooring of the reserved section in the arena.
Just as he would pass me, I silently mouthed “Don’t,” at him pleadingly. His gaze matched my eyes, staring at me. There was a deep, hurt look in his eyes, one of which only father who lost a son has. He slowly shook his head with abandon and moved past.
I could not move. I wanted to shout. Scream. Stop this folly madness that I have caused. But I just looked ahead. Glaring into the nothingness.
I watched as the baron’s head hit the ground with a muffled thump. The blood flowed and spread out in beautiful complex patterns. But there was nothing beautiful in the scene as it was me who was at fault. I sang the stories responsible for this. I was the one of the first whisper. I was the one to blame. What have I done? But as I looked around, none noticed me. The bewildered mass of blob that was the crowd had begun to dissolve as a unit. It was over.
“Ye heard that Duke Seele has recently made a trip to Vornair? Wonder what that’s about?” an irritating voice said somewhere. And the muttering, buzzing, whispering came back to life once again.
As the Arena of Valhol emptied, and the dust settled. A drop of tear in the seat of the count was all that was left. That midwinter night I made a resolution, never to sing untrue again. For that, I have learned the lesson of a softly sang whisper.
- Duchess Zhin Khovi: Also known as NihZ, ruler of the duchy of Rhyddid. The sponsor of the troupe in the story.
- Count Sicarius Anatar: Count of Dagalur, liege of Narrax Fornsbran.
- Baron Narrax Fornsbran: Lord of the Citadel of Valhol, owner and showrunner of the Arena of Valhol.
- Renthan: Young Neran trouper. Always cheerful, very cheeky. Portrayed by James, one of the players in our troupe.
- Wossh: A muscular Waerd flautist of the troupe, will be played by Richard in game.
- Kdeinyo: Anita’s Dras character. She is an exotic dancer, but sadly she made me specify that not in the way you just thought now. It’s a fair bit more standard but all the more magical.
- Arena of Valhol: A hopefully spectacular fighting arena located within the County of Dagalur.
- Saint Rothgard’s Solstice: Located within the duchy of Thearyn it is the home of the Grand Church, a central town for all Virtori Faithful. It is lead by Magistrate Flawliss Rothgard.
- Okenton: A town centred around it’s buzzing market, and agriculture. The rural peasants living in the vicinity of Okenton are very outspoken as they value freedom and integrity and live in the safety of the protection of the Knights of the Lighthouses of Alesia.
- Mornarn: A summer month in Elyria.
- Terrarn: An autumn month in Elyria
- Harbos: God of Charity in the Virtori faith.
- Kedryn: God of Kindness in the Virtori faith.
- Pudoros: God of Chastity in the Virtori faith.
I would like to start with thank you. To most of you for reading and hopefully feeling and understanding.
I would like to thank Count Sicarius Anatar, who allowed me to depict his character in such fassion for this story, and helped me with making it more realistic as a whole, as well with countless little remarks upon proofreading the entry.
I would like to thank Marquis Vetivier, Constantine, Ren, Flawliss, Keith, Varrgrym and Malthyra for proof-reading this work and giving me your opinions, as well as helping with some information regarding the game and the environment.
Lastly, Maulvorn, I would like to thank you for creating this contest and sponsoring us with this possibility. It is great that there are people in this community who value art and roleplay to this degree.
I am one in a group of eight players, all of us veteran role-players attracted by CoE for its immense promise in that department. We plan to form a troupe and travel the kingdoms to sing stories and entertain. Never untrue.
Some of us are real musicians, they are planning to compose some custom CoE music and songs about in-game happenings, so you can expect a few songs to drop.
We are not affiliated with Duke Maulvorn, Duchess Zhin Khovi, Count Anatar, or Baron Fornsbran. The troupe carrying the banner of Duchess Zhin Khovi was merely for flavor, just like the rest of the story. [Hit me up Khovi, we can make things real if you rub the right way =) ]
The story above is a work of fiction. I have made an effort for the characters and places to resemble the future possible counterparts, but they are still mine. The Count Anatar, Baron Fornsbran are different people in real life, such as I’m sure Saint Rothgard’s Solstice or Okenton will look different once built.
It was not in my intent to be malicious towards either Count Anatar or Baron Fornsbran. There is no bad blood between them and I don’t even want to hint or suggest a possible rumor. Their characters serve as actors in a plot fabricated by me. To the contrary. The story is built around the strength these rumors can carry, how they can destroy a man if they get out control.
*“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.” *