There are tales told, legends chanted, rumors whispered, of things that happen deep in the wildernesses of the world called Madra. There are tales told of Men, Elves, and Dwarves who wander the hidden reaches of forgotten woodlands, ply the uncharted waters of the Western Sea, or plumb the ancient-rooted mountains for stone-clenched beauties of fire and ice. Many tales are beyond belief, yet are the veriest truth, and the wildest fabrication can seem an honest word from a Minister's lips when compared to the impossibilities of reality.
There are many tales told of bandits in the Wilders, desperate men driven by desperate need or desperate greed. There are tales of romance in the farmlands of Maychoria, hearts broken like geodes tapped by a Dwarven mallet, beauty from ashes. There are half-believed fables told of the Bluewood, stronghold of the wise Elven race, those conceived of Light. There are even a few wild stories of unseen lands in the Far East and Unexplored South, from which no man, elf, or dwarf has returned yet, alive.
And there are many tales told of the Seekers, lone guardians of this world, who wander like aimless leaves blown by wind. But they are warriors of the highest class, and the breeze that brushes them along is golden, breathed by the One called Abba, King, Maker, Atheos, Sebastoes, Jah, Master of Time and Space, El Shaddai, Golden Eagle. He is their master, and they are true to His purpose. Where they appear, darkness trembles.
In the Mingled Forest of Upper Tappuah, other tales are told, jovially, in a tavern over cider and ale, laughingly related from one hunter to another. These are of a great hunter, a master woodsman, a young boy, named Mateo son of Droc. Incredible accomplishment, that one so young could have the respect and admiration of these doughty Tappuans, made more incredible by the fact that few had ever seen him. The boy was a legend, a phantom, a ghost birthed of fireside tales and the swapping of long-old rumors and news.
But this was another impossible reality, for the boy Mateo was as real and alive as the men who discussed him, argued him, and taled him, leagues from where his soft forest slippers treaded shadow-dappled undergrowth. The reputation conferred on him was difficult to earn from his hard-bitten fellow forestmen, but the lad deserved it fully and more besides, though he little knew or cared about his broad-spread fame. Few tales of his prowess could be improved upon by hyperbole, though many tried anyway.
It is said that there are wood sprites in the Mingled Forest, creatures infused with a small touch of power from the potent dawnlight of Madra's creation. They are neither good like Elinrómi, bad like Katamobi, nor choice-given like the Three Peoples. They simply are, plenteous as the voiceless beasts and neutral as pure water.
It pleases them, at times, to act as messengers, but do not rely on them, and do not trust them with secrets. They are likely to forget, or to sound the message abroad. Also, only children and the simple can see them, so confidentiality is somewhat difficult to obtain.
It is said that a tribe of these woodland mischief-makers thought it fine sport to hound the lad Mateo's footsteps and report his feats back to civilization. He had lost the ability to see them with the onslaught of physical manhood, but perceived their presence anyway, as he perceived many things beyond the ken of sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. The boy mostly tolerated the sprites, though he knew how to drive them off, and did so when he wanted privacy.
So it was that he was a hero to the people of Tappuah, but little was known of his personal life. It was murmured, with some pity among the goodwives, that his mother had died giving him life, and his father, Droc, had gone insane with grief and moved into that cottage far from curious eyes. Stories were told, also, of how Droc emerged almost weekly, at one tavern or another, to drown his grief with ale. It was said that Droc had been a mighty hunter himself upon a time, but now the boy was both protector and provider. Droc's strength served him well in evil brawls, though, and many were the men with scars to prove it.
Mateo never came out of the woods, shy as a dun deer, and so rare were chance meetings within it that they were almost unheard of. With a whistle of a few sharp notes he drove the sprites off before going home, so no news came from that vector of what that lonely cottage was like. The Tappuans were more interested in their young legend's deeds in the woods, anyway, though many a soft heart wondered over the lad's home life. Was he not lonely, with only his father for company?
A tale is told of a mighty Seeker, a lean and world-worn man, who came to the village of Culmari, hard upon the edge of the Mingled Forest. He bore a great sword of tibian, silver-steel, with the name Riannan, and wore a marcellia jewel called Kóa upon a tibian chain about his throat. He stayed at the village inn for a night, but shrugged off all queries about his presence, his rangy broad shoulders shifting words away. "The Golden Eagle directed me," was all he would say, his storm-grey eyes distant and troubled.
The next day he was gone, saying only "I am needed," to the stableboy before heading off into the Mingled Forest.
Later, it is said, the wood sprites followed him, drawn by the power in the great Seeker. He glanced in their direction, perceiving their presence, but was preoccupied with other things, his attention on the forest ahead. He seemed to know where he was going though he had never been there before, guiding his stallion on a threaded path through the hoary trees as if following a bright, unwavering beacon.
As the sprites reported, the large man halted halfway up a wooded hillside and clenched the tiny Seeing Stone Kóa in his fist, gritting his teeth. For a moment he closed his eyes. It is said that Seekers have Second Sight, a peerhole into the Spirit Dimension, and what the grey-eyed warrior perceived now seemed to pain him deeply. Then it was that a sharp-sighted sprite saw the cottage hidden in the trees, and they knew it belonged to the hunters Droc and Mateo.
"Atheos, High God of all things, Father to the fatherless," the Seeker prayed, "be with me now and lend me the strength of an eagle, the keenness of Morrévril. Let it be so."
This Seeker, by name Wari, was well known, and that was rumored to be his battle-prayer. With his tough, weathered frame set in an attitude of determination he slowly descended the hill. The sprites hung back, dismayed by the stillness of that lonesome cottage. Then the knowledge of the presence of a Katamobe ripped through spiritual perception like thunder from a lightning shot only two cubits away, and they fled.
More tales are told of what must have happened that day, but most are speculation and hearsay, foolish or fantastic. Only a few shreds of truth remain. The participants themselves say little about it, and it is clear that the pain of it echoes like the shockwave of that thunder, reverberated and intensified as if boxed in a rocky ravine. Wari remains silent by choice, wishing to soothe the pain, and the one who suffers it seems incapable of speech, when the subject is brought up.
It was said, though, months later, that a Katamobe had possessed Droc, that he invited it in. He had become crazed, convinced that his son had a curse. True enough were the whispers, long after Seeker Wari had come and gone, that Droc was a cruel man who brutally mistreated his son, beating him almost daily with little or no excuse. Mateo had chased away the sprites before going home because he wanted no one, not even those little invisible creatures, to know of the misuse he endured. After this night, though, it could be hidden no longer.
Droc tried to beat the 'curse' out of his son, using fist and belt and boot, egged on by the evil Katamobe and taking fiendish pleasure in the task. He almost succeeded in killing the boy. But at last, sobbing in agony, blood pouring from countless wounds, almost senseless and feeling the throb of each heartbeat pulse pain through every part of his body, the boy had screamed. Not in rage, nor pain, grief or desperation. No, the cry had been impossibly triumphant.
"By the Golden Eagle of Hosiotos, avaunt, foul Katamobe! Cease your vain flutterings and depart from Droc son of Colbert!"
He lost consciousness completely, then, his last reserves drained and empty. But his eyes closed on the sight of his father staggering back, eyes confused as the Katamobe left him.
This Droc told later, with a slightly different inflection on the facts, bragging that he had driven away the curse by the making the boy command it away himself. But Droc said nothing of what happened the next day, when Wari came, and the Seeker himself says little.
It appears that Mateo woke from the faint unable to stir from the floor, cold and stiff and in agony. His body was disobedient to his commands and his mind was whirling like a leaf caught in river-rapids, plunging this way and that, spinning backwards, getting caught against inconsequential eddies and then rushing on again, much too quickly. His father had collapsed into a drunken stupor on the sole bed.
The boy coughed and spat blood, trying to be quiet, trying not to weep. He was alone and beginning to despair. He thought he heard a door opened quietly and closed even more quietly, but couldn't believe it. He thought he felt the vibrations of stealthy footsteps through the floor, but his senses were confused.
Mateo's vision swam before him and suddenly there was a face directly above his. In sudden terror he tried to shrink back, battered body cringing away, but then his eyes cleared and he blinked in surprise.
Not his father? His head spun. Who?
Gentle hands lifted him, propping him up, holding a filled cup to his cracked lips. Storm-grey eyes, kind and concerned, a brown beard, trimmed and kempt, noble nose, weathered face, deep voice.
"I am Seeker Wari. Do not speak, just drink. Fear not, young one. You are safe now."
This Mateo told once, years later, to his onelove. It was in praise of the Seeker, part of a much longer tale. He has said nothing else of that day.
It is said that Droc awakened and attacked the Seeker, aided by the Katamobe, which still lurked in the cottage. One brave sprite had remained, waiting hesitantly outside, and she heard Wari's challenge, the kind issued by all Seekers before drawing sword.
"I am Wari, Seeker of lost ones, in the service of the High King. I claim no allegiance to any Prince or country, I have no true ally but the Lord of all. My enemy is Kataphage and all that comes from him, all despair and pain, all hatred and injustice, and all that serve that father of lies, whether man, elf, dwarf, Katamobe or earthly creature. I have no rival, for I fight not for my own power, but to further the cause of El Shaddai. Having told you all this, I, Wari, challenge you and the Katamobe who helps you."
Droc roared in rage and the duel began, Wari wielding Riannan, his opponent a heavy club. The sprite lingered for awhile, fearfully, listening to the sounds of the furious battle within. As a creature of power, she could sense the maddened fury in Droc and the calm determination in Wari, as well as the dizzy agony of the wounded boy and the unveiled evil of the waiting demon.
The Katamobe joined the fight, adding strength and skill to Droc's murderous intent. The fight became yet more intense, and the sprite poised to flee.
"El Shaddai!" Wari cried. "By the Golden Eagle of Hosiotos, avaunt, avaunt, foul Katamobe!"
Painful shrieking filled the air like the sound of claws scraping on blade-hard metal. "Depart from Droc son of Colbert," Wari cried in triumph. "Depart from this cottage and flee from the region, and return not while Mateo son of Droc lives!"
With a membranous fluttering of wings, the Katamobe obeyed. Terrified when the horrible creature burst from the cottage, the brave sprite also fled. They are more courageous in large groups.
It is said that Seeker Wari returned to Culmari several weeks later with an apprentice, the famous Mateo. The boy had a heavy limp, and was weak and unsteady from long illness, fever while recovering, but he was alive, and safe in the Seeker's caring protection. Droc remained in the forest and carried on the way he had been, though now he was forced to hunt once in a while to support his drinking, without Mateo and his skills. He also got in more tavern brawls than ever to vent his anger, without his son to take it out on.
Wari told Servant Krymote, the leader of Culmari, that Mateo had extraordinary talent in the Second Sight of Seekers, and that already he was a marvelous apprentice. Servant Krymote told the Seeker several of the more well known Mateo legends, while the boy hid behind his tankard of cider and blushed, once in awhile mumbling, "No, it wasn't five treecats, it was only four, and I had two arrows, not one," to correct some mild exaggeration. "The shot with the one arrow was pure luck, or the King guided my hands. It was very foolish thing to try, anyway. What if I had missed even one treecat?"
"You would have made short work of it with your extra arrow, of course," Krymote declared cheerfully. He would have none of the young hero's modesty, and much enjoyed his own tale-telling.
And that was the beginning, the 'joining of two paths,' as Wari put it. The path of the great Seeker and the path of the legendary youngster were now one. They were a marvelous pair, and did many song-worthy things.
There are tales told, legends chanted, rumors whispered, of things that happen deep in the wildernesses of the world called Madra. Tales of the Seekers and tales of the warriors, tales of woodsmen and pioneers, old enemies and young lovers. Tales of Katamobi and harsh wastelands, of bandits in the Wilders.
And tales of two King's servants, a man called Wari and boy called Mateo. What follows are some of those.
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