"Call of the Dragon, Pt I" Cornell #1
"Call of the Dragon, Pt II" Cornell #2
"Ruins and Hopes"
"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3
"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4
"Childhood of a Fighter"
"The Pledge" Cornell #5
"The Rock of Discontent"
"A Tale of the Gods"
"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6
Chapter 1 / ==> Chapter 2
Cornell of Cayaboré yelled and pointed his finger accusingly at the tiny
humanoid creature sitting under a canopy it had fashioned from a roll of
silk, attached to the saddle of the alreu’s pony.
innocently, the alreu looked up and directed its large eyes at the human
towering with folded arms over him. “Yes, sir?” he piped eagerly.
“Can I help you with anything? You know, I’ve been thinking that you
might like some bit of adornment for your clothes, they are so drab, and
are the jewels?” Cornell said dangerously.
ones?” Flink asked and automatically drew his knapsack from its
customary position on his back and opened the flap, one hand poised to dig
into the interminable contents of the bag.
heavily, Cornell shook his head and held out his hand. “You know which
ones I mean, Flink. The rubies that are missing from our chest. With the
gold settings. You’ve had your eyes on them when we raided the
those!” Flink said cheerfully and dropped his arm into his knapsack,
quickly sticking his head in along with the arm and nearly diving full
length into the bag. Judging by the noises coming from in there, Cornell
wouldn’t have been surprised to hear a sudden, shrill shriek from the
alreu and see him dragged into the knapsack – which might then burp and
lick its flap. What, Cornell wondered, had he done to be stuck with an
alreu, anyway? He hadn’t insulted any gods, had he? Not unless it
counted that he regularly missed his prayers.
tapped his fingers on his arms, waiting for the alreu to exit his knapsack
and finally produce the jewels. In the meantime he gazed around their
campsite briefly. Gabe, a southern barbarian, had left camp half an hour
ago. The wizard Barandas was stroking down his horse, casting dirty looks
every now and then at the buckler-style shield with a bronze knob leaning
against a rock. Cornell had to smile, albeit a grim smile.
were three souls trapped inside the elfwood of the shield – Halla
Valfrey, the so-called shield maiden and former owner of the buckler;
Phindar, a Decalleigh priest who had turned merchant in the latter half of
his life; and also the annoying little coward Nev, an accountant. The
shield gave each of them a magical power, even the accountant, suited to
their own minds. Nev could turn the shield’s bearer invisible, Phindar
could heal wounds, and Halla – well, Halla really had a useful power. If
one threw the shield, she could guide its flight and direct the sharp edge
into its target. She’d saved him and his companions from a couple of
difficult situations so far, and he could almost get used to having her
the other two didn’t like jabbering so much. One more supposedly funny
anecdote from Phindar, and Cornell was liable to use the shield as
had no idea what Barandas had done now to be angry at the shield. In all
likelihood, the wizard had tried to figure out some of the magical secrets
of the buckler, in the process causing pain to the souls inhabiting it. Or
something like that. Three days ago, he had tried to cut a sliver of
elfwood off. Although he hadn’t succeeded – the elfwood was simply too
tough -, the souls had been shouting at him all day.
sorry, sir,” Flink’s voice interrupted him and jarred him back to the
present day. The alreu was standing behind his knapsack, both hands on the
flap, and a curious expression on his face. “I can’t find them,
sir,” he shook his head in confusion. “I mean, if I took them, they
ought to be here. The funny thing is, you know, sir, I can’t even
remember that I did that. Take the jewels, I mean. They were looking fine
as they were, with those precious gold settings. Did you see the artwork
on them? Beautiful! Goodness gracious, would I love to talk to the artisan
who made that! Wonderful! I wish I could –“
didn’t take the rubies?!” Cornell cut through the alreu’s
babbling. Normally one could rely on the alreu – or any other of his
thieving kin – when something went missing; he usually was responsible,
and if one caught him quickly enough, the item in question might still be
intact – rather than turned into one of the strange contraptions Flink
shrugged, looked down at his knapsack. “I don’t think so. Do you want
me to look again, sir?”
didn’t answer right away. Barandas? he wondered and discarded the
notion right away. The rubies hadn’t been magical, as far as he knew,
Barandas’ primary motivation for stealing. Besides, the wizard was still
here, rather than having ridden off in the night. Had he stolen anything,
he would be several hundred miles away before his theft could be
discovered (and he could be searched thoroughly).
yes,” Cornell shook his head, “look again. Might have slipped your
shrugged, then opened the flap and started to dive back into his knapsack.
is no need for that,” a booming voice interrupted him. Gabe walked out
of the twilight surrounding the campsite, a long wooden wand in one of his
heavy fists. At its top, nine rubies glistened in the light of the
campfire. “I took the jewels,” Gabe said evenly and planted the wand
before him in the ground.
was still gaping at his companion a few moments later. The tall barbarian
stood there, with an unreadable expression on his tanned face, his shaggy
hair slightly ruffled by the wind.
had taken the rubies? Gabe? The one who always spoke of honor, and
whom Cornell could ever have imagined betraying his friends? “Gabe?”
the Cayaborean was imitating a statue, Flink had run over to the
barbarian, fingering the wand with his thin, long fingers. “You know,
Gabe,” he said, crooking his head, “this doesn’t look half bad.
Goodness gracious, did you make this on your own? I hadn’t known you
were this good!” He crooked his head suddenly to the other side and
continued, “Of course it isn’t that good. The arrangement of
the jewels could be a lot better, and it looks so much like
they’re only temporary. And where did you find that wood? It’s so
uneven, you should have – but anyway, it’s better than I would have
both Gabe and Cornell shouted in unison.
alreu rolled his eyes, fell silent for the moment and continued his
inspection of the wand.
whatever reason,” Cornell slowly said, “did you steal the rubies,
Gabe? You’d better have a good one ready.”
shrugged, gently pushed Flink away from the wand and held it out towards
Cornell, so the Cayaborean had a better look of the top. Cornell glanced
down briefly. It looked somewhat familiar – the topmost three rubies
pointing upward, the next three outward, the lowest three pointing
straight at the ground – but that really didn’t matter much to him. He
wasn’t a critic of the arts; that was better left to Flink.
will put the rubies back next week, of course,” Gabe said as if the wand
was explanation enough.
wasn’t for Cornell. “Why next week, pray tell? What’s so special
about next week? Gabe, you’ve stolen from our communal property!”
Gabe blinked, taken aback by the ferocity of Cornell’s words. “I
stolen the jewels. As you said, they are the property of our party, and so
it was my right to remove them for a while from the chest. It is for our
good, after all.”
“Excuse me?” Cornell held up one hand, looked aside – strangely
enough at Barandas who had come over to enjoy Gabe being chewed out –
and shook his head. “Why would it be for our good? Have you eaten too
much of the gum we bought off that Tonomai merchant? You do
remember that it can do crazy things to you if you eat too much?”
Barandas was sitting down on a rock, a wide grin attempting to split his
face. That sight made Cornell wish that Gabe would admit to having eaten
off that gum, so that he didn’t have to be chastised like this. It ought
to be Barandas getting the business end of a sword. That was the order of
things, really, and Cornell liked things to be orderly.
But unfortunately Gabe shook his head. “Of course not. One bite was
enough. You cannot fight properly with the gum, so bwyell
and me stay away from it.” He patted the axe on his belt fondly.
“Cornell, haven’t you understood what this is about?”
“No,” the Cayaborean hissed angrily, “I haven’t. Please, tell
Instead of Gabe answering, Flink put up his large head and focused his
cheerful gaze on the Cayaborean. “But, sir, you have
to know. It’s only five more days! I’m so excited about it, too, like
Gabe is! Only five days, oh my, oh my!”
“Five days until what?!”
“Solstice Day, what else?” Gabe answered, looking consternatedly at
his friend. “How could you forget that we’re close to the winter
Day?” Cornell repeated. Right, that’s what the blasted wand reminds
me of. The nine major gods of the pantheon, in their traditional array.
“Gabe, please don’t tell me you’ve been walking around our campsite
the last half hour, pointing the wand at the sky and chanting that silly
prayer. Please don’t.”
chuckled. “I told you, Cornell, we should have dumped the
stay out of this!” the Cayaborean barked to the wizard, unable to dampen
Barandas’ good mood. Grinning, Barandas took a piece of the Tonomai gum
from a pocket in his robe, showed it to everyone and dropped it with a
grand gesture in his mouth. Cornell frowned, breathed deeply and looked
sharply at the barbarian.
face showed lines of concern – but from his eyes, Cornell could tell,
that all the concern was directed at the Cayaborean. Oh, no. When did
Gabe become the worshipping kind? “Cornell,” the barbarian said
softly, almost as if talking to a child, “on the winter solstice we
celebrate the day that the gods brought our forefathers to Gushémal,
after the Time of Turmoil. It is the longest night of the year, the end of
the year, and the time when Yelof and Egap walk the earth to reward and
punish those who deserve either. We give praise to the gods for their gift
to us. We remember the year that has passed, and think on what Yelof and
Egap will bring for us.”
through Gabe’s speech, Cornell’s head had drooped forward, and now he
was silently shaking it, his eyes closed.
tone of sadness in his voice, Flink picked up Gabe’s story, “And on
Solstice Day we are together with all our family, and with our friends,
and we give gifts to each other. We spend the longest night together, with
those we hold dear. Only that now all of us are away from home. And we
can’t get there. And,” tears formed at the rim of his eyes, “even if
I could go home to Tieferbau, I couldn’t… I mean, I…”
Gabe whispered and put his hand on the alreu’s shoulder, “I know.”
didn’t, and he didn’t care much. “Gabe, for the gods’ sake, this
is ridiculous. Yelof and Egap are just the products of folk tales, they
aren’t in any of the official texts. Look, the winter solstice may be
the longest night of the year, but it really is just another excuse for a
celebration. To get the whole family together and pretend you like
everybody. Not to mention that you have to buy gifts for everybody and not
complain about the stuff you’re getting. It’s boulderdash, that’s
the Cayaborean told Gabe and started stalking away.
later Flink tugged at his pants. “But, sir! Solstice Day is important!
We only have each other, and we have to really celebrate Solstice Day. I
mean, it’s so wonderful, and I don’t know why you would have to
complain about gifts when you know that everybody did their best to please
you! Not that it really is about the gifts, it’s really about being with
your family! The ones you love best in all the world!” The alreu quickly
wiped the tears from his face. (The moment he let go of Cornell’s pants,
the Cayaborean hurried up to get away from Flink. Not that Flink noticed.)
“You put out two platters for Egap and Yelof, with the choicest meats of
the feast, and you put out two cups with the best wine you have, and you
wait all night whether they will show up. Of course, they will, every
time. I mean, every time, and that is so much fun because you know
that those aren’t really Yelof and Egap – except if you’re
really, really lucky! But most of the time, it’s two of your
friends or relatives who dress up as them, just so that we can really
celebrate Solstice Day. And it’s good luck to be chosen to play Yelof
and Egap – I mean, not just because you get to eat from their platters,
but also because you’re, well, because you know you’re so well loved
by your folks! Goodness gracious, say, Gabe, can I play one of them on
had wound up standing next to Barandas by that time, one hand massaging
his forehead. The wizard grinned, held up a portion of his gum. Cornell
rolled his eyes, then he walked further away – making sure he got
nowhere near the elfwood buckler. Those three souls were certain to
love Solstice Day, too – if only to spite Cornell. He was sure of
it, and he just wanted to get to sleep. Maybe the next day his friends
would have forgotten all about this foolishness.
didn’t believe it either and prepared himself for some serious headaches
during the next days.
to contain your Solstice Day euphoria, will you?” Cornell muttered
low-key to his companions. They were riding along the main road of the
Tonomai city of Atnas, and Cornell couldn’t help but feel apprehensive.
The Tonomai believed in their One God rather than the pantheon he and the
others had grown up with. He knew that until a few years ago, infidels
like them had been forbidden from entering any part of Tonomat. Although
the Empire had changed that policy, he still didn’t think that proudly
displaying the paraphernalia of Solstice Day – or cheerfully discussing
the celebration – would make them very popular. Not to mention one other
thing that was bothering him.
you think there are any friends of the demon-raisers around here?” he
whispered to the buckler on his arm.
no, I don’t think so,” the priest Phindar replied. The shield slightly
reverberated with every word. “Look, we’ve been over this before,
haven’t we, shield bearer? The Tonomai we have fought were dissidents.
Rebels. The Empire might even reward us for having killed them.” Cornell
smacked his lips slightly. A likely outcome. Phindar went on,
“There hasn’t been any trouble in the other cities we have visited,
has there? What makes you think this might be different?”
Cornell insisted, “Atnas is a lot bigger than all the others. I kept us
away from the large towns because of that very reason. Those rebels
weren’t run of the mill bandits, they were well equipped, and they
managed to summon a bloody powerful demon. He made Gabe and me –“
Cornell cut himself off, when memories of that awful day surfaced. The
demon had made him believe that Gabe had murdered his family, and so
Cornell had almost killed his friend. (He conveniently ignored that Gabe
also claimed to have nearly finished off Cornell.) “So keep a look out,
please. You know the Tonomai best of all of us.”
chuckled lightly, a strange sound from a disembodied voice. And, bad
enough, Cornell was getting used to this! “Rely on me, shield bearer. If
I see anybody who could prove dangerous, I will let you know.”
Cornell whispered and became aware that Barandas had moved his horse a
good deal closer during the conversation. “What is it?” Cornell asked
wizard shrugged, eyeing the buckler in his more or less inconspicuous way.
“Oh, nothing. Just noticed that you were talking to the shield. Anything
tell you if you need to know,” Cornell muttered and spurred his horse
on. Stormwind was reacting very fast, a lot faster than it had the first
days after he had acquired it, almost as if it were frightened of him. Odd
enough, that was. It had started right after their encounter with the
emperor dragon. When Cornell had first come out of the cave, his horse –
and the others – had shied away from them, and it had taken half a day
to calm them down. Probably the smell of the dragon.
shut his eyes for a moment. He would have to rely on Phindar. Unless an
army of rebel Tonomai suddenly attacked them, he had no way of telling
which faction the people around him belonged to. By Darawk’s beard, he
couldn’t even tell the uniforms of the imperial soldiers apart from
those that the rebels had worn.
had to relax, he told himself. Atnas seemed a relatively good place to do
so. It was a large city, behind a high wall that was topped by the round
structures the Tonomai liked so much. There were curves everywhere inside
the town as well. Although the buildings were basically rectangular, their
corners were smoothed out to curves. Most of the windows had a round top,
some had inscriptions curled around them – probably verses from the beiqua,
the Tonomai holy book. The buildings were multi-storied, some reaching up
to a staggering ten stories, each extending a bit further into the street.
So much so that some of the buildings upper parts came to within a foot of
each other. Clotheslines were strung between some of the windows, the
clothes dripping onto the passersby below, neither of whom seemed to care.
In Cornell’s mood, he hated every drop that hit his head.
on the main road was not very bad. A couple of wagons were before them,
escorted by two imperial riders. In a few moments, Cornell’s party would
have to slow down, since there was little space left to overtake them.
Apart from the small convoy, though, there were only a few other riders in
the street, wearing rather nondescript clothes. One, wearing a yellow
shawl wound around his head was riding
very close to the convoy, getting suspicious glances from the guards.
Walkways ran along the road, with pedestrians strolling along leisurely,
stopping every now and then at one of the shops and looking at the goods
of the oddities of Tonomai towns were the sort-of-taverns they had. Kafeserai,
they were called, but instead of ale and wine, they served the Tonomai
national drink, coffee. Cornell had been surprised to find there was a
translation of the term into meantongue, but Phindar had regaled him with
a long-winded explanation (the better part of which Cornell hadn’t
listened to). According to the priest, kafeserai served mostly the
same functions as the taverns of Cornell’s home. Except that these were
often frequented during the day, particularly the hot midday hours when
few people worked. Those who did not sleep gathered in the nearest kafeserat,
to drink their coffee and talk.
from the fact that no decent drinks were offered, Cornell found it curious
that the kafeserai invariably had benches and tables set up before
their entrance, under the shade of a large canopy, so that their patrons
practically sat on the street, talking and laughing in their gruff
language. In a good tavern you were inside, and you didn’t block
traffic. Neither did you point at somebody on the road, or sound like you
were talking about that somebody.
Cornell thought, the Tonomai also had regular inns. Well, more or less
regular. Still better than having to stay at a kafeserat. Even
though you were woken up by the smell of their vile brew every morning.
(That was another reason why he had avoided cities lately.)
should slow down,” Halla Valfrey said from the shield, her voice tinged
with concern. “The guards are already looking over to us.”
they did, Cornell noted and slowed Stormwind down. The rider with the
yellow shawl was only a step ahead of them, oblivious of the people behind
him, but the guards had fallen back behind the convoy, hands on the hilts
of their curved swords. Cornell smiled broadly, patting his horse’s neck
and doing anything to look innocent. It shouldn’t have been hard, right?
After all, he had no interest whatsoever in the cargo the convoy was
the matter with you? he
thought urgently. His mind suddenly seemed like a muddy path, each step
– or thought – requiring the utmost effort to keep going. No reason
at all! Cornell shook his head furiously, but the muddiness stayed in
his head. His heart started pounding, and he felt a wave of worry and
concern flush over him. And fear.
Worry. Fear. Worry.
are you all right?” Phindar asked from the shield, his voice like a
foreign object that intruded on the muddy world Cornell’s mind had
barely felt it happen. His surroundings had slowed down into a quagmire of
images, and the quagmire gradually slipped upwards. Halfway through it
Cornell realized that he was falling off his horse. He wanted to grab
something to hold onto, but his hands refused to obey his commands. Nor
did his legs.
hit the ground before he realized that he hadn’t managed to stay on the
horse. Above him were the brown stories of the Tonomai buildings, leaving
a yard-wide sliver of sky between them.
Cayaborean tried to turn his head around. He succeeded more or less. His
head lolled to his right, dizziness assaulting him in a nauseating raid.
It was the wrong direction, for he saw the convoy through the cobwebs
forming before his eyes. And the rider with the yellow shawl. Only that he
had dropped the shawl from his face. A face that looked decidedly
Cornell croaked. Then he fell unconscious.
Read on in Chapter Two!