20 Sep 2011

Lodoss Novel “The Black Knight”

Author: Cool Snoops | Filed under: Record of Lodoss War

Dark Conquerer
In which we find out about Ashram’s misspent youth and his first meeting with the legendary hero Beld…

Chapter 1

There is an island called Lodoss. It lies off the southern border of the continent of Alecrast. Among the continent’s inhabitants some people call it the Cursed Island, for all over it are haunts of wicked men, and wars continuously rage.

To the southeast of Lodoss was a small island, Marmo. Known as the Isle of Darkness, Marmo was a dreaded and shunned place, controlled by evil. It was onto Marmo’s ground that the body of Kardis the goddess of destruction fell, causing the land’s corruption. The trees were twisted, the grass and flowers blighted. Of the fish in the surrounding waters no few were deadly poisonous, and malign spirits and monsters laired in the forests. In this cruel environment, humans had to find ways to survive. Almost all of those dwelling on the island had committed crimes on Lodoss and had fled to Marmo or were banished there. The rest were indigenous hunters who dwelled in the baneful forests.

Marmo’s largest city was Persei, known as Darktown. Confined on a plain between hills and a river, it was a fortified city encircled by a strong wall. It was the most prosperous place on Marmo. The island’s second city was the northern port of Salbad. The only other human habitation were villages dotted around the outskirts of these two cities, where serfs dwelled, coaxing crops to grow in poor soil.

The island had no legitimate rulers. Affairs in Darktown were managed by a council formed from among the influential people, including Salbad in its jurisdiction. However, the sinister spirits and barbarian humans of the Forest of Darkness did not acknowledge it’s authority.

The companies that ran armed merchant ships, and the landowners who controlled the serfs, who together had organized the council, had an alliance with the church of Falaris and the lesser dark gods, and with the Thieves’ Guild, but the alliance was not a secure one. With each faction looking for it’s own profit, secret feuds revolved among them.

There was no law or order; only that which was of the darkness was free, and the weak were compelled to serve it.

But there came a time when a wave of change advanced upon the island where this stable though dire state of affairs endured. This change was brought about by one famous hero and one unknown youth.

Near Darktown’s eastern gate was a rookery of derelict, uninhabited buildings. A man walked along a stone-paved street where dust was dancing. By his looks he was a thief. His feet glided along without making a sound. His stooped back was shaking just a little, and his idle-seeming hands were ready to move at any time to the poisoned throwing-knife in his breast pocket. Restlessly moving his gaze over the buildings around him, he kept walking.

Then at his feet there was a bursting sound, and a new dust-cloud blossomed up. A small stone or something had been thrown down. The man felt heart-stopping shock. He hadn’t sensed anyone’s presence.

“I guess I’m not surprised. Some business is coming my way, isn’t it?” Mocking laughter echoed. From a ruined rooftop to the thief’s left, the figure of a youth appeared. He couldn’t have been of adult age yet, but he was taller by far than average adult height. He had black hair and strikingly white skin. By looking at his calm face you couldn’t guess that he had taken the lives of some hundreds of people.

Among those were a few score of the Thieves’ Guild’s specialist assassins.

“You’re Ashram?” the thief said in a choked voice.

“That’s right, Mister Amber Eyes. Or should I call you Ditch?”

“What are you talking about, you mongrel?”

The man known as Amber Eyes felt as though a knife had been shoved into his chest. Even his colleagues in the Thieves’ Guild weren’t supposed to know that Ditch was his real name.

“There are any number of ways to get information. If you can’t do that much, you can’t afford a brawl with us!”

“A brawl? A war, more like!” Amber Eyes said heatedly. The Thieves’ Guild’s covert group of assassins had been almost wiped out by this man and his gang.

But what the fight had taken care of, Ashram couldn’t have known. Thanks to the dispute with Ashram’s mob, first the Thieves’ Guild’s previous master and then many important guild members had lost their lives. Though he had only been a junior member, Amber Eyes had come out of it as a major player.

Anger and fear welled together in Amber Eyes’ heart. He didn’t think this youth was motivated by anything more than sheer insanity. Did really blood flow in his veins? Did he hear his heart beat?

“It could be a war, if you want to make it one. But I don’t see it that way. I don’t like you lot, so I slapped you around, that’s all,” Ashram said, poker-faced. “Did you just come here to have a chat?” Over his handsome features there came a cruel look in which murderous intent was plain to see.

“I’ve got something to give you.” With a sour expression, Amber Eyes brought out a letter from a pocket in his clothes. “The Darktown Council has entrusted me with this confidential document.”

“Leave it there. I know what it says. Kill a man, right? One of the six heroes, the red-headed mercenary, perhaps?”

Amber Eyes nodded. He wouldn’t have been surprised if Ashram had a pipeline to all of the council’s privy information. He probably had someone working in it as a spy. But then, Amber Eyes himself was in the same situation. He had some pretty good inside information about Ashram’s gang. Only, he wasn’t able to act on it.

“This is quite something,” Ashram said. “The council is more afraid of a man with the demon sword and the barbarians from the Forest of Darkness than they are of me, eh?”

The red-haired mercenary named Beld, around twenty years ago at the outbreak of the Demon War, was one of a hundred heroes who went to challenge the demons in their home in the Deepest Labyrinth, and one of the six who survived. The remaining brave souls all met their ends in the deadly maze. The handful who came back were honored, and as the Six Heroes their names passed into the legends of Lodoss. And even now this legend continued to be written.

One was the hero Fahn, who became the king of the holy country of Valis, and by making alliances with the other nations of Lodoss blew away the clouds of war from the main island.

The second was the sorcerer Wort, who came to be known as the Great Sage. He built a tower at the entrance of the Labyrinth and remained dwelling there as a watchman. By his hand, too, the dwarven kingdom that was overrun by demons was sealed, to prevent evil from returning by that road. The third was Neese, the priestess of the earth goddess Marfa, who became high priestess of Marfa’s church and now dwelled in the great temple at Tarba. Worshipers reverently spoke of her as the living embodiment of the goddess. Although the great temple was in a far-flung region, pilgrims from all over Lodoss made journeys to it. The fourth hero was the Iron King Fleve of the southern dwarf tribe, who had lost his kingdom. His whereabouts were unknown. It was said that he continued on alone, hunting the surviving demons that remained in his ruined kingdom; but no eyes had seen him for many a day. The fifth was a mysterious character, a warrior mage known by no name, and whose true nature was likewise a riddle. Although possessing equally great prowess with both magic and sword, that hero had seemed to fear the touch of other people’s eyes. Because of this veil of mystery, the warrior mage’s existence was increasingly coming to be thought of as a legend invented by talespinning minstrels.

And the sixth hero was the red-haired Beld, the mercenary whose beloved woman was stolen away by the king of the demons. It was Beld who struck the fatal blow against the demon king, and of the six heroes, he was the most famous.

His figure had appeared suddenly on Marmo, and he had begun to wage a war in the name of unifying the island. And now word had it that as well as the barbarians of the Forest of Darkness, the dark elves and their servant creatures had allied themselves with him too. This gave Darktown’s rulers cause for agitation. If the spirits and monsters were Beld’s allies, an army of how many thousands—no, how many tens of thousands—might he raise? Even if all the people of Darktown took up arms, victory against such an army couldn’t be imagined. And not everyone would fight to defend the city. The majority of the citizens were not living contently. Rather, they lived at the outer limits of poverty and terror. In their eyes, Beld and his army could well appear to be liberators. Out of fear of betrayal, they uttered no words, but a feeling that serfs and the poor were waiting eagerly for Beld to attack was flowing around Darktown.

“The council is prepared to accept you as a member. You and your…associates will also therefore become legitimate citizens.” Amber Eyes gave a servile smile as he conveyed the council’s terms.

“A lovers’ match, in this rotten town?” Ashram laughed aloud. Then he picked up a chunk of rubble and deftly threw it. The rock flew straight through the air and hit a crow that was overing over the roof of the adjacent derelict building. The poor bird shrieked in agony and dropped down to the ground. If it had been a human being, it seemed by no means unlikely that Ashram would have done the same thing with equal insouciance. He was like a child pulling the legs off an insect. Amber Eyes shuddered.

The Thieves’ Guild’s brutality had a calculated purpose. It was protective armor against the guild’s enemies, and it was a method of maintaining order, and also one of acquiring gold and and silver. The Guild admitted no one who was merely an unthinking, unskilled thug. But Ashram and his offsiders displayed a vicious nature which by far surpassed the Guild’s.

They went around slaughtering roadside beggars; using knives they mutilated prostitutes in their private places, making them unable to sell their bodies anymore; they had torched all the buildings connected with the Thieves’ Guild, and an unknown of other buildings besides. Of course, the Guild fought back desperately. It killed members of the gang one after another and left their bodies exposed around the city as a continuing warning. To people who know fear and the necessity of protecting themselves, this was a most effective method.

But the kids in the gang were of a different breed. They had no parents or siblings, no money or food, no past and no future. They didn’t believe in gods. The only thing they believed in was themselves. Only by flocking together to plunder and destroy could they at last feel themselves to be truly alive. They couldn’t be compared with the Guild. They were like stampeding wild horses, a horde of beasts with a hunger that couldn’t be satisfied.

In the eyes of his fellows, Ashram was a hero. His word was their only law and they followed his way unconditionally. With them running in a rabble at his side, he had started the fight with the Council.

The Council wasn’t silent, but it couldn’t put effective measures into action. The church of Falaris, which exercised a strong influence over the Council, approved of Ashram’s gang as disruptors of order, and the worshipers of Kardis the goddess of destruction, seeing Ashram as one who was guiding the world to its end, even supported him. In the midst of this, another threat was rising: the red-haired mercenary Beld and his swarm of barbarians from the Forest of Darkness. Why Beld had taken a stand to unite Marmo was unknown. On the main island of Lodoss, rumors were running among the people that Beld would make a clean sweep of evil across their lands. He had announced the founding of a Marmo Empire. He was even calling himself the Dark Emperor, implying that he intended to rule with absolute power, and he was demanding that the Darktown Council resign. However, they weren’t about to comply. If they resigned their seats of power, that would be the end of their lives at east. They had elected to ally with Ashram’s gang and fight Beld. If the mob of kids affiliated themselves with the council and got a taste of sweet living, they might become docile. At any rate, if the council couldn’t make peace with the gang, it wouldn’t have a future.

Therefore, it was going to make a new organization with them as members. Allowing a period of time, the impudent Ashram would become manageable.

But Beld and the barbarians were outsider enemies. If they were allied with the spirits from the Forest of Darkness, they were foes of humanity. The dark elves, who controlled the spirits, treated humans just as they did the petty goblin and kobold monsters. Joining with them didn’t seem like the action of one of the six heroes who had brought down the demon king and his army. It was rumored that Beld had been bewitched by the demon.

“Do you think Beld will want you for cohorts? If you want to survive, join forces with us and simply do away with Beld.”

“We’re not afraid of dying. We’re different to you.” Ashram drew a dagger from his breast pocket and cut a thin line across the palm of his hand. He licked up the blood that oozed out.

His lips became stained bright red, as if rouged. It gave him a feminine air of allure. To a man with a taste for other men, no doubt it would have been attractive.

It was not at all to Amber Eyes’ taste. Negotiation was useless, Amber Eyes thought despondently. The council had to avoid fighting both Ashram and Beld together. Such a fight would be hopeless. The only hope was that they would not form a united front. Beld and a hoodlum like Ashram would not be out of harmony with each other.

“Well, what’s your answer?” Amber Eyes asked, thinking to end the conversation.

“My answer is, I’ll do it. It’s plain you’ve got some sort of ulterior motive, but for the likes of that man to be called a great hero turns my mood sour. I’ll cut Beld to ribbons—just like the Thieves’ Guild’s master.”

Amber Eyes’ light tawny eyes grew alert at the sound of the second name. By the way the conversation had gone up until then it had seemed impossible that Ashram would accept his offer. Could he really want to join with the council? He had an idea of the council’s intentions, he’d said; but might that not be a bluff? Amber Eyes would have to get information from his spy.

And on top of this, Ashram had said he would kill Beld. Amber Eyes recalled the Thieves’ Guild’s previous master’s body, at the house of the fifteen year old girl who was his lover, all cut up, his intestines and both eyes pulled out and thrown out with the rubbish on the road. The girl had been in Ashram’s gang. Plausibly, she had her eyes on Ashram and therefore did his bidding.

“Really?” Amber Eyes said, trying to get a better sense of the truth.

“I’m in the mood for it. Ask too many questions and you’ll be sorry!”

“All right, then. I’ll tell the council.” With suspicious feelings, Amber Eyes silently called upon the name of the thieves’ god Ganeed. He’d played his part, at any rate. And even to the council, he didn’t have to report everything. He’d taken another step up towards the becoming the master of the Thieves’ Guild. Only the finishing touches remained, and his hand was already moving.

“You guarantee I’ll have a place on the council?” Ashram said.

“Of course,” Amber Eyes replied quickly. “The council will welcome you with pleasure.”

To that Ashram just snorted and said nothing.

Amber Eyes resolutely turned his back and began to walk back the way he’d come.

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Content © Cool Snoops...except for those images that Master did not create and borrowed without anyone's permission. Master is such a bad boy...

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