Dusk. I stood on the deck of our ship, The Dashing Stag. The only sounds I could hear was the creak of the ship and occasional rustle of sail as the breeze hit the canvass. The sky was a collage of colors blending with the distant white and gray skyline of the Twilight Peaks in the West. It was an amazing sight to behold, and one which I no longer took for granted. Too many good name-givers I knew well were gone, and they could no longer see these things. I made sure to save a moment to enjoy the beautiful things of the world, for their sake and my own. For at that time in my life, I knew all too well that when death is imminent, such moments seem very precious indeed.I had spent the last couple of hours with a pair of troll shipwrights from the moot, and the few crewmen who were still aboard the ship. I made sure proper watch schedules were set, and gave those men light duties such as minor maintenance and cleaning. Those men were our crewmen but not part of the moot, and therefore did not have homes or families there. They would have much time off, but I had to rely on them while the others were away from the ship visiting family and friends. Repairs were underway, most were due to our recent crash in the Servos jungle. Dagmar was supervising the work, but only at a high level. He was spending most of his time away from the ship with Endraas, who was the eldest of the clan armorers, and the best crystalsmith at the Reach. Dagmar made it clear that he wanted to spend a month learning all he could from Endraas, and that was fine with me. We badly needed a smith who could work with crystal aboard the ship, as the pieces of crystal armor our crew possessed were in various states of disrepair. As to the rest of the Unchained, Vridich was spending his days in Grimlock’s home. Dremnin was off doing what scouts do. Suulin was last seen with the children who were at the home of the late Widow Runa, whose home had been turned into a daytime retreat for the children of The Reach after her death. The surly Urgral was spending most of his time below decks on the ship, doing what, I do not know. Most of our crew were given the full month of leave. They were mainly name-givers from The Reach and had not been home for many months. Most had been born of The Reach, though a few had been brought into the clan as newot, like Draiden, Kerick, and most of the Unchained. Regardless, every crewman from The Reach was now a full clansmen, and to almost all of them, The Reach was considered home. Many of the men had lost family or friends in the Reach recently. Most had been lost either during the fighting with the Therans that had been chasing after The Unchained, or more recently from the horror we had just slain. Some speculated that it had made its way to The Reach as a result of our battle with the Therans over lake Pyros. I was not convinced of that, for the horror over lake Pyros had large tentacles and the one we had just fought was made of strange glowing crystals. To the naked eye, it certainly looked like a different creature. Just the day before we had lost a good crewman and comrade, Womax. Though he was my charge and a good ally, I cannot say that I knew him well. He had been a former Theran slave and mostly kept to himself. Still, he was a good man and his loss pained me. I also had visited the family of Arrius just that morning. He was another crewman who fell earlier that month, and their grief was still with me. Though, by far the worst for me was that I had lost two brothers, Vargas and Elgorn, to the horror responsible for Womax’s death. They were the best of name-givers, honorable, noble in bearing, and very close to me. I wept at their deaths. My grief was great that day, and I could not help but think of my brother Sarus and his death as I thought of Vargas and Elgorn. I could scarcely believe they were gone. To make things worse, Zartan, a troll I had liked very much, was discovered to have betrayed us all having made a deal with the horror to betray us in exchange for power. Honus and I had held him fast and looked on with a flood of emotions as he was dehorned and made kava, one without honor, an outcast. A punishment well deserved. My grief was great indeed but I was not alone. To a man, the name-givers of The Reach were in mourning. Not a soul in The Reach had not lost a family member or good friend. Vargas especially hit the hearts of many clansmen, as he was admired by most and liked by all. It was a sad day, but I hoped tonight would help with us come to terms with our losses. There was to be a huge feast in the great hall. The names of those who fought would be praised and those that has fallen would be saluted with tales of their deeds. A solemn rap of fists and mugs on the tables would sound when the names of the lost were spoken. I hoped Suulin would come, and use her skills of storytelling to help ease the pain of us all. As I stood looking into the beauty of the dusk, I noticed a lone silhouette stood on the bow, cast against the orange horizon, shoulders hunched in a melancholy posture. I recognized the figure immediately as Skram. His muscular T’Skrang form was impossible to miss. Skram was my close friend and ally. My bond to the Unchained, particularly with Skram and Dremnin, was as tight or tighter as it was to anyone else In my life. I knew the sadness of yesterday was heavy on his heart. I had just lost two brothers, and though my grief was great I knew that the loss of a child is worse, much worse. When my brother Sarus died, my father, Alaric, did not weep, but those who knew him said that he had never hurt so badly. Even when my mother died, it was not as bad for him as when Sarus fell. I saw the same thing yesterday in Rorik’s face when he saw his two eldest sons laying dead and broken, their bodies horribly disfigured upon the ground. Rorik was my moot father, and like my birth father he hid his pain well. But I could see it, as clearly as if tears were rolling down his cheeks. Having no children of my own, the burden of his grief was beyond what I could comprehend. Though Skram had never known his children, they had been merely eggs when killed, I knew the pain of their loss likely weighed heavily on his heart. I wanted to help him, but I also had been too busy since the fight with the horror to even deal with my own grief. I thought this was the right time. Skram stood looking over the rail. His eyes were looking to the ground under the ship. I did not know it at the time, but I later learned that he heard me approaching. The sound of my boots and creaking armor gave me away. But Skram showed no sign that he knew of my approach. He was hoping I would pass and leave him to his mood. I clasped Skram on the shoulder for a moment, then stood next to him as we both peered into the breathtaking horizon, the sky a blazing orange as if on fire. “I’m sorry, my friend. I grieve for your loss.” I said quietly. “We all have lost, you as much as I and maybe more.” Skram said quietly. “Your people have lost most of all. From which they may never recover completely.”
I nodded. “My father once told me, after the death of Sarus, my older brother, that a people never recover from any death. They can only accept the loss and move on.”I paused, thinking of my brothers funeral, which I remembered to have the same feeling as that day. He was the heir and a respected leader, like Vargas was to The Reach. I continued my voice even quieter. “I grieve for them all, my moot brothers most of all.” At the thought of Vargas and Elgorn, and Rorik’s pain, a tear rolled down my cheek unchecked. “They are our people, my friend, not just mine.” I blurted this out without thinking. Skram back, shoulder, and arm muscles visibly tightened at the statement. I had meant to try to ease Skram’s pain, not discuss our situation. But I could not take the words back, so I continued, and let the feelings in my heart roll out. My voice was quiet, calm and even in spite of the grief I felt. “I know you do not understand their customs yet, and maybe you will never agree with them entirely, but to those people, you are one of them, as much as I or anyone else. We are viewed as heroes here, and you and I are viewed as leaders, strong personalities who carry weight with our words. Your heroics are admired, especially among the few T’Skrang in the moot. You represent their race and bring them great honor. The people here need unity and decisive action from their leaders… not bickering and division. They need us, now more than ever, to be strong and united.” I spoke from emotion, something I have only done a few times in my life. With Vargas, Elgorn and Zartan now gone, there was a void of leadership under Rorik. The people of the Reach had been hit hard by losses over the last several months, and though none would ever admit it, they were scared. I feared for the future of The Reach. As I thought about those things, I then suddenly understood why Rorik had gone out of his way to reach out to Skram earlier. He had gone so far to win Skram over that it had shocked me at the time. He retrieved Faala, the mother of Skrams child, and had privately reached out to Skram, having pushed the boundaries of troll honor to their limits to earn my friends trust, to no avail. I realized then, with clarity, how much The Heroes of The Unchained meant to the clan. Our very presence reassured them, and made The Reach stronger. “I will not call a group of name givers that enslaved me my people.” “I will never understand a people that will do what they did to Zartan. You know as well as I do that when it comes to horrors sometimes your mind is not your own.” Skram said as he stopped leaning on to the rail and stood to his full height. “Twice now I have been tainted by a horror. Both times it wanted me to do things that I would not normally do. I almost killed a man with my fists and when that did not work I went to get my hammer." Skram’s voice lowered and he shook his head slowly, “I almost hurt Suulin in the process and that is something I will never forgive myself for.” Looking back to his friend Skram said. "You guys did not chop off my tail, blind me, and leave me in to woods to be eaten by whatever came by first.” “You healed me, made me well again, and forgave me for those actions. I will never understand that kind of action the tolls took with Zartan.” Skram lowered his gaze with a slight look of shame on his face, “I have been out of line with Rorik. I do owe him an apology. I have not shown him the respect that his station and circle deserves. I do have an idea of Roriks loss. I feel that I have failed as a parent by not keeping my children safe. One has survived and I will see to it that that child is well cared for. He paused and continued. “I would like to go follow this lead of yours about the staff as soon as we can.” Skram said looking me in the face again. “I can then honor the promise that I made to this place and then I will never have to come back here.” “I’m sorry. I know that is not the answer you are looking for.” Skram looked away and leaned on the railing again, but watched the setting sun. I did not react, I simply nodded. “You are mistaken about that my friend. The answer I am looking for is, and always will be, the honest one.” I looked off in the distance and I remember seeing a Wyvren lazily circling far off, it’s long body a small dark silhouette against the sun. It was a rare site that close to the Reach. “I had hoped that in our grief you and I together could be open and resolve our feelings with regards to this place, and the people. Doing so would heal a rift I fear is forming between us and it would be good, not just for us, but for these people and The Unchained. Is this an agreeable conversation to have? I will understand if you are not ready.” “I’m sorry that you feel that there is a problem between us. You have been a good friend to me.” Skram gave his best attempt at a smile. “We have bled together fighting for what is good and right. I know that the moot has become your people but their ways confuse me.” “I understand, my friend. Though, I do not understand your reaction with regards to Zartan’s fate. He admitted, before the elders, and later in front of us, to making a deal with the horror in exchange for the promise of power. This is much different than being possessed or corrupted against one’s will, like what happened to you and I and others. It was Zartan’s willful betrayal that resulted in the death of your children, my brothers, Rorik’s sons, our men, and countless other good name-givers here.” I shook my head. “I had liked Zartan, but his betrayal is much like what my uncle did that led to the deaths of my father, my brother, and countless other good men. This is why I think Zartan very much deserves his fate. He did it of his own mind, and of his own choice. I will not forgive that. I must admit though, that I would have killed him had it been me, but that would have a short-sited mistake. I see the wisdom in what Rorik did. Zartan is now an example for all name-givers in the moots to see, the fate of treachery. No troll, in the entire moot, no matter how much they lust for power, will risk being a betrayer and face such a fate. Rorik, I am certain, would have preferred to give Zartan his death. Had it just been the two of them, he probably would have. But he had the leadership of the moot to keep in mind. Death would have been too easy. With that in mind, do you see the wisdom in this?” I looked down at the deck and sighed. Mentioning the fate of Zartan, who I had truly liked, my moot brother’s deaths, and Rorik’s hard decision caused me pain. I gritted my teeth. This conversation was more important than the whirlwind of feelings I was having.
Skram started quietly, “If that is the case, that Zartan willingly chose the horror over his people then he deserves to be punished. Punishment was chopping off his horns and sending him out into the world alone with no equipment. Skram came up off of the railing and his voice was loud and angry, “But what Rorik did was not punishment. What he did was a personal vendetta against a defenseless name giver. He ordered the troll’s eyes taken. Then he called it justice.”Skram waved his hands back and forth trying to defuse his anger. “Sorry, I’m not like you. I am T’skrang not a stoic noble man. My emotions are worn on the tip of my tail.”
I smiled a little. “My friend, there is no need to apologize. My emotions are in turmoil just like yours, we just deal with them differently. And I have known many a man born noble who were far less in charge of their emotions than you. You may wear your emotions on your tail, but in my eyes you are one of the noblest name-givers I have known.”Skram nodded to Stilicho, “Thank you my friend. Skram composed himself and went on, “What if the first thing Zartan runs in to is another horror. All he has to do is make another deal and the Reach will have a Powerful Wizard backed by another horror out to get them, so all that Rorik’s justice will have done is made things worse.” I nodded. This was exactly what I had thought, at first. I had brought this up to Rorik after we returned from leaving Zartan by the Kava moot, and I was sure there was no other way. “I have spoken with Rorik about this very thing, and he was told that without his eyes, Zartan’s ability to use magic is gone. Rorik did not want to take his eyes, but had to in order to prevent Zartan from becoming a threat once again. What you say is true, it is still a risk. Now that Zartan is with the Kava Moot, I hope that he chooses to do good with what is left of his life. He has much to atone for. Not only has he betrayed his moot, he has dishonored himself in every way that a troll can.” I gritted my teeth again thinking of the broken, corrupted bodies of my brothers. “You saw what became of Elgorn and Vargas. If they were your sons, would you pity Zartan? I know I would not.” I shook my head remembering the grief that was in Rorik’s face when we spoke. Not just for his sons’ ignoble deaths, but for what he had to do to Zartan. Having been betrayed by someone close to me, I also understood the frustration lying beneath his grief. “No.” Skram shook his head. “I do not want to know that grief. I’m sure I would have given Zartan death. But with the hammer, nothing as clean and easy as an axe to the back of the neck.” Skram leaned back and sat on the railing. Skram was outwardly quiet for a moment, but anyone could see that his mind was not quiet. “You knew Zartan better than I." Skram said to Stilicho. "As I understand he was a powerful Elementalist, what does someone like that gain from working with a horror? I don’t understand how someone could chose to become part of that evil? I shook my head, still in disbelief at the gravity of Zartan’s betrayal. I shook my head. “He was a wizard, and a good one at that. I spoke with him briefly when we flew him to the Kava Moot. He said the horror enhanced his karma and made him much more powerful. He loved the power, and seemed almost proud of it.”
I spat over the rail in disgust.
“If you ask me, I think he must be a touch mad. Because of that, I do not fear him falling under the sway of another horror as much as I worry about him becoming a champion of one of the mad passions.”
I stared out into the sunset. The view was breathtaking. When I spoke again my voice was quiet.
“This is a beautiful place. Do you find it so?
“There is a rugged and wild beauty about this area.” Skram agreed.
Skram was quiet for a moment. There was so much to think about. “May be I was wrong, maybe I judged Rorik to quickly.” Skram said quietly. “I will have to seek guidance from Flourannus to see where the victory is here, as I am having trouble seeing it.” “If it is possible it is my duty to try and lift the spirits of the people here to show them joy and where the victory lies in all of this death and destruction.”
Skram looked back to Stilicho and extended his hand, “Thank you my friend for helping me to clear my head. I need to go meditate on this problem and commune with Flourannus.”
I nodded and smiled. “All of the clansmen will be at the great hall tonight to honor the dead and our victory over the horror that plagued us. I and the rest of the clan would be honored at your presence, but I will understand if you are not ready.
Skram glanced back at me, and nodded. I sincerely hoped he would come to the hall that night. For his sakes as much as for that of the clan. I watched Skram head below deck, and then looked back to the breathtaking view, and I began to once again lose myself in thought.