Gutliem of Garthin Salduk
  
Preface: Gutliem of Garthin Salduk
Part I

         My birth occurred more years ago than I was ever told; not many noticed as the conceiving was only witnessed by the coldness of a gold mine and the staring immorality of a few critics from the lower lines of diggers. My father named me Gutliem after the strongest of his forebears, forgetting, as I have been told, to bless me with a family surname. His intentions remain pure, though, seeing as he wished vigor and acumen upon my core and did not want a soul to ever question my feeble background. Yet, shadows linger with its caster, and my destiny never frightened me.
         I am unsure if I had a pleasant childhood; inklings of coal, gold, and friendly dwarven features flickering about my mind may indicate that perhaps I did, but my early disinterest for any knowledge of past ruled over all memories. Hearsay taught me my health constantly interfered with the daily routines of my family, and today my neck still carries an amulet of Light Blessing, paired with long scars along my back as punishment for the untimely disease epochs. Poor tolerance and unruly anger has forever embraced my lineage. My father, a miner with the lesser creatures, fell from a long line of nobles and unto nothingness. There he met my mother, a woman of pubs and passions I choose to ignore, and after many futile attempts to keep fruits of their fervor alive I became the tenth and only son. I am Gutliem of the sleepless mountains of Garthin Salduk; the son of miner Pebnold Mef and pleasant Alina of Darlumborg. They have likely forgotten my existence after this myriad of years, and I cannot say I dredge up much of their features, but their names yet roam in my head.
         Garthin Salduk is nothing but a small village built on a woody slope between the disparaged, yet gold infected Lonf Mountains. Its geography favors life-forms, blessed with the smooth chant of Porplet, the only river crossing the continent of Koraima. Nearby we lodged, sojourning in higher grounds whenever luck would bless us with quality metal findings. Yet, I wish not to speak of my past, for it is as blurry as a full night of Golem Ale. I very much remember the day of my departure, though. My hopes were to seek fame, learn from every worthy profession and surround myself in wealth. Then, if successful, likely become a greedy fellow with disloyal men and bounty hunters lurking through the night awaiting the right chance to seize and behead me. These secret fantasies pushed me to adulthood, perhaps only pieces of old evil stories told by the ancient but very stimulating and their reality solid as steel. Garthin Salduk, in my opinion, was a place for dwarves and not humans. It righteously earned the title of The Breezeless Valley, and for such irony the annoyingly calm nature of its habitants should be thanked. Thus I left heading east, leaving my brash life behind along with the gnarled cluster some called my family.
         In Deverkon an eventless, quiet day is unheard of. It is the mother of thief guilds and deceit; it is where the human soul dies and fist-sized stones supplant its place. No one knows if a king ever ruled from a Deverkonian throne or whom they render taxes to; the races, submerged in their own motives and power struggle have ignored such details. A gripped sword rules the acre one man defends; the blade of his aiding brethren makes it two acres, and expansion simply becomes a matter of the length of a weapon.
         Deverkonia is the biggest of the cities, its population inevitably exceeding its own half with every passing year. Controlled by the Deverkon Knights and ruled by a forgotten ideal, neutrality becomes hard to impose and the ways to achieve it often contradict its essence.
         Its geography varies as the temper of a drow. Dwarves inhabit the rough mountains, the sprightly ones on the hills and more dedicated to the non-elemental commerce. The characteristically aloof mountain dwarves frequent nowhere but their lands -this treat is responsible for the precious quality of their weaponry, which becomes increasingly difficult to obtain since only handfuls are seen at a time when caravans strut through bigger cities to negotiate with their urban relatives. The town dwarves, although very distant from any elf derivate, are not as socially raw and untamed.
         Elves and halflings seem to avoid Deverkon. Hostility towards weaker races is taught to young men in early classes, seeding their hearts with the unquestionable knowledge that anything smaller or thinner than themselves is not worthy of challenges, thus yielding abusive behavior. I have witnessed the submission of a smaller creature or two with the arm power of double their opponent, but race conflicts tend to expand a bit quicker than wind and this is understood by all locals and expert travelers. It certainly seemed insane upon my arrival, until I found myself involved in its food chain, where I found my place and somehow understood the place of others.
         Peace, although remote, only reigns within the walls of the Sha Inn, building blessed by the Goddess of Magecraft herself. To my amusement the commoners rejoiced to this fact; the fighters, mages, and sneaky races from lower planes found warmth in the blood-drenched land. My days flew by hiding behind the discomfort of a few walls behind the Inn, often enjoying beautiful bar wenches and the strongest ale I have ever tried.
         My room was no cozier than the nest of a rat, but my impaired judgment when bedtime came along did not let me reflect on such details. My neighbor, Aldori Pres't, had a more much comfortable dwelling, permanently congested with upper class frauds and women in charge of expensive pleasures. I can count with my right hand the number of times I had an uninterrupted night of sleep. The permanent dark bags surrounding my eyes were loyal proof, but my will and might remained that of the poor: empty and soaked in trepidation. These events were usually concluded by a deafening shriek and the agonizing scream of a patron or two, followed by loud footsteps and nervous voices that drowned the drunken affronts of the offensive party. The stench of blood would normally creep through my window, adorned by the noise -all, of course, more overpowering than a convocation of red dragons. When morning finally arrived a terrible headache would punish me; still, I had to scour pieces of humans, all remaining of the macabre feasts my neighbor would host and then dispose of on my property. Nearly a year elapsed, and nothing I did about it.
         Eventually I grew tired of the cleaning routine at the break of day. I retired from removing bodily pieces from the tiny patch of lawn before my door. Instead, I would shoot my obtuse neighbor casual glances to receive acknowledgement, always obtaining the same result: none. Not long after surrendering the cleaning habit my house began to reek of decaying matter, and a few rats of considerable size moved in to give me company, eating what little bit of food I had and reducing to rubble the leather Inn mugs. Countless times upon waking up I unintentionally squeezed to death a wandering rat seeking food inside my boots. Their weak flesh, not thick enough to efficiently hide the pointy bones, would often puncture the sole of my feet leaving them swollen for weeks -I spent more gold visiting Solder, the only cleric in Deverkon, than I earned at the smith-shop. My skin became of a purplish tone, festooned with yellow lumps covering my chest and sides, cascading down to my arms and thighs. Pain took over my life, limiting my work to a few daggers a day, significantly reducing my drinking and progressively increasing terrible mood swings. With time I gathered enough strength to remove the pieces of corpses from my lawn and onto Aldori's, the man responsible for my illness. Soon after my act of courage the wastes were gone; his wealth hired a few men to do the bid. A strong hatred towards him took over my soul, and both my secret desires to see him vanished and illness built a new mentality... a darker version of myself; a monster I decided to enjoy, feed, and use.
         As soon as my feet allowed me to walk I commenced an incessant hunt for a second profession, but not one was ready to take a plagued man under the wing. Although my feet were in better conditions, the lumps on my body had scabbed terribly. The black crust had entirely covered the flesh in my extremities, barely permitting my fingers to move, causing the production of weapons to be slower and Mortari Tempestir, the owner, a dwarf of horrid manners and even worse language, displayed very little tolerance towards me.
         'Gutliem! Ye be slower thanne me muther! From twenty swords a day ye be making but ten daggers, and nay of good quality! Where be me money? Gutliem... me will nay take ye fer longer', were all I heard throughout my miserable hours at the sizzling shop. I must divulge as a weapon smith my gold pot did not cram at the proper speed, yet I silently worked for eighteen daily hours. Patience had dissolved, and I had grown oblivious to anxiety.
         A rat the magnitude of a domestic dog roused me one morning. It laid next to me, quietly masticating the scabs on my right hand. At first I did not move, curiously observing its doings, slightly disgusted but highly fascinated by its refined skills, seeming as if shredding the foul skin could serve as its regular meal. Slowly I reached for a fine, slim dagger that watches my sleep from the bedside table. The rat detected my move, sharing the ghastly intimacy of a glare, its frightening red eyes on my amused ones, but it did not stop nor repositioned. Instead it viciously bit my flesh; I responded by driving the dagger into its skull, twisting the blade with applied strength until the hilt could go no further. I remained in that position for what felt like a long time, daze submerged and dotted vision. It was unknown to me why the brutal sudden shudders of the perishing animal gave me such bliss. The smell and sight of the trickling blood about my hand complimented my excitement, feeling absolutely no pain although the depth of the hole could freeze the blood of most commoners indeed. Upon washing and wrapping the wound with the remaining of an old cloth shirt I headed to the smith-shop, my body still trembling and my own thoughts astonishing me.
         From afar I caught a glimpse of the awaiting Mortari Tempestir by the front door; judging by his tapping foot and steady gaze facing my way I knew the dwarf had a few words to club me with. I stood in front of him, staring down for a few seconds, scathingly studying his tightly clenched jaw, hidden behind a horde of thick, grayish hair. The low quality helm covered over half of his forehead, lounging about his bulky brow, granting him the trendy evil glare of Deverkon. I was too familiar with the unanimous hostility of the damned town, thus I walked inside the shop without speaking a single word. I heard low rumbles behind me, followed by a spine crashing thump and a clash of metals. He had locked the door.
         "Ye be late! I grow tired of ye! I shall degut ye with me own hands, human!" His words stroke my ears like a warhammer, seeping into my brain and embracing its every legit obscure thought. Driving the strapped hand to the hilt my hand met my blade with fuming strength, turning and unsheathing the thin sword, might raising my full frame. With the speed of a thunder the smooth edge of the weapon slid through the exposed neck of the dwarf, easily separating the weak flesh and staining my white shirt with spurting blood.
         I observed his eyes, watching me ajar in terror and perplexity, petrified of the knowledge that every faint blink could be its last. Shaking uncontrollably his hands clutched the lethal laceration, shifting them to my legs as his knees hit the ground. I saw death in his pupils, which frightened me abysmally and immobilized my soul; his grasp still felt strong around my pants, adorned by a fading, appalling voice spoiled with countless beads of reddened saliva spraying ubiquitously. I did not stare for longer, gathering enough strength to quickly pull back and bolt a kick towards his bleeding neck. I must admit the thud of my foot against the breaking gullet made me feel safer; it even granted me a sensation of thrill. Once the lifeless body plummeted on the ground I tossed the sword next to it, pressing my soiled heel against its face until the squared jaw shattered. Pieces of teeth flew in a thousand directions; I was now sure his life had stopped.
         Without hesitation I ran towards the wooden box where the dwarf kept the daily earnings, emptying it in my own pouch. Mad man! What good wealth and how repulsively low my salary! No use frowning, now every piece of gold had swapped owners. I feel a deep loathe for mages in general, but I ought to show them my appreciation sometime before my end for conceiving Bags of Holding. My own was a family treasure, and my father had given it to me on the day Garthin Salduk saw me depart. Now, to the pride of some of my ancestors, it held a significant amount of sullied gold.
         By noon the bag of gold was well hidden amongst rocks on a close-by rivulet, where no common eye would seek or wander. The turbulent waters seemed enchanted; enclosed in mountains the currents exceeded that of the ocean. The sun stroke with enough power to melt a rock, bouncing on the water and launching viciously against my eyes. A sudden movement caught my eye; I turned, looking down the stream to catch a glimpse of two small creatures. Judging by their speed and reduced height I guessed them halflings. Behind them a mounted group galloped, apparently chasing the two at a teasingly moderate pace. A dark flag rouse over the head of the first horseman; I ducked, very well aware of my fate if I did not. My lungs only inhaled the necessary during the following moments, and they seemed to completely stop functioning when a wave of wet sand showered me, indicating the closeness of the knights and their targets.
         The heavy panting of the halflings briefly reached my ears before being consumed by the heavy stomping of hooves. From my shelter the sight was clear; one of the halflings had a vast gash on his bare back, yet he ran avidly, terror dominating his facial features. The horsemen followed their step at an equivalent speed; this I thought a form of punishment since the speed of a Deverkon darkhorse could effortlessly thrash the wind. At last the flag flourished satiating my curiosity; the black fabric hosted a golden shield crossed by two black roses, but I could not clearly see its engravings. The depicted stems were held in the jaws of two black dragons stancing loyally on either side of the shield. This symbol was widely known throughout Koraima; it represented the Knighthood of the Thorn. Their Keep I had seen numerous times from afar during my journeys through Fel'Boldo, the forest surrounding Deverkon, and the majestic sight never ceased to amaze me. The walls surrounding the towers glimmered pure evil, at all times guarded by countless flocks of winged demons. Hungry lava blockaded any entrance other than the bridge, screaming merciless and lapping the walls with reddened tongues of flame. Full battalions patrolled the road to it; in my opinion a tiny butterfly would not make its entrance unnoticed. A heart stopping, yet interesting experience every time.
         The leading Thorn finally raised his weapon, pointing at the running halflings. I witnessed a knight quickly draw his bow, knocking an arrow with one swift motion, finding itself on the neck of the creature a few heartbeats later. Two more arrows followed that one, posing accurately on the head of the second prey, plunging loudly on the water. In unison the knights dismounted their respective brutes and surrounded the bodies; the head cavalryman knelt, grasping the soaked hair of the dead halflings. The script on the blade was almost invisible due to the distance, but judging by its size it must have been a Dora greatsword; this surprised me considering the weight of such atrocious weapon exceeded that of two longswords, and this man seemed to handle it with much ease and grace. A strident cry broke the silence like glass; the greatsword simultaneously stormed down in one effective slash to behead both bodies.
         The word 'Xoldor' echoed throughout the valley, reaching the mountains and diving in the sweet waters of Porplet. 'The God of Chaos', I thought, falling on my back in revulsion. A rock stopped my head from landing safe, causing my surroundings to spin and slowly blur. My eyes closed, disoriented, for not longer than twenty seconds.
         'Awake, foolish man!' To this command my body reacted as expected; hundreds of muscles launched me to the sitting position, reaching for the dagger well hidden about my boots. I felt my skin slightly wet, clothes quickly absorbing the moisture of a recent splash of water. My hand successfully located the hilt of the weapon, yet my head still faced down. Despite many grueling attempts to reposition my neck I could only move my eyes and lips, yet my throat was sealed shut, not letting but moans wander out. Both of my arms subsequently regained feeling, revealing the sense of a million needles piercing my flesh. Something pressed against my neck, or so I thought, for there was a touch however slightly. I felt a drop fall on my shoulder; the sound was oddly loud, too loud. It immediately started racing down my chest until it reached my stomach, where I was able to see it. It ran past my waist and unto my crotch, where it deviated to the soaked ground. It was thick, foul smelling, red. It was blood.
         Baffled, I had forgotten about the voice until it spoke again. "How do ye fare?" I did not reply nor could, but blinked repeatedly. I knew very well whoever spoke could not see this. Memories of Mortari Tempestir, the mounting Thorn knights, and the beheading came back to mind. The voice continued. "My blade lays on yer neck, and it be considerably deep if ye ask me. Ye hae seen the blood yeself. If even a feeble wind blows it will shift my stance, causing the blade to cut through. Only thanne shall ye see the tip of Cremator, my greatsword, emerge from yer throat. Care tae find out? If nae, I suggest ye remove yer hand from the boot, fellow. We Thorn Knights fear daggers." If I had the opportunity to cut my own throat I would have upon hearing such words, but my body betrayed me pitiless, not obeying any command. A deeper voice spoke then; its tone was imperative.
         "Greetings, commoner. I am Sir Henkar, Duke Knight of the Thorn. Ye saw us behead two White Roses, and if ye wonder why ye still breathe I shall answer. Goffl, remove yer sword from the fellow." I felt a screeching noise about my neck, causing me a great deal of pain. Letting go of the dagger I coiled around my own knees, not daring to look up. My hand nervously searched for the wound; two fingers went in further than expected, faintly touching the bare spine. Distressed as never before I embraced my knees even tighter, loathing the knights for marking me with such disturbing lesion. The one under the name of Goffl spoke again, "I do not hear ye thank the Duke, commoner. Before I change my mind, why do ye not do so?" I nodded and managed to let out inaudible sounds. Goffl laughed, halting as soon as Henkar moved in closer to me.
         "Do not thank me. I perceived yer smell from afar; ye wear the blood of a dwarf, aye?" I limited myself to slowly move my head from side to side. "O', what aroma reaches my nose, thanne? Mistake me not for a Rose or yer tender mother, commoner. I shan't chastise ye fer crimes, and unless ye cannot see past yer idiocy you witnessed something different at this, yer post. Did ye rid a dwarf of its life?" The man knelt as I nodded positively, hesitation swallowing me whole. "May our Lord Xoldor grant ye dark slumbers and a powerful might, commoner. Ye do the Thorn a favor by ridding the londe of lesser creatures. We hae no patience fer such task, and rarely the spare time. Walk away and finish yer bid, fer I know ye came here with other purposes thanne bathing or enjoying the sun." I felt him place an object by my feet before rising.
         The many departing metal boots returned to their horses. I shifted my weight to favor a view of the men, catching a glimpse of the leader, who must have been Sir Henkar. He granted me a nod.
         As usual, no costumers would reach our doors between the noon and evening hours; most of the punters would purchase the bladed weaponry during the morning and the dueling hour, midnight. I sat on the inert body of the dwarf, with perfect patience peeling my scabs. Lord Ankaler must have had his blessings casted on me, for no part of the process caused me the faintest of pains. A few self-inflicted cuts over my body and the hideous conditions of my peeled arms and chest would make the wisest of mages believe the incident was but a robbery, thus I smiled and plunged atop the all ready reeking body. I remained in that position for hours, slowly losing blood from my open wounds and listening to every drop become louder, mixing with the fluids of the dwarf. I designed stories in my head. Numerous! My mind ignored its sanity and created monsters of dwarven blood stepping on my weak body. Various voices interrupted my torture, indicating the presence of a nearby minute crowd. A set of screeching hums jutted from my mouth, sounding as legit as a dying ancient. My head remained clear as a few men with torches made their way in, finding the body of Mortari lifeless and mine dreadfully injured, covering half the dwarf. A standby poured tepid water in my mouth, offering me words of support in a very low tone. The bawls of a woman shattered the dull silence... her voice was hoarse yet feminine; it was that of a dwarf.

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Jhon BWraith
Short Story
Fantasy
writing Jhon BWraith
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Rating: 7.5/10

Synopsis
Gutliem is an unsatisfied man who will take you through an unforgettable journey. Tune in soon for Chapter 1!
A Word from the Writer
The first few introductory paragraphs are still very raw -please, bear with me as I break them down and incorporate them fully to the story.
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