Hallsassring’s Journey: The Story of a Nossring

Chapter 6: A Walk to the Park

Shwolan of the Zweyjen race

To her surprise, Hallsassring discovered Shwolan to be good company. He knew Tarnath well and its inhabitants even better, and he was happy to talk about it all in great detail. Hallsassring appreciated the avalanche of information. The more she knew, the better were her chances of saving Alliss and inflicting vengeance on those who took her.

Shwolan frequently interrupted his strolling soliloquy to nod to a passerby or stop for a quick conversation. Hallsassring was amazed at how effortlessly, and consistently, polite he could be, and how carefully deferential folk were to him. They always gave him a respectful bow, which Shwolan returned, but never quite as deep. She also noticed the eyes that flitted past him to take her in. Everyone seemed curious to know who this stranger was that Shwolan had at his side.

He did not introduce her during any of these encounters; however, after the conversation had concluded he would often provide Hallsassring a quick rundown on those they he had just met. He was careful to be polite, and complimentary; no gossip or untoward tales. However, he frequently included their place in Tarnath’s society, a subject that seemed very important to him.

As the two of them continued their stroll, the streets changed. Where they had first met (a neighborhood Shwolan called the Western District) the streets had been rough and dirty, as if the soil from the nearby farms was slowly  invading its neighbor, leaving its dark brown smudges on its buildings and a covering of thick dust the cobblestone streets.

The streets quickly became cleaner and more polished. Where earlier there had been butchers, fishmongers, smithies, and coopers, there were now weavers, clothiers, bakers, and fancy pastry shops. When they stepped in front of one of the more elegant clothing stores Shwolan excused himself and slipped through its front door. In a few minutes he returned carrying a package wrapped in light brown paper and string.

“Just a small something I am picking up for my sister,” he said, before Hallsassring could ask. She just nodded her acknowledgement, but knew there was more to the story than what Shwolan had offered.

A few doors down Shwolan pointed to a tidy, old stone building and told Hallsassring that this was a part of the ancient, original town. He explained that long ago Tarnath had been only a small, insignificant village here in the Sessmaryth Valley, and that it became something much larger due to the ambitions of an ancient ruler named Samron. The instant Hallsassring heard that name she spat on the ground and cursed. “Monster!” she cried, loud enough to be heard by those nearby.

Shwolan stopped, shocked by her unexpected eruption.

Hallsassring was equally surprised by her loss of composure and her inappropriate outburst. The Nossring Nation had known Samron’s savagery and his lust for power only too well. Even now, centuries after his downfall, his name was an obscenity on the tongue of every nossing.

She looked into Shwolan’s eyes and said to him, “His crimes cannot be forgiven, and I will not apologize for cursing that name!” She could see an understanding grow in Shwolan’s eyes and perhaps even approval.

Returning to his usual imperturbable self Shwolan reacted in a calming tone, “You are not wrong, my friend. We can call him nothing less than a ‘monster’ for what he did. For the atrocities he committed against your kingdom and mine, and so many others.” He leaned down closer to Hallsassring’s ear and in a softer voice he whispered a warning, “There are those, however, even on these civilized streets, who look back with fondness on the Tyrant.” Looking closely at her he added, “I am not one of them.”

As quickly as he had spoken that confidence, Shwolan righted himself. Several massive creatures were approaching and had hailed him. He instantly transformed himself into his charming, gregarious self and left Hallsassring’s side hailing them with a chipper salutation.

Hallsassring was still upset by the mention of the ancient Tyrant Samron, and so was not paying complete attention to the creatures with whom Shwolan was talking. A quick glance, though, told her they were of the Human race. Three of them. Nothing out of the ordinary, though they were well-dressed.

Her mind was still filled with the atrocities committed by Samron as she had learned in her youth. His hunger for power and willingness to do anything to achieve it. He had hunted down and destroyed entire races of folk and many creatures of the world. The worst, of course, was his decimation of parts of the Nossring Nation. The suffering that Samron inflicted on the Nossring had not been as horrific as what he had done to others, but it was nonetheless severe and the memory of it lasting.

Hallsassring pushed away these thoughts. She must stay focused, she told herself, and must not allow herself to be distracted.

She turned toward the group that Shwolan was talking to. Several dwarves had joined the discussion and the volume increased noticeably. She was just sizing them up, focusing on what they wore and how they spoke, when Shwolan conveyed his good-byes and returned to her.

“Folk who work at the City Council,” was all that Shwolan offered in the way of explanation. He seemed reluctant to say more, and changed the topic to some of the unusual architecture in this part of the city.

They walked and talked for a while longer, and the tour resumed its casual tenor. Before long, though, Shwolan delicately turned the conversation back to the ancient Emperor, not using his name this time. He glanced at Hallsassring to gauge her reaction, and seeing that she remained unperturbed he continued.

“You clearly know the story of this evil…” he hesitated, “…creature. As we all know he nearly came to dominate the entirety of our beloved Tamarran Continent.”

Hallsassring nodded in assent, and remained staring ahead. This seemed sufficient for Shwolan who went on. “And, of course, we all know that he was the one who established the Central Guilds to control all Tamarran folk, by misusing the abilities of the Guild Channels to manipulate and control the Six Energies. Most folk know this. What is not as well-known is that he also had a very special house built, here in Tarnath, for each of the Guilds, and he arranged that they would all be built in the same area of the city, the place we call Guild Square.”

At this Hallsassring glanced at her walking companion. “I knew that the Guilds were allied with him and that they did his bidding,” she said, steadying her voice. “I also knew that he had houses built for them. They were to provide a place where the Guild members might live, under his control. It must have been very expensive to provide such a luxury to his obedient servants.” Her animosity started to show as her voice started to tremble as she finished.

“A life of luxury certainly helped him gain the loyalty of the Guild Channels; however, that was not the main purpose of these Guild Houses,” replied Shwolan.

Hallsassring tried to interrupt, but Shwolan held up his hand and resumed.

“Yes, the construction was indeed elaborate, and it was indeed excessively luxurious.” He paused for effect. “The more important purpose, however, was for each house to serve as an Energetic fortress. The eloquence served to disguise, and so hide, their various Energetic weapons and guards. The armaments of each of house, of course, corresponded to their type of Energy: Emotion Energy for Charismatics Guild; Mental Energy for Mentarchs; Body Energy for the Somans Guild; Physic Energy for Evokers; Spirit Energy for the Mystics; and, of course, Shadow Energy for the Umbrists. Some of the defenses were a part of the construction of the building itself. Other powerful artifacts were inside the houses. Some were hidden in plain sight and others were simply hidden. Some are known to those of us who study these matters. Many, though, are closely guarded secrets known only to the highest ranking, and most powerful, members of each Guild. And, we suspect, though this is only a guess, that there are many that have been forgotten even by their own Guilds.”

Just as he finished describing this bit of history, the two turned a corner to find themselves at the edge of a large open plaza. There, before them, was the Guild Square that Shwolan had just introduced. His timing was impeccable.

The Square was awe-inspiring in its beauty. Six streets converged around a large hexagonal park that formed the spacious center of their intersection. The park was filled with a panoply of flowers and trees, and in its center was an immense statue of six figures, dressed in great flowing robes and holding what looked like devices of power and, no doubt, prestige.

From where they were standing Hallsassring had a clear view of the entire square, and, judging from the distinct architecture of each house, it was not hard to guess which one belonged to which Guild.

The sight was overwhelming, and Shwolan was clearly pleased to see how struck Hallsassring was by the grandeur that lay before her.

“Yes, it is the most beautiful place in any city of the Tamarran Continent,” he said. “Even finer than any of the architectural wonders of Naldrin City and there are many such wonders in that place.”

Hallsassring looked over at Shwolan. He was not looking at her. His gaze was fixed on the square. Though she could not see it, her innocent response had renewed his own sense of wonder.

Shwolan sighed, and looking down at Hallsassring he announced, “Here is where we part, my new friend. My destination is there beyond the Square,” he said, pointing to a place on the opposite side of the wide hexagon. “And, yours is just down this street.” He pointed to the street to their right. “You cannot miss it. It is well-marked and you will see many folk who are, like you, making their way there.”

Before Hallsassring could respond, Shwolan inserted his farewell. “Hallsassring, I have found you to be a good listener, a talent whose benefits are not always appreciated.” She got the feeling he had experience with this. “I am sure that we will see each other again. Until then, enjoy your time in our great city, and may good fortune walk with you.” He gave a short, courteous bow which Hallsassring returned with her thanks for serving as his guide.

He waved that off as if it was nothing of consequence, and proceeded with a final thought, “If you like, you are welcome to mention my name to Bill. You might find that helpful, and so might Bill.”

With that, and a last elegant bow, Shwolan departed.

Hallsassring watched as he walked away, tirelessly greeting many of the folk he passed.

She then turned to her own destination. It had been an interesting day and there was still more to come. Much more.

Hallsassring’s Journey: The Story of a Nossring

Chapter 5: The Streets of the City

The Streets of Tarnath

Hallsassring covered the final leg of her journey to Tarnath without incident. When she stepped onto the smooth stone of the city’s streets, she knew she had officially arrived.

The buildings were packed closely together, often without a gap between one and the next, forming a strange arrangement of short and tall, wide and narrow. The street ran roughly straight, spilling into a crowded intersection with two other streets, and then continuing on at a strange angle. A tall building across from her looked as if it had once been elegant and imposing, but was now weary from years of neglect.

The sounds and smells of the city bombarded her senses. The odors were foreign to her and, for the most part, disagreeable. They filled her nose as a single, jumbled assault, making it hard to single out their individual sources. She paused for a moment to focus: stale bread, freshly-caught fish, foreign flowers, an unpleasant mix of wines and ales, and an abundance of sweat from the many strange creatures who passed her by. She coughed and realized that she had been overly diligent in her olfactory investigation. A stiff pinch of her nose stopped the attack, at least for a while.

The sounds were just as alien. There were many voices speaking in a variety of tongues; some shouted, some whispered, others just grunts and groans. She detected several conversations in Sessym, the common tongue of the Northern half of the Tamarran Continent. Too many to follow. Underneath it all was an uninterrupted background of city sounds: the claps and creaks of doors, hard boots trudging along stone streets, hammers and other tools echoing against walls and door frames, and a constant clatter of wooden wheels over stone streets.

As Hallsassring continued down the street, a stranger walked up to her thrusting a broad smile into her view. The eyes belonged to a human male, who was wearing a long white apron. He smelled of flour and yeast, and held a basket filled with something she could not identify.

“Bread?” he cried out to her, “Finest in the city!” The voice was one part entreaty, another part enticing, held together with a softly commanding tone urging her to nod in assent.

“Fresh! Made it myself just this morning.” He produced a long, light brown loaf from a basket. The aroma of fresh grain poked her nose. It smelled good. In fact, it smelled very good. It also provided the unintended benefit of blotting out the other odors of the street.

“Last loaves of the day! Half price for you, my friend!” He was eager to make the sale. However, Hallsassing was still full from her ample mid-day feast.

“I thank you but no,” was her response, being careful to decline politely.

The baker was disappointed, but hid it well. “There’ll be more tomorrow. Stop by then!” and he turned toward the next unwary pedestrian.

Relieved, Hallsassring steered herself back toward the middle of the street to avoid further encounters. As she looked ahead, she noticed a group of strange beings making their way through the crowds in her direction. She could tell that they were Crawn, another of the Ten Races of Tamarra. According to her instructors,  the crawn were a snake-like folk but with two legs and two arms. Their bodies were lithe and sinuous, and their wide mouths showed fangs and a long snake-like tongue, in a face framed by a wide, scaled hood. Their walk had a hypnotizing flow, a combination of their bodies’ graceful contours and their proud swagger. This group looked like soldiers, which was in keeping with what she’d been taught about this militant race.

Hallsassring wanted to avoid an encounter so she veered to her right, but when she did the Crawn leader moved in her direction. She moved to the left, but again the Crawn changed course so their paths would cross. He seemed eager to intercept her. She could not imagine why, but she would not back away from a challenge and picked up her pace to close the distance more quickly.

When they were only a few yards away the Crawn leader halted, and his companions immediately did the same. He called out, “I don’t recognize you, stranger,” and raised his hand in command for her to stop.

“Nor I you,” retorted Hallsassring after taking one more step to stand directly in front of him.

The Crawn leader was not pleased with her response. “We are those who keep the peace in Tarnath. Name yourself and your kind,” the leader replied.

“Your manners leave much to be desired,” Hallsassring retorted. “You should consider correcting your deficit, and while you do, I will continue to walk the streets as I please.”

This was more provocation than the Crawn was willing to tolerate. He spat out a series of indecipherable hissing sounds and drew his sword. 

Drawing a long knife from her boot, Hallsassring set her stance and prepared for battle.

She saw a smile of satisfaction from the leader. “You will learn that defiance is met with justice when you stand in front of the Szaskar Crawn Protectors of Tarnath. Now you will taste the…”

“Zesskess, well met!” A new voice interrupted. It was a voice that the Crawn recognized and he hesitated in his advance as a figure walked forward from the side of the street.

This creature was elegantly dressed, with the many colors of their clothes matching the iridescent hues of their scaly skin. Their body was marked by elaborate fins and other fish-like features.

“Perhaps I may be of service?” They now stood directly between the two antagonists.

It was a Zweyjen, another of the Ten Races that Hallsassring had learned so much about. It would seem this day abounded with learnings about these ten most powerful races on Tamarra.

Without removing his eyes from Hallsassring, Zesskess responded, “Nothing that need concern you, Counselor.” He spat out that last word reluctantly and with an unmistakable scorn. “Just a stranger in town who seems to be a trouble-maker. We can handle this matter.”

Before Zesskess could move, the newcomer turned toward Hallsassring and, with a courteous bow, spoke.

“Greetings, stranger. My name is Shwolan, and I am a member of Tarnath’s City Council. Allow me to welcome you to our magnificent metropolis where a lone wanderer is met with interest and civility.” There was a crispness to this Zweyjen’s speech, and it seemed unmistakably comfortable– the kind of comfort that arises from privilege and rank.

Hallsassring was disarmed by this unexpected courtesy, and she lowered her knife slightly.

Shwolan continued in his deliberately casual manner, “If I am not mistaken, you are a Nossring? They are a noble folk. Would my assumption be true, stranger?”

Shwolan’s careful, practiced diplomacy had Hallsassring uncertain of how best to react to this dramatic change in circumstances.

“It would,” she said. Deciding that decorum would be her best choice for now, she pulled herself to her full height and returned the Zweyjen’s bow. “I am Hallsassring and I have come to this fair city from my home deep in the Rimmel Mountains. I thank you for your courtesy, Counselor Shwolan.” She could see that the Zweyjen was impressed.

“You have good manners, Hallsassring.” He looked at the Nossring with great curiosity and seemed impressed with her confidence.

“In my experience,” he said, turning toward Zesskess, “trouble-makers would not be as polite as this.”

Zesskess stiffened but before he could reply, Shwolan continued, “I believe the situation is in hand now, Zesskess, thank you.” With that and a slight wave of his hand the Crawns were dismissed.

Zesskess made no attempt to hide his fury and, with a suffered nod of compliance, strode away with his troops stiffly following.

“She is well-meaning,” said Shwolan. Hallsassring turned toward the Zweyjen who continued, “She is, after all, a Crawn. A good leader and bold. They are good enforcers of law and order, but can be somewhat inflexible at times.”

The Counselor moved on, “May I ask, Hallsassring, where in the Nossring lands you come from?”

Hallsassring hesitated. For the second time today her instinct for privacy warred with her need for allies. The decision was made when she realized that she was in Shwolan’s debt because of the aid he had just given her. “I am from Merring City, the capital of the Nossring Kingdom.”

Shwolan interrupted before she could say more. “Ah, yes, nice! I know Merring City. I visited many years ago.” Hallsassring got the impression that ‘visited’ did not include ‘was impressed by’.

“Of course Tarnath will be very different from what you are accustomed to in your lands. There is a great variety of folk in our fair city, and, of course, the press of so many will be much greater than what you would encounter in Merring City. And, of course, there is the grandeur of the city itself.”

Suddenly realizing where they were, Shwolan added, “Though this part of the city does not have the elegance of other sections..”

“No matter,” Shwolan said, quickly changing the subject. “May I ask if you are looking for any particular place here in Tarnath?”

Hallsassring was not sure why, but there was something about Shwolan that she liked.  “I am trying to find a place called Bill’s Bar. I have…”

Before she could finish her sentence, Shwolan swept his staff into the air and with a grand smile interrupted, “Of course! Why would you seek any other establishment!” He seemed not to have noticed his mild rudeness, or had no need to care (perhaps both). “I am headed that way just now, and would be happy to be your guide.” He paused, and seeing Hallsassring’s hesitation, added, “With your permission, of course.” Hallsassring got the impression that Shwolan was unaccustomed to asking for anyone else’s approval.

She appreciated the offer and admitted to herself that it would be helpful to have a guide and companion, especially one who seemed to know the city well.

“You are most generous, Counselor Shwolan, thank you. I gladly accept your kind offer.”

Shwolan was visibly pleased. Pointing his staff eastward he announced, “This is the way!”

As Shwolan led them forward Hallsassring discovered how pleased she was to have a companion, which in turn reminded her how much she missed her true companion, Alliss. “Soon I will find you,” she thought to herself, hoping it would be true.

Hallsassring’s Journey: The Story of a Nossring

Chapter 4: The Dust of the Road

Hallsassring’s Journey: A Vision From Far Away, Long Ago

As she continued her march to the city, Hallsassring found herself refreshed and eager for the next encounter. The good food and cheerful company of a kind family had removed much of her weariness. She even found herself enjoying the warm sunlight, which surprised her, given that its dry heat was so different from the cool damp she was used to at home.

She noticed that the farms around her were getting smaller and closer to each other. Soon they gave way to houses and sheds on parcels of land barely larger than the houses themselves. The outline of the city loomed ahead of her and she was struck by its size. The prospect of being surrounded by so many buildings and folk was daunting, but not enough to disturb her current contentment.

Earlier she had been the lone traveler on the road, but now there were many folk and a great variety of them. She was particularly struck by a band of massive bull-like creatures marching steadily toward the city.They must be Ushen, another of the great Ten Races of the Tamarran Continent.

She had just been passed by several wagons when she felt a sense of unease, a twist in her gut that did not come from anything she saw or heard. She was familiar with the sensation: all Nossring possessed an ability to sense when something was out of place or unnatural in the world around them. It was an instinct as ancient as the race of Nossring themselves — a perception she trusted as much as her eyes or ears. 

She scanned her surroundings, looking for the cause of the disquieting perception, but it revealed nothing. As she strolled forward the feeling grew stronger and her unease turned into dread. Something was out there, unseen, always just outside the corner of her eye. It was dark and foul, and it was powerful; and she knew that it had noticed her and was following her as she walked.

Her judgment told her not to stop or slow down so she pushed ahead, ever watchful of her surroundings. As her next step slapped against the hard stone road, a powerful image invaded her mind. It was a vision of danger, of an imminent impending battle. The memory did not belong to her but she could not tell to whom it belonged.

She shuddered as her mind, unbidden, showed her an ancient cavern, deep under a mountain. She realized that she was looking through another being’s eyes, peering into the darkness of the chamber. Her foes were not far away, but they had not yet noticed her so she had the advantage.

A gray mist slowly wrapped itself around the tall, thin body she occupied. The mist was strangely substantial: thick, almost viscous, it clung to her skin. She could touch it and even, she knew, control it.

Then the fog around her took shape, transforming into a flinty gray shaft. It burned with power, and she was the source of that power. She folded the light between her fingers, feeling the immense force that lay curled in her hand. Malice consumed her, a hatred deep and ancient that would only be satisfied by slaughter and the subjugation of any who might stand in her way.

Suddenly, she realized that her enemies had become aware of her. There were two of them, and she could sense them bringing forth their own sources of power to resist hers. A light grew from each opponent and penetrated the cavern’s darkness. One of her foes conjured a verdant green light from one hand and a solid, unwavering purple from the other. From the other foe came a separate light, also of immense power and in some way related to the other lights of power. The second foe produced a brilliant white light, clean and pure. It pierced the two lights, the green and purple, and it drew them together, making the three of them into a single unified force.

Without warning, the three entwined lights of its foes surged toward her. She was unprepared for such a swift strike, but even so, quickly formed the gray mists of her own power into a shield to strike aside the blow. It redirected the enemies’ blow, but only for a moment. The braid of lights pushed aside her parry and pierced her gray defense. The shaft of green and purple light united by white struck the center of her form and buried itself deep in her chest. She wailed in pain and wild despair, shocked to have been bested and in agony from the deep wound that crossed her breast. She screamed again, this time  a shriek of hatred, of loathing aimed at those who had too easily defiled her. She groped at her gray power and dragged it back to her body to expel the enemy’s weapon from her chest.

She was deeply wounded but not fatally, but she knew she must retreat. Focusing her strength, she summoned the image of where she must be, and with a twist of her will she transported herself. A flash of emptiness told her that she had succeeded, and had moved among the shadows. She no longer stood in the giant cavern where her enemies remained.

Inspecting her new surroundings she was comforted by the familiarity of the nine pillars that now surrounded her. They had been her protection for as long as she could remember and protected her still. She had found this place, deep underground, hidden from others, millenia ago and it had become her home. As always, in the center of the nine tall columns was a dark well, deep beyond measure. Within that well there was that which could heal her and could …

“Move along!” The shout broke her trance.

She was standing in the middle of the road, shaken, panting and sweating. A wagon behind her was trying to pass. The cart’s occupants shouted again and this time she reacted, moving quickly to the side of the road. A number of folk were staring at her, clearly wondering whether she was in her right mind. She was not. She had just been in another’s mind. Hallsassring came to her senses enough to give them an angry glare, which seemed to satisfy their concern. They shook their heads and moved on.

The feeling that she was being watched and followed was now gone. Hallsassring wiped her sleeve across her face to brush away the afternoon’s sweat and try to rid herself of this fear. Never in her life had she experienced such a vivid sense of evil or a vision of such force. The final pieces of the horror drifted away, but not before she grasped at it one last time, trying to understand what had happened. She could sense only that the vision had been real; and that it had happened long ago and far away. A final glimmer told her that the creature whose memory she experienced was still very much alive, and very dangerous.

Then the dream was gone. Hallsassring felt her muscles relax, and a deep sense of relief rushed over her.

She looked back to the road with its steady stream of passersby, and remembered the quest that had brought her here. For a reason she could not explain, she found herself thinking of her beloved mentor Fellspring. One memory in particular presented itself, one of his many zealous admonitions to her; “Hallsassring, the world is right here in front of you, not in your head.” She smiled as she remembered his stern, caring face and his finger poking her forehead. She missed him.

But now it was time to focus. The city was only a few hundred yards ahead.

Stowing away the last vestiges of the episode, she resumed her quest. There would be time later to consider the meaning of what had just passed. She would finish the first leg of her journey to the City of Tarnath so that she could begin the task that had brought her here: rescuing her beloved Alliss.

Hallsassring’s Journey: The Story of a Nossring

Chapter 3: Food and Conversation

Belltros’ table by the woods

Hallsassring ate with gusto. Belltros ate casually, and did the bulk of the talking, starting with his family history. Hallsassring had heard about kamaris’ pride in their families and their tribes so she was not surprised that Belltros went on at length. She was also happy to be the listener rather than the talker. It gave her more time to devote to her food, which was every bit as delicious as it looked.

Belltros had started describing their arrival in Tarnath when he was interrupted by the shouts of several young voices. Turning, Hallsassring saw three small Kamari racing toward them, an adult not far behind.

As Belltros stood, two of the children charged into him, almost knocking him over. They playfully pounded his chest, demanding that he wrestle with them or admit defeat. Hallsassring got the distinct impression that this was not the first time Belltros’ children had greeted him in this manner, and she very much approved.

After a few moments of tenacious squirming the two were lifted high into the air, squealing in delight as their father declared victory. The third child, the oldest of the three, held back from the assault, clearly wanting to separate himself from the childish behavior of his siblings. Hallsassring guessed that this one, their oldest child, was a teenager, but she was finding it hard to judge ages for these tree-ish beings.

As she watched Belltros playing with the wriggling bundles in his hands, Hallsassring sensed she was being watched.  She saw the other adult Kamari approaching, and guessed that she was Belltros’ wife.

“Welcome, stranger,” said the Kamari.

Belltros paused his wrestling match to catch Hallsassring’s attention, “Hallsassring, this is my wife, Orranos,” he said. “She is my life’s companion, the mother of my children and I the father of hers, and they are Tressos, Keetoless, and Shaffen,” motioning to his children in turn from oldest to youngest.

Orranos gave Hallsassring a warm smile, seeing her husband had already decided she was their guest. She was carrying a basket with an assortment of plump brown biscuits, thin yellow wafers, and some kind of reddish purple jam. She looked at the table and back to her basket and frowned slightly, apparently worried there would not be enough food. She quickly got to work adding the contents of her basket to the table’s already considerable feast.

The children were immensely curious to see such a strange-looking creature. The youngest looked up at her father and asked, “Papa, is this a Nossring?”

Hallsassring laughed, and Belltros was glad she had taken no offense at his daughter’s hasty question. Before he could speak, Hallsassring answered for him, “Yes, I am indeed of that folk. I have come from my home many miles west of here, deep in the Rimmel Mountains. There we walk on rich earth and live alongside the woods and streams, and we sometimes climb high into the mountains’ peaks. My name is Hallsassring,” she said proudly.

“We have a woods!” the young one returned with great enthusiasm.

“Ah, yes, I see, and it seems a very good woods,” Hallsassring responded. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Orranos smile approvingly and Belltros nod in agreement.

“Shaffen, it is time now to sit and eat.”Shaffen reacted with a quick scowl, which immediately dissolved into a delighted cry when she saw the biscuits her mother had set out. With that, the family enthusiastically sat down at the table and, grabbing plates, heaped them with as much food as would fit.

Hallsassring was delighted for the additional company and decided it would be impolite not to join them, so she helped herself to seconds. For the first time since she had left home she was with a family, and she realized how much she missed her own. Her thoughts quickly led to Alliss, but she pushed that away. There will be a time for those thoughts, and the rage that goes with it, but now, she decided, was a time to enjoy what was in front of her.

The conversation was fast-paced, touching on every topic from the state of the crop in the farm’s wet field (too much rain lately), to a fresh undergrowth in the woods that would need clearing, and, finally, the new room arrangements in the house. This last topic quickly led to an energetic discussion between Shaffen and Keetoless as to whose room was biggest. Hallsassring was happy to listen, and occasionally interject a knowing nod or smile of agreement.

The young ones soon dispatched the contents of their plates, and, with the permission of their parents, Shaffen and Keetoless dashed off into the woods, with Tressos ambling after them.

Now it was just the three of them; two Kamari and a young Nossring.

With a nod of agreement between herself and her husband, Orranos turned to Hallsassring. “If you are willing, would you tell us about the journey from your homeland?”

She was welcoming and warm, and the children had been an emancipating delight. It gave Hallsassring the freedom to drop her guard, at least some of it, and share her story.

“I come from Merring City. That is the center of my folks’ lands, which you know as the Nossring Nation, though some call it a Kingdom. It is found between great ranges of the Rimmel Mountains that are far to the west of this place.”

“Very far west, if I am not mistaken,” Orranos inserted.

“Yes, hundreds of miles.” Hallsassring was pleased that she and Belltros knew something of her folk.

“Did you walk all this way?” Belltros asked.

“I did. You must realize, though, that Nossring are accustomed to walking in the mountains and woods. We travel frequently, and a journey of many leagues is not uncommon. In our youth we spend weeks or months at a time exploring the reaches of the Rimmel, both nearby and far away. Because of this we are used to steep climbs and rough lands where we live from what grows in the woods. We travel through every part of the Rimmel’s territory, since it is our responsibility to tend the lands and the life that lives on them.”

She told them about the journey she had begun over thirty days ago. She told them of the valleys and mountains she had crossed during her travels and of the many creatures, both harmless and dangerous, that she had met.

Orranos and Belltros listened with great interest, and when Hallsassring completed her tale, they appeared in awe at her accomplishment.

After a short pause Orranos spoke. “Your journey was long and most impressive, Hallsassring. Clearly the skills of the Nossring folk are great.”

Hallsassring was flattered and gave a courteous nod in response.

Orranos continued, “If I may, Hallsassring, I wonder why you would take upon yourself this long journey to such a different land from your home?” Her voice was again soothing and caring, and seemed genuinely so. Like all Nossring, Hallsassring had an intuitive sense of when folk were speaking honestly or when they were deceitful. She felt no lie coming from Orranos, and so she offered something of a reply.

“The destination of my travels is just down this road,” said Hallsassring, pointing in the direction of Tarnath. By saying it she discovered that she did not mind the question, and, in fact, was relieved to speak of it, as if some of her burden was lifted. “There I hope to find something that was taken from me and from my homeland. I can say no more of what that is, but it is something I cherish greatly, and is the reason for my travels.”

Orranos and Belltros both nodded. They seemed to understand Hallsassring’s loss, and her unwillingness to explain further.

“It is clear to us, Hallsassring,” said Belltros, “that what you seek is of great value to you, and we will ask no more of this private matter.”

Hallsassring was happy that her trust had been well placed.

Belltros redirected the conversation, “Do you know anyone in Tarnath? It is a city where many kinds of folk live. In some places you may find friends and in others it is good to be wary.”

“I have been told of a place where I may begin my search. It is called …”

“Bill’s Bar?” said Belltros before Hallsassring could complete her sentence.

“Yes, indeed.” Hallsassring had also been given the name of a Heolas who would befriend her, but she chose not to not mention that.

“That is a good place, and the right place to begin a search for something lost. Bill is a fair-minded folk,” replied Belltros. “He knows most of those who live in Tarnath and those he does not know he is always eager to meet. He can be most helpful when he is of a mind to be. You may tell him, if you wish, that you met Belltros and his wife, Orranos, and shared a meal with us.”

It was kind of them, and she offered her thanks. Looking up at the sky, she noticed that the day was moving on, and reluctantly decided that she must be moving on as well.

Orranos would not allow her to leave without a cloth filled with leftovers from their meal. “In case you get hungry along your way.” Hallsassring smiled at how clearly useless it would be to protest this gift, and gratefully accepted. It seemed to her that the Kamari and the Nossring were similar in many ways.

The three of them parted, taking care that all courtesies were obeyed. Hallsassring had a sense that a friendship had begun. Her first in Tarnath.

As Hallsassring walked away, Tressos rejoined his parents. “I like her,” he said to them. “Yes,” they each agreed.

Belltros then turned to his oldest son and said, “Tell your Uncle Arinos that she is coming and will arrive soon.”

“Yes, papa,” and with that Tressos stepped into the deepest part of the woods to do his father’s bidding.

Hallsassring’s Journey: The Story of a Nossring

Chapter 2: Welcome to Tarnath

Belltros’ Farm on the West Road outside Tarnath

Hallsassring made progress as the sun rose. She was slowly descending into a wide valley spanning the forest to the west and another set of mountains far to the east. Occasional rises broke the broad lands. To the north the lands smoothed into a plain that extended to the horizon; to the south foothills of the eastern mountains gave way to what looked to be a large bay with many docks and ships.

The openness was strange to her, so different from the valleys of the Rimmel Mountains where she was always enclosed and protected by the mountain’s tall arms. Here she felt exposed and vulnerable.

In spite of her unease, she could see that these lands had their own kind of beauty. The earth was not the rich brown soil of the Nossring Nation, but it was a healthy place where growing things were well tended and flourished happily. The fields were filled with grains and other crops she did not recognize. They added soft browns and greens to the landscape, and — she inhaled deeply — an earthy fragrance. When she listened closely, she could hear the tall grasses softly brushing each other whenever the wind gusted.

“Surely, I will find Alliss in this place,” she told herself, trying to bolster her confidence.

Without warning the low country noises were interrupted by another, unexpected, sound. A voice called out to her.

“Greetings!” It came from somewhere to her right. Looking in that direction she saw a small woods. She scrutinized the area to find the source of the voice, but saw nothing. A short tree near the front of the wood shook, and then started moving toward her. Shocked, she jumped back, crouching with her fists in front of her.

“Oh, my goodness. I am so sorry to startle you, stranger,” came words from the same voice.

Hallsassring did not move, and the tree-ish thing also stopped. She waited to see what or who it was.

The tree raised its branches — arms? — in a sign of peaceful intent.

To all appearances, it was no more than a small tree about the same height as Hallsassring herself. However, it had moved the way folk would. Looking closer, she saw two burly legs with long roots for feet that seemed to extend from the thick trunk. The two limbs that it held in the air looked as much like arms as branches, and its head was crowned with a bramble of thin hairlike stems and small leaves. She thought she saw a pair of eyes where a face might be.

Then she remembered. Her instructors had taught her about the Ten Races, ten types of sentient creatures that dominated the Tamarran Continent. One of them was a race of tree-like beings who called themselves Kamari. Hallsassring’s realization eased her concern, and she relaxed her stance somewhat, gazing more closely at this extraordinary being. In every way it looked to be a tree, and yet it moved as nimbly as any of her Nossring kin.

Her face must have given away her astonishment. Seeing this, and her relaxed posture, the creature smiled and gave a good-natured laugh.

Hallsassring rose to her full height. “Greetings,” she said, using the same language that had hailed her; Sessym, the common language of the northern half of the Tamarran Continent. She extended her arms with her hands open in customary greeting and looked to see what reaction she would receive.

The creature seemed pleased at Hallsassring’s courtesy. “Yes, greetings and welcome, stranger,” it replied, giving a polite bow in return. “Please allow me to introduce myself.”

When Hallsassring said nothing, the being continued, “My name is Belltros, and I am, as you can see” — he held out his arms and spoke with great pride — “a Kamari, though I have no tribe other than my family.”

Hallsassring was heartened to know she had guessed correctly, and that her long lessons had been helpful. However, her teachers had told her that Kamari were fiercely proud of their tribe, and it was highly unusual not to be a member of one. Yet Belltros said that he belonged to no tribe. Curious, she thought to herself, but quickly placed that aside and responded, “I am honored to meet you, Belltros.” She hesitated as she wanted to offer more than this, but the warning from her elders sounded in her head; “We Nossring are not always well-received in the world outside our lands,” and she said no more.

Belltros seemed satisfied with Hallsassring’s answer and continued, “You look to be a traveler, perhaps one from far away.” Belltros paused. Pointing to the east, he asked, “If I may be so bold, are you going to the city, to Tarnath?”

“Yes. Yes, I am,” Hallsassring answered. She was not used to such a direct question from such a strange creature.

Belltros responded amiably, “Speaking for myself, I’m not much for Tarnath. Too busy, and not enough grass or trees or fresh air.” He looked toward the land on either side and kept his gaze there, away from Hallsassring, trying to put her at ease.

After a few moments he turned back and said, “Well, I shouldn’t keep you if you have traveling ahead of you. I will wish you …”

“Hallsassring,” she blurted out, momentarily embarrassed by her awkwardness, and hoping she had not been rude. “That is my name.” She bowed her head slightly and added, “I come from the Nossring Nation far to the west.”

She was relieved to see that Belltros was smiling and had taken no offense.

“It is my honor to meet you, Hallsassring,” Belltros said graciously and with a gentleness that took Hallsassring by surprise. “It has been many years since one of the noble folk of the Nossring Nation has crossed my lands, and you are welcome here.”

Hallsassing wasn’t sure what to do. Not only had she revealed her name far too casually to a complete stranger — names are an intimacy that should only be shared when trust has been demonstrated beyond all doubt — but it seemed that this stranger already knew something about her, or at least about her folk.

Belltros could see Hallsassring’s discomfort. “You have shared generously with me, Hallsassring. If you would allow it, I will endeavor to return the favor, at least in part.”

Before Hallsassing could respond, Belltros continued, “It looks as if you have been traveling for some time and are perhaps hungry? You are welcome to share food with me.” He pointed to a table nestled just inside the woods. “It is only bread, berries, and a small cheese, oh, and a bit of fresh honey. Oh, yes, and I think there is some cream. In any case, I was about to sit down for my mid-day meal when I saw you.” Pointing again at the table, he added, “I assure you there is enough for all.”

“All?” Hallsassring posed the question to herself, wondering at the unusual turn of phrase, but quickly dismissed it. She calculated that it would be imprudent to refuse this offer, and yet it would be incautious to accept it. However, she had already disregarded caution, and, more importantly, if she were to accomplish her mission, she must take chances and find allies. The final piece of internal math that led her to a decision was her realization that she was very hungry and the food looked particularly delicious.

“I thank you for your generosity, Belltros, and will gladly share your food and perhaps some conversation.”

“Excellent!” Belltros said, clearly pleased that Hallsassring had accepted his offer. He led her to the table, chatting about where each of the foods had come from — most from his own farm.

As the two sat down at the table, Hallsassring realized that Belltros had been far too humble about the meal. There was indeed plenty for them both and for several more besides. Belltros handed her a wooden plate inviting her to help herself, and she eagerly obliged.

Hallsassring’s Journey: The Story of a Nossring

Chapter 1: Arrived


Hallsassring stopped. The fury came suddenly and without warning, leaving her startled, confused – and immobile. She shook her head to cast off the anger, but failed. Looking up to the sky she decided to retrace her steps that day.

She had woken early, before sunrise. Quietly gathering her few belongings, she tucked each away in its proper place in her backpack. She began her walk, cheered by the thought that it was the final day of her journey, the day she would reach her destination.

The morning’s walk through the forest was peaceful. It put her at ease to be surrounded by the thriving profusion of trees, bushes, and undergrowth. It reminded her of home, which was welcome after so many weeks of travel. Her sharp hearing detected the chittering conversations of small animals hiding in the forest’s understory, and the quiet movement of those who hunted them. The path through the dense foliage was narrow, at times barely discernible. It was easier, though, than the wild parts of the woods, and less demanding than the mountains she had left behind days before.

Just before noon she had walked out of the woods into open country, a gently sloping landscape filled with wide meadows and well-tended fields of crops. The wind was freer here with no woods to block its passage, and she enjoyed the many new scents it brought her. The sky above was clear.

It had been a good day for walking.

That brought her back to her present circumstance. She disciplined herself to control the anger, closing her eyes to recall what had brought her journey to a standstill. It was not the road, the hot sun, the long walk, or even the heavy load she carried on her back. She was used to much harsher burdens and more strenuous exertion. What had stopped her was only a few yards ahead: a simple wooden sign on the side of the road that read, “Welcome to Tarnath.”

She opened her eyes to look again at the wooden marker. This time she read the words aloud, hoping that speaking them would unmake their strength. But her anger was only renewed, and she asked herself again: why does such a small thing cause such a deep wound?

At its core, she was furious that folk would divide the world into parcels to be owned and sold and bargained with. How could it be in any way natural that the lands of the world would be measured and sectioned so that one piece might be owned by one folk, and another piece of that same land was owned by another?

Her eyes wandered to the fields on either side of her. The tall grass evenly surrounded the sign. The land’s graceful contours flowed without regard to where folk might claim ownership. The lands themselves did not recognize false, senseless boundaries.

She shook her head again, harder this time. She gained some control, only to quickly lose it. Her mind had a mind of its own. She sighed. She knew because Fellspring had reminded her of it many times, and he understood his pupil well.

“Hallsassring, you are not listening,” he often said, “Your anger is a useful tool, but not if you cannot control it.” His admonitions were always accurate, much to her dismay.

She looked back at the sign. This time, she would master her emotions. She called back a memory of Fellspring that seemed well-suited to this moment. “The world outside the Nossring Nation is not like ours, Hallsassring. The outside folk believe that the lands and places of the world can be divided into pieces, and those pieces may then be given to other folk as their own, to do with as they please.” She remembered him looking at her, measuring her disbelief, and with raised eyebrows adding, “They believe that the world must be owned. That it must be conquered, subdued so that it serves their needs. They are unable to see it any other way.”

Then Fellspring would wait patiently, but always with warmth, for his student’s response.

The sign in front of her made Fellspring’s words real in a way she had not expected. She had never doubted that Fellspring was right—he always was. She just didn’t want to believe that such a world could exist. This was the constant struggle of the Nossring folk. An old race, they had been in the world since the beginning of the Third Era, and their ways were even older, inherited from others who came long before. During those millennia, they had learned that the world is in the care of its folk, that while they live it is their responsibility to nurture that world and leave it thriving for those who come after. For the Nossring this belief was unshakable, much stronger than the creeds of those who would divide the world into imaginary deeds of ownership.

Hallsassring reminded herself that Fellspring was not here. Nor were any of her Nossring kin. At this moment, on this journey, she was alone, and she now felt that absence keenly.

It was not time for such thoughts, she decided. She had a task to complete. Forcing her anger away, she stepped forward and crossed the boundary invented by the wooden sign. She shrugged her shoulders as if to shake away the sadness evoked by that footfall. Though she did not realize it, at that moment she looked very much like her beloved instructor.

She left the sign behind her. The sun continued to shine in a cloudless sky,which helped her to recover her spirits. She remembered her task, the reason she was in this alien place so far from home. Alliss had been taken from her. She had been kidnapped, dragged away against her will. Hallsassring had tracked her and her captors these many miles, to this place. She would find her in the City of Tarnath, and she refused to fail.

A new anger burned beneath her calm exterior. She knew that Alliss’ abductors cared nothing about her other than the price she would fetch from a wealthy buyer. Her fury at the Nossring Council’s unwillingness to help her gave her the strength she had needed for this long journey. It stiffened her resolve to find her companion and to punish those who had taken her. Alliss must be rescued from a life of pain and hopelessness, and that was her task. Hers alone.

With a steadied gait, she walked forward.

Be sure to come back next month for the next episode in this series — Chapter 2, Welcome to Tarnath.