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Even the longest journies begin with but a single step...

By Tarn Stormhold

Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5

Chapter 1

"'tis a story yer after then, is it?" I asked the small Gnomish boy, 'is small face shinin' and earnest in the space between the fire and the otherwise shadowy common area o' th' Inn.

"Oh, please, Mr. Stormhold, if you would," 'e cried out suddenly, and then rememberin' 'is manners in the sharp glance 'e caught from 'is nearby Papa, added quickly, "If it wouldn't be too much trouble, uh, sir?"

The Gnome, weary from many a day on the road on yet another business trip, leaned forward t' draw 'is son to 'is lap. "I think Mr. Stormhold would be as tired as we are, Ben. There'll be time enough for stories the next time we pass through. Why don't we let-,"

"Nonsense," I interrupted. "Aye, I've been called many a thing in me years, but I'll nay be, 'too tired,' t'share the old stories for at least a few more turns o' The Wheel."

Bright as the sun peekin' from behind a passin' cloud, Ben's little face gleamed bright and pleadin' as 'e turned his face upwards to catch 'is father's eye. "Can I stay up, then, Father? Just a little bit longer?"

"I'll get 'im off to 'is bed soon enough, Mr. Topley. Ye've had a long day in tha' carriage, but I'll wager the lad spent most o'tha' time fast asleep. 'E's not likely t'be noddin' off any time too soon, so 'e'd might as well keep an old dwarf like me company for a bit." I motioned to the boy to get up out o' 'is Papa's lap, an' take a seat in one o' the big leather chairs aside the fire next t'me. "Yer 'ired 'elp 'as the right idea, at the very least," I said, motioning t' the rumblin', snorin' mass o'ogre sleepin' in a chair in the far corner o'the room.

Mr. Topley gave a short laugh at tha' sight, glanced at 'is wide-eyed son, an' then trailed a longin' sweep o' 'is eyes up the stairs towards th' warm richness of 'is bedroom door. "If it isn't too much trouble, then..."

"Nay, 'tis nothin'. I've 'ad fewer guests since tha' rail-line went though. I'll take what chances present themselves t'let me prattle on a bit t'any who'll listen' t'me tales," I said with a wave of me hand, as if t'shoo 'im up the stairs. With a serious, soberin' nod at th' lad, I added, "Besides, a boy 'is age, near gettin' t'be a man grown, should be in the knowin' of all 'e can of the world a'fore he goes out adventurin', eh?" An' quick as that, Ben 'ardened up 'is face, tryin' to look every inch the man 'e was in 'is dreams, an' nodded right back at 'is Pa with the same serious expression.

Mr. Topley looked at the both of us, an' seein' 'e was obviously o'er-matched this time, gave another short laugh. "Alright then, Ben. One story. But don't pester Mr. Stormhold for more after that. You and he both need your rest, too, if you're to go off and fight off brigands or monsters later," 'e said, giving 'is boy's 'ead a light ruffle.

"Just one story. I promise, Father," 'e said, giving me a knowin' wink when 'e thought 'is Papa wasn't looking. 'Twas all I could do not to chuckle at 'im there, an' simply give 'im another slow sober wink in return.

With a small groan, Mr. Topley rose from 'is chair an' slowly climbed the stairs to 'is room. I prodded at the fire a bit with the handy poker. "Now what story would y'be in a mind t'be 'earin' tonight, I wonder? I've told ye a new one each time ye've visited. Might be I'm out of new an' interestin ones..," I said. Ben sat quietly, waitin' 'is turn t'speak 'is line. 'Twas a game we played each an' every time they visited. 'E knew is part well.

"There's no such thing as old stories, Mr. Stormhold, as long as there are ears open to listen, and heads and hearts willing to try to find another hidden lesson."

Such a good boy 'e was. "Aye, tha's true, me lad. Mayhaps I've taught you better than I thought. So you've yer pick o' the topics tonight. Name yer tale, an' I'll do me best t'relate it to ye."

Ben screwed up his face in concentration for a moment, puzzling over the possibilities. I 'ad a good mind t'what 'e'd be lookin' for. More often than not, were the stories o' ancient battles and the heroes o' old, or the creatures magical an' not that 'ad roamed the lands. Last few times, tales o' the fabulous treasures an' shinin' enchanted weapons 'ad been popular, for perhaps they were just waitin' in a secret cave for some great adventurer, or perhaps a small boy not unlike 'imself, t'find an' use in service of rescuin' some stranded damsel or such. Though 'e was not the type t'think damsels were much worth rescuin' yet. But that'd come later, I was sure.

"Where did you come from, Mr. Stormhold?"

The question came so fast, it took me a second to process. I realized I'd drifted a bit just before. "Where I be from, y'say?" 'Twas not a subject I'd thought much of lately meself, in fact, nor in recent memory. "An' why be y'askin' 'bout where a gouty ol'dwarf like me comes from, anyhow? 'Tis not necessarily a fascinatin' tale. Are ye sure ye'd rather nay hear 'bout Lan Theradain, Knight O' Th-"

"You've told me that one before," 'e piped in, "And I know that I could still learn from hearing about it. It just occured to me on the way here yesterday that for all the great stories you've told me, you've never said where you came from, or where you got the stories, or how you ended up here, or-"

I chuckled softly, cuttin' 'im off. "Aye, an' those are all fair questions, I'll give ye that. But I fear they be a touch too long t'gether for me t'cover a'fore yer father comes down 'ere again for breakfast t'morrow mornin'," 'Is little face fell a bit in disappointment, so I quickly added, "But that doesn't mean I canna start th' story now, an' finish it another night, next time yer through."

Ben's 'ead snapped up, a bright smile flashing forth already. Scootin' forward a bit in 'is seat, restin' 'is chin on 'is fists, 'e leaned in as if 'earin' the words closer to me made 'em fresher an' tastier.

I, on t'other hand, leaned back into me chair. I rested me pipe in the ashtray, folded me hands across me chest, and let me mind drift back to a place I'd not visited in many a year. Most tales I'd told began simply enough. This one began with fire.....


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