First came the town, built around the fort of Riverwatch that defended a bend of the River Running. Then came the tyrant, Vasper Morianart scourge amongst men with his son Endhorg behind. Afterwards came the sword, wielded by Merigal Quickblade who toppled both tyrant and son. And last of all came jubilation, echoing through the streets after Merigal returned to the town after years spent adventuring across the Dalelands. He was proclaimed Lord Protector of Riverwatch and for years he defended the town so that it knew peace and plenty.
Forward fifteen years the story progresses and a traveler would find Riverwatch a much different place than it was under the rule of the villainous Vasper Morianart. To be sure it was still a rough town as any town is that makes its living through trade and foreign traffic, but for the most part the merchant families dealt fair and there was plenty for even the lowest of farmhands to content himself.
It was this lure of profit and peace that drew people to the town and it was the same for a lone rider that made his way up one of the cobbled streets towards a tavern with a cheerful sounding name above the doorway. Making his way to the hitching post the rider was about to tie off his horse when the peaceful serenity of Riverwatch was broken by a body that smashed through one of the tavern’s windows. Through the broken glass the sound of frenetic music was matched in intensity by the sounds of the giant brawl that had erupted inside.
The traveler’s eyes widened and with quick, nervous fingers he jumped onto his horse and rode away from the commotion while the sounds of music and fighting followed behind. The man who had been thrown through the window got back up groggily, his legs wobbling in protest at his foolish attempt at balance, and pushed his way through the doors of the tavern. Inside there was a chaos of flying fists and chairs as men fought men in raucous drunken fury. A young lute player stood off in a corner of the storm matching its ferociousness with a fast paced tune, a stupid grin plastered across his face. His fingers danced across the strings with long practiced skill, unperturbed by the closeness of the combatants or the occasional airborne mug of ale.
In the center of the melee was a large red-haired man who laughed and whooped, sending patrons sprawling with professional skill and adeptness. Even though his belly had gotten a little too big and his red hair was now flecked with strands of gray, he fought with an exuberance of someone half his age. An errant blow clipped him on the side of the head and the large man was temporarily stunned. He laughed the blow off though, regained his senses and rejoined the contest. The fight had reached such a crescendo that no one, not even the jolly red head, noticed the doors opening again.
The light from outside spread the shadow of the newcomer across the tavern like an ominous bird of prey. First one patron noticed then another and when they did, they immediately stopped fighting and put their hands down in fear and shame. Even the large red head stopped short, his one hand still gripping a man’s tunic while his other hand stood frozen comically in a balled up fist. His face turned as red as his hair, his breath coming now in deep gulps as he tried to regain his composure.
Merigal Quickblade surveyed the scene with those penetrating hawk-eyes that few men could stand under unintimidated. His stern gaze and imposing presence amplified by the legends that surrounded him and the casually threatening way that his hand rested on the hilt of his sword. And while his long mustache and dark hair had grayed some in the past fifteen years, his hands had lost none of their potency. Stern but just, he had worked hard to make Riverwatch a good law-abiding town. So it was that Merigal frowned when he looked at the destruction in the tavern and the patrons who had caused it.
“That will be quite enough of that!”, Merigal called out with authority. “I’ll have no more fighting around here and the next man who lifts his fists will answer to me.” With that he drew out his sword and pointed it into the crowd, his imposing countenance daring anyone to defy him. But no man dared.
“I tried to disperse the fight Merigal but it got out of hand”, the red-haired man offered, still trying to catch his breath. He started to further explain, but the Lord Protector cut him off.
“I saw what you were doing Rufius. And from where I stood your fists were flying just as much as the next mans’,” Merigal stated dryly. “I want to see you outside and as for the rest of you,” Merigal said threateningly. “I want this mess cleaned up and sorted before I get back or the lot of you will be spending some time in the fort’s jail.”
The men who remained standing quickly nodded and with dizzy heads and bruised faces began the process of putting the tavern back into some semblance of normalcy. Rufius joined Merigal and the two of them left the tavern, the large man preparing for the lecture that he knew was coming.
As soon as the two old companions were out of sight of the tavern the hard mask fell from Merigal’s face and Rufius saw the care-lines and weariness that had marked these last years of Merigal’s life. It was a side of the High Protector that he rarely showed, his duties requiring a certain hard exterior and projection of strength. Riverwatch was a tough town and it took a tough man to keep the peace in these dark days. As they walked up the street the look of disappointment the veteran adventurer gave his partner was possibly worse than one of his angry lectures though not by much.
“After all these years I don’t suppose it’s foolish of me to expect a certain amount of control from my Deputy Protector?” Merigal sighed. A couple of tradesmen passed the two on the street, giving a nod of respect to the town’s defenders which they returned.
“My apologies Merigal” Rufius said, his head slightly bowed. “I am afraid that penchant for rowdiness that marked our adventuring days never did leave me fully.”
Merigal put his hand on the large man’s shoulder and smiled if only for a moment. To Rufius though it was like a break in the clouds letting in that one shaft of brilliant warmth giving light. For that brief moment in time Merigal looked as he did twenty years previously when he was the awe-inspiring young adventurer who captivated the Dale-lands with his exploits.
“I know Rufius. It’s that rowdiness and charge-forward attitude that made you such a valuable companion in our adventuring days.” Merigal said, taking them off the street and to the side a ways. “But now we need to exhibit control. River-traders and merchant folk are difficult enough to keep in line without us adding to the chaos. I have to know that I can trust you with the protection of this town if something were to happen to me.” Rufius nodded solemnly feeling that he was getting off lighter than
usual. Merigal resumed.
“Now to the matter I came looking for you about to start. You haven’t seen the boy have you?” Merigal said and Rufius was relieved to find the subject changing from his latest transgression.
“Nay, I haven’t although…” he added with a sly wink, “It would not surprise me if he was in the company of Miss Aniwen.”
Merigal returned Rufius’s wink with a hard disapproving look, his countenance regaining it’s hard exterior. “I believe you have a tavern to help clean up so best you get to it. I’ll take care of the boy.” Rufius sulked off back down the street towards the tavern, his punishment not as light as he had at first hoped. Merigal watched him for a minute before heading off in the other direction towards the High Quarter where the more well-to-do merchant families lived.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful Mericc?”, Aniwen asked as she looked out the window. Her eyes sparkled as her thoughts drifted into dreams of Dale, her hands unconsciously twirling a strand of her light brown hair. “I hear that the streets of the Grand Market are positively packed with stores and market stalls of every kind.”
She looked back at the young man who sat crossed-legged on her floor, a flash of annoyance crossed her face as she saw that he was fully engrossed in the long dagger that he was sharpening. What was the point of getting dressed in one of her finest day dresses if she wasn’t going to be payed attention to? She screwed up her face to chastise the silly boy when he spoke suddenly.
“You are much too pretty my love for such a sour look,” Mericc replied non-challantly without looking up. Aniwen gasped softly with surprise then smiled brightly at the compliment. The sunlight streamed through the window, causing the colored beads of her dress to twinkle and alight. The green and gold dress was one of his favorites and she wore it whenever she could for him. Had he been looking at her the entire time after all?
As a matter of fact, the young Mericc had been keeping at least one eye on the beautiful girl before him as he worked. It was the way that he would always remember her, standing at the window with the rays of the sun framing her, the perfect picture of Dalish loveliness. He smiled and winked at Aniwen and she bounced lightly on her heels beaming at him before returning to her view out the window.
Mericc was a sinewy boy of fourteen, his dark brown hair and darker brown eyes sat on a face that was well-meaning more than handsome. His skin was slightly tanned from constant work at the blacksmith’s anvil where he helped the head blacksmith with the maintaining of the garrison’s armory. He was suppose to be there now, but couldn’t resist stopping by the young Lady Aniwen’s residence for a short while. The sight of her in the green and gold dress and the pleasing weather had caused him to stay a bit longer than he had intended though he did not realize it. He looked at the dagger in his hand again, checking for any more dull areas that needed sharpening.
“Father says we can take a trip to Dale if the next shipment proves as profitable as he thinks it will,” Aniwen resumed speaking, half to herself as her mind floated away with her visions of that jewel of human cities. She knew nothing of the world outside Riverwatch and the surrounding countryside and would have been shocked to know that there were places that put the Dale-land’s capital to shame.
“Oh! how I wish so much to get to see it Mericc. The dresses and the jewelry and the baubles of dwarven craftsmanship.” Aniwen pressed her hands up against the glass in a gesture that said that if she could push through and transport herself to Dale this instant, she would.
“It would be nice to see how our blades stack up against the dwarven ones,” Mericc replied as he gave his dagger a last look over. Aniwen rolled her eyes to herself, ‘Boys and their silly thoughts of war’ she said then giggled at the thought. She turned to tell him so when an emphatic ‘AHEM’ jolted both Mericc and Aniwen out of their thoughts.
Merigal Quickblade stood in the door frame, giving his son a look that caused the boy to jump to attention like a soldier in training. It occurred to Mericc now that he may have stayed at Aniwen’s longer than he had intended.
“Are you not suppose to be at the forge boy? Or did you expect the guard’s armor to get polished on its own?” Merigal said tersely. Mericc whitened under his fathers hard stare but mostly because of the disappointment that he saw behind it.
“Father I am sorry. I only meant to stay a moment and time got away from me”, Mericc replied, his face pale.
“Time does that when you put pleasure before duty son.” Merigal said. “Now I want you at the blacksmith’s this instant and no more dawdling. You may see Miss Aniwen later if you wish, but I want that armor sparkling.” Mericc nodded, his posture slouched as he headed for the door. Aniwen gave him a sympathetic smile and waved a hand at him, hoping that she didn’t get him in too much trouble. Mericc waved back sullenly.
“Come on now”, Merigal spoke softly, his earlier hard expression relaxing some. “There will be plenty of time for young ladies in the fu…” Merigal’s hawk-eyes lifted with sudden intensity towards the window and a split second later they all could hear the warning horns. Merigal’s hand went to his sword and a moment later a soldier burst into the room.
“A column of orcs was just seen heading towards the town Sir.” the soldier said quickly, his breath coming in ragged gasps. It was clear that he had been running hard to deliver his message to the Lord Protector.
“Get the men ready. Form up at the front gate, I’ll be out there as soon as I can”, Merigal replied sharply and the soldier ran out of the room to deliver Merigal’s command. The old veteran sighed and Mericc looked with silent worry at the weariness that he saw on his father’s normally indomitable façade.
“Always there is one more fight,” Merigal said to himself as he stared out the far window sadly. “Will it ever end?” The Lord Protector tightened his sword belt and headed out the door as the warning horns blared.