Rising Ch.1

(Part 1 from 3)

*** Prologue
The sky was painted with smoke. It cast a heavy gloom, promising a sizable downpour of hail laced rain, a stinging sleet that would smother and sap the strength of all. The dark and suffocating drear of the sky had already sapped their spirits.

Methaniel stood upon the small rise of a hill, his hand resting on the hilt of his broadsword. His armor gleamed in the rare flicker of light to penetrate the smoke and cloud. A large dent graced the left of his breastplate. It had originally been much larger, but had since been worked out as well as the smith could manage. The smithy was crowded with more heavily damaged equipment, so Methaniel did not mind. The damaged plate pressed inward against his pectoral muscle till it ached. It was one of many minor discomforts that he couldn’t find the heart to complain about. His life remained and he stood without any heavy wounds or handicaps. It was more than most could say. After nearly a year waging war on the battlefield, only the luck of the goddess could explain his relatively unscathed state.

The land before him stretched on, a bloody and scarred field with thick mud that had been trampled by countless boots. The coming rain would only worsen it, and footing would be difficult when the rain lifted and the armies met on the field. It could be tomorrow…it could be a week. Winter storms in the mountainous regions were never certain. Beyond the field he could make out the hastily erected tents of the enemy encampment. They too would be counting their dead today, re-grouping and rearming their remaining soldiers and horses. Upon the morn, battle would commence anew.

He swept a shining copper lock from his face, pushing it back to hang down to his shoulders. His hands grasped his cloak and pulled it tighter around his body in a futile effort to ward off the chill and damp breeze. He stood motionless a moment longer, a tall and proud figure atop the small rise, gazing on at the grim truth of his world. He turned and his cloak whipped back and billowing out in the slight breeze that filled it. He walked back to his tent.

Before he could reach his tent Grimlock intercepted him.

Grimlock was a physician, though he was a dwarf, and a burly one with massive, gnarled hands that looked better suited to the smithy than the delicacies of medicine and healing. He was something of an oddity in that he was one of the very few physicians in the army. With clerics and priests to neatly tend the wounded through divinities, holy spells, and sacred relics, physicians were deemed messy and unreliable. However, in recent months the war had become more costly than ever, and the death toll was on a steady climb. The clerics and holy men were overwhelmed by the dead and wounded, and a call had gone out to those who healed not through magic, but through science.

“A moment m’ lord,” Grimlock rumbled. He wiped blood from his meaty hands with a rag heavily splotched in red.
“What news, Grimlock?” Methaniel asked quietly.
“Arthas din’a make it. The lad’s taken ‘is place in the gods’ kingdom,” said Grimlock somberly. “I be sorry, Methaniel. He was a good lad. I couldn’a help him.”
“I understand, Grimlock. I held little hope that he would survive. The wound was grievous,” Methaniel replied. He patted the dwarve’s broad shoulder gently and began to walk to his tent once more.
“Methaniel,” Grimlock spoke after him. “Ye need to see this.”

The Dwarf pulled a large arrow from where it had been tucked into his belt. Methaniel turned and approached Grimlock. He took the arrow and turned it slowly in his hands. The shaft was slightly bent, either from the impact with which it slammed into Arthas’ chest or by Grimlock when he extracted it, which one Methaniel couldn’t tell. It painted black and had no other distinguishing features. The arrow head, bent and chipped from thudding into Arthas’ sternum, was made of steel, which would penetrate deeply if the aim was true.
“Thank you, good Dwarf. This makes some things clear…and others less so.”

Methaniel would say nothing else and walked into his tent with the arrow clutched tightly in his fist, leaving the physician to scratch thoughtfully at his beard.

*** Chapter One

An hour before dawn Ahma awoke. The seven other women in her room were in the same process of waking; they were all used to years of the routine. A chill breeze rushed through the cracks between the stone walls, causing the women to shiver as they dressed and braided each others hair. Hannah, the only other Wingling in the house, helped Ahma to braid her thick brunet tresses. Ahma returned the favor and carefully groomed the older woman’s delicate, dainty wings.

The two Winglings scurried out of the servants quarters and tailed the others to the kitchens. The fires were burning in the stoves, the only light coming into the room. Soon the kitchen would be fully lit by sunlight streaming through the windows. The cook put out the servants food.

Breakfast was only ten minutes these days, a merger meal of crust and scraps of last night’s few pieces of meat. Very few words were exchanged during the meal. Ahma sat in sullen silence and tried to calm the grumbling of her stomach demanding more than what had been set out for it. She finished her thin, gruelish porridge and started the hard crust provided for her. The bindings holding her wings tightly to her body chaffed at her. The discomfort and pain ruined her appetite as it always did, and she forced herself to eat even the little amount of food she had.

After the morning meal the servants split apart and began their duties around the manor. Hannah went to the foyer at the front of the Manor to clean. Ahma made her way toward the library. It had been her desire for some time to be the servant assigned to the library. Cleaning the room, dusting the shelves, polishing the desks and chairs took a full week to complete, but the room held fond memories for her, from the times before the old master’s death.

The study was massive. The Master had been an advocate of books in a realm that was only marginally literate. Aside from the royal library (which from what Ahma had heard from Gareth, a Halfling man who once worked in the palace, was largely unused), Master Daelen’s study was one of the single largest collection of text in the north most reach of Durinum. Bookcases stretch from ceiling to floor, worked from rich, well polished oak. The volumes gracing the shelves ranged from barely an inch thick to being almost too big for Ahma to properly carry. The well-dusted volumes were written in the native script of nearly all the races that coexisted in Durinum, and even some that did not. Two great, spacious windows occupied the only wall that was not crowded by bookcases. The windows overlooked the richest of the Manor’s south gardens. The sun crept through the window and edged the well-trimmed hedges and brightly blooming pants in the glowing orange of dawn.

First, she dusted and polished the master sitting chair, as she had every day for more than a decade. It was a tall backed, well crafted chair befitting nobility, carved from cherry wood with intricate and fine vines and wildlife along the back and a true rarity: a padded, feather-down seat. She could still see him, sitting upright and proud in his comfortable chair, gesturing to a book he wanted to read. Often, he would read aloud to her, letting her neglect whatever duties she had that day.

But those were different times. She now had to finish her duties before the evening meal or there would be consequences. Not just for her, but for everyone. The death of the Master meant hardship for everyone and personal grief for herself.

She didn’t have time to think about it, and her state of mind would only deteriorate if she did. She emptied the shelves on the west wall today. She tended each wall and its respective shelf on a daily rotation; there were simply too many books in the study to tend and clean in one day. The Wingling girl dusted and polished the wood. It gleamed with the care of dozens of servants over the years. The manor had stood for hundreds of years. It was rumored to have been built and first inhabited by an extension of the royal family itself, and later given as a gift by the king to the Master’s grand father for his service to the throne. With proper care, this library would stand for another hundred years or more, and Ahma felt an odd sense of pride for her role in keeping it in shape.

She put the books back on the shelves in exact order. The Master had spent countless hours organizing the library, with her help, after his retirement from the knights. He had been the first in generations of his line to organize the room, really to even care for it. He had declared a need for a hobby once his retirement was official, and with his son so far from home, he had set about busying himself fully with the study’s organization and refurbishing. He was not a man comfortable in idleness, that much had been sure. Even with his attention focused upon the study, it was obvious he was not comfortable no longer having an active role in Durinum’s army. The Master had always struck her as being somewhat lonely…His wife, the love of his life, had passed away before Ahma had even come to the Manor, and he had never taken another woman to her knowledge. His son had rarely been home…she could hardly even remember seeing him in her youth. Perhaps that was why the Master had always talked to her and been kind to her. Ahma had become something of a strange companion to him…and he, a father to her. Some of the other servants had been resentful, especially the Stewart…but the Master had told her to pay no mind.

Ahma sniffled softly. She clenched her jaw and willed the wave of misery to pass. It had been nearly half a year since the Master had passed, and with him, the only bit of kindness in her life. She would not give in to self pity, and the period of mourning for the Noble had ended four months ago. But how could one confine one’s grief to a set period? Humans and their traditions confounded her sometimes.
Quickly as she could, but much attention and care, Ahma finished with the shelves and books before moving to the Master’s desk. It was large, also carved out of cherry wood, and during the Master’s life, surprisingly cluttered and messy considering what a neat and orderly man the Master usually was. Now it was clean and neat, with a pen set beside a capped inkwell and a stack of unblemished parchment beside it. The Master’s favorite book, written in elvish (which he had spoken fluently) and bound in leather sat on the left side of the desk, placed there intentionally by her. He had often read it to her. It described Dragons, the fearsome creatures that were feared and hated the realm over. The mountainous reaches of Durinum had once housed many roosts of the wyrms, but the spreading nation had chased the massive creatures away with raiding parties too large for even their impressive might to contend with. Ahma had never seen a Dragon of course…No one had, except for perhaps the oldest of Durinum’s elves, but she was as secretly fascinated with them as the Master had been.

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