Aethir - Dewayne M Kunkel

Chapter One

The town of Parin lay within a sheltered valley that opened up onto the sea at its northern end. Small brick houses roofed with dark slate stood crowded together amid a scattering of towering pines. Windows were few and fitted with shutters to protect against the fury of the storms that would often come in from the sea.

Beyond the houses, a fleet of boats tied to rickety piers rocked slowly with the incoming tide. There were many types from large Merchant ships to small fishing skiffs draped with drying nets. The light of the setting sun cast long shadows across the tranquil waters of the bay. Reflecting brightly from the polished brass fittings on the gently swaying masts.

They led their weary mounts down the shallow slope towards the town. The grass beneath their feet was wet from the light rain that had fallen earlier.

Casius inhaled the cold air deeply. It had been a long time since he had tasted the salty air of the sea. It reminded him of his home, awakening the sense of loss he had buried so long ago.

Leaving the thick grass they stepped out onto the muddy track that served as the towns main thoroughfare. No wall surrounded the village; only a few rickety fences and barking dogs greeted them as they entered the town. The smells of burning wood and coal permeated the air, cast off by the smoking chimneys of the houses. Occasionally they would catch the glimpse of a face peering out one of the windows as they passed.

They had not gone far when a group of men stepped out of the shadows to bar their way. There were six of them, fishermen by their dress and the deep tan of their faces. They were armed with clubs fashioned from pine.

Connell stepped forward and looked the men over casually. “It has been a few years since I last visited Parin.” He said addressing the largest of them. “Never has this towns hospitality faltered, why does it do so now.”

The large man wet his lips nervously, he had seen Connell’s sword and was wary. “These are dangerous times friend,” He said softly. “Dark riders and giant hounds roam the countryside, Morne some say,” his voice lowered to whisper. “They be doing some terrible things to those caught out of doors after nightfall.”

“It is worse than you know,” Connell replied. “There are Rock Trolls about as well.”

The man’s eyes widened and he looked at his club suddenly aware at how useless it was. “We need to tell the headman of this, when did you last see such a beast?”

“In the forest,” Connell answered. “A few days past.”

The man stepped back as if Connell carried the plague. “You are either a liar or extremely stupid.” He stammered. “That wood is no place to tread lightly.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Connell said with a smile. “Stay clear of the wood, a monstrous horror stalks those dark paths.”

“What is your name?” The man asked.

“When I last walked these streets I was known as the eagle of Kesh.” Connell replied.

The man’s eyes narrowed, “One would be well advised to think carefully before making such a claim.”

“Be that as it may,” Connell said with a slight shrug. “It is true nonetheless.”

Something in Connell’s eyes convinced the man that he had spoken truly. With a wave of his hand he motioned his men to stand aside. “Will you be staying long?” He asked.

“Only as long as I have a need,” Connell said passing the men. Looking over his shoulder to his companions he pointed to the waterfront. “I know of an inn nearby, the beds are bug free and its roof sound.”

Suni passed the men, his almond eyes matching their stares until they looked away. To them the Anghor Shok was a man the likes of which these fishermen had never seen.

The inn was a sprawling two-story affair constructed of weathered brick and crumbling mortar hidden beneath a cloak of rich ivy. From its roof twin chimneys trailed smoke into the air carrying with it the heady aroma of freshly baked bread.

As they entered the small yard two boys rushed out to take their horses to the stables behind the inn. Shouldering their gear they entered into the welcoming warmth of the inn’s common room.

The room was spacious and furnished with mismatched chairs and tables, none of which looked very new. A haze of wood smoke hung in the air. Coming from a large hearth of stone in which a cheery fire