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The Tower on the Silvermere
Tales from the Age of Ice and Shadow
In the heart of the Midlands, nestled in a corner of the Ealdor Hills, lies an ancient lake called Silvermere, though those that dwell on its shores colloquially call it Silver Lake, and in the old tongue it is called Nunial.
To the folk of the Midlands it seemed more a sea than a lake, the center of life and civilization in the region. For thousands of years peoples and kingdoms rose and fell on its shores, naming it the jewel of the West.
On its southern shore stood a great white stone tower, the last remnant of what had once been a great city of the sea-kings. Before falling into disrepair it had been the seat of power in the Midlands.
Many years ago in his campaign to reestablish the kingdom in the North, the High King entrusted one of his sons with the care of the Great Lake and the surrounding Midlands region. This prince rebuilt the white tower and founded the city of Arnunial on the site of the ancient city.
For more than three hundred years the tower was kept by the house of the prince, and it was said that all the lands around the Silvermere were glad and mirthful.
But this story is concerned with less happy days.
It was in the years of Lord Beorond of the tower that the shadow came down from the North. Many battles were fought in the Midlands, and there are countless tales of the heroes and tragedies of that time, but the tale of the tower is a strange one.
The region around the Silvermere was a bastion of strength in these wars, and lord Beorond won many battles against the wild men and the demon spawn from the mountains. At the end of the war many citadels had been broken and the Midlands had been changed, but Arnunial and the lake remained for the most part beautiful and whole. It was widely believed that the lord of the shadow had fled back to his keep in the North.
A year after the war had ended, the people of the lake were forgetting the threat of the shadow, perhaps too quickly.
It was a blustering winter night when a grave darkness fell upon Arnunial. The streets were blanketed in darkness, people were torn by fangs and claws that they could not see, there was the crashing of thunder though no lighting could be seen, and a fell voice on the air chanting in some unknown tongue. From the citadel the voice of Lord Beorond could be heard, attempting to rally his men against this unseen foe, but his voice was cut short with a shriek and none else was heard from the tower.
Arnunial, crown of the Midlands, fell in one night into darkness and ruin.
Those that managed to escape the city fled across the lake, finding refuge in the smaller towns and villages that dotted the shores, or fleeing further North into the Ealdor hill country.
Generations later, the fall of Arnunial had become a legend, but still none dared to approach the lost city. Rumours of a foul darkness and red eyes in the night kept even the boldest from exploring the ruins, but some that sailed near it said that on dark, blustering nights they could at times hear a faint fell voice on the air, and pleading cries from the tower. None knew what had truly taken place at the tower on that fateful night, other than that it must have been some remnant of the dark power of the North. So the tower remained a reminder of evil days, but a reminder only, easily forgotten by those that dwelt on the shores of the Silvermere.
Until one night, as a lone fisherman laboured under the light of the moon, casting his nets near the southern shores of the Silvermere, within sight of what the lake men now called the dark tower.
This fisherman was named Rónán, a soft-spoken man of about thirty years. He had a wife and two small children, and they lived in the village of Doglan. Doglan was a simple village of mostly fishermen and farmers, but it was notable for being on the southern shore of the lake and the nearest village to the dark ruin of Arnunial.
Rónán would often cast his nets in sight of the ruins, but local superstition kept him from getting too near. He himself had not heard the voices, and he preferred it that way. Life was good on the Silvermere as long as one ignored the darkness in the tower, and he was happy to do so.
This night was no different from any other. He set out before dusk, and began to drag his heavy nets along the banks. He would fish through dusk until he had filled his boat, which was easy on a lake as plentiful as the Silvermere, and he expected to be home before the tenth hour as usual.
However, as he sailed along the coastline, something about this night felt different to him, as if there was some strange power in the air, or as if he was being watched by some unfriendly eyes. Despite this unnerving feeling he rowed on, determined not to allow some vague superstition to keep him from his work. He continued on his usual route, almost filling his boat, until he was within sight of the dark tower.
Ronan’s unease grew, and he cast a troubled look at the tower leering at him in the gloom.
“Damned old ruin”, he muttered, and looking away from the tower he went to cast his nets.
As the nets hit the water, he was blinded by a terrible flash of lightning and a roar of thunder so loud that it almost deafened him, and then he heard a great voice booming from the direction of the dark tower.
Falling in terror to the floor of his boat, Ronan managed to summon his courage to look up, and he saw the tower illuminated with a sickly, pale green light. The booming voice chanted in some tongue Ronan had never heard, until it was cut off by a shriek that sounded like a man in agony. At this shriek, the chanting turned to laughter, and the pale light grew in strength until the waters around Ronan’s boat were shining green.
So terrified that he could not move, Ronan lay in his boat, heart pounding, when suddenly the pale light went out in a flash, the chanting voice ended with a final booming word that chilled Ronan to the bone, and then all was darkness. Not the dark of night- this was an unnatural darkness that seemed to explode from the tower and covered even the light of the moon.
Shaking, Ronan stood up. All was quiet. Ronan rushed to the pull up his last net, threw the fish in with the others and began to row home faster than he ever had before.
Upon returning to Doglan, he found the village standing on the shore, looking out towards the tower. Ronan’s wife rushed to meet him, tears streaming down her face.
The fisherman assured her that he was unharmed, and then, surrounded by the men of the village, he told his story.
The villagers listened in grim silence. They had heard the thunder and seen the lighting, and then witnessed the gloaming blackness cover the night sky. Hearing of the fell voices on the air, it seemed that all the old superstitions were confirmed.
Did this mean a return of the shadow? Was the darkness spreading? Ronan’s story had only increased their anxiety, but as he had nothing else to tell, the families uneasily returned to their homes.
The following days brought great misfortune.
The days were darker, even at midday the Sun was dimmed by the low hanging clouds that covered the lake. At night the air was blustering and cold, despite it being late Spring, and in the howling wind some claimed they could hear a voice.
Three days after that night, the sickness began. Men, women, children, all fell to some unknown ailment. None died, but those affected grew weak and distraught, in their sleep they were consumed by nightmares, and in their waking hours wailed and saw vision of spreading darkness.
The fish, the primary source of food for the people, began to taste bitter, and some even oozed with a black liquid. Those that ate became even more violently ill.
Ronan’s own family was one of the first afflicted. His wife and both his children were soon bedridden.
Ronan was one of the few in the village that did not fall to the sickness, but those few did not consider themselves lucky as they watched what seemed to be some black devilry destroy their once happy home.
A few boys that remained in good health were sent out to the other villages around the shore to plead for help, but they returned with bad news. The sickness had spread all around the lake, and none were better off than the people of Doglan. The few healers in the region were unable to cure the sickness, and a murky despair settled over the whole region. With so many sick, and the fish poisoned, food became scarce. But still, none died.
For two weeks this continued. Ronan continued to care for his family, but their condition only worsened. With fishing no longer an option, he and the other healthy men of the village took up hunting and gathering to keep their families alive.
It was at the end of the third week, while Ronan was hunting in the fields outside Doglan, that he met a stranger on the road.
The stranger had no cart or horse, and walked briskly with a tall white staff covered in runes in his hand. He looked old but strong, perhaps in his fifties, he had long black hair that was beginning to turn gray and his long beard was already tinged with white. He wore a simple grey traveler's cloak and hat, and as he approached Ronan could see that his eyes were a startlingly bright blue.
The traveler stopped a few paces ahead of Ronan.
“Is this the village of Doglan?”, he asked in a clear voice.
“Yes”, answered Ronan, “but if your intent was to visit, you should turn around. There is a fell sickness here… our families are close to death.”
“Did it begin when the darkness came forth from the tower?”, asked the traveler calmly.
Ronan started and furrowed his brow at the stranger, “Yes, in fact it did. What do you know of it?”
“Of what exactly lies in the dark tower, and what exactly happened on that evil night years ago, I know as little as you. But in dealing with the forces of the shadow, and of healing, I know a great deal. I am of the order of the white staff. My name is Abbán.”
Ronan eyed him even more warily. He knew the stories of the men of the white staff of course, he had even met one or two in his youth. Healers, wanderers, prophets… even wizards. He knew they were said to be loyal to the kings and to all the good people of Middengard, but there was something hidden, something dangerous about them.
“Well,” Ronan began slowly, “if you are a man of the staff, have you come to aid us? We need it. Our healers are hapless and we have no course of action left to us”.
“I have been sent to find what darkness lies in the tower of Arnunial. Our order has long thought that the tower lay empty and abandoned after that accursed night. Report of the recent happenings reached us, and it is clear now that we were wrong. I am to rid the tower and the lake of this evil, if it is within my power. I do not know if it is…” Abbán’s voice trailed off, his blue eyes gazing into the horizon where the sun was glinting off the lake.
“And of course”, he continued, I am here to help the people of the lake as well. Take me to your family, I will see what can be done for them.”
Ronan found that he trusted this grey wanderer, and he led him down the green path to Doglan. But at Ronan’s house, the man frowned.
“There truly is great evil here. It weighs on my soul.” He sat his staff against the wall and walked to the sickbeds.
Examining Ronan’s wife and children, Abbán found that he could not heal them. Whatever ailed them was too strong even for a man of the staff. However, he spoke a few soft words in their ears, and they seemed to sleep less fitfully.
Abbán sighed and looked at the fisherman, “Whatever this devilry from the tower is, it must be stamped out if this curse is to be lifted. For it is a curse- no healer or herbs-woman can help your family now. I have eased their suffering, but no more. I will do what I came to do and set out for the tower.”
Ronan nodded, “Thank you, father”, he replied, “Is there anything I can do assist you? Anything I can do for my family?”
“Anything? That is your boat on the bank, I take it? It would do me a great service if you were to ferry me to the ruined city. My legs are weary.”
And so it was that Rónán found himself ferrying a man of the white staff across the Silver Lake, back to the place that had set terror in his soul. As he rowed across the Silveremere, Abbán did not sit, but stood at the prow and gazed on the tower with his piercing eyes. A few times Rónán thought he could hear him muttering, or chanting.
The land around the tower was unnaturally dark, the top of the tower reaching into the night sky like an ominous mountain peak. In the air was a a sense of foreboding and malice, as if the evil had poisoned the very air. The dark tower deserved its name- in its shadow one felt that the very darkness was alive and watchful.
As they neared the city, Rónán’s spirit trembled, but for love of his family and his own pride he showed no sign of it. Soon they came closer to the city than he had ever been before, to the ruins of what had once been the great docks of Arnunial.
Abbán gripped his staff tightly as he stepped onto the dock.
“This place is full of evil, of that I am sure. But I know nothing of what will be found here. If you wish to remain here at the docks, I do not ask that you accompany me any further into peril.”
At these words, something in Rónán felt ashamed. He was only a fisherman, but his family was dying. How could he wait here in the boat, like a coward? He resolved himself to swallowing his fear of the tower.
“If I may, father, I will accompany you. I cannot sit here while my family is so near to death”.
Unexpectedly, Abbán made no protest but merely turned towards the city and instructed the fisherman to follow his every command, to which Rónán readily agreed.
As they began to make their way through the ruined city, they found it eerily silent and empty. There were no wild men, no monsters from the North, no sorcerers or even a bird to be found. All was dark, quiet, and dead, in this ruin of a brighter age.
Rónán saw ruins of beautiful houses and streets and statues, or that would surely have been beautiful in the light of day. But there were also the signs of the city’s destruction, there were wrecked doorways and even bones along the streets. The fisherman shuddered to think what would be found inside the houses.
They passed unchallenged through the streets, though the feeling of foreboding only grew in Rónán’s chest, and the darkness above them seemed to grow heavier. The wind howled around them, and it seemed as if it came directly from the great tower above them, carrying a whisper of a threat.
At last, the fisherman and the wanderer came to the great gate of the dark tower. Its huge iron doors loomed above them, and there was no visible handle or other way of entry.
The fisherman made to speak, but Abbán held up his hand and pointed to a nearby archway, indicating that Rónán should crouch down by it, which he readily did, wondering how this grey cloaked man could force open the fortress.
In the gloom Rónán saw the wanderer place his staff firmly on the ground and rub his fingers along the runes. He began to mutter, first in a whisper, and then louder, and louder. With a cry the old man threw back his cloak and slammed his staff into the ground, and at the same time a streak of lighting lit up the sky. There was a great roar of wind and the gates were flung open, as if rammed by one of the giants from the northern ice fields.
“Wizards indeed”, muttered Rónán.
“Wizard? Hmm…” answered Abbán, who had heard him. “Some have called us that, yes. But our power is not our own. Come now, if you still dare. The tower will not be as friendly as these empty streets, and I have made my presence known.”
They entered, the wizard boldly striding through the gates and into the darkness, the fisherman following close behind.
Entering the dark tower felt to Rónán like entering another world, as if he had stepped through some Faerie ring into another age. There was a weight in the air, and he could feel the years of darkness that had poisoned this once beautiful place.
There was no true light, but there was an odd pale glow that had no discernible source that made it possible for the two to just make out the outlines of the floor and staircases near them. At least, that was all Rónán could see. Abbán seemed to see better in the dark and moved more swiftly than the fisherman could have on his own.
Abbán found a staircase and began to climb. For a while they saw and heard nothing, and it seemed the tower was as empty as the city.
Just as the fisherman’s fear was beginning to fade, the old man stopped and tensed.
“There is some force here, I can feel it”, he whispered, “stay silent”.
The pair stood still as stone for a moment, and then they heard in the darkness a whisper, growing louder, and louder, and louder.
Without warning the wizard cried out and stabbed his staff forward, and though it hit nothing visible there was a monstrous shriek. At this the whispers turned to howls and roars that seemed to come from all sides.
“RUN, NOW!”, yelled Abbán as he began to race up the stairs, the poor fisherman doing all he could to keep up.
“This is the power that destroyed the city, I am sure of it! These are no wild men or true monsters, this is some demonic evil at work. RUN!”
As they ran the wizard continued to battle with unseen wraiths, sometimes striking with his staff, sometimes speaking words that caused great bursts of light and flame. Rónán thought he could hear some beasts just behind them at their heels, barely kept at bay by the wizard’s power.
They battled like this for what felt like an age, up endless flights of stairs. The wizard was growing weary, the light from his staff was growing fainter, and Rónán began to have to support the stumbling old man as they ran, keeping him upright.
Just as Rónán was beginning to despair that they would be caught and shredded by this ancient evil, they came to the top of a staircase and found themselves facing a great door.
Summoning a last effort, Abbán cried and slammed his staff into the ground, there was another great roar of wind, the wraiths following them seemed to be thrown back down the stairs, and the door was swung open. The two adventurers ran through it and Rónán slammed it behind them.
They were in what appeared to be a bedchamber. But they were not alone.
Before them stood a tall, thin figure in a black cloak, and from the hood came a deep, quiet laughter.
“Greetings, Wanderer. Have you come to wave your staff?”
“I have come to rid this tower of a shadow”, replied the wizard, grimy raising his white staff before him.
The figure laughed again and raised his hands to match the wizard, and pale light and fire came forth from his fingers, and he whispered again,
“This city and all its soldiers could not survive me. The gates of the tower could not withstand me. This dead king could not resist me. I am of the great shadow in the North.”
With these words the figure’s cloak was thrown open, and they saw a horrible sight. It was a corpse, but only half rotted, its once handsome features turned sick and terrible. There was a crown on its head.
Abbán muttered a curse and raised his staff higher, his voice becoming fell and commanding,
“You will release this Lord of the High West, demon. He will rest with his fathers and you will return to the ice and shadow of the North. I command it.”
The light and flame from both figures grew, and though neither moved Rónán sensed that some terrible unseen battle was taking place. He crouched in the shadows, in terror that the demon possessed corpse would turn its attention to him.
A shriek came from the corpse, followed again by laughter.
“Lord Beorond suffers,” whispered the demon, “through all these years he and I have wrestled together… his mind is quite broken. But I am strong, strong enough now that my power has infected the lake and these pathetic mud-eating peasants you protect. The shadow grows. Your order cannot stop it.”
The wizard was not cowed.
“You will leave this tower!” roared Abbán. “I am of the order of the white staff and I serve the king that is and the king that is to come. You are but a lesser shadow- I have power and authority above you. OUT, DEMON!”
With this the wizard cried and threw his staff across the room like a spear. In the air it blazed with white fire and there was an explosion of light and thunder as it struck the demon lord. The corpse shrieked, the room was filled then with wind and darkness, and all was still.
The wizard picked up his staff, and from it still came a small light. Rónán came forth from the corner and saw the corpse of Lord Beorond lying on the ground, quite still.
Then he saw that his chest heaved.
He saw the wizard move close, he heard the Lord whisper a faint, “Thank you, Father”, and then all fell silent.
“It is done then,” said the wizard wearily, “The Lord of the tower is at rest and the shadow has fled. I was sorely tested. Thank you my son… without you, I may not have made it to the top of the tower.”
The pair took the body of the lord and brought it down the tower. They found that the darkness had gone and the light of the moon and stars lit the city. No longer the dark tower, it was now only the quiet ruin of Arnunial. In fact, with the darkness lifted they could see that the destruction was not beyond repair. Perhaps one day the city would be restored.
On a hill near the city, they laid the Lord Beorond to rest. The wanderer said some words in a tongue that Ronan did not understand, and the two walked down in silence to the docks. The Sun was beginning to rise.
Upon returning to Doglan, they found that the sick had woken. They were weak and weary, but Abbán assured them that they would recover, and he blessed the people, the village, and the waters of the Silvermere.
He refused Rónán’s offer to stay in his home for a time, despite the fisherman’s insistence. There were the other villages of the lake to visit to ensure the darkness had faded, and the wanderer had other duties that he did not speak of.
The old man left the village silently, covering himself with his grey hat and cloak, and disappeared into the night.
But the next morning, the fisherman found a rune carved into the hull of his boat. He did not known what it meant, but he never again lacked in fish or fair weather from the lake.
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