Chapter One

The Watch

Graic the Watcher was not the honor name I was hoping for when I left The Lost Jewel Hold to seek my fortune, but Fate seemed determined that is what I would be called. I really wanted something more awe inspiring, like Graic the Foe Slayer or Graic of the Mighty Limbs. But in the 3 months I have been with the Baron's militia for the spring Orc clearing, the only thing I have done is watch.

As another day dawned over Thunderfist's Keep, I turned my gaze from the woods beyond the cleared ground to the interior of the keep's walls. As he did so, I willed my vision to change from infrared to daylight and saw the same scene I had seen every day since my arrival to this post.

The Keep's courtyard was like any of the dozens of others along the frontier. The morning watch was beginning to stir, the soldiers moving more by need then thought to where the cooks were setting up the breakfast porridge and eggs, always the eggs. Of course there were the few, quite a few, lined up in front of the chapel. They were not there for morning services. The chapel also served as the Keep's infirmary with the cleric as the healer.

The soldiers stood up as the door to the chapel opened. It was very hard for Graic not to smile. As the cleric walked out and began to speak with them even a Dwarf could tell the only illness the soldiers suffered from was loneliness. Their illness was complicated by the extreme beauty of the healer. The cleric came from the far south and her exotic features, raven black hair and almost jet black eyes set well against her olive skin. Even her name Rada Cimitato sounded exotic to the fairly common names here in the North.

The cleric and soldiers stopped their conversations and as one turned to see me opposite number on the north wall come down. Graic understood why this happened. Faeloswien the Elf had beauty equal to the southern woman's but was a polar opposite in every way. Blonde hair and blue eyes with skin so white it glowed and even finer Elvin features then most Elves had. Cleric Cimitato stood a fair 5' 8" and a slim 110 pounds while Faeloswien was 5' flat and muscular 80 pounds.

The greatest difference in the two females was in their attitudes. Cleric Cimitato always the ray of sunshine entering the room. She tried to help everyone she met or at least give them a word of encouragement. Faeloswien was more like a fast moving iceberg, cold, silent and devastating.

Ignoring the others as usual, Faeloswien went over to the cooks and grabbed a bowl porridge and then sat down with her back to the wall and began to eat while watching all around her. Cleric Cimitato began talking to her charges again and soon the morning routine was back on. That was when the voice broke my stoic stance.

"Have you fallen in love with one or both of our fair maidens too Graic?"

I forced a frown back onto my face and turned to face my relief and friend Sergeant Lyndon Vale and said, "Your late and no I am not a fawn losing all control over a pretty face." Seeing the plain looking Lyndon, I could not help but think again how different he looked from the others. Lyndon Vale was so average looking that when some of the Keep's inhabitants went looking for him, they would mistake three or four other men for him before finding him. Brown hair, brown eyes, average height, average build, no outstanding features except for his tan leathery skin. That was also fairly normal for older men here in the frontier, where most of your time is spent outdoors.

Thinking about it Graic realized he was also the opposite of Lyndon. Graic while average height for a Dwarf, was very heavy. Graic topped the scales 200 pounds but only stood 4' 8" tall. Round as a barrel was how his Pa had described him. Of course his flame red hair and ankle length beard were not a very common sight either. Most of the people he met thought his weight and ruddy complexion were due to too much ale.

Bringing my thoughts back to the here and now, I saw Lyndon had shifted his gaze and looked there. As I turned my own green eyes to the main keep's doors they finished opening and another odd couple walked out. Their conversation could be overheard by almost everyone since the Human wizard being the tallest in the keep at 6' 4" spoke loudly so the 3' tall Halfling could hear him. While both had hair of only slightly different shades of brown that could be about the only similarity between them. The magic user being skin and bones while the Halfling was extremely well muscled. Perhaps the oddest difference was in their eyes. The Halfling's eyes were a pleasant hazel but the wizard's were just disturbing. Some kind of accident during his magical training had left him with no iris or pupils. All he had were the whites with red vertical stripes running through them. This did not mean he was blind however. As Graic watched the two the magic user turned his head toward the female odd couple and quickly excused himself from the Halfling.

"Which one do you think he will approach today," Lyndon asked

Graic answered, "Rada is busy with those slackers so he will go to Faeloswien"

As we watched, the wizard did indeed go up to the Elf and unlike everyone else in the keep would not have been, he was greeted and they began a conversation.

Lyndon looked down at his friend and asked, "Do you think he will ever pick one of the two?"

I thought for a second and then said, "I don't see how he can, Trevor is in love with our dear cleric as all you Humans are, but magic is his first love and Elves know magic like no one else. How could someone choose between their two loves as great as that?"

As I said this I changed to looking over to where the Halfling had gone to. I found him inspecting the morning victuals. I remarked to Lyndon, "At least he doesn't have the problems our dear Rolo has."

"You shouldn't call our Captain by his first name Graic of the Sharptongue Clan." Sergeant Vale admonished.

I got proud and said, "Thunderfist is not my lord. I serve the Sharptongue Clan and by agreement with your Baron and my Chief came here to assist all of you. The Baron's Warmaster sent me here to Thundrfist Keep." Rolo's father Sheriff Tork Hilshire was one of the many former adventurers who had done so well he had been able to establish a stronghold. He and his soldiers know protected the frontier from the many enemies the Barony had.

Lyndon continued, "Besides Captain Hilshire is just trying to be a good leader, being our Lord's only son and due to inherit all of this one day." Lyndon thought for a moment and as a sly smile crossed his face he said, "Actually they have the same exact problem."

I turned to my friend and said, "And what would that problem be my dear fellow?"

"Both Wizard Goodfellow and Captain Hilshire lack the experience to put their considerable skills to good use. This is the Captain's first time in command of the Keep while his father is out reducing the Orcs. Wizard Goodfellow has a great deal of talent but since the accident that gave him those eyes shows he can be a little careless. As time goes by both will learn what they really need to know to use their raw talent."

I frowned again and thought about Lyndon's declaration before saying, "Ay you are probably right."

Lyndon seemed to continue without hearing me, "They are both learning already, Wizard Goodfellow by having the Elf teach him about magic and Captain Hilshire when he took in you and the Elf when no one else in the Barony would."

Graic's sour look showed what he thought of that statement. When I left the Stronghold I knew I would not meet a lot of other Dwarves. Most of the civilized peoples of the world of Quenfax were either Humans or Halflings. Dwarves were definitely third. No one was ever sure how many Elves there were but it was not many. There were many other races both civilized and not who are allied both for and against the main four races but none were present in this little keep.

Now the four races were not exactly on the best of terms. There was always some prejudice when outsiders came among one of the other races. Graic got his first taste of that prejudice when he reported to the Baron's militia and was made to wait three days before they could find a fortress who would accept him. None of the units going out to fight the Orcs and Goblins would even consider him.

Of course there were always exceptions to rule. Lyndon was one of those and had accepted me as a comrade as soon as I had arrived at the Keep. But still in a grumpy voice I said, "And how is taking the Elf and me showing experience?"

Lyndon's smile grew as Graic's shrank, "None of the other Captains would put aside their bigotry and gave up on two soldiers who can see in the dark."

I was stunned for a moment at this. I had never thought of my and the Elf's infravision as extraordinary. It was something everyone in both of our races had. I had actually got a shock when I learned Humans and Halflings could not see in the dark with infravision.

"Why did you think you two were always on night guard when everyone else rotates duties?" Lyndon asked.

To try and get some of my sudden loss of face back I then asked, "Well then Mister Insight, what are Rada and Faeloswiens' problems?"

Lyndon did not even think and said, "Cleric Cimitato just needs to select the god she will serve. It is not something to do lightly. She will be fine as soon as she does." It was a few moments before Lyndon speaks again, "I do not know what problems the Elf has. I do know that whatever they are they are far more then she can solve here."

I thought over these statements and found I agreed with him. Lyndon was a twenty year veteran of the militia. He knew how to read people. There was something in the case of the Elf I knew that Lyndon did not. Faeloswien was not her name. Graic did not know what the Elf's real name might be. He did know that Faeloswien was not a name but a title of shame meaning Outcast. It is given to those who have done something so terrible against other Elves they are no longer welcome among them. Graic had kept this information to himself. Dwarves did not share things with others easily and if the Elf did not tell others he would respect her wishes.

"But now it is daylight my stout friend. You are relieved of your post. Go and get yourself some food and sleep. Maybe when we are off duty later we can try and solve the mysteries of our comrades in arms." Lyndon said.

I let out an exaggerated yawn and said, "Now that is one order I can easily follow. Make sure we have some mutton for dinner and I will solve all of these mysteries for you." With that I left for my uncomfortable but much sought after cot.