Saturday, December 05, 2009

Nurios, Part 3

Ok, so there will be a part IV too, this chapter should give a better idea of who Nurios is as a character however.


Their first night, Prince Sovreim gathered them together in his study to tell them their purpose. “You are young and may not fully understand this yet, but we are a small nation surrounded by many enemies. Our port is the finest for hundreds of miles up or down the coast and has made our city very wealthy thanks to all of the traders that prefer our harbor. Wealth draws envy however, and for many hundreds of years the threat of attack from Esmellia and Tartaiga, who with no port of their own, gaze greedily in our direction. Our one saving grace has been that they detest one another and spend their efforts fighting between each other over who will try to take us, for they would not leave such a bitter enemy at their backs when they invade. I fear however, that should one of those two dominate the other, we would be their next target. We are well positioned to defend ourselves, but against their numbers we cannot hold forever. Others in my family have urged that we ally ourselves with one nation or the other, to show our loyalty to them as a friend and neighbor, but don’t believe for a moment that an alliance with either country would be tossed to the side as soon as it was no longer convenient, so I say no. Others would have me hire foreign sellswords to help us defend ourselves. When though? Should we keep them on retainer forever, lounging about the country doing nothing but draining our coffers, possibly for decades while Esmellia and Tartaiga sporadically attack one another? Should I trust foreigners, loyal only to coin to give their lives for us? Again, I said no. Long have I wondered how might gain an advantage, what weapon we might use to defend our country against our enemies, and finally I believe the four of you are my answer.

The four of you are going to form the core of a new service within our nation, tasked with its defense in ways that the army cannot. An experiment whose success should help keep Esmellia and Tartaiga pecking away at each other rather than ourselves, and give us the one advantage that even numbers cannot easily defeat; information. You are to be trained to infiltrate the strongholds of our enemies and learn their secrets, to cross their countries unnoticed and observe their forces, to perform acts of sabotage and spread disinformation, and though I do not relish the thought, to commit assassinations should it come to that. I speak of spies, for that is what you shall be trained to be. You each have your talents, and you have nothing to go back to other than punishment for your crimes, and a return to the streets. Service to your countrymen though, offers a path where you would be saving the lives of many thousands of our people, and better lives for yourselves. For yourselves you will not want for a place to live, or food to eat, you will be educated and trained; to outside appearances you will be young members of my court. In each other you will find family and friends; in this keep you will have a home. And when your service ends, your work will not go unrewarded, I promise you.”

He let it go unsaid, but they understood, that they were not being given a choice by the prince, they weren’t being offered the opportunity to return to the streets if they declined to become spies. Their fates had been decided, and besides, the thought of becoming spies was exciting and mysterious and they imagined a great deal of sneaking about in the dark and speaking with hushed voices and other childish melodrama. So they agreed, that protecting their nation sounded a fine thing, and that they would all live up to the prince’s expectations and save the people from their enemies! The prince had smiled at their youthful enthusiasm, and then rang a bell on his desk. The door opened behind the boys and a man wearing an iridescent robe entered, pushing a servants cart before him. They gaped at his outlandish robes and tried to see what was on the cart and saw were four silver trenchers, but didn’t see any food on them, or anywhere else on the cart. Seeing their confusion, the robed man chuckled, “all will become clear in moments lads, I promise, this is something you will never forget.”

The prince cleared his throat behind them and they spun around abashed that they had gotten distracted, to find that the smile on his face faded, replaced by a solemn, serious look. “Young you boys are, and like most young men, your attention is no greater than a sparrow’s. The rush of excitement from your new role will undoubtedly soon lose its luster and like normal boys your focus will want to move to something new. Unfortunately, you are no longer normal boys, and your focus on your duty must remain strong, lest all of us be lost. So it is I will have you swear your service to myself and your new order, and you will be given a reminder, a constant reminder of your duty, that you will carry with you forever.” His grim and heavy words dampened their youthful enthusiasm, and suddenly they grew uncomfortable as the realization that this was no game slowly took hold in their minds.

“Speak after me, using your own names in place of mine” the prince began, “I, Prince Wilhelm Sovreim, do solemnly swear to serve and protect the nation of Allas and all of her people no matter how mean their station might be. I do so pledge that I shall stand as defender against any enemy that would seek to do harm unto her, sacrificing my honor and if need be my life to keep her safe.” When their vows were complete, the prince bade them turn to where the robed man had arranged the four platters in a row, and poured a layer of what looked to be quicksilver in their basins. “You have spoken the words; now lay your palms in the trays to seal your oath, now and forever.” Nervously the boys stepped up to the platters and each slowly lowered his shaking hands into the silvery liquid.

At first, it just felt like sinking his palms into warm mud, but then a sudden jolt ran through Nurios’s body and he stood paralyzed as fire seemed to ignite on his hands, unbearable needles of flame firing up his arms and turning his vision white with pain. He tried to draw away, tried to scream in agony, but he could not so much as blink or breathe. After what seemed like days, the pain suddenly released him and he staggered backward, his hands cradled before him and tears and snot running freely down his face. When he dared to finally look at his palms, he expected to see nothing left but exposed bone and burned flesh but instead saw his hands were intact and unburned except they now glittered as though they themselves were made of sterling silver. He rubbed them against each other in sudden horror, but was startled when the texture of each hand gripped the other more than any callous would, almost as though the skin of his hand was a cat’s tongue. Looking at the prince in fear he saw a solemn but sad look on his face, “I am sorry boys, I know the pain was intense, but the memory of it will fade soon. You are now oath-bound and the reminder of your oath is there before you to remind you of who you are and what your duty is. Welcome to the Silverhands.”

So began their training, long hard days starting before dawn with physical and weapons training until noon, then after lunch they spent the rest of the day until dark learning. Learning to read, write, to understand maps and how to draw them, and how to speak other languages as understanding military strategies and terminology, how to quickly estimate troop strengths. Then there were the more…hands on learning. Picking locks, sounding out hidden compartments in desks and chests, climbing walls without special equipment and how to move quietly and remain hidden, both in the wilderness and in a city. Years went by and each of the four of them grew to specialize in different aspects of their training; Teller had the greatest grasp of tactics and strategy and how to read battle plans and commit them to memory, and though he had been dismissed from the church, his connection to St. Cuthbert remained as strong as Teller’s faith, and he was able to command divine magic. Gaff was clearly the fighter among them, his ability to wield almost any weapon he could find or improvise made him a deadly opponent who could incapacitate a man quickly and quietly. Rondo was the best marksman among them, only slightly edging Norios out, and outside of the city, his youth as the son of a poacher aided him and let him find his way, track an enemy, or forage to feed them as they crossed the land, but even after years of work, he was still somewhat out of his element in the city. Nurios himself, Tailor to his brothers, grew to be the most adept of the four of them at concealment and finer arts of what would be called burglary if he weren’t in the prince’s service. He may not have had Gaff’s awesome strength, or Rondo’s keen eye, but with a knife he could find the chink in any man’s armor and deliver a silent, lethal blow.