Chapter 1 - The Dead Man

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Nothing ever really changed in that valley, at least not as long as Sayest could remember.

The first pink rays of the morning sun were just beginning to peek over the edge of the field where Sayest methodically followed along the furrows, planting potatoes. His uncles, aging as they were, appreciated having a healthy young man at their disposal for farm work. Sayest could be the one who got up early to make sure the fields were tended and the animals watered and fed. And they could sleep in.

Sayest really didn't mind the work, for the most part. He loved his uncles. They were good people with hearty laughs who had taken him in when his mother died. But by the gods, they couldn't get up before daybreak for anything. It was maddening sometimes. Sayest briefly wondered how they'd managed to keep the farm running before he'd been dropped into their lives.

But he had a home, and a makeshift family. He couldn't complain too much. And living outside Knight's Dame, deep in the Lonely Hills of Rasara, meant that he got a beautiful view every time he stepped out his front door. The town itself had a lot of... character, but he supposed he'd gotten used to its unique charms. He really couldn't imagine living anywhere else.

The sun illuminated the surrounding hills, some covered with trees and others with grass or other furrowed fields. Early morning mist still hovered in the air and settled in the valleys like a comforting blanket. A wisp of a breeze cleared some of the fog, revealing the sleepy little town of Knight's Dame nestled comfortably between the rolling hills. A peaceful, uneventful morning. He'd be lucky if he could stay awake long enough to finish planting.

And then he saw it. A slight movement off to his right, somewhere in the brush. Most people would have ignored it and returned to work, but not Sayest. His fantastic instincts as a hunter kicked in - some of the best in the village if old Tim, the local barkeep, was to be believed. And he knew he'd seen something. Or perhaps he was just paranoid. That was a distinct possibility too.

If he had chosen to ignore it, perhaps destiny would not have come to pass that day. Perhaps Sayest would have spent the rest of his life in that sleepy little village, unknowing of the turmoil beyond the hills. But he did notice, and he did choose to investigate, thus setting in motion a series of events that would pass into legend.

Sayest was concerned with more practical matters at the moment, however. The only thing resembling a weapon nearby was his hoe, which he gripped with steady hands as he cautiously stepped forward to investigate. The hard plant life crunched underneath his boots as he left the field, his eyes firmly on the scrubs ahead where he was sure he'd seen the movement. But he couldn't venture a guess as to who or what it was. He hadn't gotten a clear enough look.

"Who's there?" he asked, stepping closer with every second. He could see his breath in the chilly spring air, and he kept his eyes and ears open for any sort of response. Even if it wasn't a person, his voice should scare up any animals and he would have his answer.

No animals rushed away, so it had to be a person. That scared him, as he knew how to deal with a raccoon. He hoped to the gods it was Calin playing some stupid prank on him, but somehow he sincerely doubted it. It could be a thief or a murderer, or perhaps old Mrs. Parsons had wandered away again because she couldn't remember where she needed to be. He wasn't about to make any assumptions and gamble with his life.

Sayest fell silent, hoping the intruder would make a move that gave their exact location away so he could catch them by surprise. Sayest's keen ears picked up on breathing and he took his chance. He lunged, leaping through the brush, his "weapon" at the ready and his heart pounding loudly in his ears.

Before him lay a man, flat on the ground, aged and worn with his traveling clothes in a similar state. The front of his plain white shirt was stained with blood, as was his beard.

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