The Oak and the Raven



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darkisaac

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Haven't posted here in a while!

In any case, this is the first part of a short story I'm writing in response to this thread on the Writing Prompts subreddit. If you enjoy it (and have a reddit account) feel free to go to the thread and upvote my comment!

I am writing the second part soon, hopefully tomorrow.

Feedback is welcome!


The Oak and the Raven, Pt. I

Ser Ohlin of Stormhaven was a brute of a man. Twenty stone and towering almost four feet above the average knight, he seemed less like a human and more like a massive oak clad in castle-forged steel. That was, in fact, how he had earned the name of Ohlin Ironbark — after the fabled trees of the Highlands, which were rumored to be as dark as granite and twice as strong.

Ironbark was a battle-hardened veteran. Like most nobles, he’d been trained in both sword and lance since he was old enough to read. He earned his knighthood shortly before his sixteenth year, for beheading Allen the Barbarian at the Battle of Falkirk, and it wasn't long before he had command of his own cavalry.

In combat, Ser Ohlin had earned a reputation for being efficient and brutal. It was rumored that he could cleave a man in half with a single blow. With dense, muscled arms and a thick, black beard, his men had taken to comparing him to one of the feral bears of the Old Forest. By the time he was promoted to General (shortly before his fortieth year), the name ‘Ironbark’ was a source of both fear and admiration throughout the realm.

It was this very reputation that made Ironbark a favorite to win the melee in this year’s Fall Tourney — and it was also what made the crowd fall silent in disbelief when Ironbark’s first opponent set foot in the arena.

Before Ser Ohlin stood a young man roughly half his size and no older than one score and five years. He was well-built for his age, muscular and lean; though next to Ironbark he might as well have been a malnourished stable hand. Indeed, by all accounts the boy’s only remarkable features were his bronze complexion and his striking red eyes. Even his armor, comprised mainly of tanned leather and light mail, looked woefully inadequate in the face of Ironbark’s bulking steel plates.

“Is this a joke?” roared Ser Ohlin, his voice coarse and ill-mannered — he was a man of few words, and unused to subtleties. “Boy looks like he can hardly feed himself without a wet nurse, let alone hold a sword in his hands!”

The crowd laughed loudly in a mocking tune; atop the stands, the nobles whispered condescendingly amongst themselves; even the tourney’s patron, Lord Stout (who was normally a humorless bore of a man), found himself joining in the ridicule. Ironbark, however, was anything but amused. He was an impatient man, and loathed having his time wasted. Perhaps sensing his annoyance, his squire handed him a flagon brimming with mulled wine.

It was not uncommon to see smallfolk in the early rounds of the competition — between the promised prize money and the prestige of being declared Fall Champion, the Tourney was like a summons for fools and novices to try their luck in the pit. Every year, boys aspiring towards an unlikely knighthood would enter the fray in hopes of impressing their lords — only to be taught a harsh lesson when the knights left them bruised and bloodied.

Ironbark took a long swig of the flagon in his hand before handing the empty cup back to his cowering assistant. He then turned back to face his would-be challenger, somewhat placated by the alcohol. “I’m not wasting my time cutting down a child. Go back to whatever southern hole you crawled out of boy, it’ll save you a few broken bones."

As Ironbark met the young man's unflinching gaze, he was surprised to find that the boy’s youthful appearance belied a pair of cold and haunting eyes — the eyes of a man who had been forced to leave his childhood behind at far too early an age.

“I can't imagine this crowd paid good money to see the great Ironbark of Stormhaven cower from a challenger," retorted the red-eyed stranger.

The crowd fell silent.

Ironbark’s short temper surfaced almost immediately, his face flushing in a seething rage. “Beating some senile knight-errant in the preliminary rounds does not make you a proper challenger, boy!” he fumed. “I’ve given you a warning! I will not give it again!”

The young man eyed Ohlin silently, resting his hand on the crimson pommel of his sword. In a fluid motion, he drew a long, elegant blade as dark as the starless night sky. So dark, in fact, that all light seemed to die on its surface, as if devoured by a ravenous void.

Ironbark’s eyes widened. Amongst the crowd, whispers and murmurs began spreading like an untamed flame. There was no mistaking a black so deep and true.

Nightsteel.

The magnum opus of the famed Alderian mastersmiths. A metal lighter and stronger than even the finest steel money could buy.

Impossibly difficult to forge, nightsteel had been a rare commodity even before the Great Conquest twenty years prior, when the King and his armies had all but wiped out the Alderian city-states. Now, only a handful nightsteel swords remained — the secret to their production lost when the surviving mastersmiths chose the noose instead of revealing their methods.

Ironbark could only wonder how a mere boy had gotten his hands on one of the greatest treasures of the known world.

“My name is Sayif Zal-Aman,” declared the young man, projecting his voice for all to hear. “One of the last remaining sons of the Alderian free cities. I have traveled far and wide to fight in this tourney, Ironbark, and I intend to win it.”

The crowd was entranced by the unfolding drama. It was not every day that one laid eyes on a fabled dark-blade, let alone an Alderian survivor. For the first time since the young man set foot inside the arena, he was seen not as a child, but as a warrior. Alderians were renowned swordsmen, after all.

“If your arrogance impedes you from facing me,” he continued, “then perhaps this sword will be enough incentive. Beat me, and it is yours. Do you accept?”

Incensed, Ironbark drew his broadsword in a violent stroke. For this green pup to wager something as valuable and rare as a nightsteel blade with no hesitation — as if he were already certain of the battle’s outcome — the arrogance! Ohlin would not stand for it. He would die before letting a child make light of him.

“You should’ve just told me you were Alderian scum from the start, boy,” Ohlin spat. “You’ll have your fight.”
 
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KingdomKey

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This has a fantastic start to it that I couldn't stop reading! I want to read more and see what happens after the outcome of this fight between Ironbark and Sayif! The fact that a green pup is wagering his own rare blade in this fight makes it quite exciting. I wonder why this tourney matters so much to Sayif. What does he get out of it if he beats Ironbark? Anyways, this was incredibly well written. I'm definitely enjoying it so far. I do hope there'll be more chapters to come. :)
 
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