“A sword of bronze, in the right hands, can pierce the heart of the greatest creature. It is all a matter of the person who wields it. Do they have the courage to face their foe? Do they have the cunning to find its weakness? Do they have the strength to drive the sword through?
Heroes are the ones blessed by the Patron gods. They are given that courage, that strength, that cunning. With their abilities so enhanced, they turn the humble spear and shield into destroyers of cities, slayers of armies. They fell colossal beasts, vanquish mighty foes and earn great glory and wealth.
They can live for a hundred years, falling to time or as often as not, the blade. They are not invincible and their flesh will not turn a sword’s point. But for the gods’ chosen, an eternity of everlasting joy can be found at the side of the Patrons. For the truly great live on, elevated to real immortality in the realm of Shaphas.”
- Therocanos of Cascis, storyteller
The young man was tall, lean and oak-skinned. His hair, long and unbound, matched his dark eyes as it flowed freely in the breeze. The plains yawned before him in an endless sea of dull brown and green, beaten by the sun into a dry flatland.
He could not afford the armour worn by the rich men of the city. Behind their walls, they knew nothing but safety and comfort and their smiths could forge for them suits of banded bronze, glittering with gems and fine fur cloaks. For him, the only protection against his opponent would be the honest labours of his village.
Helnos was just a small collection of cattle herders and tradesmen nestled within the the vast central plains of the Arkand Peninsula. The man’s family had kept livestock for generations and had always skinned and tanned their own leather. His sister had carefully lined his shield and breast plate with felt and fur, and his mother had stitched it into a tightly-fitting tunic of oiled hide. Faint traces of the cow-skin remained, patching his chest with pale grey and brown.
His father’s sword, long ago pulled from the grasp of a dead enemy, was now in his hand. He gripped it tightly as he stared across the empty field at his foe.
There was no mercy to be found in the eyes of Krikon of Montus, nor any trace of humanity. He was a wealthy man, having fought in many battles and even now wore a panoply and helm stripped from fallen dead. A layered bronze chest piece offered a warm reflection of the cloud-strewn sky, and the blue horsehair crest atop his head bobbed lazily in the breeze.
Krikon’s beard, wet with scented oil, fell like a black slick from his jaw. Though the man himself was a bull, his nose was long and pointed, his cheeks gaunt. He had face of a weasel but spoke forcefully nonetheless, ‘I gave you a warning, Tassian. I told you to stay away and let me claim my prize, as is my right.’
Tassian said nothing. He swayed slightly on the spot, testing his muscles. Sweat trickled down his brown skin, even though the air was mild.
‘I tell you a final time,’ Krikon barked, lifting his spear. ‘Bring your sister - my bride out to me or I will slay you where you stand!’
The wind lifted Tassian’s hair from his eyes. He answered, his voice deep and strong. ‘She will not have you, Krikon of Montus. Go home. Leave us in peace lest your polished armour blinds you.’
Krikon grimaced angrily and took a step forward. ‘I am a Hero, you little whelp, and a veteran of the Battle of Danae! It is my privilege to take a bride when and where I choose! If I want your sister, your mother, even your daughter for my bed you will be honoured or else be swept aside!’
A Hero. Tassian wanted to spit at the name. Many were the tales of those touched by the Patron Gods, given insurmountable speed and strength, as well as mastery of the forces of the earth. Yet they were Heroes in name only. Heroic power, as it was known, could be used as much for ill as for good.
Tassian firmed his resolve. He hefted his shield, made for him by his family and raised his sword, carried by his father. They were no match for Krikon’s good bronze armour, of that he had no illusion and to his death, the empty plain would be oblivious.
Still, his challenge was unwavering. ‘Even the strongest gale cannot sweep aside a mountain.’
Krikon bared his teeth, furious. He ran a finger under the edges of his helmet to freshen the skin beneath and above, the blue crest swayed. He flicked his spear into an overhand grip and made ready his shield of hammered bronze.
‘A mountain. Very well, boy. We will see if your mettle matches your words.’
The plains erupted into a blast of sand and dust. Krikon covered the distance in a single bound and brought his spear down, expecting to feel the jarring thud of flesh against the tip.
His eyes were wide in anticipation of the kill. He felt an impact and let out a hiss of satisfaction. He tugged on the shaft, sensing it was stuck fast. Spears often snagged on bone and sometimes it took a little teasing before it could be pulled out.
The dust cleared but there was no blood on the ground.
Krikon’s expression fell into disbelief as he saw the hand wrapped around the shaft of his spear. He tried to pull it back but Tassian’s grip was absolute and it would not move. ‘How...’ he whispered hoarsely, ‘...how did you?’
The young man stared back at him mercilessly. ‘Not all those with power choose to live as you do, fiend. You kill men, take their gold, their wives, their daughters and think just because the gods have made you strong, you may act as they do.’ In a single, deft movement Tassian wrenched on the spear, snapping it cleanly. ‘No longer.’
Krikon yelped, then choked as Tassian’s sword entered his chest, punching up through the metal until it emerged red and wet from the skin of his shoulder. The blade was drawn out just as quickly, leaving only a dark lip that steadily wept blood.
In just a heartbeat, Krikon’s skin grew pale, his eyes glassy. The power that had filled him moments before, making the very ground quake underfoot, had fled. He staggered forward a few paces before crumpling to the ground, his blood running out into the cracked earth in crimson threads.
Spitting the dust from his mouth, Tassian turned away. The carrion hawks would feast on the body and time would forget the small battle that had been fought on his land. Before him, Helnos awaited, a modest collection of stone and timber dwellings and animal pens.
Let men like Krikon have their riches, Tassian reflected as he caught the heady scent of cattle dung on the wind. His power would protect his family, for as long as he had the strength. He doubted the Patrons truly cared either way.