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Memoirs of a Freethinker
Part 3: The Nature of Notre-Wood
_________
I
Breaking the Routine


     Generations of humankind have tread through this ancient world, each being born, living their lives, and ultimately dying. Such is the nature of life, but so too do non-living beliefs and organizations, following the pattern of birth, life, and death. Countries and cultures follow a similar pattern, albeit spanning a much longer period of time. Many of the ancient cultures and people met their end through war, their entirety being annihilated or absorbed into the conquering society in an everlasting mandate of heaven. But there is still another way for a civilization to leave existence: they are forgotten.  
     Due to a form of xenophobia, ethnocentrism, or events beyond their control, a people may be separated from the rest of the world.  There, in isolation, they are forgotten about while they simultaneously forget about the rest of the world. As they inbreed and their numbers wane they forget about their glorious past, they forget what distinguished them from the rest, and ultimately they fall into barbarism with only trace elements of a more sophisticated culture that they do not understand, they become a shadow of themselves. As as the centuries go by the shadow too will fade away leaving behind not even a legend of their existence for the rest of the world to remember.   
     This story is about my companions and I making contact with such a civilization. The irony of this tale is that despite their forgotten existence they lived generation after generation in seclusion underneath a bustling city of a great nation still in its birthing process. Whats more, had it not been for the original citizens of the region the new nation, Notre-Wood, would never have began to form.
     It had been nearly two years since the last great adventure that I had partaken in, namely our siege upon Cathedral Keep, a monastery several miles north of the Nachurdan citystate Aradin. Since then my friends and I had been performing small tasks and quests for the locals of our travels and exploring the wildernesses around the bustling cities that we passed through. Most of those adventures were unremarkable, although several do warrant the time for me to transcribe. They, however, do not have relevance  with the overall theme of theses memoirs, that being our part in stopping the Echoes and our feud with Lord Chernobog, and so I will exclude them. Perhaps I will someday write them down as part of another collection.
     Well, we eventually[1] fount ourselves within the confines of the city Denolden, the capital of Notre-Wood fiefdom[2]. We had meant to only pass through the fiefdom but so it would happen the winter was the fiercest that Iendi had seen for generations and mighty storms of ice and snow came down from the north enough that the southern reaches of the realm to freeze for the season, trapping us in the small city.
     We made the best of the situation and found temporary accommodations within the heart of the city, renting an entire loft of a local tavern. The space was split into a short hallway separating two decent sized rooms. Occupying one was Evander Nalosam and Geranold Steelringer while the other was home to myself and Geranold's sister, Ianthe Emberhue, my lover at the time. In town we took odd jobs, usually delivering packages, collecting bounties on criminals, and acting as hired guards for caravans of inventory and dignitaries. In my spare time I always had my nose in books, writing down whatever histories, sciences, theologies, and magics I could find into my notebook enchanted in such a way that I could never run out of blank pages.
     One morning like all the rest in that never-changing city, my day started up as routine; Ianthe and I awoke in a tangle of arms and legs after a vigorous night of, well, I'll just say exercise, in the privacy of our apartment. The sun was just beginning to rise over the stone and wooden structures of the city, the crisp air of spring containing a thick fog from the sea that would soon be burned away from the heat of the daytime hours. Even in the center of that metropolises a rooster would bellow its morning alarm each day, assuring our ability to wake on time to prepare for whatever arrangements we had for the day.
     With a stretch I rolled over to see the young and quite lovely Yägan crawl out of bed and arch her back with her arms in the air, releasing her own muscles tensions and allowing the sudden flow of blood through her muscles to wash away the drowsiness of sleep. As always, I watched her routine stretches quite mesmerized by the curves of her unclad body. She swung her head around to look at me, splashing her brown hair from one shoulder to the other and gave me a slight smirk.
     "Well? Are you going to get up or lay there all day?" She asked me.
     I gave a slight shrug and replied "Well, it depends on if your laying here with me."[3]
     She came over to bed, over-exaggerating the motion of her hips in a particularity suggestive gait after my remark. She started some retort but it never came to fruition because I abruptly grabbed a hold of her waist and pulled her into the bed on top of myself. Her happy squeal and giggles were stifled as I locked my lips onto her own.
     Needless to say, we ended up late meeting the men we were to escort around the city, for our appointment that day was to act as bodyguards to a particularly paranoid nobleman. I believe that the poor man, who's name I cannot even remember now, would have been left waiting all day if it was not the fierce pounding on our door about an hour later. As it turned out, that is exactly what happened for as it tured out we never did make our appointment to escort him.
     "Break it apart in there, we need to get going!" I heard the annoyed voice of Evander shout through the shoddy door. Than, in a more mumbled voice, "Crows, every bloody day."
     We hastily jumped from the warm confines our bed and slipped into our gear. Ianthe wearing a light leather jerkin with matching britches. Around her hips was a thick belt holding sever pouches and a short sword while on her back he had a bow and its accompanying quiver of arrows. I wore a cloth shirt (I could never stand the heat of leather on my arms and I could never gather enough strength to wear any form of metal armor) and leather breeches. I too had several pouched attached to my belt, but while the woman had supplies to make arrows, mend her bow, items for first aid, and other such tasks mine were mostly filled with runestones. Those small carved rocks were my contribution to our small band; I could not perform magical spells but I had enough arcanic power to enhance our abilities in and out of battle. My weapon of choice was an ancient mace named Noonstar that given to me by the specter that wielded it in life. The weapon was enchanted in such a way that it was extremely potent against creatures of the Hellish Echo, particularly beings such as demons, devils, and evil undead.
     Deeming ourselves presentable and ready for any possible assaults on the noble's life we exited our abode to head into town with our other two companions.
   
***
   
     The tavern we were staying above, the Drunken Clam, was located in the central district of Denolden, right off one of one of the larger bazaars. Already the cobblestone streets were bustling with merchants and shoppers just like every other day the past winter. While the setting was pleasant and picturesque enough, I was growing restless there and was eager for a change in scenery; I could tell that the others were as well. As fate would have it, that break in routine was soon to come in ways that we never expected.
     As we walked the streets of the bustling city every sight was as it had been each other day. The same merchants peddled the same wares as it had been each other day. The same vagabonds and drifters asking us for coin or bread were being pushed off the streets by the same guards doing their everyday duties half-heartily. If I didn't know any better I would have said that Denolden was trapped in time more so than even Terrical years earlier!
     I did notice something different however, what it was I couldn't quite put a figure on it. It was was nothing major, but rather some fine detail. Every so often I thought I saw on the corner of my eye a shadow skirt behind a wall or a cart of merchandise. Several times I made a point to check where I saw the mysterious figure but never to any avail. Finally due to the fruitlessness of my attempts and the teasing of my friends (except for Geranold, who I still had not yet heard speak... but he did give me several peculiar looks) I stopped my efforts. The shadows were quickly forgotten however as I saw a face in the crowd that I did recognize.  
     "Rory!" I cried aloud at the blonde haired archer that I had not seen in years, not since our escape from Terrical.
     Startled, for she was not expecting her name to be shouted there[4] she spun to look over at myself. I saw her face change as she scanned through her memory to locate my face that she could probably recognize but could not put a name to. Like a flash of lightning her features changed as she realized who I was.
     "Knot!" She replied, running over to myself and flinging her arms around my neck in a tight hug. She than saw who was accompanying me and subsequently embraced Ianthe, Geranold, and Evander.
     Forgetting about our planned assignments for that day we went with the young woman to one of the local taverns where we told her about our happenings over the past several years , which she took in with full interest. After asking us some questions about our exploits, Rory went into telling us what she had done in the last several years.
"After we parted ways having returned to the mainland from Terrical, I returned home only to discover that I was a wanted fugitive. Yes, I was as stunned as you all! To make a long story short, I learned that a woman who was a rival of mine back in the city, Jaime, had taken my name as she set about robbing my family's homes. This business of hers was concluded with the murder of a guard that had apprehended her. Well, needless to say I was greet not in the fashion that I had expected and had to flee for my life.
     "While on the road I was reunited with Esuom, a criminal due to his own actions and not those of another {here she smirked a bit} and we joined forces. I was already being hunted for crimes that I did not commit so what would some more thievery hurt? Mind you, I have only stolen from those that are well off.
     "Several months ago I heard that Jaime was here in this city and so here I am. Esuom is here as well, but currently he is...incapacitated. He was caught breaking into some royal's manor and was brought to jail nearby. Of course, the authorities figured out who he was and is scheduled for execution tonight. I was just on my way to... see him out."
     Startled at the news I replied "I see." and my mind searching for facts I thought to ask "What happened to your bobcat?"
     "Ferkwad? He is in the inn that I have been staying at. For some odd reason he seems to attract some unwanted attention from the locals..."
     After several minutes on talking about Rory and Esuom's current situation it became decided upon that we would help with the rescue of our imprisoned friend. Though to be truthful, I believe that each of us felt a pang of guilt for the immorality of our planned actions, only our friendship with the rogue and the idea of his execution being aghast to us, we likely would have never even considered such a quest.
     During our hushed conversation we were being served on by a wisp of a girl who was probably in her mid teenage years of life. Although she was quite petite she still had a fine figure, and her work clothes worked to make sure the male patrons would notice. A tight corset propped up her small breasts while a diagonal cut skirt showed off nearly all of her slender left leg. Her head was crowned with thick red hair pulled back into a bushy ponytail and her eyes were as blue as moonstone. Her physical appearance, along with her shorter stature, indicated that she was of East Kelvian nationality, and later when she spoke her accent confirmed that observation. She had a chip personality that was tinged with a good dosage of curiosity, a trait which quickly became evident as I noticed her listening into our conversations as she performed her mundane tasks.
     I instantly took a liking to the young bartender and never made a comment about her tactless eavesdropping. Oh, I never would have believed at the time when I was so infatuated with Ianthe that the girl, Brighde was her name, would end up as my wife in another decade! But that, of course, has no concern to this story bur she does have a minor roll to play in the adventure.
      Coming over to us she leaned onto our small round table in such a way as to wholly distract Evander and said in a sweet voice "You ladies and gents are forgetting one minor detail to your plans."
      "Spying on us, was you?" Asked Ianthe, her voice and eyes giving warning to the younger girl – all it resulted in however was Brighde's face to lighten up into a smile.
     "And that detail would be?" asked I.
     "How you're going to avoid the guards once you break your friend out." Geranold let out an amused snort and the bartender continued, "The jail is only several streets away from here and this tavern has an extensive basement. It even connects to some old sewers..."
     "Why exactly are you telling us this?" asked Ianthe suspiciously.
     The girl shrugged innocently, "I hate it here, take me with you when you leave the city. You are going to have to leave quickly, you know."
     "What about your family?" asked Evander after pulling his eyes from her chest.
     "I haven't got one. My parents were killed when I was young; casualties of the local guild wars. I have been here paying rent by acting as bartender and serving girl since. I absolutely hate it."
     After some discussion about the implications of her joining us we finally, if a bit begrudgingly, gave our consent. And so with our plans established Brighde returned to work and my companions and I returned to our loft to gather our scarce belongings, tightly packing them into our long-neglected travel packs.
     Thus we left to free our companion from the consequence of his actions, our rut of a routine efficiently broken.

________________

[1]   Scribe's Note: By my calculations, this history would be staring around the date 3.1602.3.1.

[2]   Scribe's Note: Mr. Underbridge uses the term fiefdom correctly for at the time of this particular story Notre-Wood was still paying off their debt to the Odredban Church and would become a kingdom in the year 1610 ATF.

[3]   Author's Note: Oh, youth. I am ashamed to say that like many other young men I was quite prone to the temptations of womanly beauty, and with such a mindset even the most pitiful and unintellectual comments such as I just displayed to respond to Ianthe were unavoidable.    

[4]   Author's Note: As I later fount out, she was actually using an alias in the city because of some recent events in her life.
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[[[I apologize for ant typos/grammatical errors. I am constantly updating and correcting as I notice them... I have a hard time spotting problems in my own work]]]

This is chapter 1 (Breaking the Routine) of Part 3 (The Nature of Notre-Wood) of the novella Memoirs of a Freethinker.

The story's writing is going to be composed of two parts, the autual story told through the eyes of the main character, Knot Underbridge, roughly fifty years after the fact. The second aspect to the writing is a large array of footnotes (indicated by numbers with in brackets) - the footnotes do not need to be read but will give more depth to the story. The footnotes are written by the author, at the time of writing this history, and also by an autonomous scribe that has been putting his commentary and corrections into the journal a thousand or so years after Mr. Underbridge finished.


I'm planning on this being a novella (not short story) that takes place within the campaign world that I made for my RPG. It is heavily influenced by works written in the late 1800s early 1900s, particually by authors such as Sir H. Rider Haggard ('Allan Quatermain') and Jules Vernes ('20,000 Leagues Under the Seas') with a bit of Robert E Howard's 'Conan' and Jim Butcher's 'Dresden Files' thrown in.
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