[center:hcx7vzuo]The Gem of Orylia

Chapter One
A Trip to the Market[/center:hcx7vzuo]

In the small village of Awilia, a young adult in his early twenties sat quietly out in the open, drinking from a large wooden tankard. He had deep-set eyes, dark, scruffy hair, and wore plain, simple clothes consisting of a linen shirt and dark leather trousers. The garden surrounding him was overgrown and untidy. This garden led up to a large building, which was notably larger than the surrounding houses. From the chimney trailed a thick, black cloud of smoke.

‘Aah,’ he sighed, finishing the rest of the drink in one gulp, before slamming it onto the floor. He stood up, then walked up the path towards the house. Inside, the building was neat and tidy, a stark contrast to the exterior. The furniture was precisely arranged and several paintings were hung up on the walls, most of them were on the topic of sailing or fishing, while a few hidden away at the back of the room were portraits of knights, dragons, and other themes of adventure. Just as the man was about to sit down, he heard three sharp knocks on the door, before it suddenly swung open.

‘Elwin!’ the intruder shouted, letting himself in.

The man wore tattered, worn clothes. His hair was dark black, with the odd patch of grey, and he had several wrinkles on his face, signs of his aged body. Struggling to identify him under the dull light of the room, Elwin moved closer, then jumped back, startled.

‘Uncle?’ He exclaimed upon realising who the man was, ‘Uncle Torech?’

‘Thank goodness,’ joked Torech, ‘I thought you had forgotten me.’

‘I’d ask you to make yourself at home, but it looks like you already have,’ he replied as Torech suddenly threw his coat over a nearby stool.

‘Never mind that,’ said Torech as he produced a large tankard from behind his back, which suspiciously looked exactly the same as the one Elwin had drunk from before.

‘Mind explaining what this was doing outside?’

‘I have no idea; some drunk must have thrown it over the gate,’ he replied. It was an obvious lie.

‘Oh yes,’ replied Torech, half-jokingly, ‘it was a drunk who put it there all right, and he’s standing in this room.’

Suddenly they both broke out into a hearty laughter which lasted for several moments, when they had finished, Elwin spoke up:

‘I’ve missed you uncle.’

The fire in the corner of the room had begun to go out, so Elwin threw some coal on it, before prodding it with a wooden stick. It suddenly burst into flames, and the room was illuminated with a warm glow, revealing its once hidden corners. Torech now noticed a large bookcase, which was stood up against a wall at the back of the room. He walked over to it, and thoroughly inspected what kind of books it contained.

‘What are you doing?’ asked Elwin, as Torech began to flick through the books one by one.

‘I’m looking at what kind of books you read,’ he smiled, ‘I think that you can find out a lot about a man from his bookcase.’

He’s being a little too intrusive thought Elwin. Though he was in no position to protest.

Torech soon had a small pile of books; he carried them to a small bench nearby the fire, and began to quickly read through them.

‘You seem to have a lot of books about adventure,’ pointed out Torech. An apt observation. Indeed they all contained stories of dragons and other fantastical themes. Elwin was somewhat embarrassed, though, he didn’t know why. It was true; he always read books that would take him to faraway lands, filled with quests and treasure. Maybe it was his way of escaping his mundane life. Torech flicked through the books some more. When he had finished, he neatly placed them back in the bookcase where they belonged.

‘The markets are open today, why don’t we go down there?’ he asked, slinging his tattered cloak around his shoulders.

‘That’d be great, I was meaning to buy some meat anyway,’ Elwin replied, as he fastened a broadsword around his waist.

‘So you carry a sword now?’

‘This town is getting more and more dangerous,’ he said bitterly, ‘it was only last month when we were nearly raided.’

‘May I?’ asked Torech.

Elwin handed the sword over to Torech, who examined it, running his fingers over the blade. The steel was smooth, and sharp. It wasn’t anything special, but it was suitable enough for someone to defend themself with. He handed it back to Elwin, who slid it back into its sheath.

‘Do you know how to use it?’

‘I do a bit of training now and then.’

‘Maybe later we’ll have a little spar, then I’ll show you how a real swordsman fights,’ he laughed.

They both walked out into the busy streets, the sun continued to beat down against them, so they walked close to the row of houses, where there was a long streak of shade. Eventually, they came to a large market in the centre of the village. It brimmed with noise, merchants would shout at the top of their voice, advertising their wares while the heavy sound of footsteps reverberated throughout the streets.

Elwin pushed past several crowds of people, until he eventually came to a stall at the end of the row. The merchant had one or two customers, but compared to the rest of the market, his stall was noticeably quiet. Laid down on a wooden table were thick slices of meat, Elwin looked over them, then pointed towards a small pile of steak.

‘Steak please, enough to last a few weeks.’

‘Ah, Elwin,’ he spoke as if he knew the man, ‘It’s been a while.’

‘It sure has, Rauher.’

Rauher packed the meat into a brown paper bag, then tied it with a piece of thin string. Elwin rummaged through his pockets and produced a small handful of silver coins; he placed them onto the table, nodded, and took the bag, placing it inside a small pack he carried around his shoulders.

They continued to walk through the streets, their feet sore from the uneven cobbled ground. Torech, who still followed Elwin closely, spoke up:

‘Is that it, or is there anything else you need?’

‘I was thinking of buying a present for Lena,’ he replied, blushing slightly.
Torech chuckled, ‘Oh the joys of youth.’

They soon came to a stall at the centre of the market, unlike the other one it was heavily crowded, people were fighting each other for space. Elwin slipped past them, and made it to the front. An assortment of gems were laid upon the table, Elwin glanced over them, looking for something suitable. He picked up a strange ring, embedded with a bright red gem. Elwin passed it to Torech, who thoroughly inspected it.

‘That gem is ruby; I don’t think you have enough money to pay for th–’

‘Don’t you worry ‘bout that. I can lower the price,’ interrupted the merchant.

‘How much?’ asked Elwin, who frowned slightly.

‘Forty silver.’

It was a good deal, if fact it was too good, Elwin thought.

‘Are you sure it’s real?’ he asked, looking back to Torech, whose eyes still scanned the stone, examining it thoroughly.

‘Positive.’

Elwin took from his side a small leather pouch and emptied it onto the table. He then sorted out exactly forty silver coins, and reluctantly pushed them towards the merchant.

‘Thank ‘ye very much,’ he said, handing the ring towards Elwin, who slipped it into his pocket. Soon they were out of the crowd; wanting to take a moment to rest they both visited a nearby inn. Elwin had stayed there once or twice before; however it was notably quieter this time, presumably because most of the patrons were still at the market. Torech beckoned a gruff barkeeper, who was idly wiping a glass behind the counter.

‘Two pints of beer,’ said Torech, who reached into his pouch.

‘Don’t worry, I can pay,’ Elwin protested.

Torech shook his head, ‘it’s my treat.’

The barkeeper briskly poured two pints from a large oak barrel that stood on a table behind him; he then placed them in front of the pair, who thanked him with a slight nod. When they had found a seat, Elwin took the ring from his pocket, and admired it under the flame of a nearby candle. The light reflected off the smooth, polished surface of the gem which glowed a magnificent red.

‘Do you think she’ll like it?’ asked Elwin, still examining the stone.

‘I’m sure she will. It’s a fine gem,’ Torech paused, ‘but I’m still concerned about the price. Why was it so cheap?’

‘I don’t know, but it’s too late now anyway.’

By now, what little light remained had begun to fade, and the small inn fell further and further into darkness. A small portion of the room remained illuminated by a single candle which flickered weakly.

‘It’s getting late, you should head back soon.’

Elwin finished his drink in one large gulp, then made towards the door, reluctant to leave the warmth of the inn. Torech followed soon after. The streets were now eerily quiet; the only sound came from their footsteps which echoed dully through the nearby alleys.

‘Didn’t you say something earlier about teaching me how a real swordsman fights?’ Elwin said, cutting through the silence.

‘Oh yes, I did say something like that didn’t I?’

‘There’s still some time left, why don’t you teach me now?’

‘Very well.’

There stood a large pile of sticks nearby; Elwin guessed that someone was planning on using them for firewood. He was suddenly taken aback when Torech retrieved two large pieces which looked around about the same length, then tossed one towards him.

He wasn’t actually serious, was he?

Elwin had barely enough time to react when Torech dashed forward; catching the stick in mid-air he brought it to his side and readied himself. Torech’s first strike caught him off guard; he swung immediately for the head, showing not even the slightest restraint. Elwin ducked just in time, the stick narrowly missing him. Thinking he had avoided the attack he took his own weapon and brought it up above his head, getting ready to bring it down upon Torech; his blood pumped with adrenaline, he had a hard time sensing what was going on around him amidst the excitement. He abruptly received a nasty shock when Torech’s stick crashed against his side, knocking the wind from him. He stumbled backwards, and only just managed to keep his footing.

How can he move so quickly, and where did he learn to fight like that? His thoughts were interrupted as Torech charged again. This time Elwin decided to go on the offence; he rushed forward and swung with all his might. Again, Torech’s stick crashed into his side. However, Elwin had managed to land a blow of his own. His stick shattered into several pieces as it smashed against Torech’s shoulder.

Torech laughed, ‘I must be getting old.’ He breathed heavily as a bead of sweat rolled off his brow. They were both exhausted from the fight; though Elwin looked worse off. His arms became limp, and despite his best efforts to regain his composure, his legs shook uncontrollably. Hobbling over to a nearby bench he rubbed the areas where Torech had struck him. His skin was sore, and tender to the touch; lifting up his shirt he examined his injuries. The damage wasn’t too bad, a few bruises had started to appear and he could spot one or two scratches, but he was thankful for the fact that there were no broken ribs. Wincing as the cold air stung his body, Elwin hastily pulled his shirt down, Torech couldn’t help but laugh at his reaction.

‘Boy, you’ve got a long way to go if you can’t handle a few bruises. How do you plan on defending yourself against a group of raiders, when you can’t even handle an old man wielding a stick?’

Elwin clenched his fist angrily. Though he hated to admit it, Torech was right.

‘Where did you learn those moves? I’ve never seen anyone fight like that before.’

‘I’ll tell you another time. For now you should get some sleep. Those injuries should heal in a couple of days.’

Elwin could tell Torech was reluctant to speak any further on the subject, so decided not to press him. He waved farewell, mustering up a thin smile – when Torech had left, it soon turned into a resentful scowl. How was he beaten so easily? Why did he have to suffer such embarrassment? These questions ran through his head while he recounted the fight, and continued to do so up until he was back in the comfort of his own home.

The fire had begun to go out, a single log remained which glowed a dull orange, and so Elwin tended to it immediately. He retrieved a small pile of sticks from a nearby basket, and arranged them in a neat fashion. Satisfied with his creation, he took a small, metal tinderbox, and struck the flint and steel together hurriedly. A single spark shot forward, and buried itself in the wood, which burst up in flames.

That night he slept roughly; something awoke him several times, though, he could not exactly describe what it was. He felt invaded, as though something was trying to creep into his mind. On one occasion he swore he could see a bright, red light that peered through the darkness, though he paid it no mind, and concluded he was just seeing things.