The Sundance Inn

Several years ago, when I was but a young lad of sixteen adventuring the woods with my friend Kia Ora, the clouds darkened suddenly, frightening us to no extent. Rain began to pelt down upon our light clothing and we heard the isolated screams and whinnies of the various animals as they abandoned their browsing and thundered off in search of their dens. Whilst the dye ran from our feathered hats, we ran for our closest landmark - The Britain-Trinsic road. The wind seemed to speed us on our way, akin to a knife in our backs.

We came across the road, now a river of mud and manure. We slithered and slipped along the awful mass until Kia rolled his ankle, falling face and hands first into brown, unidentifiable goo. I whipped a hand out of my robe and grabbed the mess of his shirt, preparing to hoist him back to his feet.

I heaved with all due might and had no effect but to lose my own footing and somersault into the putrid muck. The surface was now so soft after only a few moments of rain that I had sunk quite deeply when Kia's face flashed into existence above me.

"What were you doing, lying in the mud - have you decided against the life of a fisherman and chosen the life of a pig?" I spat angrily into the air, rain stinging my cheeks.

"Did you not see it?" he retorted, face pale against the black sky.

"See what?" I hauled my sodden body and clothes up into a sitting position and followed Kia's finger, pointing into the distance. The stars still shone in my eyes from the fall, but I saw it. "By Dana," I cried, latching onto Kia's shoulder and pulling myself up. He tumbled back down to the earth; I hastened towards the object.

He was still breathing, though it was barely audible despite the rain; his chest barely moved. His hair was grey, his beard a flowing and unkempt dirty white. Eyes widened when he saw my face hovering above his. Shook his head, reached into one of the many bags woven into the fabric of his old, rag-like robe.

"This..." His speech was a mere whisper, cracked and bloody lips barely forming the words. "Remember..." Then he relaxed. The eyes that has seen too much turned glassy. I grappled through my robe. A scroll, a potion. Perhaps he had been poisoned. SOMETHING must be done!

I had nothing. Kia rushed towards me, stumbling as he went. He had nought in his pack but his dagger and fishing wire. The rain slushed down upon his limp figure, Kia and I. We were at loss - it was the first time death had shown us its power. I knelt by the prostate face and gazed upon the weatherbeaten brow that looked like it had once conquered the world. I palmed the eyelids down.

"What is this? It was in his hand." Kia held up a small jewellery box, barely the size of my hand. Looking down at the lifeless form of a man, I shoved it into my robe and grabbed the legs that had already begun to stiffen.

"We need to take him back to the Village. Hurry! Grab his arms." And so we set off slowly through the sheets of rain and the wind that whipped at our feet, begging us to trip and stumble. But we could not leave this man there. We had to do something. His clothes were of a vagrant, but vagrant or no, he was a person, and we would try to bring him back. If it was irreversible, his death would be honoured. The healers could do nothing - they told me that I could not have done anything. I still felt guilty.

He was buried in the way dictated by our traditions to a mass of sorrowful people. Some of the village claimed to have known him, but none were too sure. His identity would remain a mystery. His death would forever be heavy upon my heart; I always believe that he died because of me. My negligence. No scrolls. No mystical reagents. What good is the healing and protection of animals if I cannot even save a human life?

It was almost two years until I had discovered the dusty timber box, snuggled deep within my possessions. Upon unpacking all my worldly goods in my new marble house bought with the kindness of the one and the blood of many, it slipped out of the sleeve of the robe I had not worn in years. Splintered and grimy from the mud of that harsh night, I opened it and several sharply-creased and folded pieces of fabric fell at my feet.

My hands shook uncontrollably when I spread them out on my rough wooden workbench. Text began to appear on the cloth. Small speckles at first, but then large globs melting into fine, fine print. I took a step back. The scrawls began to come alive, moving, dancing, burning brightly with a piercing light. The whiteness... There was... I couldn't... All around... It was frightening - all I remember was feeling an impact somewhere on my numb face, before I crumpled to the ground and blacked out.

I came to, hungry, thirsty, with a pounding headache, lying on my back. Searing pain up and down my spine. The tiles were scorched, the workshop bench smouldering slightly. Yet on its work space, a tome sat there, neat and pristine, as if it had always been there. Its cover was glowing, not brightly, but redly. It hurt my eyes when I struggled towards it. Every bone in my body screamed in protest when I lifted an arm and turned to the first page.

I sit here, old, tired and grey. Something strong in my pewter mug and sight blurry in a drunken haze. I have wandered the lands for many years without a home and still I have none - it is too late for a vagrant now, such as myself. Look at me - I wear nought but the rags that were cast down to me decades ago by some man passing me as I sat in the gutters of Britain.

Life was not always like this. I was never a stinking, unshaven vagabond living off the hand-me-downs from the congregations at the Britain Bank. I was once Sundance. Sundance of Spiritwood. Sundance the Ranger of the Nine Winds.

The orcs themselves used to quiver before my bloodstained sword. I once drove the evil out after a Trinsic invasion. The Shrine of Spirituality itself was once infested by something dark, something evil. I was the one that wrested it back into the control of the Light, our glorious Lord British. Yet life is invariably fickle. Such that I rose into the view of every peace-loving citizen, I was cast out when I had ceased to be the talk of the taverns and the beaters began to whip up stories of my equal misdeeds, if I had ever done any. Fame is unfortunate. It has ruined me.

I grew up in Spiritwood, in a village of rangers and simple folk that cared for its wellbeing and those of the animals and trees, guarding anything from harm with their lives. I loved the village. I wish to go back soon. It has been many a year since I have seen it.

I left the village young. As a boy of sixteen. I did not even make it to Britain. Bow in hand, quiver of arrows strapped to my leg, I wandered through the slums on the outskirts of the capital and stopped. This was the product of decades of warfare in Sosaria. I couldn't stand it - I stayed there for two years, healing, curing, finding food for others. This was the start of my lifelong goal - to protect, to serve others, to care for the land. I may not make a difference to Britannia, but I knew that I'd make a difference to the lives of some the people.

Then I wandered. All around Sosaria when it was Sosaria, then Britannia when it was Britannia. Yew was once being terrorised by a small band of brigands. I could never find their lair, so hid in the trees and gave my arrows bloody homes during the nights. There was a harpy infestation in the Minoc Mines. This gave me a lifetime of feathers. Skara Brae was taunted by a dragon - I sought the mystical 'Arrow of Flerash' in the bowels of the Underworld and let it spring from my bowstring, directly into the heart of the evil creature. I was talked of in taverns. Everyone knew Sundance.

But all is now forgotten. Fame spreads like wildfire, and the fire can be doused just as easily. People began to question my actions - were they virtuous? The merciless killing of brigands? Was that compassionate? Honourable? I thought it was. It was valorous too. I showed compassion for the people by caring about their lives, and I honoured my commitment to them. But they did not see it that way.

Nobody remembers my name now. Torn down by vocal minorities, cast away by those whom I fought for, whom I risked my very life for. Laughed at in the streets when someone flings manure in my direction. This old man, older than most others now, must lie down to rest for a final time. I know it draws near. I just hope that the legends of Sundance may live on, and will not be forgotten. May someone find these words and unlock the secrets of this mystic ink. I am Sundance. Sundance.

My companions Fazz and Willow found me on the ground. I'd fainted again - visions of a lone young man, dressed in the green of the wood swimming around my mind. It was a fitful unconsciousness - my ears ringing with the loud screams of the dead, the applause of the people. Colours flashing before my eyes.

And then I was awake. Fazz there, shaking my shoulder, my back resting on a writing desk. He and Willow helped me up, questioning what had happened. I washed my face in the water trough, soot coming off my face and falling into the still waters.

"What in the Virtues happened?" Willow asked, pouring wine into a cup and sampling it with some degree of pleasure. Fazz took the bottle and poured a few fingers into another cup.

I told them. I told them of my encounter with Sundance. Not saving his life. Sundance's rise to fame, then equally fast fall to the gutters. I grabbed the bottle and poured some into a pewter mug, resting my hand on the book. I was filled with the desire to redeem myself - to make Sundance's name known to the world once more, so that it could live on longer than our mortal coils. Wine and the book. I sat and stared, deep in thought. The wine was next to the book.

"I'll be converting this house, my friends. I wish to turn it into a tavern."

Willow ran a hand through her hair and mumbled something I could not hear. Fazz, sitting back in his chair, shrugged and raised the bottle into the air.

"I'll drink to that!"

And so we did, and so the Sundance Inn was born.

Sundance Inn, open for business!

This story was submitted by Skambha, Ranger of the Stag. If you have a story to tell, please email it to Moriath. The address is 557