A Battle of the Soul
rrav wandered long through the fields and forests. He walked from the peaks in the West to the northern valleys, and at each town or village or camp he came to, he asked those he met of the shield in his dreams. Though the Imcando had welcomed him and told him that they held the shield, he could do nothing but hope that the shield might instead be found elsewhere.
Each place he went he found few who knew of the shield, and of those that would speak with him, all paled and shrank from his presence when he would mention Zemouregal. So it was that Arrav became a Wanderer: a man with no home he could return to, a doom upon his heels, and the name of an outcast.
It was during this time that Arrav's spirits sunk low, and in his sadness he came upon a cave in which he thought he might live, away from those races that might suffer from his curse, and away from those that cast him out for his curse. There, crouched in the shadows like a hermit, he watched the grasses grow and the beasts of the field go by, oblivious to his presence.
But this cave was not empty. Deep in the cave, as old as the shadows that hid it, a beast was stirring. The smell of sweat and hunger was on Arrav, and the beast that had not woken for a thousand years flicked a single eyelid open. A silhouette against the dim light of the cave's entrance, the beast looked at Arrav as men look at cattle. As silent as sleep, it uncoiled itself from its slumber, remembering the power in its limbs and the fire in its soul. Arrav, oblivious, watched the world go by with misery.
The beast, standing upright now, moved like darkness towards Arrav, long talons straining forwards in anticipation. But the beast had no conception of Arrav's senses, nor his reflexes, nor his strength, and as it came to lay a chill hand on his shoulder, Arrav spun with a blade already in his hand.
The two battled for two days and a night, each as strong and fast as the other, each fighting for survival against the only worthy foe either had faced. Then, as the sun reached the horizon on the second day, Arrav's sword caught the last ray of light and blinded the beast long enough to plunge his sword deep into its chest. A hellish scream broke from the beast's throat, the echo in the cave lasting long after it had fallen dead.
Gasping from the long battle, Arrav pulled the beast into the twilight to better see its face. Wiping the grime of centuries of sleep from its face, Arrav looked down at a creature so like himself he wept.
'I am on the wrong path,' Arrav thought to himself. 'Had I stayed here, in this cave, I should in the fullness of time become this beast - all hate and rage and hunger. I have my destiny, and I must confront it regardless of what the gods might throw in my path.'
Thus energised, Arrav went from the cave to return to his people, knowing that though they feared his curse, they also must miss his strength.
s Arrav came across the fields to the south of Avarrocka he saw over the trees a column of black smoke. It was a windless day, and this column - climbing straight and true into the sky - looked to Arrav like the finger of an angry god. He hastened his pace, racing through the forests beyond which lay Avarrocka. A few beasts lunged at him from the surrounding vegetation, but he paid them no heed, swatting claws and teeth back with swift flicks of his powerful hands.
As he broke from the forest, he saw that which he feared: Avarrocka was burnt to the ground. A few sturdy posts still stood, though they were charred and splintered. And there, in the midst of the scorched earth and smouldering remains of Avarrocka's fields, Arrav saw that goblins had done this. There were short arrows scattered about, and mismatched plates of armour and rusted mail.
Finding the few survivors hidden in the tribe's sacred place to the east, Arrav took the strongest of the men and the swiftest of the boys, and set forth west, to the land that the goblins had claimed dominion over.
The men of Avarrocka came upon the village late in the evening, while the goblins were resting after their victory feast. A few were bickering over ownership of a farmer's scythe, several were lying asleep near to the fires. There were few guards, for which Arrav meant to make the goblins suffer.
As the men swept out into a wide semicircle about the entrance to the village, lurking beneath the cover of the rocks, Arrav saw from the corner of his eye a glimmer as of steel in the moonlight. He looked across at one of Avarrocka's men who had come with him. The man's eyes were hard and determined, and his teeth were set in a snarl. He was hunched beneath a hanging rock and in his hand he held a dagger taken from the ruins of their town. Through the liquid darkness that stood between them, Arrav saw both man and beast in that body, and his heart fell.
Arrav knew that though his people had been wronged, he could not lead an attack on an enemy unaware. He had been raised with honour and pride, and he saw that it would be a slaughter more than a battle. Then, thinking hard on it, he realised that goblins and men had been killing each other needlessly for the length of history.
Motioning to bring his men back to him, he stood tall and raised his voice to the night:
'Goblins, hear me! We came upon you this night to take a blood revenge for what you have done to our homes and families. But I see now that we are like brothers who have fought for our father's attention.'
He paused a moment, waiting for the goblins to quiet themselves from their shock. Three of the largest goblins came forth from the village gates and walked towards Arrav and his men, stopping only a few yards away. In the tongue of men, broken by the harsh goblin accent, one of them spoke.
'We listen, man. What you say? Speak! Or kill you like your families.'
'I suggest peace, brother,' Arrav said. His men looked at him with shock and a few curses, but a single glance from Arrav was enough to silence them. No man of Avarrocka could deny their greatest hero's honour or compassion, and even in those days were those virtues among men. 'If you will agree to never again attack our human settlements, we shall never again attack yours. We shall share these lands like brothers under the sky.'
The goblins bickered then, and as Arrav stood and waited he watched them bicker as the sun rose, and still bicker as the sun reached its peak. Finally, the smallest of the three goblins stepped forward and spoke.
'We take your peace, man. We goblin are weak against men, and you men are few against our goblin warriors. Peace is only end to war. Come to our village to trade and we go to yours. Now leave, we have heads to crack to make peace stick.'
With that, the goblin turned about and kicked his companions sharply on the shins. As they hopped about, the goblin who had just spoken walked back down to the village and started yelling and waving his fist at those goblins hidden behind fences and clustering in the shade of the buildings.
And so it was that men and goblins came to live in peace, with no wars ever again scarring their relationship. In my days it is not uncommon to see humans go to visit the goblins, and some few goblins come to the market to trade.
Despite his victory over savagery and barbarism, Arrav returned to Avarrocka to rebuild with a weight in his heart, for he knew that his curse was not yet lifted and that Zemouregal was still out in the world, plotting the destruction of Avarrocka. And he knew that Zemouregal would accept no peace.