The Tale of Seldria and the Lost Mine (Full First Chapter)
Those interested in representing this project (WIP) may contact Matt Sveum. firstname.lastname@example.org 407-761-0970
The Tale of Seldria and the Lost Mine
The sun crested at high noon above the eastern ridge. Shieldmeet was in full swing. Grass and sweat hung on the air like dewdrops. Seldria clutched her charcoal-black hands together, wrapped around her opponent's waist. Nydera was a loud, boistrous man from the village, and the Captain of the guard, who had no problem making his opinions known. Many times Seldria had implored and applied to join his ranks, much to her ridicule and rejection. Now, he was struggling against the grip of this half-Drow, and a woman no less. A crowd had started to gather together around their particular wrestling match. Who could blame them? This was for the championship, the one who would be blessed in the eyes of Tymora before the whole town of Yartar.
Damp, dirty cloth rode Seldria's armpits, and creased around her inner thigh. Wound tight about her head in a bun, her moonlight-blonde hair was starting to rebel and poke out at odd angles, tickling her white eyelashes and chiseled nose. Admittedly, she was tired—exhausted, even. But whether it was her bitterness toward those surrounding her, all the years scraping by as a hardy farmhand, or Lady Luck herself smiling down, she felt a new surge of energy from the pit of her chest. Driving forward, powering with her thick legs, she hoisted the bulky, furry man onto her hip, turning him about in midair, and slamming him cleanly onto his back, to a chorus of gasps from the audience.
Chest to chest, pouring on all the muscle she had left, Seldria held undeniably to the pin, until the referee forcibly removed her. Confusion was awash on the face of the gaunt human, who was now put in an awkward position, being Nydera's Lieutenant. Hand on either athlete's wrist, he tensed to raise the wrist belonging to Seldria, but halted. A wave of dissent now amplified in the crowd, and their hisses and objections rang out ever louder. Nydera himself yanked his wrist out of Lellen's hand, and began protesting the legality of the hold Seldria had employed.
Chants of “cheater,” “filthy Drow,” and other obscenities echoed in turn from the encircling crowd, which was encroaching further upon them. Now Seldria pulled away. If at any point during the tournament, she had made the slightest error in execution, if she had uttered the slightest remark, if she had committed the most minor of infractions, she wouldn't have been given the opportunity to even set foot inside this lousy circle, drawn in the mud with a crooked stick. But that was just it. She hadn't. And only now that she was about to be declared the rightful victor, some charges were going to be trumped upon her. The unfairness of it all, the exhaustion creeping in, the loss of her parents, the rage of years of unwarranted abuse and mistrust, all bubbled to the surface. Seldria roared.
Heavy fingers gripped a handful of cloth at the nape of her neck. She twisted to face their owner: a tall man in plated greaves, white gauntlets, and heavy metal armor. An elegant cloak draped off his broad shoulders, hints of gold trim winking in the sun, while sandy hair rustled in the breeze. Scars nicked his worn cheeks, and his thick jaw was flexed shut, but there was a kindness in his deep-set, amber eyes.
“You needn't worry any further about this one. I've been looking all over for her,” boomed the imposing human.
“And just who might you be?” Captain Nydera demanded.
“My name is Alvin Greenfallow. I'm a Vindicator in the Order of the Gauntlet. We've heard reports of Drow causing trouble in your lovely town, and the Order will not stand for it. You'll be coming quietly, won't you?” Alvin flexed his free hand around the hilt of his sword, metal joints and leather creaking menacingly.
Seldria huffed in argument, but soon realizing her predicament, and the senselessness of sacrificing her own life for the sake of vengeance on these halfwits, reluctantly nodded.
“Good. I'll be taking this one into custody now. Please, enjoy the rest of your festival. May the Lady smile upon you.” Alvin bowed, then proceeded to drag Seldria, not entirely without resistance, outside the circle, and to the far edges of the meadow, where he had a horse waiting along the treeline.
“You're a strong one,” Alvin acknowledged, stroking his mount, and sifting through the saddlebags for something.
“And yet you turn your back to me,” Seldria scorned. “How do you know I will not run? Or attack you from your blind spot?”
Alvin looked up thoughtfully. Her voice was a deep alto, and there was a sharpness to her words, just as pikes were sharpened to defend a line of troops from an onslaught they knew was coming. But there was a refreshing honesty in them, a sense of propriety, dignity. “You're more than welcome to try, my dear. But you may want to have something to eat first.” Bumping an apple off his elbow, which she caught, he turned with a smirk. “It will give you better odds against me.”
Seldria turned the ruby-red sphere over in her dirt-caked hands. “It is poisoned,” she accused flatly, her pale red eyes narrowing.
Alvin simply shrugged, holding his hand out to have it back. Without saying anything else, Seldria tore unmercifully into the flesh of the fruit. Before long, it was nothing but a scant core. In the meantime, Alvin spoke:
“I didn't come here to jail you,” he said. “I merely wished to remove you from that rowdy crowd before someone was hurt.”
“So you lied,” Seldria scolded.
Again, Alvin smiled at her frankness. “No, a Paladin of Tyr does not lie. I said I'd been looking for you, which I had. And that I'd be taking you into custody. Granted you come willingly, of course, which you did.”
“You threatened me with your sword,” Seldria argued, now nibbling at the cartilage, seed, and stem of the apple she held close to her, yet still eyed Alvin carefully.
“I apologize if you got that impression. I didn't know what you would do, and I may have had to defend myself. Regardless, you are free to go now if you wish. Back to your beloved town, then?”
Seldria spat a seed out of the side of her mouth.
“Or...You could come with me. Miss...?” Alvin offered a bare hand to her. The removed glove sat in his opposite hand, wilting in a kingly gesture toward one that might kiss it.
“Seldria,” she said, and they shook.
“Sir Alvin Greenfallow,” he introduced. “But you may call me Alvin.” He offered her his water skin, from which she took a hearty gulp. “Seldria...a fitting name. Elegant, but fierce. It is plain to see you have much talent, much potential. And...I'm sure this life has not come easy for you.”
The sidelong cast of Seldria's eyes granted his assumption.
“Not to say that there is no hardship left to bear in this life, regrettably. However, I would like to take you to Helm's Hold, and personally train you as one of my own in the Order of the Gauntlet. You would be safe there, have food, water, shelter, tutelage, and together, we can refine your edges to a fearsome blade, so that the forces of evil may think twice before rearing their ugly heads,” Alvin laughed triumphantly.
Seldria's face, though blackened by heritage, long hours of sun exposure, as well as a worldly cynicism, lit up with longing. And she nodded. “I will go with you.”
The trek was long up the Triboar Trail to the walled fortress that was the Cathedral of Helm, but not nearly as long as the years that followed. Trained in the ways of martial combat, theology, language, and law by the priests within, Seldria took well to the structured lifestyle, and, with Alvin as her mentor, excelled brilliantly.
As he'd mentioned in their first meeting, Alvin was a devout follower and paladin of Tyr, the Lord of Justice. Despite Helm's Hold being dedicated to Helm the Watcher, Seldria followed in the footsteps of her mentor, adopting a strong faith in Tyr and the cause of justice. Tasked first with defending the Hold from the dangers of the surrounding Neverwinter Woods, Seldria spent much of her early adulthood seeking out evils that threatened from beyond the gnarled bark banks. After a brutal encounter with a tribe of Uthgard Barbarians, who'd captured one of the gate guards, Seldria slayed them, rescued the man, and returned him to his family. This act of valor was cause to allow her to be inducted as an official member of the Order of the Gauntlet, where she swore a sacred Oath of Devotion, to live by Tyr's credo of lawfulness and honesty.
One morning, Seldria awoke to her daily routine of prayer and reported to the Order's headquarters to find Alvin already dressed in armor and about to saddle up.
“Ah, Seldria. Good morning. I trust you slept well?”
“Good Morning, Sir Alvin.” Seldria saluted a fist across her chest. “I did indeed. Though I did not expect to find you leaving so soon.”
“I know,” Alvin said regretfully, while smoothing down his steed's mane. “I hadn't planned to leave for Yartar until the morrow, but tensions there are becoming ever wound, tighter than a fool's lyre.”
“I see. What are my orders then? Did you not say you'd be personally administering my training today?” Seldria kicked sand off the toes of her boots.
“I did, I did. And I had no intention of misleading you. If I'm being honest—oh, you're not going to want to hear this—”
“Please tell me, Master,” Seldria begged, then bowed in apology at the interruption.
Alvin merely chuckled, but his smile wore thin. “I was going to ask you to accompany me. However—”
“Master, you must! I am ready to undergo any trial; I swore an oath. You always say I'm your best pupil and—”
“Now, Seldria,” Alvin scolded, and it was a dangerous tone Seldria knew well. Her backside ached, and she closed her lips. He sighed. “What you say is true. However, as I was saying, given your history with the townsfolk, I cannot responsibly order you to be near them. Even if I were to accompany you.”
Seldria nodded painfully. It was politics, she knew. The Order was to try and gain support in Yartar, but her showing up again would cause them to be run out of town, or killed. Around her, the hustling of couriers coming in and out of the headquarters, as well as the hawking of market men and women from the other side of the busy road, all became distant echoes. A lonely wind brushed runaway strands of hair, tickling her accursed, black skin.
A firm finger lifted Seldria's chin. “Besides, I've got a better idea,” said Alvin. “Sir Rovan sent word he's been detained in Loqueton, and won't be able to make his scheduled stop in Beliard. I'd like you to go and keep an eye on any happenings there, before returning to the Hold in two week's time.”
“By myself?” Seldria's mouth quivered, a curled finger pointing weakly at her own chin.
“Indeed. If you think you're ready,” Alvin leveled a stern gaze, but it was broken when Seldria lunged at him with a hug. “Now, that's quite enough.” He looked around sheepishly at colleagues in the Order passing by, before shoving his adopted daughter back with an iron palm. “This is an official assignment, and I'm expecting a full report when you return. Go pack your things.”
Seldria sprinted off through the dust, saluting while hopping backward after she'd realized she'd forgotten to. Alvin responded in kind, and mounted his horse.
The day was still cool when master and squire reached the fork in the road. Beliard lay to the south, and Yatar in the Dessarin Valley to the north. On foot, Seldria gazed up at Sir Alvin. His cloak billowed in a morning breeze, and the young sun splashed his stringy hair with gold. Aside from her parents, whom she'd loved, Seldria could not have asked for a better guardian. He was her anchor, a rock of fortitude, a fount of knowledge. And here she was about to be cast on the wind like a kernel of grain.
The plains stretched out before Seldria, a fine grassy sweetness reaching her nose, while insects and birds chirped away in harmony. As Alvin waved his goodbyes, a feeling of dizziness entered her, but somehow her legs moved on their own. Freedom swelled inside her like a bolt of lightning. Soon Seldria was skipping over the meadow, despite being clad in heavy chain mail and bearing a large shield on her back. It was invigorating, but she had to be careful. Without Alvin to steady her course, her morals and teachings would have to be her anchor. Solemnly, she slowed to a brisk walk, and continued on.
Nightfall had long since cast its violet cloak over the sky when Seldria stepped off the driftwood river raft onto the dock at Beliard. It was a humble village draped in the shadow of a high forest, surrounded on all sides by weeping willows and dingy moss. The buildings themselves seemed to droop and lean just as the swampy trees did, but their solid lumber and masonry held firm. Warm lanterns dotted windows here and there like fireflies. As Seldria walked up the main road, gradually they burned out, until the Bogwen Inn was the last flame burning.
Rusty hinges creaked on the stubborn door, and it took a bit of broad shoulder to convince it to let her through, but Seldria entered the tavern before sealing it off once more to the sticky cold of the outside. Voices hushed, and the fireplace dimmed to a meek shadow. Seldria's boots clacked over the stained wood floor, and her chain links clinked as she set her arms down on the front desk. The man behind it took his time cleaning his spectacles, as an excuse to not look at her. Patiently she waited, until nervously he acknowledged her.
“I-I'm sorry, miss, but—” He stammered.
Seldria already knew what he was going to say, but hoped to use her influence as she'd seen Alvin do. “But what?” Her white glove fingered the head of the warhammer slung from her right hip.
“I'm afraid we're all full.” The man began filing papers away, appearing to be busy.
“All full for everyone? Or all full for me?”
“Listen, it pains me to say this. But it's just bad for business letting one of your kind walk freely about in here—'specially carryin' weapons.”
“I shall leave my weapons in my room. Or behind your desk. You say it's bad for business, but it doesn't appear you've got much business to begin with.” Seldria tossed a glance over her shoulder, but she was met with scrutinizing stares. All conversation except for hers had ceased. Even the portrait over the fireplace had grown a grim scowl. She gathered herself up to her full height—several inches above the innkeeper's head. “My name is Seldria. I'm a Chevall in the Order of the Gauntlet. I'm here on official business to keep watch over the town. I shall only be staying two weeks, and my money is good. Will you not let me rest in your fine establishment? I've had a long, weary day of travel.”
“I'm terribly sorry, Ms. Seldria, but we've just had too much trouble with you and yours in recent days.” The innkeeper fiddled with pens and bottles of ink, which had already been meticulously sorted.
“As I said, my money is good.” Seldria slid a palm over the splintered grain, revealing three gold pieces.
“Madame, you realize that for a night it's only—”
“I am aware.” Seldria leaned against the desk. “Keep the change. As a sign of good faith.”
The innkeeper's hands were shaking as he ran the calculations across his abacus a second and third time. It was near triple the rate. He had to say yes. “Unfortunately, it's as I said. It's not worth the trouble. I wish you the best.”
Seldria frowned. “I understand and I apologize for the bother. Is there another inn in Beliard that will take gold coin?”
“'Fraid not. Have a good evening.”
Seldria's heel struck the floorboard in a bout of anger, but she turned and silently walked out.
Among the shelter of the trees, Seldria's bedroll didn't offer much comfort from the rootbound soil. She'd given up trying to sleep in her heavy armor. The steel ringlets had likely left bruises from her hour-long attempt, filled with naught but tossing and turning. Her shield was staked into the ground nearby, and served as her headboard. Admittedly, she'd grown accustomed to living in the Hold, and her affinity for the outdoors had waned since her youth. She didn't miss days of backbreaking labor, only to have to sleep on a bed of straw, but it didn't make her current accommodations any more comfortable. Digging a pebble out from from under her thigh, she rolled onto her side and shut her eyes.
Right as she'd descended into slumber, a snapped twig made her pointed ears twitch, and she shot up. The chill of the night pierced her thin, cotton blouse. Looking about, she groped for her hammer. Finding the grip, her hand was pinned to the dirt by a heel. Seldria jumped back, but her long legs were tangled in her blanket. Pale, slender fingers gripped her throat and squeezed.
“Ine tora. Ederam loque teena.”
Seldria understood. He was speaking Elvish. “[I am not lost as you say. I am one of you. Please let me go.]” She choked out, clutching at her throat with her only free hand.
“[Look at this one. 'One of us' she says? She forgets she belongs beneath our feet. What hole did you crawl out of, Drow? We will gladly put you back in it.] The Elf slapped Seldria with such speed as to blur her vision. She then saw the others appear out of the brush like lichen growing on bark. The Elves each were dressed in light silk, riding chaps and hooded cloaks. Their eyes glinted like crystal under their sculpted brows. Some had bows slung over their shoulders and arrows in a quiver, others hung blades from their hips.
“[I did not crawl from a hole. I was raised in the Cathedral of Helm—]”
“[SILENCE!]” The Elf hissed. “[You disgrace our tongue with your repugnant accent. If you cannot tell us whence you came, we will simply dig you a new hole!]” At this the others began jeering and dragging Seldria through the stumpy mud. Alvin had wanted to protect her from the townsfolk who had tormented her through her youth. But here in Beliard were full-blooded Elves. If anyone hated her muddied lineage, hated her gray face and red eyes, it was these dwellers of the High Trees. It made sense now why the innkeeper wouldn't take her if they roamed these parts freely.
Seldria protested, but her hands were being forced behind her back. An icy edge of a knife dug into her throat. The leader of the scouts came around to her front as she was being bound by the others. A fourth begun digging a grave. “[You do not wish to do this. You will have the entire Order of the Gauntlet to contend with—]”
“[If you will not cease to wag your tongue, then we will remove it].” The Elf motioned for the man behind her. Seldria's neck felt relief as the blade was tossed to the leader. This was her chance.
Seldria exploded upward from her knees, jamming her thick skull into the pointed chin of her captor. The rope binding her wrists hadn't yet been knotted, and she was able to shake them free. She shoved a mule kick into the other Elf behind her, and tackled the leader. A moment later, she wrestled the dagger free of his hand, but a blunt pain in the back of her head knocked her off her mount. The Elf responsible laughed gleefully, hefting her warhammer, stained with her own blood.
Head swimming, the four piled on top of her, kicking and stabbing at her with everything ounce of vile hatred they held in their hearts. In her mind, Seldria knew it was her time. Her hand went to her holy symbol, a crude pewter emblem of Tyr given to her by Alvin the day they'd met. But then, as if Alvin himself was beside her, a power erupted from deep in her breast. She reached upward as if out of a grave, and grabbed the handle of the warhammer coming down. It stopped mid-swing. And it began to glow.
Radiant waves pierced the leaves and murk. Despite their efforts, the Elves could not pry the weapon from Seldria's grip. She rose, scattering them like pins with a single swing. One was struck square in the sternum, and rays of light clung to him like searing venom. He cried out in pain and writhed in the wet earth.
Adrenaline rife in her veins, along with the blessed power of Tyr, Seldria made for her shield and armor. A quarter step was all she got, before an arrow pierced her calf. Tumbling face first to the ground, she tasted black soil, and blood. Shouting rained all around her, and more sharp pains riddled her back. She was so close.
Suddenly, the very ground beneath her stomach began churning. Roots, vines and thorns curled up from under her, parting around her and her glowing hammer, lashing and gripping like tentacles those that pursued her. Each Elf was completely immobilized, and as they lobbed vulgar Elvish curses at her, their mouths too were gagged by the green appendages.
Sweat mingled with grime down Seldria's neck and shirt front. She lay still, breathless, the vines around her humming with a vibrant song. Lame was her leg, but she managed to right herself on her feet, and limp over to a sturdy oak. Out of the fog and brush, the humming became louder, and Seldria discovered the source hobbling toward her on a cane.
“Good evening, deary.” Wrinkled dimples pulled into a warm smile. “Are you alright?”
“Still in one piece,” Seldria sighed. “You've saved my life. Thank you. I'm Seldria.”
“Nice to meet you, Sally. My name is Iva.” She postured up proudly—yet she didn't quite reach Seldria's hip. “Iva Grayleaf.”
“Ehm. It's Seldria. And it's nice to meet you, Iva.” She extended a dirt-caked hand.
Iva squinted behind her thick-rimmed glasses, before shaking Seldria's finger. “Let's get you patched up. Come with me, Sara.”
“It's—oh, never mind. What about our friends here?”
“Oh, they can hang around a while. Maybe my bear friend can find some use for them. He eats supper around this time,” the old woman cackled, much to the squirming of her prisoners.
Iva took Seldria to an owl hole dug out from a colossal tree trunk. Shrouded by shrubs and a mystical force, it was invisible to intruders from the outside. Inside was delightfully cozy, with a simple cot and firepit lighting the ancient, swirling wood. Often animals would wander in, but Iva welcomed them with feed and petting. Her calming grace set every living thing around her at ease, and it was obvious she could bend the elements to her will. Seldria had been instructed on the theory and practice of magic, but had only just discovered her latent potential, and had little experience seeing it firsthand. It was always a treat to watch the other paladins spar, but their magic was nothing so elaborate as Iva's.
Once she'd healed Seldria with a soothing spell, Iva continued her humming as she prepared a meal of berries and other foraged edibles. Soft lyrics would spill out every now and again, and Seldria recognized them as the language of Halflings.
“[You're a Halfling then?]” Seldria asked in the language. It was rusty, but the monks of the Hold were quite strict about grammar and comprehension.
Iva perked up, pleasantly surprised. “[Yes I am, dear],” though she continued in the Common tongue. “And you are a Drow! Imagine my surprise when on my nightly walk, I discover a sight such as you. And—my my, you're in great shape too!” Iva squeezed Seldria's sore biceps with crooked fingers.
“I am only half Drow!” Seldria corrected with an edge of frustration, pulling her arm away. Certainly not full blooded Elf like those...bullies. I make my own way. I took an Oath of Tyr to protect the innocent and punish the guilty.” She pounded her fist into the cot.
“A mighty paladin. That would explain the sigil on your shield.”
“That is the symbol for my order: The Order of the Gauntlet. My master has sent me to keep watch over the village for a few weeks. But I see they've already got someone quite capable on the job.”
Iva chuckled and turned back to her culinary delights. Over dinner—which Seldria didn't find appetizing in the slightest, but forced down with a polite smile—Iva questioned her feverishly about who she was, where she was from, and her knowledge of the Underdark. Seldria had only known from passing conversations with Alvin and the other teachers that it was the place deep underground where the Drow lived. But that was the extent of her experience; she'd never seen or known anything about it. In fact, besides her mother, she'd never seen another full-blooded Drow.
Sadness crept across Iva's dimpled cheeks as Seldria relayed the limited information, but the Halfling would not say why. She only expressed the desire to keep moving. At odds with her orders, Seldria deeply desired to repay the debt to Iva for saving her life. Thus, Iva presented a solution to Seldria. The old druid had been staying in Beliard a week or so, and had seen all to be seen. She would gladly relay the information she'd gathered on the way to her next destination, which Seldria could use in her report.
Fortunate still, Iva's destination lay on the Triboar Trail, the easiest route to return to the Hold. In two weeks time, Seldria and she had grown to be quite the pair of travel companions. Encountering a dangerous situation here and there, their teamwork always allowed them to pull through. That is, until they reached the town of Phandalin.