The following is the first in a series of stories I've written about my Paladin and his family...

Chapter 1 The Wanderer

Many are the stories of the great Shadowbane family. Many of them are just that, stories. This one, however, is true for it has been passed down from generation to generation through my family and has been verified to be true by Sir Gilliadson Shadowbane himself.

Many years ago, a young wanderer was passing through what we now call the East Commonlands when he happened upon a group of rogues making sport of a young woman. Being of a somewhat chivalrous nature, our wanderer just could not leave well enough alone.

"Are the lot o' ye such cowards that ye need more than one o' ye ta 'handle a lone lass?" taunted the wanderer.

One of the bandits spoke up. "Ye'd be livin' much longer if ye'd be mindin' yer own business there, whelp!'

"Ye know, I probably would if'n only one o' ye were troublin' the lass but, I recon that the rest of ye would be bored. I'll tell ye what... Leave one o' ye with the lass and the rest o' ye come show me what manner o' men ye be." There were five of them total and at the wanderer's taunt four of them broke off from their sport with the woman and charged him. The wanderer cast aside his cloak and drew his sword. The first bandit ran straight into the sword as it swung in a horizontal arc level with his neck and fell to the ground without his head. The second one ran onto the point of the wanderer’s sword as it came back around and stopped to face him. The other two stopped short of the wanderers sword range. The wanderer pulled a knife from his belt and threw it into the skull of one of the remaining rogues. The fourth one, now enraged at the loss of his comrades, stepped in and swung his blade at his foes head. The wanderer dropped to one knee letting the blade pass over his head and thrust his sword up and into the chest of the bandit and out the back of his left shoulder. With a look of shock and surprise on his face, the bandit collapsed. Our hero approached the last rogue who fell to his knees and began to plead for his life.

"I'm not the one ye should be pleadin' with. The lass here decides whether ye live or die."

At this point, the young woman spoke up. "I believe I've seen enough blood spilled here. However, this gentleman who has championed my cause shall decide your fate. Please, dear stranger, I would very much like to know the name of he who Mithaniel Marr has sent to rescue me."

"Dear lady, I am called Vladimiri o' Qeynos. As for ye, Rogue, yer life belongs to me. Ye shall forsake yer cowardly ways and serve me till the day ye die or I release ye, whichever comes first. Ye may as well tell me yer name so I'll know what ye'll answer to."

"I am called Carthinum and I must say that after that extraordinary display of battle prowess that I'd consider it an honor to follow and serve ye. I was not among those bandits by choice but was pressed into their service. Ye have slain no friends o' mine this day."

Now, lass, how may I address ye?? asked Vladimiri, "And would ye be wantin' me to accompany ye somewhere?"

The woman replied, "I am Loranne of Freeport, a priestess of the Temple of Marr. I would be delighted if you would come back there with me. I have no great reward that I can bestow upon you but, I can provide you with a hot meal, a dry bed to sleep on for tonight and a blessing of Marr for you before you continue your journey."

"Loranne, no reward is necessary but I never refuse good hospitality. Shall we be on our way then? Lead the way Priestess." The trio traveled east to Freeport without any further incident. The paladins at the city gate recognized Loranne and let the group enter. Upon reaching the temple Loranne led the way to the high priest where she recounted the tale of her day. After she finished the high priest started to order food served for Vladimiri but Loranne stopped him saying that she would prepare the meal herself.

It has been many years since Vladimiri had tasted a meal even remotely as good as what Loranne brought to him. Over dinner, Vladimiri talked with Carthinum at great length to discover how he had ended up in the company of the bandits. Carthinum was a bard who was traveling through the Western Commonlands when he ran into the group of bandits who forced him to join with them. He had been with the bandits for two years while they terrorized passing travelers as they wandered the Commonlands. After listening to Carthinum's tale Vladimiri decided to release Carthinum from his service. Carthinum asked to continue with Vladimiri in his travels. Vladimiri accepted Carthinum's offer.

Chapter 2 Searching For Bandrel

Both men slept well through the night and awoke in the morning to find that their garments had been cleaned and were arranged neatly on the tables in their rooms. Loranne met the two of them in the dining hall and escorted them to the temple sanctuary to meet with the high priest.
"I trust that the accommodations were sufficient for you two?" asked Loranne.
"Aye dear lady, 'Twas the best night I've ever had", replied Vladimiri. Carthinum nodded.

"Me also, thank ye much.? The high priest entered the sanctuary and talked briefly with Loranne and the two men then blessed them all.

"So Vladimiri, may I ask whom you are seeking here in Freeport? I may be able to help you find him." Loranne asked as they left the sanctuary.

"Bandrel would be his name and yer offer of assistance is appreciated and accepted."

"Bandrel, Hmm. I have heard the name and I believe he is among the Paladins of Marr. I would be happy to take you to the High Paladin himself and he can direct you to Bandrel.?

"Very well then, please take us there.? Loranne led the way to the paladin's guildhall.

"I must leave you here and return to my duties at the temple,? she said, "These guards will escort you to the High Paladin. I would very much like to see you again when I have completed my duties."

"Many thanks, lass", said Vladimiri, "We will return to the temple as soon as we are done here". Loranne departed for the temple and Vladimiri turned toward the paladin guards and addressed them. "Sirs, I am Vladimiri of Qeynos and I come to seek audience of the High Paladin.?
"Greetings, Vladimiri, I shall present you to him. Follow me.? One of the guards replied. At this point, they entered the hall. They stopped at a door and the guard said, "Wait here. I will announce you.? The guard entered the room, leaving the door open. "Sire, Vladimiri of Qeynos and companion here seeking audience with you.?

"They may enter,? another voice said. Vladimiri and Carthinum entered the room. "Welcome, strangers, to the Hall of Truth. What brings you before me this day"?

"I have come seeking a friend o' me Da's, Sire, by name o' Bandrel. I was told that he is among yer knights.?

"Yes, he is one of our knights but, he is out on assignment for the king. We have quarters available here if you and your friend would like to await his return.?

"Thank ye, Sire, ye are most kind. I shall work for ye while I'm here so as not to be a burden. I am a smith by trade."

"Well I shall take you up on that offer, Vladimiri, and your friend here what is his trade"?

"I'm a bard an' also a smith, Sire,? replied Carthinum.

"Very well then. I shall accept your services as well. Page! Show these two men to quarters and then to the forge after they've settled in." A young page entered the room.

"Follow me sirs", said the page. The men followed the lad to their quarters where they unpacked their gear. Vladimiri laid his sword on the table. "That is a fine looking blade you have sir. May I examine it?"

"Aye lad, just be careful with it.? The page hefted the blade feeling its balance.

"Such a fine blade sir. May I ask where you got it?"

"I made it meself, lad, while I was in the Elven lands with some ore that the Dwarves mined for ‘em and one o' the Elven 'chanters did some magics on." The young page handed the sword back to Vladimiri.

"What kind of magics did the Elf put into it?"

"I'm not sure, lad but, I know it causes more grievous wounds than a normal blade. It is also lighter and more durable than any steel I've ever worked with. I have never had to sharpen it since it was made."

"That is a remarkable blade indeed. I would love to have one like it when I become a knight."

"Well lad, ye prove yerself worthy enough and I'll see if I can make ye one. Well, lad, we're ready ta be seein' yer forge." The page led them to the smithy and introduced them to the head smith who put them to work repairing pieces of armor.

When the shift was over Vladimiri and Carthinum returned to their quarters to clean up then went back to the temple to meet with Loranne who prepared dinner for them again and joined them for dinner.

"So the High Paladin put you to work right away. He's not one to turn down any kind of help, especially these days when there are reports of armies gathering."

Carthinum spoke up, "Recently, the rogues I was with came across a group o’ invisible men heading toward the desert. All we could see o' them were their weapons."

"Aye I came across a group o' them as well also headed ta Ro", stated Vladimiri.

"Hmm, I think you two should tell the High Paladin of this."

"Aye, Loranne, I think yer correct" added Vladimiri. The three of them left the table and went to the Hall of Truth where the men related their sightings to the High Paladin. The High Paladin thought for a few moments then stood up.

"Lucar!" he shouted and the young page that had accompanied the men earlier entered the room. "Take these to the king immediately.?

"As you wish, sire." Lucar led them to the palace and spoke to the guards briefly who then led the party to the palace. The men were received in a similar manner as they were at the Hall of Truth. Vladimiri and Carthinum were led to the throne room and announced.

"Well men, what news have you that the High Paladin thinks is of such urgency,? asked the stately man on the throne? Vladimiri each related their tales to the king who sat patiently and listened. "I have been receiving similar reports as yours for the last few weeks and I had sent Bandrel to Ro to investigate these reports just a few days ago. He should return within the next couple of days. Shadowmen in Ro is not a good sign for us. As for you, Vladimiri, I would very much like to invite you to join the paladins if you are of a mind to do so. The Knights of Truth have been trying to get that bandit clan for quite some time and word of their demise at your hand has reached my ears. Whoever trained you has trained you well. We can use all the swords we can get if these Shadowmen decide to turn their attention toward this city. So what say you Vladimiri of Qeynos?"

"Yer Majesty, it would be me honor ta serve ye during this time."

“Very well then I will have a message for you to take back to the High Paladin. You will begin training with the Knights of Truth on the morrow. Young Lucar how goes your training??

“Very well Sire. I’ll be ready to begin the trial for my testimony soon,? replied the young page.

“Very good. I’ll look forward to hearing all about it. I’ll have a servant bring you the message directly. You may wait in the hall.? Vladimiri and company exited the throne room and sat in the hall. Several minutes later, a young servant girl arrived and gave a sealed parchment to Vladimiri. The four then returned to the High Paladin where Vladimiri gave the message to him.

“Well Vladimiri, you should go get some rest,? said the High Paladin after reading the message. “While your skill with the blade may be good you will find that there is more to being a Paladin than just swinging a sword. Have you faith in any God??

“I have only had faith in cold steel all me life, sire.?

“Well then we’ll begin tomorrow with introducing you to the power that Mithaniel Marr bestows on those who follow his ways.?

Chapter 3 Becoming a Squire

The next morning Vladimiri returned to the High Paladin while Carthinum went to the forge to begin his shift there. “We begin each day with a prayer of thanks to Mithaniel Marr for the blessings he bestows upon us and we ask for his guidance,? said the High Paladin when Vladimiri entered the room “so you should start your day in our chapel. Young Lucar will show you the way.? Lucar led Vladimiri to the chapel where all the knights that were not on watch were assembled. Vladimiri could tell that they war all silently praying so he kept himself quiet as he took a seat near the back. Soon a young priest entered the chapel and began the prayer, which was followed by a short sermon. When they were all dismissed Lucar brought Vladimiri back to the High Paladin. “Vladimiri I know you don’t have faith in our god yet but I will require you to attend the morning prayer session in the chapel every day that you are here in the city. Now we must test your fighting skills to see if we should be teaching you anything on that part or if you should be teaching us. Lucar please take Vladimiri to the training yard.?

“As you wish Sire.? Replied the young page. Lucar and Vladimiri were the first to arrive in the yard followed shortly afterward by several young paladins pages. Another Paladin walked in and all the young ones formed up and stood at attention. Vladimiri and Lucar followed suit.

“Well it looks like we have a new knight in training. Vladimiri grab a training weapon of your choosing and come to the sparring square.? Vladimiri picked a wooden sword that was as close to the feel of his regular sword as he could find and entered the sparring square where one of the young paladins was waiting for him. The instructor addressed the young knight. “This is just a test of fighting skill, Carleth. Ready. Begin.? The match did not last long and Vladimiri had the young knight disarmed and lying on the ground with the point of his wooden sword at Carleth’s throat. “Very impressive, Vladimiri, perhaps you should be teaching my knights how to fight. Now let us show you the power of Mithaniel Marr. Carleth stand and prepare.? Carleth stood and retrieved his training sword and stood back in the sparring square facing Vladimiri. “Ready. Begin.? This time before Vladimiri could land a blow Carleth had cast a spell that froze Vladimiri in his tracks. Carleth quickly disarmed Vladimiri and had him on the ground before the spell wore off. “Vladimiri that is a sampling of the power that awaits you as a follower of Mithaniel Marr.?

“I must say I am impressed. Tis been a long time since I was bested in a fight. However, it’ll take more than a little magic to convince me to follow any god. If ye have any reasoning ta share with me I’ll be more than happy ta listen since ye have my attention in this matter.?

“We shall continue with that discussion after our training this morning if you would like. For now let us continue.? Vladimiri faced stronger and stronger sparring opponents who all withheld their magics for the rest of the morning and bested them all. Finally, the instructor entered the square and faced off with Vladimiri. “Perhaps you should be teaching these young knights fighting skills. However, I would like to try you first. Whenever you’re ready.? This match lasted much longer than the others but in the end, Vladimiri had the instructor down. “Sir your prowess with the sword is unmatched among our knights. We have nothing to teach you in that regard. Please go clean up and join me for the midday meal. I would very much like to discuss our faith with you.?

“Very well then sire I’ll see ye then.? Vladimiri did as he was instructed and sat down at a table with the instructor who explained his faith in Mithaniel Marr and answered Vladimiri’s questions. After the meal and the discussion Vladimiri said, “I believe that this Mithaniel Marr is a god I can believe in and follow. So what is me next step??

“Since your fighting skills are so well advanced the only thing is to prove your devotion to Marr and receive your testimony. For now if you wish you may go join your bard friend in the smithy for the rest of the day and then come join the rest of us for our evening devotion. I have nothing else I can teach you and I shall grant you the title of Squire at the end of our evening gathering.?

“As ye wish sire.? Vladimiri went to the smithy to work with Carthinum and related to him all that had taken place that day.

“Ye’ve had a day of it haven’t ye?, commented Carthinum at the end of the tale.

“Aye, my friend I have.? At the end of the work day the two men went back to their quarters, cleaned up and joined Loranne for dinner. After dinner, Vladimiri and Loranne went to the evening devotional at the temple. At the end of the devotional, the paladin instructor stood before the congregation and called out several names including Vladimiri and Lucar.

“These men and women have proven their battle prowess and are ready to begin the journey to become Knights of Truth,? started the instructor. “It is with great honor that I bestow upon these the title of Squire along with all rights and privileges thereof. All of you are now ready to begin your trials for you testimonies. Go forth from here and serve Marr to the best of your abilities. Praise be to Marr!?

“PRAISE BE TO MARR!? shouted the rest of the congregation.

“You are all hereby dismissed,? said the instructor and all the people left the temple.

Vladimiri and Loranne took a stroll through the now quiet city and talked together for a while before returning to their separate quarters.

“Ye know Vladimiri, I think Loranne has taken a liking to ye.? Commented Carthinum as the men prepared their racks for sleep.

“Aye my friend I believe she has. She is quite a fetching lass isn’t she??

“Aye she is. So what’re ye gonna do about her??

“I’m not sure yet Carthinum. There’s too much going on around here right now for me to get distracted by a pretty lass.? With that, the two men went to their bunks and went to sleep.

Chapter 4 Bandrel Returns

Early in the morning, Vladimiri and Carthinum were awakened by a knock at their door. A young man called to them. “The king requires your presence immediately, Vladimiri.? He beckoned.

Vladimiri and Carthinum arose, quickly dressed and followed the young man to the palace where the young man went into the throne room and announced their presence. The king then called Vladimiri and Carthinum in.

“Bandrel has returned,? Began the king, “and the news he has brought is not good. He is currently being tended to at the temple by the clerics there. The Shadowmen are planning to attack this city and are amassing in the Southern Desert of Ro. Seems they now have a king or warlord among them who has high ambitions. They do not yet know that we are aware of their plan and they are still gathering forces from all over Norrath. Carthinum I need your services to deliver a message to our allies in Qeynos and High Keep asking for their assistance. Go see the head musician at the bards guild they have made some new discoveries that may assist you in this mission.? Carthinum immediately went on his way. “Vladimiri congratulations on receiving your title of squire. For now, continue with your training with the paladins. Bandrel should be meeting with you soon.?

“Aye Sire I shall.? With that, Vladimiri returned to his quarters to prepare for the day. He knew that Bandrel was aware of his presence and would come seek him out when he was well enough. Vladimiri spent the day with the spiritual trainer of the paladins learning the prayers that the paladins used to assist in their battles. Prayers that healed wounds, stunned enemies, increased their ability to withstand the blows of their enemies and others. Vladimiri spent the noon meal with the combat instructor again and discussed Mithaniel Marr more. Vladimiri was not only a great warrior he was also a very fast learner. Later that evening Bandrel came to see Vladimiri in his quarters.

“My how you’ve grown Vlad!? Exclaimed Bandrel. Last time I saw you, you were still sucking at your mother’s breast. So, what brings you all the way to Freeport? And how is your father??

“Well, Sir Bandrel I wish I had good news for ye but Da passed away a few months ago but, before he died he made me swear that I would find ye and tell ye of his passing.?

“Ah, I’m so sorry lad, your father and I traveled together for a long time when we were younger men and before he met your mother. I wish I could have been there to see him before he died but my duties here have kept me tied to Freeport for a long time now. Now, with these Shadowmen getting ready to take over all of the Desert of Ro and Freeport things are gonna get messy.?

“Well, Sir I am now sworn into the service of Marr here and will assist as well as I can.?

“That is good news. I’ve heard from several of your battle skills. Your father has trained you well but I’ll tell you that it’s gonna take more than just sword swinging to save us from these Shadowmen. Marr help us all when they get ready to move.?

“So they have a leader among them??

“Yeah they do and there are more and more of them entering the stronghold they have built for themselves there in Southern Ro. I do know also that they cannot be harmed by ordinary weapons only magical ones.? Vladimiri pulled out his blade and handed it to Bandrel.

“Would blades like this help?? Bandrel examined the blade carefully.

“Why this is marvelous craftsmanship!? Exclaimed Bandrel. “I can feel the magic in this blade. I think if we could get enough of these to arm our army with we may stand a chance. Where did you get this??

“I forged it meself sir, the Dwarves of Kaladim have discovered this metal and the Elven enchanters discovered magics to put in it. I think they call it Mithril. A dwarf I befriended taught me how to work it and his friend, An Elven enchanter put the magic in the metal before I made this sword.?

“Do you think we can get more like this??

“It’s possible but I would need to find my Dwarf friend. I can teach the smiths here how to work the metal if we can get a supply of it. We would also need an enchanter to learn how to make the metal magic.?

“We have enchanters here in the city at the Academy of Arcane Sciences. Let’s go speak with the king. Perhaps he can make arrangements to get the metal from the dwarves and possibly work an exchange of knowledge with the Elves for the magic we need.? The two men went before the king with what they had been discussing. The king sat silently for a few minutes in deep thought and then called for a messenger.

“Go to the Academy of Arcane Sciences and bring me a Mage and an Enchanter. Tell them it is of utmost importance.? Ordered the king.

“As you have commanded Sire so shall it be done.? The messenger then left the room. After a while two flashes of light appeared in the throne room and a man and a woman both dressed in flowing robes emerged from them. They both knelt before the king and the man spoke up.

“My sister and I are here, Sire, as you commanded. What is your bidding??

“Whichever of you is the mage I need you to establish communication with the Elven king in Felwithe and then with the Dwarven king in Kaladim.? The man cast a spell and summoned an orb that glowed dimly. Slowly an image appeared above it and the mage spoke to it in a language that Vladimiri didn’t understand. Shortly afterward, the image changed to that of an elf in regal dress.

“Your Highness this is King Tearus Thex of Felwithe.?

“What have I to do with Humans?? Asked the image appearing rather angry.

“Your Majesty I am Melron, King of Freeport and we have a situation here that may also eventually threaten your realm if we are unable to contain it. Therefore, I decided to ask for some assistance from your people in the form of knowledge exchange between our enchanters and mages. I’m sure we have some magics that could benefit your people and I know you have some that can assist us.? The Elven king thought for a while and then spoke.

“Your offer intrigues me though I cannot imagine what magic Humans could have learned that Elves have not already known about. Tell me what this threat is and I will decide whether it merits any action on the part of my people.? King Melron detailed all of what he had gathered about the plan of the Shadowmen. “So that is why we have not seen any Shadowmen around here in the last few months. You are correct in assuming that if they are successful there that they will probably try to expand to here as well. My Mages and Enchanters are at your disposal and yours are at mine.?

“Thank you King Thex. Whatever else we develop from this exchange will be shared with your people.?

“I expect nothing less. I will have a wizard port two Mages and Two Enchanters to Antonica immediately.? With that, the image faded. The mage then cast another spell and the orb glowed dimly again and another image appeared above it. Again, the mage spoke to the image in a strange language. Again the imaged changed after a short delay. This time it was of a very well dressed Dwarf.

“King Stormhammer of Kaladim.? Said the mage.

“Your Highness I am King Melron of Freeport. It has come to my attention that your people mine some ore that I am interested in obtaining. I would very much like to form a trade agreement between our kingdoms.?

“If you have something that we can use then we’ll have a deal. Send me a list of your resources and I’ll let you know what I decide on.?

“Very well I will have my Trade Ambassador on the next ship out.?

“Very good. We’ll look forward to receiving him.? The image vanished. The king called in a messenger and dispatched him to bring the Trade Ambassador. When the Ambassador arrived, the king had a letter to the Dwarven king drafted and sent it with the Ambassador to the docks to sail for Butcherblock Mountains. The king then sent for a bard and a wizard. When they arrived, he told the bard to meet the Elven mages and enchanters at the continental spires in Northern Karana and escort them to the city quickly. The wizard ported the bard there.

“Things are starting to come together it seems.? Said the king. “I hope we have enough time.? The king then dismissed everyone. Vladimiri and Bandrel went out from the palace.

“Vlad I think you should start your trials for your testimony right away.? Said Bandrel.

Chapter 5 The Test of Generosity

The two men went to the High Paladin who then set Vladimiri on his first trial.

“Bring me a token of Generosity from a resident in the area surrounding the city.? Came the order from the High Paladin. Vladimiri left the city alone. After wandering the area outside the city, Vladimiri happened upon a lone farmer being attacked by several orcs of the Deathfist Clan. Vladimiri charged into the fray and dispatched the orcs quickly. Vladimiri said one of the prayers he had learned and laid his hands on the farmer whose wounds closed immediately.

“Thank you kind sir for saving my life.? Said the farmer. “These orcs are getting bolder lately and I’m having a hard time keeping them at bay with just farm implements. I was a warrior in times past but now I have no swords with which to fight with. Would you happen to have an extra one??

“Aye sir I do.? Vladimiri searched through his pack and pulled out a short sword in a scabbard and handed it to the farmer.

“Sir I know you to be a paladin of the city. Here return this token to the High Paladin.? The farmer handed a small coin to Vladimiri.

“Thank ye sir.? Vladimiri started to return to the city and saw five figures moving at a high rate of speed toward the city. Vladimiri ran to meet them and hailed the lead figure that he recognized as the bard that the king had dispatched to meet the Elves. “Hail Bard! Might I join ye going back to the city?? The bard’s musical enchantment filled Vladimiri’s legs with energy.

“Aye you may.? Replied the bard. “Let’s go.? Immediately the group ran to the city. Upon arrival, Vladimiri thanked the bard and headed to the Hall of Truth to turn in the token he received from the farmer. Vladimiri related all to the High Paladin.

“Very well done Vladimiri. Next, you must earn the token of bravery from me. I will confer with the king to see what quest we will send you on. For now, go to your quarters and rest.? Vladimiri returned to his quarters and went to sleep.

Vladimiri awoke to find Carthinum and Loranne in the room talking quietly.

“Good day to ye two!? Exclaimed Vladimiri. “Good to see ye’re back Carthinum.?

“Thanks, it’s good to be back. I’ll be looking forward to hearing all about your exploits here.

“I have breakfast prepared for you men. You can tell your tales while you eat.? Said Loranne.

“Thank ye very much M’lady.? They both chimed in. All three went to breakfast where Vladimiri and Carthinum each related their adventures. After breakfast, Vladimiri was summoned to the High Paladin.

“Vladimiri, the king and I have decided what your test of bravery shall be. Due to the nature of the threat confronting this city, the Mages and Enchanters of the Arcane Sciences Academy feel they need some samplings from the Shadowmen. You are to go out, find and kill five Shadowmen and bring back their essences as well as any weapons you can collect from them.? Due to the nature of this task, you may take along any two companions that you feel you need in order to complete this task.?

“I would take Carthinum as one of them and the other would be a cleric.?

“Good choices. Make the arrangements and leave tomorrow morning.?

“Aye Sir.? Vladimiri went back to his quarters and sent for Carthinum and Loranne. When they arrived, Vladimiri related to them the details of his quest. “Carthinum I would like to have ye along with me on this one and Loranne if ye could find me a cleric for this quest I would be most grateful.?

“Vladimiri I know just the one.? She replied. “Me.?

“Dear lady I can’t ask ye to put yerself in harms way for me.?

“Sir, I could not think of a better cleric to accompany you than myself. You came to my rescue and perhaps on this quest I can return that kindness to you.? She argued. “I could not live with myself if I let you do this without me and you didn’t make it back.?

“Very well M’lady.? Vladimiri sighed. “Ye’re with me.?

Chapter 6 The Test of Bravery

The next morning the three set out for the Southern Desert of Ro. Carthinum took out his drum, which looked strangely different than the last time Vladimiri had seen it, and started to play his cadence on it. The group’s legs filled with energy and they ran. They seemed to run faster than what Vladimiri had with the other bard previously. They made the Oasis of Marr by nightfall and set up camp for the night. “Yer drum is quite extraordinary Carthinum. Ye didn’t tell me about it.?

“Ah. Well I had befriended a druid of Karana while I was running toward Qeynos. She took my drum and put a blessing of Karana upon it. Now it’s louder and makes me run faster. I call it a thunderous drum of Karana.?

“Sounds like a fitting name for it, my friend. Let’s get some sleep. I’ll take the first watch.?

“Sounds good Vlad.? Said Carthinum. “Wake me when you turn in and I’ll take the next.? The night passed without incident and Carthinum woke Loranne and Vladimiri at dawn. The three ate a quick breakfast and resumed their journey.

“We’ll need to be careful once we get into the southern desert.? Stated Vladimiri. “These Shadowmen are hard to see. Usually can only see what they’re holding in their hands. I’m sure there will be patrols out. Perhaps we can ambush one.?
“Sounds like a good idea.? Seconded Carthinum. Around midday, the group discovered a small encampment of Shadowmen. Carthinum memorized three of his magical songs. “I think I’ve discovered a wonderful way to make the magic of me music work better. I believe I can sing or play pieces of up to three different songs and the effects of all three will work at the same time. I call it twisting. I haven’t had the chance to try it out yet so let’s see how well this works.?

“Sounds like a good idea.? Said Vladimiri. “We’ll try it out on this encampment. I see three sets of weapons floating. I think we can take them quickly. Work your magics and let’s make this happen.? Loranne said a quick prayer and one of the Shadowmen’s weapons seemed to lower.
She repeated the prayer and another Shadowman’s weapons lowered. Vladimiri pulled out his bow and launched and arrow at the third one. The arrow sailed through the Shadowman who turned and charged toward the group. Carthinum started singing pieces of three songs consecutively. Vladimiri’s arms filled with energy, the Shadowman slowed down and Loranne’s mind sharpened. Vladimiri met his adversary’s attack with his shield and swung his sword over and down between the floating weapons. The weapons fell to the ground and a small stone dropped between them. Vladimiri picked up the weapons and the stone and put them in his pack. One of the sets of weapons came back up and Vladimiri launched another arrow between them. Carthinum started singing again and Vladimiri prepared to meet the second foe. The last set of weapons rose up and followed the other. Loranne said another quick prayer and they stopped. Vladimiri swung a high arc and passed his sword between the approaching weapons as he did before and they fell to the ground with another small stone falling between them. As before, he picked up the items and put them in his pack. Loranne said another prayer and the last set of weapons fell to the ground with a third small stone. “Well now.? Said Vladimiri. “We just need two more.? They searched the camp and found evidence that there were more Shadowmen than what were present when they found it. Vladimiri and company went back to their vantage point and waited. A few hours later, two more sets of floating weapons approached the camp. Upon arrival, the weapons floated around the camp frantically. Carthinum started singing, Vladimiri launched an arrow through one of them and Loranne said a quick prayer that stopped the other. Vladimiri swung his sword down but was parried by one of the weapons. The other weapon swung around and cut a gash through Vladimiri’s armor and into his right arm. Vladimiri stumbled backwards and fell. The Shadowman moved toward him. Loranne quickly said a prayer and the weapons dropped to the ground along with another stone. Carthinum changed songs and the last set of weapons fell to the ground along with a last stone. Vladimiri said a prayer and the wound in his arm closed. “Thank ye both.? He said. He then picked up all the fallen weapons and the stones and added them to the contents of his pack. Carthinum took out his drum and started playing the cadence. The group’s legs filled with energy and they ran back toward Freeport.

The group arrived at Freeport without any further incident. Vladimiri took the items he gathered to the High Paladin who examined them and told Vladimiri to take them to the Academy immediately and return for his token. Vladimiri did as he was instructed and the High Paladin gave him another small coin.

“Go rest up, Vladimiri, Tomorrow you begin your final trial.? Said the High Paladin. Vladimiri met his friends for dinner that evening. Loranne and Vladimiri took an evening stroll through the city.

“Loranne, I really think ye’re the most remarkable lady I’ve ever met. After we get through this crisis I think I’ll stay here instead o’ heading back to Qeynos.? Said Vladimiri.

“I would very much like that Vlad. You are the most amazing man I have ever met.? Loranne replied. “I’m very concerned about the coming battle. Do you really think that we’ll hold the city against these Shadowmen??

“We’ll have to.? Vladimiri walked Loranne back to the temple. The two embraced and then parted for the evening. Vladimiri walked alone through the city back to his quarters in the Hall of Truth. Carthinum was sound asleep when he arrived so he quietly entered the room, undressed and went to bed.


Chapter 7 The Test of Truth

The next morning Vladimiri had breakfast with his friends and then went to the High Paladin for his final trial.

“Vladimiri if you are ready to begin the Test of Truth then please hand me the tokens of Generosity and Bravery and we will begin.? Said the High Paladin. Vladimiri gave him the two tokens. “Very good. We have in the jail now one of the Shadowman. He claims that he doesn’t believe in the ways of his leader and said he has come to help us with information. It will be your task to determine whether he is speaking the truth or if it is some trap. If you are correct then Mithaniel Marr will reward you with your final token, the Token of Truth. Bring that to me and your trials will be complete. If he is lying you are to slay him.? Vladimiri left for the jail and was escorted to what appeared to be an empty cell. Vladimiri entered the cell and placed two balls upon the table.

“Ok, Shadowman, I’m here to talk to ye.? Said Vladimiri. “Pick up the balls I’ve placed on the table so I can know where ye are.? The two balls rose from the table and floated. “Very good. Now I’m sure ye have a name so it’d make things a lot easier fer us both if ye’d tell me what it is.?

“Ssynthi.? Came a whispery reply.

“Very good Ssynthi. So, ye’ve come to help us by betraying yer own people. Why??

“I do not believe that the one who has taken kingship over my people is acting in the best interest of my people. I believe he seeks his own personal glory. For a long time we have been content to dwell in the shadows and live quietly among the creatures of the world. The king now has brought us into the light to try to conquer it and all creatures that live under it. He feels that by taking over your city that he will have a stronghold from which to attack our most hated foes, the followers of Solusek Ro. He feels that your city is weak enough for us to conquer. I myself do not share the hatred against Solusek Ro as the rest of my people. You see I have fallen in love with a priestess of the temple of Solusek Ro that we had captured. I helped her escape three days ago.?

“Ok, Ssynthi, what token can ye show me that will convince me that ye’re tellin’ me the truth??

“She gave me this flower.? One of the balls floated back to the table and a moment later a blossom floated in the air toward Vladimiri. Vladimiri took the flower.

“If ye’re tellin’ me the truth ye’ll have this back as well as ye’re life. If not then ye’ll be tastin’ me blade.? Vladimiri walked out of the cell and went to the temple. Vladimiri showed the flower to Loranne whose expression suddenly saddened.

“How did you get this Vlad?? She asked. “This is a token of Love and friendship from a priestess of Solusek Ro.?

“I got it from a Shadowman that is in our jail. Can this blossom be taken from a priestess by force??

“No, It can only be given freely. The priestess conjures it herself and it holds part of her soul.? Loranne sighed in relief.

“Thank ye, Loranne, Ye’ve answered all the questions I needed answered.? Vladimiri kissed Loranne on the cheek and went back to the jail. As soon as Vladimiri entered the cell Ssynthi picked one of the balls back up from the table. Vladimiri handed the flower back to Ssynthi. “Well looks to me like ye’re tellin’ the truth. I’ll not be takin’ yer life after all. I’ll recommend that ye have an audience with the king and ye can give him whatever information ye have that ye think that will help us.? Suddenly on the table appeared a small gold coin. Vladimiri picked up the coin and returned to the High Paladin where he handed in the coin along with his recommendation concerning Ssynthi.

“Good work Vladimiri!? Exclaimed the High Paladin. “You have earned the privilege to become a Knight of Truth. We shall hold your knighting ceremony in a few days. Read this scroll, and sign it, it is your testimony.?

Vladimiri read the scroll:

TESTIMONY OF TRUTH

I believe in the might of Mithaniel Marr. I shall uphold the words of Marr and defend them with my life. I shall protect the righteous weak and avenge the souls of those whose life has been taken for naught. From this day forth I shall become a living vessel for the ideals of the Truthbringer and if I should ever falter from his grace may he cast me from this life and into the lifeless void.

PRAISE BE TO MARR

Vladimiri signed the scroll and handed it back to the High Paladin, bowed and went to his quarters.

Chapter 8 Preparing For the Defense

For the next several days, Vladimiri spent his time teaching the smiths how to work the Mithril that arrived from the mines in Butcherblock. The enchanters of the Academy learned the art of putting magic into the metal from the Elven enchanters and enchanted the entire shipment in a matter of hours as well as working on new enchantments that they gathered from working with the items that Vladimiri had brought to them from the Shadowmen that he had slain. One of the enchanters brought Vladimiri a block of Mithril that he had enchanted with one of the new spells they had created and told him to fashion a sword with it. After making the weapon, Vladimiri was summoned to the arena near the jail. King Melron and the High Paladin were waiting for him.

“Vladimiri we would like for you to test your new blade out here. One of our scouting parties captured a Shadowman and brought him to us.? Said the King. The High Paladin threw two swords to the ground in the arena. “Shadowman if you can defeat this man you will be released back to your people. On this you have my word as a follower of Mithaniel Marr.? The two swords rose into the air and hovered for a few seconds and then moved quickly toward Vladimiri. As they approached him his sword started to glow. Vladimiri swung his sword in a high arc and brought it down. The Shadowman tried to parry the blow but Vladimiri’s sword passed through the shadow blades and continued down. The broken blades fell to the ground and Vladimiri’s sword glowed brightly for a few seconds. This time no stone fell to the ground.

“Remarkable!? Exclaimed Vladimiri. Vladimiri approached the king, knelt before him and presented the sword to him. King Melron took the sword from Vladimiri examined it and passed it to the High Paladin who also examined it before passing it back to the king. The king then gave the sword back to Vladimiri.

“I shall call this blade Shadowbane.? Said the king. “It is yours to wield and to keep. It is also the only one made. That block of Mithril you made it from was the only one they were able to enchant that way. They used the last of the Shadowmen material they had to make it.?

“Thank you Sire.? Replied Vladimiri.

“We shall hold the knighting ceremony after the evening meal this day. You have done much for us Vladimiri and I look forward to welcoming you as one of our knights.?

“Sire, beyond fulfilling me Da’s final wish and tellin’ Bandrel o’ his passing I had no plans fer me life till I had arrived here and met the wonderful people o’ this city. I feel I’ve found a new home here and no longer wish to hail from Qeynos. If ye don’t mind, I’d like to be known as a citizen o this city, Vladimiri o’ Freeport.

“Very well Vladimiri, I accept you as a citizen of Freeport.?

Chapter 9 The Shadowman War

Several hours later the alarm bells and horns of the city sounded. All the Knights assembled at the Eastern gates. The king approached the assembly on horseback and addressed the assembled knights.

“Knights and Squires, I am afraid that the knighting ceremony set for this evening must be postponed. Scouts have reported that the Shadowmen are on the move and heading toward our city. We will engage them on the northern side of the Oasis of Marr. We have special weapons made for you all to wield against this foe thanks to Vladimiri, The Dwarves of Kaladim and the Elves of Felwithe. Our Magicians and Enchanters also have new spells with which to battle this foe. Now is the time for us all to show what manner of Men and Women we are. May Mithaniel Marr guide us all and protect our city and us. Praise be to Marr!?

“PRAISE BE TO MARR!? Shouted all the assembled knights and squires. All the knights and squires went to the armory to pick up their new weapons except Vladimiri who already had his. Once reassembled they all marched out of the city leaving just a few guard the gates and the port. The entire force marched south to the Oasis of Marr and set up defenses there.

After two days, the lookouts spotted the Shadowman army approaching. The Freeport forces made ready for the battle. Once they were set the magicians and enchanters started casting spells. Some of the floating weapons fell to the ground but still the main force kept approaching. On the king’s command the High Paladin called for the knights and squires to charge. The two armies met each other, swords clashed, Men, women and floating weapons fell. Vladimiri flew into the fray with Shadowbane swinging wildly cutting through floating weapons and Shadowmen like a hot knife through butter. Shadowbane glowed brightly as it drank the essence of each Shadowman that it passed through. Vladimiri slew more Shadowmen that day than he was able to count. The Shadowman army withdrew from the field of battle utterly beaten. The Freeport army suffered great losses that day as well. Later that evening Vladimiri was resting in his tent when Shadowbane started to glow dimly. Vladimiri picked up the sword and stood ready.

“Stay your hand Sir.? It was Ssynthi. “I have come with information for you. Perhaps we can end this battle before it gets too bad for both sides. I can tell you where the Shadowman King is and you can kill him and bring this all to an end.?

“Very well Ssynthi, I’m listenin’.? Said Vladimiri.

“I have seen what your sword can do to Shadowmen and while I do not wish to follow the ways of Shadow any longer, they are still my people and do not wish this weapon to fall into less honorable hands than yours. If you promise to destroy it after this battle is over, I will tell you where the king will be tomorrow during the battle. Kill him and the Shadowman army will cease hostilities?

“Ok when this blade is no longer needed to protect Freeport from Shadowmen I shall destroy it.? Ssynthi drew a map of the battlefield in the sand.

“He will be on this dune during the battle. Ssynthi drew a circle on the dune just south of the battlefield on his map.?

“Ssynthi, the people of Freeport will thank you. I will keep my word. When this sword is no longer needed it shall be destroyed.?

“I know you are an honorable man Vladimiri. I must now go seek out my true love. Perhaps our paths shall meet again. Thank you.? Shadowbane dulled back to normal. Vladimiri went to the king and High Paladin and related to them all that had transpired. Though they were not happy with the idea of destroying Shadowbane, they understood Ssynthi’s reasoning.

Early in the morning, the lookouts sounded the alarms again. The knights assembled and charged into battle. Vladimiri charged into the Shadowman army cutting a path straight through to the dune Ssynthi had indicated where he found a crown and a scepter floating along with two sets of weapons. Shadowbane swung through both sets of weapons and they fell to the ground broken. Vladimiri then swung Shadowbane through the scepter, which fell to the ground along with the crown. All the floating weapons on the battlefield fell to the ground and disappeared. Vladimiri rode back to the Freeport encampment and was greeted by cheers from all that were present. Vladimiri handed the Shadowking’s crown to King Melron. The Freeport army returned to the city.

Chapter 10 A Knight Indeed

The next evening the knighting ceremony was held. Vladimiri was called to kneel before King Melron in his turn.

“Vladimiri of Freeport receive your testimony and declare it publicly.? Commanded the king. Vladimiri rose and turned toward the assembly.

“I believe in the might of Mithaniel Marr. I shall uphold the words of Marr and defend them with my life. I shall protect the righteous weak and avenge the souls of those whose life has been taken for naught. From this day forth I shall become a living vessel for the ideals of the Truthbringer and if I should ever falter from his grace may he cast me from this life and into the lifeless void. Praise be to Marr!?

“PRAISE BE TO MARR!? Shouted the assembly. Vladimiri turned back toward the king and knelt again.

“Vladimiri of Freeport, for your contributions to this city and for passing your trials I welcome and receive you as a Knight of Truth and a guardian of the City of Freeport. Arise now as Vladimiri Shadowbane.? Vladimiri rose, bowed to the king and to the High Paladin and entered the assembly.

And that, my friend, is how the family name of Shadowbane originated. Vladimiri destroyed the Shadowbane sword as he had promised Ssynthi. Vladimiri, Carthinum and Loranne had many adventures together. Vladimiri and Loranne were married several months after his knighting and had several sons and daughters. Carthinum fell in love with a Lady Knight of Truth and they married and had children. King Melron gave Carthinum the surname of Tuneweaver in honor of his discovering the method by which we bards twist our magical tunes. Tuneweavers and Shadowbanes have run together from generation to generation ever since then. We Tuneweavers are the chroniclers of the Shadowbane family.