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"Come in," said the man genially "out of the cold. You can explain inside." Confused, but grateful, they allowed themselves to be led into a large room at the front of the house. Wall mounted lamps lit the room and the floor was cobbled. There were several rugs laid out on the floor, one of which, invitingly to their left, in front of a burning fireplace.
"Sit down." invited their host. They gratefully sank down on the rug in front of the fire and snuggled up close together. The young man pulled up a chair and sat down next to them.
"I guess we’d better start with introductions," said Des. "my name’s Des and this is Diane."
"My name is Feils and I live here with my mother Melda." Responded their host.
"You must excuse my curiosity," he continued, "but what far country are you from? I have never seen such strange garb." he said, a twinkle in his bright blue eyes.
"We were walking through the forest," explained Diane, "when we experienced some sort of blackout. Then the season seemed to have changed from spring to winter....hang on a sec, what d’you mean where are we from? We from the city, surely you must know where the city is?"
"The city?" said Feils, puzzled. "There are no cities for leagues, many days journey by horse much longer on foot."
"Leagues…? Days…? Horses…? On foot…?" muttered Diane incredulously. She turned to Des; his eyes were shining.
"Tell us about this place." he said suddenly turning to Feils, who proceeded to do so.
They had been transported to the land of Eardon a country under the illegal rule of a sister and brother, Jennin and Linward; the true Queen was in exile. Jennin and Linward were twins, and ruled tyrannically with an iron hand. Their fascination with and obsession for sex was legendary and it was rumoured that they indulged in perverted, incestuous practices. Both were tall and dark with pale, translucent, marble smooth skin and full blood red lips. Jennin was a cold beauty with long black silky hair. Linward was bald with smooth, handsome features and a chilly charm that left people both captivated and terrified. Their most distinctive feature was their eyes. Those who had had the misfortune to look into these eyes never forgot them. Jet black, they had a serpentine quality lending substance to the belief that the twins were spawn of the Great Serpent. Dark pools of fathomless depths of evil, the eyes bore into the soul and left their indelible mark.
"Why has no one tried to get rid of them?" asked Diane. "I mean we’re talking centuries of suffering here. Surely there must be some way of doing so."
"Yes," said Feils, "there is a way." and he looked sadly eastward before continuing. "To the east, legend has it, there is a golden sword. It is said to be the key to our salvation. Many brave men, among them my father and elder brother, have gone in search of this sword. Not one of them has ever returned."
Des and Diane sat digesting what they had just been told. The full impact of what had happened finally hit them. Improbable as it seemed, they had somehow crossed some sort of inter-dimensional barrier. It couldn’t be happening to them. This sort of thing only happened in fantasy books. But here they were, both wide awake, and everything was very real. Diane looked at Des, he had a far away look in his eyes and read him like a book.
"Oh no!" she exclaimed, "Des we are not, I repeat not going after that sword."
"But...." Des began.
"No!" she cut in, "I value you too much." and she gave him a hug and a kiss. Des did not reply, and Diane knew from past experience that his silence was far more effective than any arguing he could have done to convince her that his mind was made up. With a sigh of resignation, she turned to Feils and asked him to tell them more.
"I’ve told you as much as I know," he said "and it is clear to me that you two are not of Eardon. Tomorrow we shall go to see Blain. He will be able to tell you far much more than I. Come let us eat now."
"Who is Blain?" asked Diane.
"You shall find out tomorrow," replied Feils "He will have some answers for us all. Now, please, let us eat." He gestured towards the centre of the room.
They had been so engrossed by Feils’ account that they had failed to notice that the table in the centre of the room had been laid with supper. There was mushroom soup, freshly baked bread, a steaming joint, potatoes, peas, and carrots. A short, plump cheerful old lady then walked in with an apple pie for dessert and put it down by the fire to keep it warm.
"This is my mother, Melda." said Feils. Her ruddy face was lined with care but there was a merry twinkle in her eye that brightened her whole face. It was she who had prepared the meal and laid the table.
"Hi!" said Des and Diane in unison.
"Hello." she replied. Her voice was pleasant and soft. "I hope young Feils has been looking after you." She looked at him with a great deal of obvious pride.
"I heard Feils relating to you the legend of the Golden Sword." she continued. "It obviously brings back many sad memories for us, but we will never give up hope. For where there is hope there is also belief that things will work out for the best. It is this belief that gives us the strength to keep going." The words struck a chord in them filling with a mixture of shame and a desire to try and help these people. Their own problems seemed small and insignificant when compared to the suffering of this mother and her son, both of whom appeared to possess an unquenchable optimism.
They took their places at the table and fell to. The conversation took a lighter turn as Des and Feils bickered amicably with Diane and Melda about the relative merits of females and males amongst other topics. The meal itself was delicious. The taste sensations were familiar yet different. They couldn’t explain it beyond comparing processed food with fresh, a comparison that did not even come close to describing the experience.
When they had finished, Diane helped Melda clear the table leaving the washing up for the following day. They sat back down and Feils and Melda lit pipes. They had offered pipes to Des and Diane but the couple had politely declined.
Melda then proceeded to tell them local legends and folk-tales. "Feils has heard them all before, but he is always asking to hear them again, so that should be no hardship." she said with a smile, and it certainly wasn’t.
She spoke of the wonderful years before the Second Darkness. Images of a glorious and splendid time formed in their heads. They listened as Melda told of Eardonian heroes such as Wundulf the Great who had saved the land from the ravages of a mighty dragon; Blirns the Fearless who had led the Eardonians to many important victories against the Styrms, a race of dark, ugly orc-like goblins from the north; and greatest of all, Orman the Serpent Slayer who had slain The Great Serpent with the Golden Sword, at the end of the First Darkness. She also spoke of the lands beyond Eardon both allies and enemies. They also found out more about the exiled Queen, Zanaxia, Jennin and Linward had usurped her through a military coup. She was now leading a resistance from exile.
Some time later they prepared for bed. The cottage had three bedrooms and a bathroom. They had a quick wash before turning in and settling down to sleep. The bed was wonderfully comfortably and the linen fresh. As they lay there they cuddled.
"Des, I’m scared." Said Diane.
"Yeah, so am I." he replied.
"Then why don’t we just forget about this sword and try and find our way home?" she asked, "Dad must be sick with worry, we should have been back ages ago."
"Di, I would love to do that, but I don’t think we have much choice in the matter; and I don’t think we got here by accident. Remember what Melda said about hope."
"While you were helping Melda clear up, Feils told me that Melda is half-elven with a certain measure of foresight. So he figured that when she was talking about hope, she was partly referring to us."
"What do you mean?" said Diane nervously, though in her heart she knew what his reply was going to be.
"However absurd it sounds," he replied, "it seems that we are some sort of saviours come to rescue this world, a bit like in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Diane sat silent for a while as she digested this last bit of information. Eventually she spoke.
"OK Let’s assume that you’re right and we’re ‘supposed’ to get this Golden Sword. How are we going to go about it and what about everyone back home?"
"Do you have any suggestions as to how we might get back?" He said a little sharply. Slightly taken aback Diane shook her head. "Look, if we’re totally realistic about this," he continued his tone softening, "it’s pretty clear that we don’t really have much say about what’s happening. So I reckon our best bet is to wait until we see this...er..Blain I think Feils said, and take it from there." There was a long pregnant pause.
"Yeah, I suppose you’re right," she acceded, "‘though I don’t like it and I wish we could go home. Still, as long as you’re with me…good night sweetheart, and remember...."
"I love you."
"I love you too Di."
"There are many worlds other than one we inhabit. Some are like ours others are very different. Nonetheless there is one universal constant, the need for cosmic balance" - Blain Olturan, 1392SDA (Second Dark Age)