Updated content as of 11.24.2012
How do you begin a story about a boy like Zam? A man like Zam? Frankly once you’re my age all men seem as boys no matter their age. How old am I? Well... I dwell with the ancient ones, among whom few have gray hair, and I do. I am Graffeon, and I have written much of recorded history at the will of Elyon. That is how you’ve found this book in your hand now. Whether the ink has been dry for eons or you can still smell its pungent aroma, it is my truest hope that Zam’s tale will not simply entertain you, but aid you in understanding your own story.
His story begins, I suppose, as most men’s do… at his birth. It was a dark time in the land of Cairemia. His first winter was a bitter one and his entire family died. He would have died as well, but Zam’s destiny lay along another path.
Elyon sent the messenger Angeon to deliver Zam to a childless farmer—who should have raised him as a son. But, a few short years later the farmer’s own son was born and Zam became more or less a servant. He was moved from the family home to a shack bordering the fields where the sheep grazed, and there he served the family faithfully, never begrudging his place in the world. And… when Zam’s eighteenth year approached, the next chapter of Elyon’s plan began to take shape.
It was spring….
Chapter One: Strange Visitors
It was spring. The late afternoon sun played over the hills like water dancing, touching down here and there, leaving wide, shadowy gaps painted by the clouds, which retreated, then returned again, only to be broken by golden light raining down upon the grasses. The wind blew from the north, rustling the cloak of the young shepherd watching his master’s flock. The darkest shadow fell for only a moment before sunlight burst through, scattering the darkness, but the young shepherd felt something.
He scanned the flock for any sign of trouble. There rarely was when he felt this way, but this time… something was different. A lamb was missing. Running to the edge of the hill, he found strange tracks circled around a small group of sheep. He frantically searched for signs of the missing lamb.
He heard bleating in the distance. His heart pounded. His master would be angry if he lost a lamb to some wild creature.
The clouds grew darker and the light ceased to dance as the shepherd ran toward the sound. The farther he ran the more light was driven from his presence, until day was as night, and only one thin shaft of light fell… on the lamb. Wind ripped through the meadow. Trees creaked and bent. The shutters of the shepherd's distant dwelling clapped, and a broken branch from a nearby tree hurtled, too closely, past him. Yet all around the lamb the wind was calm. Within that shaft of light nothing moved.
Low growls began to rise with the wind until a cacophony of creatures just out of sight deafened the shepherd. Paralyzed by fear, he stood in the dark, his gaze fixed on the lamb at the center of the hellish gale.
A flitting shape beyond the light caught the shepherd's eye. A butterfly danced, unhindered by the nightmare, circling the lamb. The animal took no notice. The insect faded, replaced by a firefly, which continued the dance. The lamb cocked its head and followed its glow as it drifted into the dark.
Shuffling in place, the lamb watched the flickering light as it passed again and again, drifting farther into the dark each time. Enamored of the firefly’s glow, it stepped partway out of the light and the shepherd screamed for the animal to stay, but no sound escaped his mouth.
The naive creature stepped fully into the dark and the shaft of light faded. The firefly’s glow—now a malignant green—grew brighter, reflecting in the eyes of a hundred unearthly beasts, each drooling for this morsel that had wandered from safety. The shepherd’s breath caught in his chest and all light vanished. Standing there amidst the storm, deep in the abysmal darkness, he heard the violence that befell the lamb—horrid rending, frantic bleating, and then—
In this, his moment of terror, standing helpless in the depths of the dark, a thin shaft of light fell, slowly expanding, growing, shrouding him with light. The wind stopped whipping. The growls fell silent. His fears began to ebb. He took a deep breath. Outside the light was a deep and evil darkness and the shepherd knew it. His heart sank, yet the light brought some comfort.
Just then, a butterfly flitted by outside the light, and terror gripped the shepherd. He looked away. None of this can be real.
He looked back, and there before him was the firefly. He shuddered, nearly stumbling out of the light. The insect's glow was captivating, tempting him to follow. A chill tore through him as he felt himself wanting to move, being drawn unwillingly toward its evil intent.
The shepherd was uneasy in the cramped confines of the light. Against his will he began to move. He shut his eyes tight, vowing to himself he would not do as the lamb had done. Fear raged inside him and the world became liquid around him. Dread and the echoes of the lamb's demise drowned him in a catastrophic noise.
Then, amid the symphony of chaos, a voice whispered, drowning all other sound. It whispered his name.
The shepherd opened his eyes and found himself standing on the low hill by his dwelling. The sun lit the meadow and all was well with his flock. He stood there a moment, shaken by the vision, slowly realizing that’s what it must have been.
A stranger appeared from just over the hill, walking toward him, wearing a smile of friendship. He was quite old, but also decidedly strong—more than six feet tall and clad as a warrior, though something in his countenance was more fit to a poet. Zam couldn't place it, but he felt somehow he knew the man.
The stranger's voice rang out clear and strong, tinged with the wizened depth of his years. “I thought I would be too late, possibly come in on a fight, when I heard all the growling, but as I should have expected, Elyon had other plans.”
Zam was bewildered, unsure whether his mind was still playing tricks or whether this man truly approached.
The man repeated, “I said I thought I’d be too late….”
Zam had yet to come to himself, so the man moved on.
“Never mind that. Are you all right, Lad?”
Reconciling the reality of the moment, Zam asked hesitantly, “Did you say… growling?”
A different sort of smile crossed the stranger’s face, the sort that follows one who is not letting on all they know. “Did I? Hmm. Odd.” And with that he changed the subject. “Are you Zam Windwater?”
Frustration and curiosity mingled in Zam’s reply. “I am. Who wants to know?” but a sudden recollection of his position in life brought a quick revision. “I apologize. I mean to say, yes, I am Zam Windwater. And I am at the service of Master…?”
The pleasant old stranger smiled again. “Messenger.”
Zam’s brow furrowed at the off kilter name. “Master Messenger?”
“No, no.” The stranger laughed. “Messenger Graffeon. I don’t use the title Master. It doesn’t suit my position. I would run the risk of getting puffed up and looking down on people, when I’m already taller than most. No. I need look no farther down on any person than the distance from my eyes to their heart... eh... head. Yes.”
“Ah….” Zam’s bewilderment seemed only to grow as Graffeon talked to him. Although he felt more at ease as the moments passed, something about the stranger engendered a sense of... of something. He was a character, smiling pleasantly at the young shepherd.
At last Zam returned to his usual polite and welcoming self. “Well, Messenger Graffeon, the sun is nearly down and there are no other dwellings but mine and my master’s for many miles upon the road. If my master’s is not your destination, you are welcome to stay the night. It's a humble servant’s shack, but I do keep it clean.”
Graffeon bowed slightly. “Your master’s dwelling is not my destination, and I gladly accept.” A sheep bleated in the distance.
Zam turned to the flock, “It has been an odd day indeed.” He looked back to Graffeon. “I need to gather the sheep and pen them in for the night. If you’ve traveled far, you may want to begin your rest. I won’t be long.”
Again the messenger bowed then turned and walked toward Zam’s home to await the kind young shepherd. Zam Windwater was about to receive quite a message.
The scroll was barely as large as his hand. Zam unrolled it:
Dathan, the golden haired son of Zam’s master—and would-be brother had life turned out differently—shook Zam awake. It was startling. Zam hadn't seen Dathan in years except as he passed by, riding off with his father, presumably to distant places. Dathan had been crying.
“Zam… I’m sorry.”
Zam blinked, shook his head, and wiped sleep from his eyes all in an attempt to determine whether this was yet another dream. Experiencing the now-familiar feeling of perplexity, he realized he was awake. “Sorry for what, Dathan?” Innumerable sorrows rushed to his heart as he spoke his could-be brother's name.
“Thank you,” he whispered to the air, and took another step north.
Chapter Two: The River’s Edge
Zam felt oddly happy sitting at this table with these people. Each one asked him questions about himself, and though he felt most of the answers quite dull, the family seemed to enjoy every minute. Later when both the meal and conversation were done, Galwen asked Dorrin to lead Zam back to his room, and to be sure that no one tried to reclaim that sword. Zam puzzled at that.
“Don’t worry, Zam,” Galwen said as he stood. “Neither age nor stature will win a battle. Rather heart and skill are what’s required. Dorrin is an excellent swordsman. Even at his young age his reputation with a blade will keep certain thieving fools away.”
Zam thanked everyone for a wonderful meal and Galwen for rescuing his purse.
The old innkeeper chuckled. “Well, I couldn’t leave you without a way to pay for the room.” Molly gave him a good-natured jab with her left elbow. It made Zam smile.
All the children were clearing out, and just before Zam stepped into the hall he heard Barea say in a hushed tone to Molly and Galwen, “Did you see the way Tearis was looking at him? What was that?”
Galwen said mater-of-factly, “She sees something in him.”
Molly agreed. “That's true, but it seems more as though she knows him.”
Dorrin pulled on Zam's arm. “Come on, Zam… you don’t want to wait around here. You’ll need some shuteye if Grandfather and I are to teach you how to fight tomorrow.”
“Oh, I can fight, Dorrin… just not with a sword.” He listened, but heard no more of the hushed conversation.
The morning dawned with a thirteen year old boy waiting, hovering, at Zam’s door. “Come on. Enough sleeping. It’s time to fight.”
This must be what having a younger brother is like…
“Come on, I said.”
I think I might like that.
Dorrin was ready with two wooden training swords. Once he and Zam were outside he threw one to Zam. “Here’s yours.”
Zam looked around. The morning was beautiful, the brightest day he had seen in weeks even before leaving home. Many of Galwen’s grandchildren were gathered around to see the bout between Zam and Dorrin. Galwen hadn’t come out yet.
Dorrin struck Zam in the back.
“Hey! I wasn’t ready to start!”
Dorrin's impish smile returned. “Your enemy won’t say, ‘By the way, would you mind if I attacked you now?’ Will he?”
“All right then.” Zam set a large grin on his face and took a battle ready stance.
Dorrin took a swing. Zam tried to block it, but Dorrin’s sword came down on his fingers and Zam dropped the sword. “Ouch!”
“You have to protect your hands… they’re important.” Dorrin chuckled at how clever he was and continued swinging. Zam dodged each swing as he reached for his sparring sword.
“You’re pretty fast,” Dorrin said as he moved around for another strike.
For a moment it seemed the world slowed down, and an unpleasant change came over Dorrin. Something crept into his countenance, some ill toward Zam. He violently swung for Zam’s face as Tearis shouted a warning.
Zam moved just in time. “Hey! Be more careful, Dorrin! That would have really hurt!”
Dorrin's eyes were glassy, almost vacant. He didn’t speak at all as he lunged at Zam, becoming more aggressive with each swipe of the wooden blade.
Zam couldn't understand the rancor coming from Dorrin and the darkness that seemed to gather. He blocked several blows in Dorrin’s onslaught, but one struck him in the shoulder. It hurt. He looked for a moment at his shoulder and found blood there. When he looked back at Dorrin to protest, he wasn’t there.
Nor was Zam himself, it seemed. Instead he found himself standing in a clearing, surrounded by a dark and tangled wood. Panic began to take hold of him as he looked about for Dorrin and the other children. They were all gone. Zam turned a circle about the clearing. And when his gaze fell to the place he had last seen Dorrin, a large black dragon with armor-like scales, razor-sharp talons, and teeth like scythes was standing in his place. Terror ran through Zam.
The black dragon spoke. “You will not claim my prize, Boy. I have captured her and she is mine. I will have my supper, and I might add you to the meal. Or perhaps I’ll save you for breakfast.” A swipe of the dragon’s massive talons tore past Zam’s ear as he dodged the blow, but just barely. His wooden sparing sword was gone, and he was holding the sword that once belonged to Mort.
Zam tried to spy the prize of which the dragon spoke. Dodging another strike, he saw: on a large rock at the edge of the clearing, with a wall of dragon’s fire separating her from the rest of the forest, Tearis lay unconscious. Zam was first seized with fear and then confusion as he tried to understand how the dragon had taken Tearis and how he himself had come to be here.
A rage began to boil up in him, and recognition struck. Tearis looks at me as though I’m a hero. Now she needs me to be one. Otherwise she will die, and she is far too young for that!
To this point the dragon had been toying with Zam, but now it leapt on him like a lion on its prey, its right foreleg pinning him to the ground under its massive weight. Its razor teeth snapped shut so close Zam could feel the breath on his face. He wedged the sword between himself and the dragon’s head to keep its maw from closing a death grip about him. The sharp point slipped between two scales and cut the dragon. The beast reeled back.
Tearis awoke and looked around in terror. “Zam!” He turned to her and the dragon swept him aside, coiling most of its frame around his body. It began toying with him again, snapping its monstrous jaws shut inches from his arm, his chest, his head. It repeatedly knocked him to the ground with its horns. Tearis stood on the rock watching in horror.
Bruised and bloodied, Zam refused to give up against this impossible foe. Standing once again, on legs less steady than he desired, Zam pointed the tip of his sword at the dragon’s heart, “Beast, she is not your prize! You may try to claim her, but she... is... not yours....” His strength was failing, and that struck a deeper fear in him for what would befall Tearis, who stood now in shocked silence.
The dragon spoke in a sickeningly peaceful tone. “Boy, you are going to die, as will the girl. But for all your valiance perhaps I’ll dine on you this night and save her for breakfassst.”
“No!” Zam shouted and leapt with all his remaining strength, striking the dragon with his sword. The force of the blow hurt Zam’s hands but the dragon was unfazed. Zam swung wildly at the dragon’s neck, chipping at scales, which threw sparks with every strike.
The dragon coiled back and hissed out a trail of smoke. “Careful, Boy.” The smoke made Zam’s eyes burn so badly he couldn’t keep them open.
Eyes closed and burning from the fumes, he continued swinging, hoping against hope he would strike some weak point. He couldn't see that the dragon was scheming, slowly bringing the lance-like tip of its tail into position behind him.
Sulfurous vapors still blinded Zam, yet slowly he began to see all that played out. His eyes were still closed, he was still swinging his sword without any real aim, and he still felt a mix of terror and rage, but somehow he could see Tearis on the rock, see the tears running down her cheek. He could see the dragon coiling its tail behind him—his own stature so small and weak in comparison. Then, as the last moment of his life was about to pass, he saw the razor tip of the dragon’s tail swing around and strike him squarely in the back, piercing him with a deathblow.
Tearis screamed his name and Zam slumped forward, away from that part of the beast which claimed his life. The scaly lance flowed back down to the ground stained with Zam’s own blood. As these visions passed through his mind, the world slipped into inky black, and Tearis’ sobs echoed through his mind along with sorrow for his failure and the second great loss that Galwen’s family would now have to endure. Then he saw nothing.
“Zam! Zam are you all right?” The voice was Dorrin’s, then Galwen’s.
“Zam, speak to me!”
Zam wasn't yet sure what was happening. Didn’t I just die?
“I only hit him once.” Dorrin said hurriedly. “Well, twice. Once when I gave him the sword, but that was nothing, and once I hit his fingers when he was blocking wrong. I was going to go easy on him, I promise. I didn’t–”
“Quiet!” Galwen held up his hand to silence Dorrin.
Zam was moving, coming around. He opened his eyes to see Galwen looking down on him with concern then noticed that Tearis was also at his side. There were tears welling in her eyes.
Fear for her surged through him as he flashed back to what might have happened once the dragon finished him. But we’re here…! He was more than a bit confused, but thankful.
“There you are, Lad.” Galwen leaned down and whispered, “You should really save those visions for moments when weapons aren’t being hurled at you.”
“What? How did you...? ” Zam was bewildered again, and growing quite accustomed to it.
“Later, Zam... we will discuss it later.”
Zam looked around and saw that the whole clan, as well as several others who dwelt in Rivertowne, had gathered around in concern for him. It was an odd feeling since Zam couldn't recall anyone ever having been concerned for him until recently. He gazed at the family, still disoriented.
From the corner of his eye, he spied Mort standing among the townsfolk, eyeing him, Galwen, and the children. There was malice in his look and he was plotting.
Galwen dusted Zam off and spoke to the crowd. “Look at these sad faces. He’s fine. Go back to what you were doing, and thank you for your concern.”
Some of the villagers nodded and went on their way, but the family all closed in to be sure Zam was truly unharmed.
Keer, the seven year old, asked, “Did Dorrin hurt you? I’ll kick him for you.”
Zam smiled at that, “No, Keer, your brother did me no harm. I’m all right.”
Keer and Tearis grabbed Zam by the hand, attempting to help him up.
Having heard that interchange, Galwen ruffled Keer’s hair playfully and took Zam’s hand also, helping him to his feet. “Breakfast first,” he said. “Then after, Dorrin and I will teach Zam to use his sword.”
Zam agreed, and finally feeling stable on his feet, he picked Tearis up and carried her. He needed to keep her safe. The dragon’s fire and Tearis’ terrified look flashed through his mind. The effects of the vision would linger, as would the weight of Mort’s evil glare.
Thanks' for reading!