Cape of Our Hero
I got the inspiration for this story from the song of the same name by Volbeat. If you haven't heard it, you should go listen to it. Like, right now. In any case, this story isn't an adaptation of the music like my other big project is. It just so happens that listening to the song, combined with the title, gave me an idea for a story set in the world of Atlium.
It was a gorgeous day, not a cloud in the sky. The sun bore down its endless heat, but there was a cool northern breeze coming off the water. It was the perfect weather for the 100 years of peace festival coming up next week. There would be a bountiful harvest from the entire farm, and this was going to be perfect. 100 years without any conflict. 100 years since the pillaging Orcs left. The krenshar were something of a blessing in disguise, it seemed. As hideous as they are - a giant tiger that looked like it had no skin on its face - nothing could attack this little town. The little town of Cape Steady was something of an anomaly, though: A settlement of humans living on the edge of an island continent that couldn’t be reached by land-- the krenshar were far too deadly to allow for that.
Hollyonna had just left her home to feed the cows and check that the crops were undisturbed. Her husband was on guard duty today, and might even have to go out on patrol, so she was alone to check the town’s farm. She was really just feeding the animals, but she wanted to feel important none the less. She was born and raised in Cape Steady, just as her father before her. More than that, she liked it. Many of those she grew up with wished to see the world, or at least leave here. A select few had left on trading caravans heading to the other side of the continent, but news of them rarely ever made it back - it was suicidal to try that. True, she had heard the stories of the great big cities - Brightfall, Rambard and even the Elven capital of Tirranwn - but she had no interest in seeing them. The only non-humans she had really ever known were human-like enough that she saw no difference. She had never been friends with any of them, though, as only humans had ever lived in Cape Steady.
As Hollyonna continued the feeding, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was being followed. She was sure of it! The animals never made noise after they ate-- they were too busy stuffing their faces in their troughs. It was probably just one of the farmhands, trying to play a prank on her or something. She circled back around to the horse barn and hid behind a pile of hay, watching. She saw a shadow creep over the entrance-- but it was small. A little boy of no more than 8 or 9 came in.
Relieved that she wouldn’t have to deal with the immature farmhands today, she made herself known and came out, calling to him. “What are you doing here, boy? Where are your parents?”
He looked up at her and responded, but with a question of his own: “You look busy, working the farms yourself. Could you use some help?” She was absolutely astounded that a boy this young was volunteering to work the farm, but help was help.
“Of course. As long as you’re allowed to be here, I won’t stop you from helping me.” She motioned over to a bucket of feed in the corner. “Get the feed, put it in the pig’s trough and then meet me over by the crops.”
The boy nodded his head and did as he was asked. He was very well-behaved-- most kids his age would be off playing in the cordoned-off patch of woods that was safe and patrolled. She went over to the fence near the farm and leaned up against it, basking in the beautiful weather and her break. Who knows? Maybe having a little assistant wouldn’t be so bad.
The two of them spent the next 10 minutes inspecting the entire farm at a leisure. The boy was interested in everything from the animals to how to grow different crops. He asked more questions than the historian from Brightfall that came to town last year.
As they were getting to the end of their inspection, Hollyonna told the boy to take a break. She sat him up on the fence and went to fetch some water from the nearest well. She got a clean bucket from the farmhouse and took it to the well, filling it. As she headed back, she heard the boy shriek. Hollyonna dropped the water and went running to where she heard him scream at.
There was a small tomato patch behind one of the storehouses and the boy was there, awkwardly holding a pitchfork. “Th-there was something here.” He pointed down at the patch, where the tomatoes were all dug out and ruined. Next to them lay a shovel made of nothing but wood. He had nothing but fear in his eyes. “Some k-kinda monster was digging the t-tomatoes. I ch-chased it off, but-” Hollyonna cut him off.
“You’re okay? And you chased it off?” She looked him over again, making sure he was okay-- and physically, he was.
“Y-yes, I’m okay. It just,” he paused again to catch his breath. “I don’t know-- some horrible scaly monster. But I c-couldn’t let it take our crops!” He was a courageous little boy, that was for sure.
Hollyonna could hear the guards coming. This was going to be quite the commotion. She saw her husband at the front of them and waved that she was okay.
“Holly, what happened?!” Her husband was completely out of breath-- he must have ran all the way from the front gate in his armor. He took another deep breath and asked again. “Are you okay?”
She looked at the boy again, then back at her husband. “Yes, Mayn, I’m fine. This boy here chased away some kind of monster in our tomato patch.” She looked to the boy, saw he had his composure, and motioned for her husband to talk to him.
Mayn walked up to the boy, knelt down and asked him where the monster went. The boy pointed toward the coast and was visibly scared of some kind of repercussion-- he thought he did something wrong. “You go on home now, boy.” Mayn motioned to one of the other guards and had him go look for it.
Hollyonna knelt down to face her husband. “I already asked him what he saw-- something scaly. He had a pitchfork and chased it off, the brave boy.” She looked to him and nudged him. “Go on home, someone will check on you later.”
The boy started to walk down the path, but kept at a slow enough pace to hear what the two were saying.
“So, he really chased it away, huh?” The man sounded skeptic, but not mad. It looked like he wasn’t going to get in trouble, after all.
Hollyonna put her arm on her husband’s shoulder and looked towards the boy as he walked away. “Yeah, he really did. Such a brave boy. He’s our hero.” She paused and gave her husband a warm smile. “Cape Steady’s hero.”
A hero? The boy could not believe his ears. He was a hero! He was Cape Steady’s hero! He had always wanted to be an adventurer and have stories to tell like the groups that came into the town pub, but never in his life did he think he really would be. But now he was a hero! He could protect the town, just like Hollyonna’s husband! He could be a real hero! The boy picked up his pace with renewed vigor and headed back into town, eager to live up to his title.
The sun was low in the sky, reflecting off of the calm water. The lanterns were being lit and the guards were carrying torches now. The entire town was bustling with activity in anticipation of the upcoming festival. Normally by sundown the work would stop and most of Cape Steady would be winding down, but there were still farmers in the fields, others cleaning the streets, and it was loud. There was a hype in the air not unlike the stories the town had heard of Brightfall. To top it all off, there were foreigners showing up by the caravan, and that also meant adventurers looking for work. And where would they find this work? The sole tavern and inn of the town, the Trowel and Hammer.
There were adventurers and travelers by the plenty in there, the ale was free-flowing, and it was louder than anything the town had ever experienced. You could hear the conversations from anywhere in Cape Steady, it seemed. A bard was on his way to the small stage - little more than a wooden platform in a corner - and played his lute. Music was something of a commodity in this little town, so the coin for tips made his coinpurse heavy very quickly.
The bard removed his hat, placing it at the foot of the stage. He looked to the rowdy crowd of adventurers and workers on break, “This is a very old song, one I heard from a man in the hellish cold of Onnwall.” And he played.
In backwater Frothbottom
There lived a man
The strangest of wings had almost got him
But still he stands
He confronted that demon
Killed it for good
Did what he could
“He fights to this day
In a land far away”
So the story goes
No one truly knows
He was a great man
Most brave and strong
Help tell his story
Come! Sing along
And they did just that. In minutes the entire tavern was raising a glass to the hero of Frothbottom, singing his tale. It was a grand time to be in Cape Steady-- the small town away from the great civilizations and politics was the center of something big. And that’s when the bard noticed it: A boy had wandered into the tavern.
He finished his verse and stopped playing. He took his lute by the neck and pointed to the boy. “Boy, you shouldn’t be here. You’re far too young to be in a tavern full of the drunk and rowdy.” He surveyed the room, looking for someone to get rid of the boy. While he was one to keep the peace, he wasn’t one to stop playing and cut into his profits. He saw a group towards the door that seemed moderately sober and pointed to them. “Won’t you please deal with this boy, he’s holding up the show!”
The boy glared at the bard before turning from the stage to look at the group. “There’s nothing to deal with! In fact, I have a deal for you!” The group was half-paying attention to the boy while they looked desperately for their barmaid to refill their ale. The boy went up to the table, slammed his hands on it, getting the attention of more than a few people in the tavern and proclaimed with the utmost confidence, “I want to join you. I’m a hero in this town, and I want to go on an adventure.”
The laughter that ensued was heartbreaking. The boy was a hero! He really was! Who were they to laugh at him? “I really am! I’m a hero! A hero!” What felt like an hour but couldn’t have been more than a minute passed before the laughter died down, ending in a robe-clad member of this group kneeling down to face the boy.
“Get out of here, you whelp. You’re no hero, and this is no place for you.” The man shooed at him with his arm. “No one likes a liar, either, boy.”
A Half-Orc covered in chainmail put his hand on the man’s shoulder, pulling him back. “I’ll deal with the kid, get us more ale.” As he said this, he stood up. He was bigger than anyone the boy had ever met or even seen. He had to be seven feet if he was an inch!
The Half-Orc unbuckled the sheath of his great big sword and it fell to the ground with a resounding thud. “Come, boy,” the hulking beast of a man said in an annoyed, condescending tone. He started walking towards the door and made sure the boy was behind him. He opened the door, waiting for the boy to leave.
The boy went outside and started to walk away, only to hear the Half-Orc command him to wait. He stopped where he was and turned back to him. The Half-Orc kneeled down, putting his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You may be a hero in this town, but that’s only a start. You’re not old enough, big enough, or strong enough to be an adventurer yet.” He paused, noticing the boy showing a glimmer of hope at his words. “You could be a warrior of your own accord one day. Keep this town safe, be its hero.”
The boy looked almost at tears. This was a kindness he had never got from strangers before-- a Half-Orc at that! “B-but I am! Holly said I was a hero, and heroes go on adventures!”
The mammoth of a man heard the music pick up again and looked back at the boy. “Heroes protect those they care about. If you care about this town, then protect it.”
“I… I guess you’re right. I do care about this town. You’re right! I need to get stronger!” The boy looked up, thanked the Half-Orc again and walked off with a renewed determination to prove to himself that the courage he had at the farm was something he had all the time. He was determined to be a hero.