Grasp of Orcus
The Proselytization of Stern
Stern was a young boy of ten, and his parents were dead. He rode, along with his runty brother Saul, in a wheeled cage within a slaver’s caravan, traveling through a grassy plain bordering a deep wood. The tragedy which claimed the rest of their family on the road had happened before their eyes three nights previously, and Stern had not slept since. He was focusing all of his efforts on holding still so that his enemies would not see him shaking with fear.
The cage was empty except for the two dragonborn brothers, but it was last in line behind three other cages, all filled with prisoners acquired, no doubt, in a manner similar to what Stern and Saul had experienced. Unlike Stern, Saul appeared to have little trouble sleeping. Even now, in broad daylight, he lay upon the floor of the cage, his eyes closed and his breathing steady, while his brow furrowed with the agonizing dreams of a bereaved child.
As the caravan’s path began to make a turn towards the south, Stern was able to see something on the road ahead. A bright glint, as of shining armor. As the whole caravan slowed to a creaking halt, he realized that an armored man was standing, alone, in the slavers’ path.
Running to the side of the cage and peering hard, the young Stern saw a shield of blue adorned with a bright white star. This was the symbol of a god, one of the ones who was friendly with his family’s god, Bahamut, but Stern could not recall the name of the star-god.
Then, in a commanding voice, the armored man bellowed in the Common tongue “I am a servant of the Protector, First of the Seldarine! I represent the Order of Arvandor, which has dominion over these lands! The law is thus: No man, woman, or child may enslave another within our borders! Release your prisoners now and you may pass! Refuse and expect challenge!”
The slavers leapt from their wagons. Two of the leaders approached the armored man and Stern could see them begin to argue. Furtively, he glanced at Saul. He still slept. Stern hissed his brother’s name once, but he did not respond.
The sound of steel shrieking against steel drew Stern’s attention back to the front of the caravan. The armored man had drawn his sword and was attacking the slavers! Mightily he battled them and, though they had the advantage of numbers, he was clearly superior in both skill and armament. Their cheap swords and clubs slid uselessly off his armor as he cut down one after another of them. Stern watched, wide-eyed, as the warrior plunged his blade straight through the open mouth of a half-orc who helped capture them.
Then, suddenly, another voice rang out above the din of combat. It was the lead slaver, yelling to someone at the back of the caravan “Now! Kill the children!”
The warrior stopped fighting and ran several steps toward the cages before slowing. He removed his helmet to see more clearly, and Stern realized that he was elven. His hopes began to fade. Surely now that the warrior had seen the prisoners were dragonborn, he would not help them.
The cage door rattled and Stern spun to see an orc, fighting with a number of keys on a ring, looking for the key that would open the cage.
In his hand was the knife he had plunged into Stern’s father’s chest three nights previously.
The orc was huge, and Stern knew that he could not fight him. The boy whipped his head around to look at the elf warrior. Three more slavers had leapt from the wagons to engage him, and those he had left behind were now rushing his back. Even if he defeaed them all, he would not reach the brothers before the orc’s blade.
And yet he tried. He was elven and the boys were dragonborn. He was one and his enemies were many. He was even hurt, as Stern could now see, barely able to lift his shield arm, and yet he fought without ceasing. Surely any god with such a man for a follower was good and worthy.
Stern fell to his knees and quickly asked the star-god, whose name he still could not recall, to help his servant.
“Strengthen his arms,” Stern silently pleaded, “So that he may save us.”
But then the cage door opened. Stern decided not to try waking Saul again. Perhaps his brother would be the only member of the family to die in peace.
Finally, as the orc stepped into the cage, knife held high, there was a momentary break in the noise of the fight. That brief instant of silence stretched out slowly, until, buried within it and almost inaudible, Stern heard the sound of ice crystals cracking.
He pointed his face at the noise and saw that his brother had opened his eyes. What Stern noticed now that he did not before, is that Saul’s eyelids were crusted over with ice. There was further ice around his nostrils, and beneath him wherever his body contacted the cage floor. The furrow of his brow, Stern now realized, was never because of tormented dreams. It was a furrow of concentration.
Saul was playing a game – one played by all blue dragonborn children, though Stern hd never seen anyone last this long. For hours, Saul had been slowly storing up ice in his breath.
In a movement so fast that Stern barely had time to see it, his tiny brother lunged to his feet, shoved him aside with one arm, and blasted forth a cone of cold more powerful than even their father’s, directly into the attacker’s face. The orc, half frozen, fell to the floor. Stern watched, stunned, as Saul pried the knife out of the orc’s hand and violently shoved it into his chest.
Stern saw a grunt of frustration on Saul’s face as the knife was stopped by the orc’s breastbone. Small and exhausted as he was, Saul was not strong enough to drive it through. A new determination came upon Stern as he stood to his feet, towering over his brother, and took the knife.
“Good plan, Runt. Now it’s my turn.”
By the time the elf reached their cage, the boys’ father’s death was avenged.
The elf’s name was Finrod, and after freeing all the captives, he took them back to a temple of his star-god, Corellon, where Stern and Saul were cared for. Stern learned many things there from the Order of Arvandor. The clerics showed him magic, for Corellon was the god of magic. In this art, Saul seemed particularly interested. The paladins taught battle and responsibility, for Corellon was also the god of warfare and protection. Stern spent many hours training with them.
It was during Stern’s years there that he met and fell in love with Corvyre, spending time with her during her many visits to the region, but he was never permitted to leave with her. Stern and Saul both stayed until they were old enough to decide whether they wished to leave.
On that day, Finrod came to Stern. He told the lad that he had seen him training with the paladins, and that Stern had grown into a man of righteousness, but Finrod wondered why Stern never prayed. Stern told him simply that he had never felt strongly about any god. His parents died before he was old enough to accept Bahamut, and he had never felt any special connection to Corellon, despite his friendships at the temple.
Finrod asked about Stern’s writing, for he had often seen the young man with quill and parchment. Stern grew silent, and Finrod asked if he wrote about your family. When Stern’s silence intensified, Finrod quietly asked him to follow.
Finrod lead Stern to the barracks, where the paladins of the Order slept while they are at the temple. Stern had been here many times before, but this time, Finrod lead him to the back of the room and through a door that he had never entered.
Stern found himself in a room longer than the bunk room they had just left, where he had always assumed he would simply see more bunks, or perhaps storage. Instead, the two stood in a massive art gallery.
Along the walls were paintings of every sort. Landscapes, portraits, and bizarre mashes of color, evoking joy, light, sadness, melancholy, anger, exhilaration and everything in between. Tables and pedestals filled the space, holding sculptures and crafts. Here, a bowl was painted with images of the Dawn War. There, a huge two-handed sword was inscribed with a prayer for strength.
Stern stopped and stared at the dazzling works of art around him, feeling the power and emotion of each one, until Finrod called to him from the back wall. Stern followed him there, where he stood before a row of towering bookcases.
“You know that Corellon is the god of nature, magic, protection and war,” said Finrod. "You may have also heard that he is the god of artists, musicians and craftsmen. What outsiders do not realize is that this is Corellon’s truest and highest domain. We his people are creators because it is through creation that we are most like him. When we express our innermost hearts through a medium of physical matter, we transform mute clay, ink, or pigment into thoughts and emotions. Through art we can both heal ourselves and reach out to others. The pictures we paint and the stories we tell have meaning, and the more personal that meaning is to the artist, the more powerful the art will be, and the more Corellon’s own heart will be touched. It is this, this form of truth, that he loves best. It is the way in which one heart speaks to another most clearly. But of course, you already knew that. That is why you have planned to show your stories to Princess Corvyre. "
Stern looked up at him sharply, his eyes wide.
Finrod smiled back. “I thought so.”
Finrod pulled a book off the shelf and handed it to Stern. The dragonborn turned to the first page and saw his own name written there.
Finrod places a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Your writing is your own, Stern. But know that Corellon smiles on it.”