I'm not the hero of this story.
The real hero is Goron Bloodblade. Yes, that Bloodblade.
No doubt, you have heard the ballads, listened to the stories by the fire, and are wondering why I am bothering to write down adventures that everyone already knows. The answer, because the poets and minstrels only included the tiniest component of truth.
Surely, you have heard the song about Bloodblade's heroic descent into the catacombs of Eld Shahir. How he braved the darkness, using only touch and hearing to chart a path through the crumbling tunnels, cutting down countless ghouls and goblins until reaching the dreaded Heart of Keldred. Indeed, it is a favourite among youngsters, acted out by countless wide-eyed boys who dream of being a hero. What the ballad fails to say, however, is that there was a poor schmuck who carried a torch for him. He didn't grope through the darkness, fight enemies with instinct alone, but had someone standing behind him to light the path.
If you are one of his groupies, no doubt by now you are cursing my words as lies. How could I possibly know that someone followed behind him with a torch? Well, for those of you who are a bit slow and probably preoccupied with sounding out these words, I was the poor schmuck carrying the torch.
I'm not the hero of this story. I'm the hero's best friend.
Goron has been my friend for as long as I remember. We were both orphans on the streets of Hadarak, stealing to survive and fighting side by side to keep our loot from other street rats. To be fair, Goron did most of the fighting, which is probably why I became friends with him in the first place. I don't remember exactly how we met or why we stuck together, it’s just one of those things that happened. Of course, back then he wasn't known as Bloodblade, but rather Bloodnose.
A word of warning if you are reading this - if you meet him, never call him Bloodnose. He didn't like the name when we were children, and he definitely would not like it now. It would be a sure way to lose some teeth and likely gain some broken bones.
Bloodblade was always large though, even when we were small. You would think, being larger than every other street kid would make him less of a target, but people in general, and definitely uneducated kids living on the street, are rarely logical. His nickname came from the frequent blood noses he would walk away from fights with. Granted, his opponent was always worse off, but the nickname stuck among the riffraff of Hadarak, and was often the source of his fights. We never figured out exactly where he had come from, but based on his height and massive frame, the slab of pure muscle sitting below his chiseled jaw, Bloodblade and I always assumed his ancestry was from the barbarian horde that lives in the frigid wasteland to the North.
But I digress, something I will try to avoid. You are not here to listen to stories about childhood scrapes, but the thrilling adventures of the most celebrated hero of our generation. The stories I will tell will be varied. Some will be familiar (truthful) derivations of those you have already likely heard. Others will be the less heroic stories that the poets couldn't make rhyme.
Do I worry about telling these stories? Am I concerned about Bloodblade reading them and getting angry?
The chances of him actually picking up a book long enough to sound out more than the title are negligible. It's more likely he will tear the pages out to wipe his arse with. So no, I'm not worried. But, if I were you, I would be extremely cautious in voicing the stories I tell in his presence.
You have been warned. Any consequences are now your own to bear.
So, which ballad will I now tell? I think it only prudent to start with the adventure that made him famous.
Yes, that's right.
The rescue of Princess Persephone (and I agree, the poet could have come up with a more poetic name, but hey, it still made Bloodblade famous).
'What are you talking about?' I asked, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. We had managed to secure a tiny room, more a cupboard, in one of the less reputable inns in town in return for Goron acting as a bouncer. It was one of those cheap places that workers and near-do-wells came to drown their sorrows as fast as possible, which often lead to fist fights and broken furniture.
Goron was practically bouncing on the balls of his feet, his massive shoulders filling the entire door frame. 'The princess has been kidnapped, Ned,' he explained in his booming voice. 'This is our opportunity.'
'Have you been drinking already?' I asked. I propped myself up against the wall as my mind tried to wake up properly, the wall almost feeling softer than the thin straw filled mattress.
'Yes,' he answered, pulling his black hair back and tying it into a warrior’s tail. 'What's that got to do with anything?'
'You're not making any sense.'
'Get up,' Goron said, grabbing my shirt with one hand and hauling me off the cot.
'It's too early for this shit,' I complained as he dragged me down the grubby hallway. Despite my complaint, I followed meekly as I grumbled. Goron was head and shoulders taller than me and twice as wide; I had learnt a long time ago that physically resisting him was as futile as trying to get a coin from a beggar.
'Make’s sure you’se is here by peak hour,' the innkeeper yelled in his strange accent from behind the bar as Goron hauled me through the taproom.
I am sure you are expecting me to pontificate on what the surroundings looked like, as is the custom these days among writers. Fuck that. It was a grubby, dilapidated old pub that smelt like vomit, what more do you need to know?
'Look here,' Goron said, pushing me so hard towards the notice board out front of the pub that I almost went through it.
A massive poster had been stuck over all the smaller local notices.
Princess Persephone kidnapped by the Raiders of Lis.
Massive reward for her safe return promised by King Prias.
'Why wouldn't the King just send his soldiers after them?' I asked. Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I tried to find a way to talk Goron out of what I knew would be an ill-advised adventure.
'Who gives a fuck, Ned,' Goron said, grabbing me around the shoulders and shaking me. For some reason, Goron always liked to shake people when making a point. I don't think he ever realised how annoying it was or how much he rattled people's teeth when he did it. 'This is our chance to make a name for ourselves and get out of this shithole.'
'There has to be a good reason he won't send soldiers, Goron.' I shook my head at his grin. 'Who are the Raiders of Lis?'
'Ned!' Goron said in exasperation (not that he would know what that word means). 'It doesn't matter who they are, all that matters is we are going to be the ones to save the princess. Let's go!'
Goron started off down the muddy road, not bothering to wait for me. As I trotted after him, I noticed he already had his crude leather jerkin on and blunt sword at his hip. As always, he was going to charge headfirst into a situation with almost no thought.
'Where are we going?' I asked, falling in beside him as he strode purposefully through the market.
'I spoke to some guys at the pub this morning,' he explained, swiping an apple from a stall as we walked past and biting into it with a crunch. (Yes, he stole it. Get over it. I have already told you we grew up as street kids and stole to survive. All you fanboys may think he is nobility personified, but trust me, he is as flawed as any man). 'They told me,' he mumbled around the apple. 'That the raiders are camped out in the nearby swamp at an old ruin.'
'So, that's it?' I asked with a sigh, swiping a bread roll as we left the market. 'We’re just going to charge into the swamp and rescue a princess?'
'Yep,' Goron answered with a grin.
You're probably wondering why I went along with this madman, rushing headlong into a fight with a band of raider which we knew nothing about. If you're reading this, you also probably have at least a couple more brain cells than Goron and have noticed that we were leaving town with no food or supplies. Well, the answer to both is the same. Much like a storm, Goron is a pure force of nature and when he has a goal in his head, you just need to buckle down and survive.
I did manage to swipe a few more loaves of bread and some cheese on the way out of Paradise Landing. If you have been to that shithole of a city, you will know the mud splattered brick buildings that make up the majority of the small metropolitan are hardly worthy of the name. I don't know what genius decided to build a city in the low ground near a swamp, but I would be he regretted it not long after moving in. We had ended up in Paradise Landing after practically being chased out of Kel Rashad almost two months earlier when we had been implicated in the death of a minor noble. To reassure you, we were innocent and your favourite hero may be a thief but is not a murderer. Maybe I will tell the whole story some other time. How Paradise Landing became the seat of a king, I will never understand. A wandering scholar once tried to explain it to me and Goron; something about being a central trading hub that connected a number of key industries. Goron got bored before he could explain fully and ended up headbutting another patron of the pub. It’s amazing how many of our nights at the pub ended that way.
The next two days are not worth describing in detail. That is one thing this story has in common with the ballads, we will ignore the boring parts. To put it simply, we walked through muddy fields, got rained on constantly, shivered through the night huddled together under trees, and ate whatever food we could find along the way. Thankfully, I had my sling with me, and we cooked a rabbit on the second night over a small fire, the constant drizzle having blessedly dissipated for a time.
The Rescue of Princess Persephone
By the third day, we were slogging through the swamp, knee deep in fetid water and being eaten by swarms of bugs.
'Who the fuck decides to set up camp in a swamp?' I asked angrily. By this point, tired and hungry, I was not in a great mood and had no issues in voicing my unhappiness.
'We should be close Ned,' Goron said, pushing over a gnarled tree that blocked their path.
'How the fuck do you know?' I snapped, stumbling over something in the water which I hoped was just a fallen tree.
Goron remained silent. You're probably thinking that's what I wanted, but in reality, I wanted an argument and his silence rubbed against my already fraying temper. I was about to snap at him again when he was yanked under the water.
A maelstrom of water and bubbles stormed in front of me, right where Goron had just been. My tired, numb mind took several seconds to register what was happening, that he hadn’t just fallen in a hole under the water. Goron had been yanked under by something. Some blighted swamp monster was trying to have him for lunch.
‘Goron!’ I yelled, quite ineffectually at the foaming water. I did warn you at the start, I’m not the hero of this story. Why are you surprised that I stood, now almost waist deep in this fetid cesspool, doing nothing as my best friend was devoured.
This would be a horrible story if the real hero died. In fact, you would never have heard of Bloodblade if this was indeed the end of the story. So, fear not adoring fans.
Before I could decide what to do next, the settling water burst upwards, shooting foul smelling water into the sky. Goron was roaring as he appeared from amidst the deluge, a large moss-covered reptile clenched in one meaty hand, sword clenched in the other. As the monster writhed in Goron’s clenched fist, he drove the blade home, punching straight through its soft underbelly and out its scaled back. It writhed on the end of the blade before stilling. Goron wrenched the blade back, pulling it free to be followed by the slopping of its innards into the water.
‘Just when I thought this place couldn’t smell worse,’ I muttered. The guts appeared to steam in the water, setting off a foul smell that is beyond even the greatest poet’s ability to describe.
Goron yelled in triumph as he turned to face me, presenting his trophy and trying to shake his wet hair out of his face unsuccessfully, grinning like an idiot with a pastry.
‘The bards will sing of this victory one day,’ Goron announced, sheathing his blade.
‘Not exactly a dragon you slayed there,’ I commented drily. I was significantly less amused by the near deadly situation we had just escaped. If the creature had grabbed me, I would not be here to share these true tales with you all.
‘I wish I could take it with us.’ Goron sighed and tossed away the creature. Thankfully, I hadn’t had to point out that lugging a stinking dead reptile through a swamp while on a rescue mission wasn’t a great idea. In fairness to my friend, he occasionally did exhibit common sense.
You are probably wanting to know more about the beast. In this regard, just listen to the ballad “Like a Bloodblade cutting through a swamp”. The description in this cloying piece of unbridled adoration towards Bloodblade actually described the creature accurately. Just ignore the part that describes it as three times the length of a man. In truth, it was barely as long as Goron’s leg.
Goron pulled back his dripping black hair, retrying it into a warrior’s knot. We resumed our moist trudge through that infernal cesspool of disease and disgustingness, several more hours passing in silence. My bad attitude had been tempered by the brush with death. It was getting dark, our thoughts turning to finding a patch of earth to sleep on when we heard the shouting.
Goron looked at me and raised a finger to his lips, signaling for silence. Not that I needed any direction to stay silent when approaching a band of marauders and kidnappers armed only with my sling. If you are wondering at this point why I only had a sling and Goron a rusty old long sword barely sharp enough to cut butter, it’s because we were broke. Dead broke. So broke, we could barely afford to pay attention. It’s not easy making your way in this world when you start with literally nothing, and have to steal clothes of clothesline as a young child just to survive the cold of winter. But I digress. Again.
As we approached the noise, a section of crumbling wall appeared before us out of the dank mist that was starting to form with the onset of night. It was clearly once part of a monolithic structure but had decayed, now standing only as a memory of what once stood here. I could make out the shape of some arches and columns behind the wall, lit by the orange glow of a fire. It was impossible to tell exactly what had once stood there, the majority having fallen into the swamp, reclaimed by nature as all things eventually are. Drunken voices echoed off the stone, reverberating outwards to be swallowed by the grotesque trees and vines that surrounded the ruin.
Goron and I moved slowly, careful not to splash in the water as we made our way up onto the firmer ground along the outer perimeter of the wall. I still remember how my heart pounded in my chest as we skulked through the darkness. The only light now was the faint glow of the fire shimmering through the mist. We inched along the wall, Goron in the lead as always. He peeked his head around the crumbling masonry, careful not to draw attention with any swift movement. Gesturing me backwards after taking a peek, we crouched behind the wall awkwardly.
‘I count ten around the fire,’ Goron whispered, barely loud enough for me to hear right next to him. If the poets want to sing of heroic deeds, Goron whispering should be one of them. Being so silent was no simple feat for a booming, bellowing, boisterous man like Goron.
‘That’s too many,’ I whispered back. My boots squelched in the mud as I shifted nervously, knees aching in the cold mist from the awkward squat I was in.
Goron flashed me his grin, which looked crazier than normal in the misty half-light from the fire. ‘Be ready to back me up,’ he whispered.
Before I could protest, the giant lug started scaling the wall. The grinding of crumbling stone as Goron climbed seemed deafeningly loud at the time, but on reflection there was no way someone on the other side of the wall could have heard his ascent. But still, at the time, my nerves were frayed to breaking point. I slid my sling out of the pocket of my pants, replacing it with a pile of stones from the wall and crept back to the edge.
I almost pissed my pants. Goron let out a bellowing war cry from atop the wall, right as I peeked my head around the wall.
I bet you know what happened next. After all, this is the most popular part of the ballad, where Bloodblade leaps into the bandit camp and slaughters them all handily. Yeah… that’s not exactly what happened.
Still bleating like a sheep in heat, Goron leaped from the wall. What he hadn’t thought of though was how slippery the moss covered stone had become with the onset of the mist. As his feet failed to gain traction, his heroic leap turned into a flailing mess of limbs, his war cry turning into a squeak of panic.
He fell straight into the camps latrine pit.
Face first into piss and shit.
The truth is not as heroic as the bards tell you, is it?
'Grab him!' the leader of the raiders yelled in a gnarled voice. Two of the rough looking men grabbed Goron's flailing arms, his sword long gone from the fall, and hauled him out of the muck.
Surprisingly, he let himself be led into the middle of the camp near the fire. The men surrounded him in a lose circle, only two bothering to draw their weapons as they laughed at the shit covered wannabe hero. They wore a mismatch of leather armour and threadbare clothes, their swords and axes barely better than Goron's own blade which one of them now held.
'Here to save the little bitch I bet,' the leader drawled. He threw a thumb over his shoulder, pointing towards a lump sitting just outside the fire-light. I could just make out the shaking form of a girl, the princess, tied to one of the broken stone columns. 'Let's have some fun boys.' The raider grinned wickedly, a round of chuckles emanating from the foul men. If there is one thing I have learned during our adventures, it’s that people are often worse than the monsters. Monsters will kill for food or to defend their territory from predators. Humans kill and torture because they enjoy inflicting pain.
A short, emaciated looking man approached my friend, drawing a curved dagger that was stained black with blood.
Bloodblade has many attributes that the songs tell of. Strength, speed, courage, resilience, and the list goes on. One thing he has never had though is luck.
He doesn't need it.
He has me.
To reemphasis though, I am not a hero. My hands were shaking so hard I could barely get the stone into my sling. Unlike Bloodblade, I don't revel in battle and defeating enemies in mortal combat, I just get dragged along for the ride. But I couldn't just stand by and not help my friend.
Shuffling out from behind the wall and crouching in the mist, I whipped my sling and let fly. Years of hunting for food, because Goron is just completely useless at stalking prey, meant my aim was true. The rock hit the leader of the raiders right on the forehead, so fast that I doubt any of them saw the stone. His knees buckled and he fell on his face like a sack of potatoes.
Goron was the only one in the ring of firelight that wasn’t surprised, and as I loaded another rock into my sling he was already moving. The men holding his arms must have been willfully ignorant of the massive slabs of muscle under Goron’s shirt. I am still a little surprised he was still wearing a shirt noting his propensity to walk around half naked. To be fair, I would probably do the same if I had the body of a warrior god like my friend. With a roar, Goron casually threw the bandit holding his right arm clear over the fire. Chaos broke out as the second man was thrown into the cluster of raiders.
I slung a couple more rocks, trying to keep some of the raiders occupied but Goron hardly needed any more help. Once his arms were free, he became a chaotic whirlwind of death. Although I didn’t see it, he somehow got his hands on a short sword and hand axe. The Raiders of Lis tried to rush him early, counting on numbers to overpower him, but overpowering Goron Bloodblade is never an easy task. He hacked his way through the initial rush, his own bellowing rage mixing with the screams of pain and fear. Three of the bandits that had wisely held back from the fight tried to flee. Laughing like a maniac, Goron rushed after them into the mist.
The hacked-up corpses of the bandits made an almost perfect circle around where Goron had been held. I tried not to look too closely at them as my weak legs brought me into the firelight. As I approached the slumped form of Princess Persephone, still tied up to a stone column, the sound of steel clashing followed by a blood curdling scream echoed out of the darkness.
The Princess tried to scream as I reached towards her, muffled by the gag in her mouth that I was trying to remove.
‘I’m here to help you,’ I said, raising a hand to try to calm her. ‘You’re safe now.’
She scuttled back into the pillar, eyes wide as she stared at me. Moving slow, I reached forward and removed the gag from her mouth.
‘I’m here to rescue you,’ I reinforced.
‘Who are you?’ Persephone asked with a shaky voice. ‘Where’s the knight who defeated the bandits?’
I couldn’t help but laugh at the description of Goron as a knight. ‘He’s making sure the bandits are all gone,’ I answered. ‘Let me untie you.’
Despite being dirty and disheveled, Persephone was one of the most gorgeous women I have ever laid eyes on. Her high cheekbones perfectly highlighted the bright blue eye that flashed with a mischievous sparkle. Although tangled, her flowing blonde locks reached halfway down her back, stopping near her shapely hips. I swallowed as I watched her glide to the fire and hold her hands out to warm them. Persephone didn’t seem to notice or care about the torn, mud splattered dress or how the hem of her dress brushed the blood liberally splattered around the camp as a result of Goron’s fury. It was easy to imagine she was on her way to a palace ball for all the attention she gave her surroundings. The only thing that marred the veneer of stoic confidence she portrayed was her shaking hands above the fire.
Goron came strolling back into the camp, humming to himself as he casually swung his blood covered weapons. Persephone stepped around the fire to stand in front of him as he approached.
‘I thank you, noble knight, for coming to my aid,’ she monologued imperiously, nose held high in the air. ‘Pray tell, what is your name?’
Goron stared at her, mouth hanging open dumbly as he figured out what she had said. I snorted derisively at her.
Alright, so I may have been a little annoyed that she was only giving Goron credit for her rescue. Being our first real adventure, I didn’t yet know that I wasn’t the hero of this story, that understanding came later.
‘Goron,’ he finally answered.
‘That’s it?’ the princess asked with raised eyebrow. ‘Just Goron?’
‘Uh, yeah.’ She didn’t notice, but I know my friend and could practically see him trying to figure out what she was getting at.
‘Well, that just won’t do,’ she said, eyeing him up and down before fixing her gaze on his bloody weapons. ‘How about Goron Bloodblade?’
I wanted to smack my forehead at his stupidity but had found a small stool to sit on and a loaf of bread that wasn’t covered in gore. To say I was exhausted would be an understatement.
‘You will need a better name than just Goron,’ Princess Persephone explained. ‘For the song the bards will sing about your heroic actions.’
So, now you know how Bloodblade was born.
Not exactly what you expected, was it? I thought about describing our trudge out of the swamp but it would just be useless descriptions of how disgusting swamps are.
Suffice to say, we made it back to Paradise Landing without significant incident other than Goron finally losing his shirt. It got snagged on a passing branch and ripped, prompting him to tear it off completely. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the stunning princess or that they had both been giving each other lust filled looks since the rescue.
A celebratory banquet was called by King Prias on our triumphant return. It was as opulent as you would expect and I stuffed myself to bursting with roast lamb and pheasant, drinking far too much wine. Goron really hit his stride after the second retelling of the rescue, standing shirtless on top of one of the tables as he re-enacted the fight with a chicken drumstick playing the part of his sword.
It would have been nice if we could have stayed and enjoyed our newfound fame. Staying in a palace and eating the King’s food for a week or two would have been a welcome change to our normal lodgings. But Goron decided to overstay our welcome with King Prias that very night.
I had passed out in the banquet hall and was rudely awoken by Goron. He practically had to drag me out of Paradise Landing. It took some time to get the story out of Goron, but he and Persephone had decided to act on the lustful looks they had given each other on our exit from the swamp. Suffice to say, they were discovered by a nosy chambermaid, who informed King Prias in the hopes of being rewarded, whom then dispatched the guards to throw Goron in the dungeon. I doubt I was ever in much trouble. I barely got a mention in the heroic tale during the banquet, which I guess set the precedent and explains why you have never heard of Ned, Bloodblade's trusty sidekick. But where Goron goes, I go.
I should stop here for now. But don't worry, I'll be back to tell more true tales of the adventures of Goron Bloodblade soon.
Just don't tell him about it.