“How much do you know about the Divine Wars?” Pann asked, staring at the road ahead thoughtfully.
“A fair amount,” Aylan answered honestly. “My professors and priests devoted a lot of time to it in my studies, due to their lasting impact, and the passing of our patriarch god Yser.”
“Ah, so you have a firm grasp of the events that led to the separation of Yser’s Wall.”
“Of course. Yser’s last desperate attempt to force a unified final battle was to erect a massive natural divide that funneled his enemies to Sarys, and effectively remove the corrupt south,” Aylan recited confidently.
“Partly true. Did your teachers inform you that Yser never meant the divide to be permanent?”
Aylan shook his head, surprised. “No. He constructed the wall as both a battle strategy and a way to remove the south. General Sunius was famously quoted as saying ‘Our lord has freed our land from the south, as a brave soldier wounded in the field of battle sacrifices a rotting limb.’”
“Ha, that may have been truly what Sunius said, but he was hardly the expert on the intentions of a true god. Yser built the wall to prevent Sereale’s army from breaking apart and spreading through the north before he had time to prepare. The time it took her to march the entirety of her armies down the length of the wall to Sarys bought Yser and his brothers enough time to gather the strength for a final stand.”
“I am aware of its strategic design.” Aylan made a circle with his fingers, signaling Pann to move on.
Pann laughed. “Patience, boy. Anyway, Yser discussed his strategy with his brothers and a few trusted dragonslayers. He mentioned in passing that once the war ended and he regained his strength, he would remove the eyesore. Obviously he never had the chance, given that he perished at the Battle of Sarys.”
“And neither his brothers nor these dragonslayer felt it necessary to act upon this knowledge?” Aylan glanced at Pann skeptically.
“Of course they did. Well, the dragonslayers brought it up. Yser’s brothers had much more to attend to after the wars ended than their fallen brother’s lands. Also, there were several problems with opening the land back up to the south.
“First of all, the wall still stood firm. The only gap existed at Sarys, which was then an unrecognizable ruin, and remains so today. No one save the gods had the power to remove it. The wall is one of the World’s Wonders, representing a massive effort on Yser’s part, and much of his magic echoes in it. It is taller than any man can build, and thicker than any man penetrate. You have to remember, Yser built it so that an army of dragons could not cross over.
“Second, a large part of Sereale’s forces remained. She had brought with her scores of mercenaries that had been promised loot and land. These sellswords cut when the tide of the battle shifted, and melted away into southern Tel’Aran. Any patrols sent south of the wall were harried and sometimes destroyed, even years after the wars ended.”
“Why were they still loyal to Sereale’s cause even after the wars ended?”
“Loyal is a word not often associated with brigands and sellswords. Those that remained were loyal only to themselves, and any trouble they caused was to their own benefit. Also, you cannot forget that there were law-abiding citizens of Tel’Aran abandoned in the situation as well.”
“The lands were razed by Sereale’s army! There was no native population left to speak of.”
“Not so!” The old man exclaimed. “Do you think while she was eagerly herding her army around the Wall she stopped to annihilate the entire countryside? Of course not. Assuredly, many perished and the swath of destruction cut by her army was great, but the southernmost areas of Tel’Aran were untouched.”
Aylan furrowed his brow. “Our history says differently.”
“Of course it does. It would be improper to admit that as a newly godless nation, its first order of business was to abandon hope for nearly a third of it’s citizens. So the houses decided that they would cut their losses and simply lie, forsaking the southern lands.”
Aylan fell silent. It was hard to believe that this had not come to light, even after a thousand years had passed. Ships were quite capable of sailing south around the wall. Travel could also be possible at the gap in Sarys.
After a few moments thought, Aylan spoke again. “Say you are right, and we did leave our countrymen behind. How has that secret been kept for so long?”
“Perhaps you should understand best yourself, as an admitted member of the nobility in your society. Have you not noticed the inherent oppressiveness in your lands?” Pan glanced at Aylan, who’s face was blank and awaiting further discussion. “Of course you haven’t. Let me present it to you this way. If there was certain information that you did not wish your town folk, servants, or farmers to know, how would you go about it?”
“I simply wouldn’t tell them, I suppose.”
“Oh, it’s more complicated than that. There are men who have this information, and are determined to spread it at all costs.”
“Then they can be introduced to our dungeons, or face execution, depending on their degree of determination.” Aylan tilted his head and snorted.
“Exactly. Now imagine that all of the houses felt this way about this particular bit of information, and were actively suppressing it. How long do you think it would take before this information died out?”
“Not very long,” grumbled Aylan, beginning to see the point.
“What if this information had been actively suppressed for a thousand years?”
“Sufficiently buried,” Aylan admitted.
“Indeed,” agreed the old man. “You have a bit to learn about the nature of the world, young man. Perhaps some time south of the wall will do you good.”
Aylan said nothing. He only sighed and leaned back in his unforgiving cart seat, awaiting more of the old man’s inevitable stories.
The day wore on, and Pann regaled Aylan with numerous stories of various heroes and their escapades south of the wall. Abeth the Bandit-Slayer protected countless villages from ruthless thieves and murderers. However, at the rates he charged for his “protection”, Aylan strongly believed he himself should have been counted among the thieves. Sigur the Selfless sacrificed his men to save the princess of Three-Towns, only to demand that she marry him. The king died mysteriously soon after, earning Sigur a quick promotion. Aylan certainly entertained his doubts about these “heroes”.
The sun was slipping lower and lower in the sky when the cart rumbled to a stop at a fork in the road. The area was a bit woodsy, and Aylan could not see very far in any direction.
“Of sorts,” Pann replied. “Relieve yourself if you need to.”
Aylan nodded, and climbed clumsily from his seat to the hard packed dirt road. The shackles, though lightened by Pann, were still a significant hindrance. He heard Pann whistle sharply while he was picking out a suitable bush to water, but a quick glance revealed that Pann was looking down the fork in the road and not at him.
As Aylan rattled back over to the cart, a boy appeared from down the road in the direction of Pann’s whistle. He could not have been more than twelve years, and was wearing plain homespun like the peasants back at Aylan’s home. He appeared neater, however, and more confident in his step. He approached Pann familiarly, nodding at the old man and smiling.
“Nicholas, my boy. It has been a while since my last visit!” Pann smiled widely.
“Too long.” The boy returned his smile. “But why did you stop here, and not come on into the village square?”
“I just need a few things, and I don’t want to bring this ruffian into town and scare the good folks. Would you be kind enough to round up some items for me?”
The boy shrugged, and folded his arms expectantly.
“Oh, of course I’ve brought you something. It’s a direction sphere from the Tradelands,” he said, poking through a nearby bag. “Be careful with this. It only points true if you haven’t damaged it in any way. And then I’d have to take it back to the merchant for calibration.”
The boy took it, grinning ear to ear. “How’s it work?”
“I’ll explain when you are back with this list.” Pann chucked a small coin purse with a small rolled up piece of paper jutting out between the drawstrings.
“What’s on the list?”
“I’d thought you would have outgrown the inquisitive stage by now, boy. Learn to read, or take it straight away to the general store. Luccus will read it to you. Now hurry, I’ve only a short while to wait.” Pann’s voice was stern, but he looked at the boy approvingly as the child ran back down the road toward the village.
“Come here often?” Aylan asked, climbing awkwardly back into his seat beside Pann.
“As often as I can. I am particularly fond of this particular village.”
“What’s this one called?”
“It’s not. And I prefer to keep it that way.”
Something in Pann’s voice suggested that this was the end of that conversation. Aylan sighed and leaned back as best he could in his cart seat. As the wooden backing of the seat chafed at his skin, he absently hoped that a shirt was on that list.