Legends and Myths of Erâth: The Voyage of Barthòl

Lord Barthòl was born to privilege in a time of hunger above the port town of Hálmeth, and grew up seeing the poverty around him and could do nothing. His father, Lord Barthòlith, was not a kind man, either to his folk or his family, and while the lord family of Hálmeth wanted for nothing, the same could not said of the people in the town below.

Barthòl was descended from a long line of lords, traced back as far as the War of Darkness, in which none of their family fought (but sent others to the battlefields). When the town of Hálmeth was under threat from the ships from the east, the lord family fled to the hills, leaving their people to die at the poisons and blades of their enemy. When they returned, the people were so devastated that they thought to overthrow their lords—but were so weary of fighting that they could not bring themselves to do it.

So the people of Hálmeth lived ever in resentfulness of their lords, and the lords did nothing to appease the people. This was what Barthòl was born into, and he hated it. But he could do little do long as his father ruled, and his father ruled for some time.

But one day the time came for his rule to fail, and indeed in Barthòl’s forty-second year his father’s health declined, and when he asked for a healer from the town he was unsurprised when none were forthcoming. They had as much reason to hate him as his father, he supposed, and why should they care? Why should they listen?

In truth, Barthòl was glad of his father’s illness, for he was able to, in part, take over the governing of the town, and started to look to the betterment of the people’s lives. And when his father finally died he breathed a sigh of relief, for his tyranny was no more. Of course, the people doubted his intentions for a long while after this, and it was not until Barthòl was fifty that they started to realize that their new lord was not so malevolent as their former, and came to believe that he truly cared for their well-being.

Barthòl did many things for the people. He sent his guards to the fields to protect the farms from raiders; he opened trade with neighboring towns so that they might gain in produce and wealth; and he had crumbling homes rebuilt, and the streets of Hálmeth re-cobbled for the horses and carriages. He would wield hammer and nail himself among his people, and so in time they came to trust him, and love him.

Barthòl’s legacy would have been renowned in that part of Erârün for nothing more than this; but his ambition did not stop there. Despite all he could to for his people they were yet poor, and most nights did not eat well at all. So he set his thoughts to the future, and what might come of his folk when he himself were to breathe his last, for he had no children of his own. He wanted better for them, and began to wonder if there might not be a place far from there that would have life, and Light, and all manner of good things.

So he came up with a plan, and it was genius and madness all at once. Barthòl remembered the tales of old, from the War of Darkness, and how their town had been besieged by folk from the east and across the sea. There was, of course, nothing to be seen in that direction but endless ocean, but if the tales were true, he reckoned, then there must be land over the span of the sea, and he began to wonder if that land might not be more fruitful and welcoming.

It did not escape him that this land he dreamt of, should it even exist, might be under the command of Darkness, but then so was his own kingdom, so gray and dismal was it, and so he thought that it would bear no loss, and might bring much gain, to seek it out.

Over many months he formulated his ideas, gathering supplies and crew and building a great sea vessel to carry them thither. It was a ship as had not been seen in centuries in that part of the world, a hundred feet long if it was an inch, with great masts bearing equally great sails. Into it was loaded food and water and many provisions, and soon all was ready for a sea voyage into the unknown.

By now, of course, the people of Hálmeth loved Barthòl greatly, and said he should not leave them, for they would have no great lord to govern them. He said to them that they needed no lord, for they had learned to build and to work together, and that they would prosper in his absence. Additionally, he told them, if his voyage should prove successful he would send for them, and they would all begin a new life in a land of grace and wonder.

Such a voyage could not be taken in silence, and some time before he was ready to depart word of his adventure reached the ears of the Greatlord of Erârün, Haldé, who came one day to speak with Barthòl. Although Barthòl was undertaking this great risk for the sake of his people, the fate of the wider population of Erârün must be considered as well, Haldé said. If the land they sought was bountiful, it would become part of the realm of Erârün; if it was not, then Barthòl would be left alone, without aid from the rest of his kingdom.

Barthòl was not strictly pleased with the terms of this agreement, but the alternative was imprisonment in the dungeons of Vira Weitor, and so he told the Greatlord he would abide by his word, and claim the new land for Erârün.

So came the day that Barthòl and his crew were to set out, and they named their vessel Tuathöf, for it brought hope to the people of his town. The Greatlord Haldé was there to wish them fair speed, and on the third day of the first month of spring they cast off the ropes and rigging, and Tuathöf floated freely in the sea. The sails were raised and caught the wind, and the great ship heaved ponderously away from the docks and the port. A cheer rose from the crowd that had gathered, and it was the happiest moment many of them had known in years. Off went the ship that carried with it all their hope, and their goodwill, and their lord.

It was not long before the ship was lost to sight from the town, which meant of course that the town was equally lost to sight from the ship. But what none on the shore considered was that to Barthòl and his crew it was not only the town that had diminished far behind them, but the all the coast of Erârün, and indeed all the land of Thaeìn. Before long they were surrounded by nothing but the desolate wastes of the open ocean, and scarce a star in sight to keep them on course.

After several days this became a concern to Barthòl, for he knew that it was imperative that they not lose sight of their destination, which he knew must lie to the east. But with no land in sight, it became difficult to know which way east or west lay, for the sea was tremendous and featureless for all its vastness. One day, though, when he was stitching a patch in his cloak, he dropped the needle by mistake in a nearby bowl of water. The needle was kept for safekeeping in a piece of cork, and he noticed that, no matter how it dropped, the needle always ended up pointing the same direction. He tried this several times over, in different places in the ship, and learned that it gave him a reckoning of north—and so he kept the bowl and cork near the wheel for guidance.

After several weeks, direction was less of a difficulty to the crew than food, for they were now beginning to run low on provisions. Barthòl had made plans for them to be at sea for a month or more, but it was now coming close to when he had predicted the end of their voyage, and there was yet no land in sight. The crew became restless, and began to say to Barthòl that he had brought them on a voyage of doom, and that they must turn back at once. Barthòl reminded them that, with only a week or two of food left, they would not make it back—their only hope lay in continuing on.

The crew rationed what they had left, and began to cast lines out into the sea to fish for food that they had not with them. But here came yet another great setback, for soon the sea began to change in hue to a darker, sicker nature. At first it was difficult to be certain, for the gray clouds reflected poorly on the waves, but before long it was clear that the waters around them were not blue or gray, but black as ink, and at this the crew grew nervous indeed: no water should be colored so.

As if to prove the illness of the ocean, anything that was caught was terrifying to behold, and rotten to the taste: they were not the fish of the sea that the crew, people of the sea town of Hálmeth, had grown up with. It was as though Darkness itself had overcome the sea, and filled it with its own vile creatures. Despair began to creep into the thoughts of the crew, and even Barthòl himself felt the loss of hope—what doom had he taken these people to?

And then, when the last of their food was spent and they had drunk their last drop of water, the crew came to Barthòl and said to him that he was no longer their captain or lord, and that they would take control of the ship. Barthòl reminded them that they still would have nowhere to go, but the crew had made up their minds. And then, just was they were about to cast Barthòl into the black waves, the lookout called to all: there was land ahead!

The crew made blessed landfall that very night, and when the morning came it was upon a shore that was as pale as the sea was black. White sands stretched as far as they could see, and not far up the beach began a forest of green and fruit, and the crew fell upon this vegetation with a desperate, gnawing hunger. There were many good things to eat, and animals too, and for some days the crew spent all their while hunting and gathering food, and gathering a strength they had been missing for some time.

The crew went back to Barthòl and begged his forgiveness, for they had despaired wrongly, they said, and should have trusted better in their lord and captain. Barthòl knew in his heart that he had felt the same despair that his crew had kept in their own, and could not hold their mutiny against them. He said that he would have done the same, were he in their place, and that they must now seek to discover what they could of this new land, and prepare for the return journey.

So each day some of the crew ventured south or north along the beach, while others tended to repairs of the ship, or the restocking of provisions, and made ready to return. One day, some of the crew ventured particularly far north and found the mouth of great river emptying into the sea, and were glad for the river was not tainted as was the ocean, and they drank their fill from it greedily.

They then followed the river along it course for some miles, until they came upon something wholly unexpected: there was a village built along the side of the river, and it was populated by men not unlike themselves. Their speech, even, was similar such that they could talk with one another, and the villagers were greatly surprised to discover men from the west, and deeply suspicious, too: for the villagers, the west was a place of Darkness and evil.

The crew returned to Barthòl and told him of their discovery, and so the very next day Barthòl himself went to see this village, but was confronted by more than just villagers: in the night, it seemed, the townsfolk had sent word and brought upon them a garrison of soldiers, who awaited silently for the presence of the westerners.

And it was then that Barthòl saw that all was not right, for the livery and flags of these soldiers were all too familiar, and their speech too like their own, and a deep unease crept over him: where had they landed? The chief of these soldiers spoke to Barthòl, asking him his name and whence he came. When Barthòl spoke his name and the country of Erârün, the man became terribly agitated, and said he was lying.

And it was then that Barthòl understood, and yet did not: he knew where he recognized the cloth of the soldiers, for it was that of their very own neighboring kingdom, Kiriün. Somehow, in keeping a straight course east, they had nonetheless landed upon the western shores of their very own land, in a kingdom that had sworn not to let pass a man of Erârün for all their days.

Barthòl and his men fled, but the soldiers followed, and there was nothing to be done. They climbed back into Tuathöf, but the soldiers brought torches and set fire to it, and the great ship that had borne them so far was brought down in a blaze, and they abandoned it in terror. Some of their men threw themselves into the sea itself, where they died, thrashing. Others fled up the beach, but the soldiers of Kiriün were waiting, and slaughtered them where they stood.

As for Barthòl, the soldiers saw him as a leader of these men, and took him in shackles as their prisoner, and so ended the great voyage of Barthòl, lord of Erârün: not in glory but in chains, taken away by the guards to a dank and rotting dungeon. Eventually he was brought to a prison carriage, and so began the final journey of Barthòl: captive and dismayed, he was taken from the village by the sea into the heart of Kiriün, and to their chief city, Courerà. Here he was brought before the king of Kiriün, who demanded to know his business in his realm. Barthòl could not answer, for he did not know himself: after all, it was impossible that he should had set out east from Thaeìn and yet arrived in the west of that same land, yet that was precisely what had happened.

So the King of Kiriün threw Barthòl into his dungeons, and there Barthòl remained, alone and in despair, for the remainder of his days. Yet it was not the end of the legacy of Barthòl, for this very event led to the War of Two Hundred Years. The king of Kiriün send word to Haldé of Erârün, insisting on an explanation of this invasion into his kingdom. Haldé, disturbed to find that Barthòl had not found the eastern lands as promised, demanded that Barthòl be released to him. The king of Kiriün refused, and so began a great and terrible war between these two countries that lasted, in the end, far beyond the lives of any who remembered its beginnings.

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