A Song of Heroes and Malloths
“You might not know this, but there’s a reason bards don’t sing about other bards.” Eleden kicked the snow beneath his boot, hanging his head low as he followed Lorelei down Queen’s Road. Lorelei was an accomplished huntress and swordsman who excelled especially during the bitter winters that plagued the town of Adala. When no man or woman was strong enough to brave the cold weather and violent scorpuli, they depended on Lorelei to procure what food and materials she could gather. Lorelei was a hero, a warrior, and a kindling flame that everyone looked to for inspiration and hope. Then there was Eleden.
Over the years, Eleden’s reputation had certainly grown. The smalltime singer found his audience when he moved into Adala, playing his ballads inside nearly every tavern in town. People drank until they couldn’t recognize one song from the next, and because of this, no one even realized Eleden only knew three songs.
But Eleden was greedy. He was unable to see the suffering that occurred around him. People were hungry, poor, and cold. Yet, Eleden attempted to extort as much money as he could from the people of Adala. When Lorelei caught on to his schemes, she was ready to throw him out of town, but Eleden begged to stay, having nowhere else to go. Lorelei offered him one chance at redemption.
“Maybe you can sing songs about yourself if you bring back something we can eat,” Lorelei said.
“But I can’t fight. What if a Cyclops emerges from the depths of all this snow, what then shall I do? Bards are no heroes,” Eleden replied.
Lorelei grinned. “Perhaps sing to it. You might just put it to sleep. It works on me.”
“You wound me.”
Lorelei traced her fingers against the hilt of her sword as the two approached the opening of a large cave that jutted out from the mountainside. She motioned for Eleden to follow close behind her, cautiously entering, unsure of what beasts would dwell within.
“If I was going to be a hero, maybe we should start out on rats. Heroes always start their adventures by slaying rats, right?” Eleden shook nervously.
Lorelei sighed. “This isn’t a grand quest bestowed upon you by the wise old sage living on the edge of town. You’re simply here to help gather food. If you truly believe anything in your songs to be factual, I take pity on you.”
Eleden frowned and hung his head shamefully. He was nervous, hungry, and couldn’t shake the feeling that Lorelei didn’t like him very much. Unfortunately for him, she didn’t.
Soon, the two arrived upon an open clearing where the sun shimmered through the small cracks in the walls. Eleden shivered, holding himself and trying to keep warm. It wasn’t long before Lorelei realized they had walked into a malloth den, boar like creatures with tusks that protruded from underneath their ears. Eleden soon became familiar with the creatures too, as one charged him from across the icy arena.
Lorelei shouted and shoved Eleden, sending him crashing against the ground away from danger. He picked his head up just in time to see another malloth stampeding toward him. Eleden scrambled to his feet and vaulted out of the way. He looked to Lorelei, as she bashed her shield against one malloth’s head, sweeping her blade around to catch another, ending the beast instantly. Eleden stared as he watched Lorelei make short work of the malloth family.
It wasn’t long before Lorelei was finished. She defeated the creatures nearly effortlessly and before Eleden knew it, several dead malloths lay scattered across the open cavern.
“So, that’s it?” he asked.
“Lucky for you, it was only malloths. Carry one of these things back for me. You can take a small one,” she said.
Eleden looked at the malloths again in disbelief. He wasn’t exactly sure what to think. Lorelei picked up one of the small creatures and swung it over her shoulder.
“They can be heavy, but we can send a group with a caravan to retrieve the rest. These might feed us for a week.” Lorelei started toward the cave entrance again.
“Just a week? Surely these will last longer than that.”
“Winters are rough.”
Eleden grabbed one of the malloths and followed behind Lorelei. He pondered the state of suffering that descended upon the people. The trip back was quiet, as Eleden refused to actually believe things were as bad as Lorelei made them out to be.
But when they arrived in town, Eleden realized he was wrong. Adala was poor. Children begged their mothers for food. Everyone was cold. Eleden hadn’t noticed it because he was too busy trying to make money of his own. When Lorelei handed the beasts to the butcher, everyone was immediately happy, hailing Lorelei once again as the bright protector they all adored and loved.
Eleden watched carefully as the people looked to her and spoke to her with nothing but respect. Lorelei prepared to depart with a caravan to help gather the other malloths, and when she left, Eleden went with her. He continued to watch as people gave their thanks and offered Lorelei materials and coin for her deeds, which she always declined. Eleden had never felt more guilty and regretful. He had realized that his songs did not depict true heroes of legend, as one stood right in front of him.
That night, he was given permission to play one more night in the town taverns. Eleden strummed his fingers across the fragile strings of his harp and sang songs of praise for Lorelei. The people in town enjoyed the new song, and Eleden felt happy just to be playing and singing again. When the night ended, a man repeatedly offered him small amounts of coin for his beautiful performances. To this, he looked to Lorelei. Even if Eleden wasn’t going to be here another night, he could no longer justify taking the man’s money. Eleden declined.