The Tale of Noran
“We heard the breaking of branches, and the underbrush first. It must have been a right calamity to get our attention though. Suddenly an ocean of chaos became still as the night. Well that only lasted a moment, then the largest trees split themselves, and the smaller ones launched right out of their beds. One of them smashed right into the man beside me and despite wearing full plate armor, he was on the ground.”
I took a moment, picturing the scene to myself, “It must have been quite a shock”, were the most coherent words I could muster.
“Oh surely, but it weren’t the beasts we were afraid of you see? It’s well known now about General Noran’s reputation, but only the men who served with him could ever tell you the truth. He may have been a ruthless bastard, but he only demanded one thing from us; Courage and strength. Ok, two things I suppose, but they go hand-in-hand. And anyway, my dear mother told me no good ever came from speaking ill of the dead.”
The gruff old campaigns-man drooped his head, his eyes fixed on the empty mug below. Something like a sorrowful expression filled them. I raised my hand to signal the waitress who brought over another round.
“Is he really dead though?”, I prodded.
As a fresh mug slid in front of him, he looked up, gave a slight smile and nod, then continued.
“You ever fight sonny?”, was the question as the mug found his lips.
“I…well, no not really. I was drafted and trained of course, but we never saw battle.” It always feels a little embarrassing to admit this, especially to a man who spent his career in the military.
He gave a little chuckle, “No, I thought not. I’ve wondered a lot how my life would have been without all the fighting, you know?”
I nodded and took a sip of my own beer, of course I did not know, but felt it was simpler to agree and move on.
“Well after that day, I didn’t have to wonder again. My courage left me, and I wanted to run. Most of us did, between the enemies, the rhinos, and our own general, I had never been in a more dangerous battle. It was all a blur, the silence was broken and all became madness again. That man who fell next to me? Well, later we found out the tree hadn’t killed him, he was trampled to death afterword. What a way to go, huh? I mean being impaled, or even tortured only goes so far. This guy couldn’t stand on his own due to the armor, so had to lay there conscious of his end while his body was crushed.” A shaky hand raised the glass again to his lips, and I followed suit as if to drink to the memory of this fallen soldier.
“But you want to hear about Noran, well I’ll tell you what happened, by God I’ll never stop seeing it. Like I said, most of the soldiers ran when the stampede started, nearly all of the Alterian knights. There were hardly any left to fight, and most of them on horseback, still Noran would not have his men turn tail. He shouted across the battlefield, ‘Your enemies lie before you! Turn your back and it shall be I!’. It was no idle threat of course, he killed two men with one swipe of his great sword, one of them almost cut in half. Plenty of us were killed by the rhinos, those injured by actual battle wounds were the luckiest.”
He looked down again at his empty mug and shook his head when I attempted to order another. I believe he was remembering someone close, or perhaps his own injury which removed him from service, but I chose not to press it and waited until he was ready to continue.
A deep sigh preceded the next portion of his tale. “I feel almost guilty for surviving, it wasn’t my courage or strength, if I could have run and lived I would have. I was too afraid to run, but too afraid to fight either. I simply kept close to the general, if anyone would survive this he would. The stampede seemed to last hours, but finally it started to die down a bit. Out of nowhere some alpha rhino burst from behind us and impaled General Noran right through the chest! He was lifted off the ground, pouring crimson life, shouting obscenities at a stupid beast that could never understand. The remaining Alterian forces fled at that point, while any man with a bow attempted to take down the beast. After an arrow hit him in the knee, Noran protested at our “help”, yes he was still alive somehow.”
I hadn’t written a word for some time and the old man smiled and chuckled again. “Maybe you need another drink?” he mocked. I shook out of my daze and scribbled to catch up to the story, then found myself childishly asking, “What happened then?”.
“Well not much, the thing ran around trying to dislodge our general from it’s horn. When he wouldn’t come loose it tried smashing him against rocks or trees, while we stood helpless. Eventually he managed to twist himself enough to grab a short sword from his belt, stabbing the beast repeatedly through the eye until it fell. I can’t imagine the pain one would have to endure, impaled that way, then turning your body on the wound to reach behind. This was not quick, I’d say he ran with more vigor for an hour at least, each stab that connected making him angrier. Ha ha, but old Noran had invented anger, you see? And he was determined to leave this world on his own terms.”
“Nothing much to tell after that, with the animal down we all followed Noran’s instructions to cut the horn away from its face. The best healers all agreed that removing it was not an option since a hole that size would mean instant death. None of them could agree on how he was even still alive, but the thought was that over time the injury would still kill him. In the meantime he had special armor and weapons crafted from the beasts hide and what parts of the horn could be cut off. Years later during the Vacant Throne campaign, we again came to battle with Alteria. Some of those officers must have been present at the rhino battle because half the company retreated! HA HA HA!”
“It wasn’t long after that he got the ruthless reputation and rumors about him being impossible to kill started to float around. This was true enough before, but the imposing presence, his reputation, and now this story came together to make him something like a living legend. That’s all it took, people soon started whispering about Noran the Invincible Tower and he found that no man would stand against him. Usually legends like these produce a bunch of imposters, in Noran’s case they were all too afraid of him finding out. He lived for battle you know, once there were none to challenge him he sort of faded away. There are still rumors of course, the memory of a man like that doesn’t die easy. I suppose that’s why you’re here, hmm? Hope to find him yourself I suspect.”
“No, that’s not it”, I responded, just a little insulted. “I understand that all legends started out as a real occurrence, as real people. I plan to document the truth and show that rumors only serve to shadow that which is already a great story.”
He shrugged, obviously unimpressed then shook my hand before excusing himself. I don’t know if Noran is alive or hiding out somewhere, by this time he would easily be in his late seventies and I can’t imagine the wound has treated him well all this time. But I have what I came for, the names of legend were actual soldiers in the longest campaign of violence our world ever held. I’ve made it my mission to discover the truth behind their lives. Next I will travel north through volcanic homes of Mediev, and begin my inquiries on Tempest the Standing Flame.