It's been in a tavern in Limebruck, or maybe in Taronsfield. Five years ago or more. I don't remember. It's not that important. A long, dark room with low ceiling, blackend by the smoke that hung in the air. There was a juggler, or maybe a piper. If the beer had been better I might have remembered the name of the place. Doesn't matter. I'm certain it was a piper. Yes, a piper. Could hardly hear what he played, over the din. That's how it all started, you know? With the piper. I didn't pay any attention to his tunes, unless the singing started. Quiet at first, not much more than a whisper. But slowly, as the singer gained confidence, he raised his voice. And as the singing grew louder, the hubbub slowly died away. All that remained was the melody of the flute and this voice, mournful and sad, so sad. Didn't understand a single word. Must have been an elvish tongue. The singer was a Half-Elf, a young lad, part of a group of rangers. People say the voice of Half-Elves holds some power. And how else would I still remember what followed after? The very words of the lad, but not even the name of the place.
When the song ended, a bearded peasant asked what it was about. I didn't care about Half-Elves and their songs, so I turned back to my beer. That was dark and bitter for sure, tasting of the smoke that filled the room. Slowly, talk and laughter set in again. From my place I could see the bearded fellow arguing with his mates. I didn't hear what they spoke, and I couldn't care less. The whole little episode would have ended here, were it not for the singer. He sprang from his stool, sending it to the ground with a clattering noise. The fluting ended in discord. In the silence that followed, his voice rang out, loud and clear.
"What an ignorant bunch of fools you are! Do you really believe we sing of flowers and birds alone? A tragic ballad is 'Ninieth's Bane' indeed, but there is more to it than maidens and stars and trees!" That were his words.
His companions made soothing gestures while the remaining patrons watched expectantly. I couldn't say the beer had been terribly strong, but strong enough for the lad perhaps. Eventually, the bearded fellow cleared his throat and spat on the floor.
"That's what you're sayin', guvnor. But surely, your ... Niniel is a maid fair and ... fair and whatnot", he ended lame. The crowd signalled approval and so he went on. "What we like is proper songs; 'bout mighty warriors and another kind of maids, ye know." Laughter and cheers from the crowd. The singer's face remained blank. When he spoke, his voice was calm but full of anger.
"Ninieth. That is her name. Ninieth. And so full of battle and bloodshed is her tale, that it would appeal even to that simple mind of yours."
The silence that followed was vicious. Tension filled the air as did the smoke. Seats scraped over the floor as their owners turned towards the singer. The lad showed no reaction, but his companions looked uneasy and alert. I held my breath and waited for the inevitable. At long last, a voice broke the silence. "Then why don't you tell us her bloody story" it demanded. "Aye, lets hear it", another one fell in. More voices rang out and there was even some clapping of hands and stamping of feet. With a sigh of relieve I removed my hand from my dagger.
The singer bowed slightly. "So it be", he said. "I shall tell you the tale of Ninieth the Brave, daughter of Lord Fennfir in his high tower Dun Lothond that is no more. It is a sad tale, full of tragedy and turmoil, and it begins with a sword, glorious and noble. Old it was, but showing little trace of its age, although it had brought death to many foes great and small in many a battle. From its hilt, wrapped in horsehair, brown and with a tint of red, hung coloured ribbons, red and green and brown. Pommel and guard were made of silver, inset with green gems and ornamented with a theme of leaves and tendrils. And leaves and tendrils also wound around its sheath, embroidered with green thread upon brown leather. Its blade was wrought of the finest steel and red it shone under light of sun and moon and star. Forged by none other than Skal Hammerfast it was, and inscribed were many runes of power. A beautiful and deadly weapon, befitting kings to wield in battle, and a weapon of kings it was indeed, in the days of yore.
In Ninieth's days however, it was kept in an old chest, beneath a pile of worn clothes, in a dusty chamber deep in the bowels of Dun Lothond. But such hiding place is not fit for concealing it from fearless adventurers in search for long lost treasure. And in her childsplay, such adventurer young Ninieth was. Unkempt and uninhabited parts of the tower were the dungeons she explored, housemaids and shadows were the evil beasts she fought, but the treasure she found was more than just dust and cobwebs: it was real and really fascinating.
You should know that such a marvellous weapon was something new to Ninieth, for at Lord Fennfir's court the harp was wielded rather than the sword, and nothing similar had she seen before. And yet, to her it seemed that she had finally found a long lost part of herself, and at times she wondered whether the discovery was pure coincidence, or whether the sword had called her somehow.
Her father noticed nothing of this new development, but if he had, he would have been worried. Not only gave he little heed to weapons and their use, but he also despised those who did. Many an argument had he with his father, for the old Lord was a skilled huntsman and slayer of creatures, fair and foul.
In her fifteenth summer, little had changed. At least once or twice a week she took the sword out of its sheath to regard it in the lamplight. There was something about the weapon, a familiarity or relationship she could not quite explain. It sung to her of the extacy of battle, of adventure and of glory, and a part of her soul was deeply moved. When she wasn't looking at the sword or engaged with her studies she spent her time with others of her own age. Sons and daughters of distant relatives and visitors from afar that filled the halls of Dun Lothond during the summer months. The games they had were many. On one particular day they were dueling each other with broomsticks. Under much laughter and clashing of wood did they chase each other across the many galleries of Dun Lothond, as suddenly a door burst open. Out came an old man, a Half-Elf with white hair, stern face and fierce eyes. Ninieth had seen him at meals before, a former servant or somesuch, mopish and with little affection for other people.
'What is all this noise?' he bellowed. 'Can a man not have a bit of peace in his old days?'
'My apologies', Ninieth said, half afraid, half angered by the silly servant. 'We are engaged in a sword fight and didn't mean to disturb your midday rest.'
He gazed at them for a while, until she began to feel uneasy. Then he roared: 'Swords? I see no swords!'
'I am sorry', Ninieth said meekly. 'We have no swords, only broomsticks.'
As if soothed by her avowal, his tone became milder, although his voice still wasn't terribly friendly. 'That can be changed. You may visit me at a more convenient moment, but now I must have silence. Play your game elsewhere, child.'
Without even waiting for an answer he returned into his room and smashed the door shut. Ninieth and her friends looked at each other, then burst out in laughter. Still laughing they continued their epic battle further up the tower.
So the summer passed, and when the first storms of autumn came, most visitors departed. On her own again, Ninieth remembered the strange invitation and soon curiosity won over fear. Early in the morning, after a hurried breakfast, she knocked on the Half-Elf's door, half expecting that he had forgot about the offer. A gap in the door opened and a fierce eye peeked out. Before she could say a thing, the door was thrust open and a moment later the old man had already turned his back on her. With a few steps he crossed the room and began to rummage in a cupboard. 'Shut the door', he shouted without even looking over his shoulder.
Still uncertain, Ninieth stood in the hallway. Finally she took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold, carefully closing the door behind her. She had expected a small, gloomy chamber, matching the mood of its inhabitant. Instead she was surprised to find a large room, brightly illuminated by sunlight that fell through its many windows. A spiral staircase led to an upper floor, and a large door of glass onto a balcony, high above the silent waters of the Galoran sea. The biggest part of the walls was covered by tapestries, showing scenes of battle and war, a sight unfamilliar and intriguing. Especially one motif drew her attention: a tall Elf, bent over the carcass of an unnamed monstrosity, his sword buried in the thing, his blonde hair waving in the wind. To Ninieth it seemed as if he was watching her out of the corner of his eyes, giving an encouraging smile. Then the noise of the cupboard being smashed shut tore her from her daydream.
When she had mastered an exercise to his liking he would nod and move on to the next one. But if she made a mistake he would yell and curse and let her practice over and over until he was finally pleased. Soon, a nod from her mentor fulfilled Ninieth with the same joy as did a sweet candy after meals or a friendly word from her father. But his curses and yelling only made her double her efforts. On some days however, he would keep the training sword in its cupboard and talk about Ninieths grandfather instead, and at times like this his voice became calm and soft, while he delved in old memories.