The soldier known as The Promise Of Distant Thunder arrives at the pearl fishers village of Tilden’s Watch he is always subject to much attention. Rising from the sea he is greeted first by the children who swim in the shallows. These youngsters have not yet learned to fear iron and swords, laughing and running in circles as the armored knight strode across the black beach.
The Elders of the village were, as they had for countless years, waiting for him as he came ashore. The Warforged returned to this site every fifty years to within a few days, and his coming had now become a source of legend. Scanning the faces of those that waited silently on the dock, he recognized amongst them those that had been children when last he set foot here. Unchanging, unchangeable, unchanged, his metal face betrayed no sign of the melancholy within as he was once more confronted with the mortality of humankind.
The leader of the village – an old man Thunder distinctly remembered falling off the dock with excitement on his previous visit – raised in a trembling hand a longsword, pointing it at the Ghulra on the Warforged’s forehead. Thunder halted, and in return drew his sword, larger and heavier than most men could lift. The blades – shining as the sun lanced through a gap in the clouds – touched briefly, point to point.
The Elder spoke first as he lowered his weapon. The villagers fell silent at his voice, even the children sensing this was not a time to shout and play.
“Einherjar, once more you return to us. We hear distant rumors of war, of terrible beasts, of the ruination of the world. Have you word?”
Thunder, keeping his sword held out in front of him, replied in a clear voice.
“I am the Promise of Distant Thunder, Einherjar, of the Legion That Waits. I bring you the Word of Kord!” The ritual answer, if anything, deepened the surrounding silence. Out of the corner of his eye, Thunder saw a woman, no more than eighteen winters old, clutching a young child to her breast. Every eye on the village was upon him.
With a sudden motion, Thunder thrust his sword skywards. In answer, a bolt of lightning, hammering down from the clouds, struck the upraised steel and earthed itself through the Warforged as he stood un-moving. Thunder, the electricity crawling over his body, spoke again.
“We wait still.”
The cheers from the villagers echoed over the water.
As was his custom in this place, Thunder spent the day assisting the village in all matter of tasks. Firstly, he spoke with the healers of the village, bringing forth the holy power of the God to mend broken bones, close up sores and alleviate the effects of disease. To each patient he spoke quietly, reassuring them and bringing peace to their pain.
Only once this task had been completed would he speak with the Elders. For two hours he stood in the Hall, answering a barrage of questions about the wider world. The movements of troops, battles, new tales of heroes and disaster, discoveries, magic and the continued slow return of the Fey all fell from his mouth as the Elders pressed him. He gave advice, answered dilemmas, blessed all those present. His wisdom shone in the room as brightly as his armour.
In the afternoon, and for the next two days, he worked with those that wished to learn the art of warfare. Taking a group, he taught the basic forms of attack and defence with those weapons that were available to them. Spears, axes and daggers flashed in the sun as the villages, with varying levels of success, attempted to learn. Some of the old men, who had undergone the training fifty years previously, laughed and joked at the side until Thunder, in a rare moment of levity, challenged them to do better. For a few minutes he kept them all at bay, batting aside blows, blocking, twisting away from axe strikes. Calculating that the old men were getting tired, he allowed himself to overwhelmed and fell to the floor under their assault.
Raising himself back to his feet and leaning on his sword to show his “tiredness”, Thunder addressed the group.
“In single combat I could best any of these men, though they have long years of experience. Yet with teamwork and dedication, they were able to throw me down and were this a real battle I would likely have been destroyed. Take this lesson to heart – alone, one man is a warrior. Together with his brothers, with the fearless people who stand with him, with the unquenchable spirit that drives the righteous forward, he is an army.”
“More – he is a Legionary. This is the lesson Kord teaches us today.”
The villagers murmured back, “Praise be to Kord.”
The last action that Thunder took before he set out for the next settlement always drew a crowd. Removing his armour and weapon, leaving only a short blacksmith’s apron to cover himself, he worked at the forge. For several hours, working at a pace and precision no human could match, he made repairs to armour, fixed blades and strengthened tools. At the fall of night he emerged, holding a single new sword.
Once more the Elders had gathered, the rest of the village staying respectfully some distance away. Thunder scanned the faces in front of him and gestured at one young woman. She had shown particular aptitude in battle, demonstrating a rare speed of learning and a wiry strength that had left more than one of the others off-balance and, in one case, with a black eye.
“I am The Promise of Distant Thunder, Einherjar, of the Legion That Waits. I offer this sword to you. May you use it as a tool in defence of humanity, as I am to be used when Ragnarok comes. Will you accept?”
Nervously, the woman took the proffered blade and scabbard, buckling it around her waist. Thunder blessed her, gathered his armour and weapon, and turned to leave.
“Why do you come here?” A voice rang out in the quiet. Surprised, Thunder turned back. The young woman who had been holding the baby at the start of the day had stepped forward, tears in her eyes. Her voice challenged him to answer.
“Fifty years ago you gave my grandfather a sword. He died not six months afterwards, fighting a creature that came out of the woods. Why did you not stay to help us? Why will you not protect us? Why do you come back, unchanging, immortal, for just a few days whilst we must scrabble for the scraps the land provides?”
The Warforged saw the same questions in the eyes of many of the other villagers. Perhaps they had always been there. Perhaps he had never bothered to look, safe in the endless pattern of obligation and ritual.
“Your questions deserves answers, villager of Tilden’s Watch. I cannot stay and defend you, for in doing so I would leave many other settlements in need of help. I undertake these responsibilities in many lands, on a long journey that takes in both grand halls and tiny hamlets. Wherever I and the other Einherjar go we do what we can in the short time we have to mend, to train and to inspire. We cannot fight your battles for you, for that is not our task. We are charged with the protection of humanity, and we, through the wisdom of Kord, have seen that to protect humanity is achieved by allowing them to grow in their own power. Were we to take on every challenge for you, you would be weak and unable to fight for yourselves.”
“You asked why I come here. Aside from my own obligations and instructions, I must tell you that there is a grander, and yet more simple, reason why I return to this place. Many hundreds of years ago, this place was known as Loksvald. A great blacksmith was born here, who wrought iron with un-matched skill. One day a stranger approached, strong in both divine wisdom and human magic. He spoke with the blacksmith for many days, and the forge sang with what they created together.”
“That blacksmith was named Tilden. He is the man that forged me that day, and set me on my task. This place, in as much as any place in the world, is my home. Do not believe that your place of birth sets your ability or your potential – all things are possible for those that strive to achieve them. May Kord bless you, and your child, my lady.”
In silence, lit only by the now-risen moon, Thunder began to climb the hills towards his next destination. The villagers returned to their homes, shaken, yet joyous, in the revelation.