It is a curious thing to be walking in these warm northern climes. For much of my life I have heard stories about them and wondered what they are truly like. My family would like the lush
green fields, for they would certainly make for better farming than the poor soil around Dardano. We have been fortunate to have enough land and labourers that we have been prosperous all these years, but we remember well the lean years of the past.
Fortunately, I was spared a life of farming by dint of being the youngest of six children. Or perhaps my parents realised that I would never be able to grow a carrot let alone the corn or barley that earned our keep. From as far back as I can remember I was a restless child, seeking out new places and people. I spent hours running, climbing trees and exploring the woods with my friends. My duties at the farm were something that I fulfilled as rapidly as possible so that
I could go out and see what the rest of the world had to offer; being outdoors was, and remains, one of my greatest pleasures in life. Perhaps the most important discovery of my childhood
occurred when I was twelve. I found way into an entirely new world, one that offered my restless nature even more than climbing trees: I learned to read.
A wandering storyteller and sage named Francesco spent the winter with us and, in return for food and lodging, tutored my siblings and I. He told fantastic stories about the Achaeans, a civilisation in the north that disappeared long ago, and whose descendents the Dardanese are
said to be. I already knew something of them, since my father had named me after an Achaean hero but Francesco was a remarkable storyteller and I lapped up the fabulous tales of centaurs, dryads and mighty warriors and dreamed of becoming a great hero myself. He cunningly showed me a book of their legends and with a straight face told me that it was a shame I would never be able
to read them. I promptly insisted on learning to read and surprised myself with my progress. Francesco was sufficiently impressed that when he came to leave he gave me a small leather-bound book of the Colchiad, an epic poem about a warrior named Peritas who saved his city,
Colchis, but lost his life doing so. I have it still; it sits in my pack carefully wrapped in an oilskin.
By the time I was seventeen I was remarkably well read for a farmer’s son and keen to explore the world. However, before I could do so I was obliged by law to spend a year training with the militia. Being strong and quick on my feet, and with the desire to become a great warrior, I accepted this requirement as a step on the road to glory. I learned to fight with spear, shield
and short sword in a closely ordered formation called a phalanx. Although Dardano’s military might lies mostly in its navy, the farmlands have always provided the best infantry, after all, the fields and open ground lend themselves to this type of fighting. It is also the manner in which the old Acaheans used to fight and it is one of many reasons why the Dardanese
claim descent from them. With the little wisdom that I have acquired since I was
seventeen, I am forced to acknowledge that the phalanx is, in fact, a common
formation and that this is hardly evidence of a connection with the Achaeans.
However, as a youth I fondly imagined that I was learning to fight in the same
manner as my childhood hero Peritas.
The next few years found me in the city of Dardano where, with some difficulty,
I gained a place in the garrison and gradually proved myself a capable soldier.
I found the lack of action disappointing but enjoyed the camaraderie and constant
training. If I say so myself, I have become quite a skilled warior. When my
duties grew too tedious for me, I would seek refuge in the Great Library or at the
Guild of Bards. I managed to acquire a good deal of knowledge on a variety of
subjects including geography, history, the natural world and engineering. In
particular I was fascinated by mathematics and its practical application in
engineering. I also began to study oratory in order to present my ideas with
greater clarity and I am told that I am a passable public speaker, at least for an
amateur. I also took the opportunity to research the magical charms that are
associated with the Achaeans. According to most records they used little magic,
save for the magic of music and story telling at which they were very adept.
Theories that the Dardanese bardic tradition has it roots in Achaean culture
are, I am informed by numerous Gnomish bards, quite untrue. The
modern consensus is that our bardic tradition stems from ancient Gnomish
arts and, as humble layman, I scarcely dare to disagree. I have noted, however,
that certain country tales do resemble old Achaean epic poetry in aspects of their
meter and vocabulary. Sadly, these stories are considered deeply passé by most
popular bards and scholars take little interest in them.
Although city life seemed strange and exciting at first I rapidly began to grow
bored. Garrison duty involved little more than the skirmishes with bandits and the
occasional undead raiding party. I recall my only proper battle against a horde of
zombies. It was a grisly business; we had to use axes instead of spears. In any
event, after five years I was becoming rather disillusioned with it all. The
expeditions to the Stolen Lands were the opportunity I had been waiting for. I
volunteered immediately. Not only would I have chances for adventure and
glory, but I might even learn more about the ancient Achaeans. Records are
unclear about exactly where they lived but I hope to find some traces of them or
at least meet people who know more of them.