Henrik The Defender
Henrik The Defender was not an ordinary man. Some people didn’t even think he was human. He was nearly seven feet tall, as wide as two men, heavily bearded, and when he wanted to move quickly, people could barely see him. All they could see was a huge brown blur. Henrik wore the fur of some of the most secretive but war-hardened bears that existed in the entire land, and it was those ferocious creatures, along with others, who taught Henrik how to fight.
Henrik had the speed of the Dermon Dragons, the ferocity of the Wargorn Bears, and the intellect of the Tigers of Belran Wood, who were known for outwitting even the smartest of humans.
The bearskins that covered his body were like armour, but the skins were much lighter and more flexible than anything man had ever made. When Henrik left the realm of the Wargorn Bears as he moved into manhood, they took the skin from one of their fallen soldiers, and they gave it to Henrik as a gift of protection, and fitted the skin to his body so perfectly that now, Henrik would often forget that he was wearing it at all.
Henrik had become quite a wealthy man over the years, but he lived in a cave in the side of a mountain, overlooking the village he had been born into. His mountain was known as Mount Bergon, and the village it watched over was a simple one. It was full of hardworking people who would spend their days either making things, growing things, fixing things or selling things, and with the help of Henrik’s influence, the village had become very peaceful.
Most of the villagers were used to a life of working from morning till dusk, without much time for rest or play. There were farmers, animal breeders, herbalists, blacksmiths, carpenters, healers and market sellers, and all of them would sleep well at night, secure in the knowledge that their village and everything in its sight was now known as Henrikland – the land that if anyone dared to even think about invading, they would soon be met and assailed by Henrik The Defender, who would not take any mercy on those looking to cause pain amongst the people he loved.
Henrik did not have much use for money, other than buying food from farmers in the village. There was a spring in the side of the mountain that he would drink from, and every time he took a sip, he felt as if he had enough energy to run and fight for days. The Dermon Dragons had taught him powerful breathing techniques that meant he no longer felt the cold, even without his bearskins, and the way the dragons had showed him to breathe meant that he could survive for weeks on end without needing to eat a thing.
But Henrik liked to contribute, he liked to support the farmers who would spend all of their days working to provide food for people of the village. He would even pay them extra gold coins when he would buy food, and he would buy things from people in the market, or from craftsmen or traders or herbalists, and then he would instantly return what he had just bought, without asking for a refund. He liked to support his village, and over the years he had become known to the people not only as Henrik The Defender, but as Henrik The Kind.
Henrik saved lots of his money too. He liked using it, and he also liked to keep bags of gold coins in his cave, where he believed they had the power to attract more and more of themselves all the time if he was simply grateful for them. And it seemed to work. The jobs he was employed to do had gradually paid more and more over the years, and then one of the local farmers, who happened to breed Fighting Hounds, had offered Henrik a hound for free.
“You should want someone to guard your gold when you’re not there to guard it ya’self,” the farmer said to Henrik, who had walked into town to buy a sackful of food. The farmer, named Bernsen, had to crane his neck upwards to look Henrik in the eye, but could mostly see beard and chest. “Here, please, take one of my hounds,” the farmer said. “They are loyal to the people of this village, unless the person is comin’ to steal. That’s why I began breedin’ ‘em in the first place, of course, years ago, when the little runts from over the road started tryin’ to steal my cabbages.”
Henrik had always admired the Fighting Hounds. They were bred to protect things. They were huge, heavily muscled, calm, but totally ferocious when they needed to be. They reminded Henrik of himself. There was one particular Fighting Hound named Boevill that Henrik had always been rather fond of.
“I will pay you,” Henrik said to the farmer, “but I do not need the hound to guard my gold. Gold flows to me in abundance, and I accumulate more and more every year.”
The farmer did not quite understand Henrik’s mentality around gold, but he nodded vigorously. “You take Boevill,” the farmer said to Henrik. “He’s a good guard dog. I’ll go and get ‘im.”
When the farmer brought Boevill out of the stone hut that he kept his Fighting Hounds inside, Boevill barked, just once. Boevill was big and silver and powerful-looking. He started to run towards Henrik, who had known Boevill for a number of years, and when the farmer was forced to let go of the leash to stop himself being dragged through the mud, the enormous dog, who weighed about twice as much as the farmer, leapt into Henrik’s arms and started licking his face.
“He knows,” the farmer said with a wry smile. Farmer Bernsen’s face was wrinkled and his body was skinny, and his skin looked like it was made of leather that had been folded and stretched and made tougher over the years. “These dogs…they know. They know things.”
“Like what?” Henrik said, putting down Boevill and stroking him on the head and back.
“Things…” the farmer said with another wry smile. “Lots of things.”
What Henrik often did in exchange for gold was dangerous, but he enjoyed it very much. He felt as if he was built for it. Fighting had been so ingrained into him from such a young age, that to fight for justice, to protect the innocent from invaders and to bring back a sense of peace to a city or village was something that seemed to reward his heart as well as his finances.
Henrik used to receive messages from birds, or men on horseback who had not worked out how to communicate with birds, and he would answer every call that came his way to help those in need. But in recent years, Henrik knew it was time for him to go to work when he heard a call from a strange woman who also lived in the side of the mountain.
She was known to many people as the Ancient Mystic, but Henrik knew her as Gallaisha, and when he would hear her calling him, he would know it was time to do another job. And one night, after Henrik had not heard of any work for many months, Gallaisha appeared in his mind, and asked him to meet with her, on the other side of the mountain.
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