The Néron Cipher

The following short story introduces Néron and the Cipher table he has built from the Talghaern language. The Talghaern glyphs appear throughout the stories and novels of Malartú, including on this site (and social media) – can you complete the table and translate these mysterious messages?

Néron handed the cup of dark red wine to his recently arrived visitor, “Here you are friend, the finest Gasebo wine from the North lands. It takes some getting used to. The Blood Berries are harsh for any but the Talghaern palate, but the Wenlock herb takes the edge off it.”

The two men raised their cups to each other and the visitor made a toast, “To your Cipher and the knowledge you have gained from it over the years.”

They knocked cups and each took a long sip of the rare liquid.

“Yes indeed,” Néron replied, walking around to the far side of the square oak table and taking his seat. “Knowledge you’d like to share in given the fine gift you brought. But tell me, how did you know I even had this knowledge?”

The visitor looked down at his wine. The taste of it was heavy, he could feel the thick liquid still draining down the back of his throat. He pulled on his dark beard with his free hand and straightened a few of the hairs.

Looking directly up at Néron he began, “My grandfather also traded with the Talghaern,” he said, suggesting he also knew of Néron’s illicit trading in the Fiántas forest. “Many years ago he bought a cart full of spoil from one of the last battles in the Talghaern heartland of Bal’Shir’s Paw. In that cart were a few Calnesio swords.”

“A fine surprise. Are we talking about the battle at Highpass?” Néron asked.

“Exactly. He was with the King’s company as its master blacksmith, when they pushed into the Harshlands at the end of the war. He’d seen every kind of metal you could name, but on that day, he discovered something new.”

Néron made a noise of agreement. “Stronger than iron, as light as leather,” he said.

“Just what my Grandfather used to say!” the visitor replied catching Néron’s attention.

Calnesio was legendary to every blacksmith, but as the ore to make it only came from the Talghaern ancestral home of the Paw, it could only be traded for in its raw form from the Talghaern directly. As every kingdom had been at war with them for a thousand years that was impossible, unless of course you knew the right people, in the right places.

“So he worked some of the battle swords, but that doesn’t explain my first question,” Néron said.

“No indeed,” the visitor replied with a smile. “At the end of the war my Grandfather returned to his hometown of Taebrin, the closest city the world has to the Talghaern as you know. The years passed and restless to create something new he took the Calnesio swords and smelted them down. Shreetan knows how he melted the metal, but he was able to forge a new blade from three others. Though light for its size it was unusable by him at his advanced age, he could barely lift it!”

“Describe it to me,” Néron said.

“It was as two swords and as black as night of course. In terms of shape it was the length of a man and the blade swept out towards the tip, becoming as wide as an outstretched palm around the midblade and ending in a sharp tip. A fine design that gave more weight to the striking area of each blade’s edge.”

“Ah yes, I know this blade,” Néron said now knowing who the visitor was, “It is called Veneration and now you’ve answered my question, Soldar Gabrún, son of Bardren,” he added.

“So I have sir, and you can assuredly guess as to why I am here. When I saw your Annum Blade in the crypt of Endra’Tol, with its glyphs hammered into the blade, just as my Grandfather, Wyndrin, had done, I knew then you too were of a same mind as our family.”

It was a bold and dangerous revelation. To be in league with the enemy, possibly even to consider them friends over the generations, through war and peace, was to invite great peril. As Néron looked at the man he could see the face of his old friend Wyndrin; the same eyes, the same expression. He took a deep drink of his wine to mix with the memories.

Néron continued, “With your arrival here tonight I have known three generations of your family. However, your father dishonours my old friend by not having learned what he worked and risked so much to discover.”

“I am afraid you are right, but don’t judge him too harshly. My father was a Cartwright mostly, due to limited skill,” Soldar replied, “he never had the combination of artists touch and blacksmiths strength needed to do anything more than make crude metalworks.”

There was a pause in their conversation, with the two men looking away and drinking their wine. Néron thought about Wyndrin and the stories he had told him of Bardren’s inability to work metals well enough to make the quality weapons and armour so badly needed. It was a disappointment he could feel even with no children of his own.

Staring into the fire a spark ignited his memory of the forge and with a gasp Néron remembered Soldar in the forge as a boy. “Yes,” he said aloud, “I remember you in your grandfather’s forge now. Pumping the bellows and fetching the coke for the fire.” He turned to Soldar, “Does the scar still show?” he asked, recalling an incident where the boy was injured.

Soldar laughed. “Yes,” he said, pulling up his sleeve and showing a finger length scar running up his forearm, “I keep a firmer grip on things these days!”

Both men now laughed at the recollection of Soldar being struck by a long piece of flat metal he had been grinding an edge on while the men were out of the forge.

“No way to make a sword!” Néron added, prompting more laughter.

“I have learned much since then,” Soldar said.

“Yes, but not enough,” Néron replied in a serious tone, “without the Talghaern glyphs it’s just a pretty piece of metal and you don’t even know how to fully smelt the metal in the first place.”

“This is why I am here. The sword I brought tonight is the best I can make but it does not honour my Grandfather. If you would have me, I would submit to you as your student. As his friend I humbly ask you to teach me what my father never learned.”

Néron tipped his head downwards and let out a groaning sigh, a feeling of the burden of the tutelage to come sweeping over him. He remembered again his old friend in his forge and the promises made. Now was his time to honour his word. He surrendered to his new situation.

“The first part is easy,” he said, “Flourite, Potash and a mountain of roaring coke.” Seeing a look of confusion on Soldar’s face he added, “to smelt the Calnesio.”

“I see”, Soldar replied almost casually to what was a most valuable secret.

“Simple enough once known. Assuming you have sufficient skill, and your gift to me suggests so, the hard part then is the glyphs. You won’t invoke Bal’Shir’s boons without them.”

“I have made some small progress,” Soldar said to Neron’s surprise. Reaching into his tunic, Soldar pulled out a piece of parchment which he unrolled and lay on the table.  On the parchment were drawn three rows of letters of the common alphabet. “I have recorded all the glyphs I can, but they are few in number at this time. I had to work from memory, when visiting the Endra’Tol’s crypt so as no to raise suspicion. I spent time with Scholar Hiodath on the isle of Muatir, going through all writings that referenced Talghaern glyphs, but they were few,” he said.

Néron looked over the small collection of roughly drawn glyphs. All were correct, some not so well drawn, but overall it was far more than most knew. Even such a small understanding was more than Néron had expected.

“I know the Scholar well, though I have not seen him in many years. You have made good progress, but if you knew just a little more of the Talghaern and read more tales of their lands you’d be able to place every glyph with ease. Then you would understand so much more that is presented to you. Their language us their history and wisdom.” Neron said.

“What should I do to learn?” Soldar asked.

“There is no easy way. Keep this parchment close by. Each time you encounter a set of glyphs, record them somewhere, think carefully what they might mean and translate what you can. Over time you will match up all the glyphs and our common letters. It will take time, but that’s all part of the story.”

Soldar smiled, remembering where he had seen a few extra glyphs already and determined he would revisit them.

“For now,” Néron continued, “let me show you how to make a real sword.”

The Néron Cipher, as drawn up by Soldar after viewing the sword crafted by Néron called the Annum Blade and the sword made by his Grandfather called Veneration.