Traditional Tales

by Julian

In the village too small to have a name but large enough to have a small inn, it was traditional to ask travellers passing through for tales and news. When they stopped in the inn the innkeeper or whatever villagers happened to be in there would sit their guests down, get them a drink, and see what stories they could tell.

Said travellers had been rare only a few years ago - hunters and adventurers heading off into the Great Forest for the most part - but now the fabled riches of the West drew all sorts through the village, and prompted them to stay in the inn. Many of these new people were of questionable character, and many were poor tale-tellers, but still the tradition of asking them for their tales continued.

Tonight, the inn was empty but for one guest, and so the task of asking him for a tale fell to the innkeeper, Butterly. Butterly was fat, waddling, bald, and far too grounded in the daily tasks of buying ale and serving cuts of pork to have much care for tales. For all that, he also had a great deal of respect for traditions generally, especially those likely to bring customers into his inn, so he steeled himself for an evening of boredom. Butterly placed a jug of ale in front of the traveller and sat down.

The traveller was undoubtedly a strange fellow. He wore a long traveling cape of black and red, richly woven, but kept its hood up even near the heat of the fire. His head was largely shaded by the hood, but Butterly fancied that perhaps he saw some Weaver in what of the man's features he could see.

“So,” said Butterly to the stranger ”…new to these parts?”

The stranger answered in a voice that was a little broken, and certainly somewhat gruff, but for all of that he was quick of tongue and well-spoken with it;

“Indeed not, friend innkeeper! I've been this way many times before, questing and trading and seeing sights to burn the eyes from a weaker man's skull! And I have to say, I've had more than a few better ales on those travels than I've had tonight…”

Butterly was naturally a little hurt by this, for he was proud of his ale, the finest in the district as he often told people! He opened his mouth to voice a protest, but his guest was speaking again before he could think of a decent rejoinder;

“I'm guessing you've sat at my table and interrupted my quiet because you want a tale, yes? That's what you people in these villages out by the Forest ask for isn't it?”

“Well… I suppose that's so,” said Butterly, “but first we like to know the names of our guests.”

“Iago,” said the stranger, “I'm a trader of steelsilk - run it between the City of Silk and the White City. Sometimes I do other work, when the fancy takes me. What tale would you like? I know many, true and untrue, gory and bloodless. I've met and talked with many a famed man in my time… perhaps I could tell you of one of those?”

“That seems fine to me.” said Butterly, with little attempt to sound excited. He relaxed back into his stool, and tried to get himself comfortable enough for the inevitable boredom ahead.

The traveller, Iago, took a sip of his ale, and wiped away something from an eye concealed by the shadows of his hood. He sucked in his breath in a way someone more attentive than the increasingly sleepy Butterly would have noticed was faintly sinister, and began his tale;

“You've seen of course the great pillar of black flame that rose in the West a few months ago? A more mighty and beautiful sight I've never seen, and I've seen many things. I've seen men cast into pits of glass shards in the Southern Port. I've seen dead men dragged screaming into the Burned Realm by the vengeful Gods! I've seen powers of the deep woods do things you wouldn't dream of, and seen the servants of the Bound Ones themselves!”

Butterly found himself beginning to daydream already: yet another fictional tale of derring-do from some traveling liar. He hated the village’s tradition deeply in that moment, and began instead to occupy his mind with his plans for building an extension to the inn's kitchens.

“Anyway, back to the Black Flame! You'll have heard a lot of lies about how it was born of course, but I know the truth: I was there. You know of course of Toquell Velasquez? The hero who bound He Who Walks Wilderness beneath the earth? Well, Toquell had fallen in with a very bad crowd: a stinking, murderous pirate called 'Ripper' Bill McKenzie; a so-called 'professor' called Kitty; Lord Belor de Velland and of course that darkest of dark necromancers, Selena Curiana! The four of them wanted to kill Toquell you see, partly from a pure love of evil deeds, and partly to acquire from Toquell the great store of magical artifacts he had acquired over the years. So they told Toquell that out in the Great Forest there was a great treasure, and that if he could only get it he'd be more powerful than ever! Bless Toquell, but he could be a little naïve when someone proposed a heroic quest to him, so he agreed to go with them. Of course, I saw straight through their plan, and I'd done some work with Lord Toquell before, so I offered to go along and keep him safe. Get me some beef will you? I'm hungry.”

Butterly's attention returned to the conversation with an almost audible snap - and was briefly confused. His natural dislike of tales and tale-telling had been interrupted by something more in his area of expertise… selling! Butterly clambered to his feet and made for the kitchen, where he grabbed a plate of cold beef and potatoes, and sat back down. His guest ignored the potatoes and ate the meat while making strange sucking sounds. Butterly guessed that perhaps he'd lost his teeth.

“Anyway. We all set out, and spent quite a time out in the forest. We fought spiders of all sorts, and it was only through my skill and bravery that the cowardice of Toquell's other companions didn't get us all killed! Not that they were grateful - oh no! Anyway, we were deep in the forest, and we finally were getting near the treasure, when we came upon a beautiful grove. I of course knew something was up, and tried to get everyone to move on, but Kitty and Bill, Belor and Selena, tricked Toquell, and told him to stay, and Toquell agreed with them. We'd only been there a little while of course when we were attacked! Say, do you have more ale?”

Butterly was a little resentful at this point. The stranger still hadn't shown him any coin, and the tale itself was hardly worth the food and drink the man consumed so eagerly. Given this, Butterly smiled the sweetest smile he could (it wasn't very sweet), and asked;

“Dear sir Iago… could you perhaps pay a little coin for the first drink? Maybe the food?”

The stranger stared at him very hard, then reached out and picked up the steak knife with which he'd been eating his meat and potatoes. He fiddled with the knife for a few moments, testing the weight of it, pointing it in various directions, and especially towards Butterly. Butterly in other circumstances might have interpreted it as a threat, but he was sleepy, and Iago had been polite, so he noticed nothing and said,

“Just two Hexa maybe?”

“Fine,” said Iago, and he put the coins on the table, from which Butterly greedily scooped them. With cash now securely in hand, Butterly scurried off to the kitchen, and returned a few moments later with a frothing mug of ale.

“Anyway,” said Iago, “I'll continue. We were in this grove, when suddenly from out a stream running through it there came this horrible, red beast! It was terrible, dripping with blood and soil, and incoherent with rage! This beast was what was left of Toquell's brother, Vincenzi. He hated Toquell for some minor slight or other, but at some point had gone a little mad and bound himself into the Great Forest. Seeing him, the mewling, pathetic coward Bill immediately switched sides, and tore open Toquell's chest as he stood surprised. At that very moment, swarms of huge, vicious wolves bounded into the clearing, and attacked us! Selena, Kitty and Belor ran off screaming like frightened maidens of course, so I was forced to defend the wounded Toquell all alone! Three enormous wolves the size of ponies leapt at me – one I cut down with my sword, another took my knife in its eye, and the third I kicked down with a swift strike from my boot. There was soon a wall of dead wolves around me, but the cunning magicks of Bill sorely wounded me, and forced me to flee, horrified though I was to do so! Last I saw, the vile traitors had got back to Toquell's body, and were performing some sort of dire ritual! The great lord’s body burst into a huge pillar of black flame, as high as the sky itself, and his killers exulted at the conclusion of their dire rites. To return would have meant my death, so I slipped away, back to the White City, hoping to be able to live and tell the tale to people like you. So that's how the pillar came to be: a manifestation of the bottomless evil of Belor de Velland, Kitty Feasible, Selena Curiana, and Bill McKenzie. I wrote it all down you know.” Butterly was surprised to find a piece of paper shoved into his hand, detailing (oddly almost word for word) Iago's tale, and with a handy attached summary sheet.

“That wasn't a half bad tale Mr. Iago!” said Butterly, in a tone that was intended to suggest he liked the tale, but didn’t much believe it.

“No it wasn't!” said Iago, also known more widely as Arik Blackthorne, who pulled out a dagger and stuck it twelve or so times into various places on Butterly's body.

“Once for rudeness!” cried Arik on the first blow, a savage cut into Butterly's protruding belly.

“Once for the arrogance to demand payment!” cried Arik on the second blow, a thrust through one of Butterly's arms, raised at that point to try and ward of his guest's sudden attack.

“And ten times to make a point!” muttered Arik again and again, his dagger glittering a dark red as it went up and down and in and out of the hapless Butterly.

When Butterly finally fell to the ground, a mess of blood and organs little resembling a man, Arik took a moment to kneel over him and carve 'Arik Spiderking' into his forehead, and as he did so, bitter tears of blood and wine splashed the dead Butterly's face.

“Your beer was vile, and you're no teller of tales, but your friends will remember the story pinned to your body with a knife!” said Arik, who pinned his tale where it would not be forgotten, and slipped unnoticed out a window once he'd recovered the week's takings.

misc/fiction/ttales.txt · Last modified: 2011/03/31 21:03 by osj01
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