Thursday, 23 January 2020

A little knowledge

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and ignorance is bliss. For example, would you like to know when you die? It’s a harmless enough question on its own but without context? Well, that’s a different story – one that I’ll unfold here and now.
The travelling fayre had come to the sleepy little village of Staplefield and taken residence on the village green, much to the delight of everyone. Mime artists, minstrels and giants, jesters and wizards and dwarfs; all there to entertain and delight. There were all sorts of confectionary on sale too, from tostee’s to tartes; graylede’s to fritters, there was almost too much to choose from and the smells were just beguiling. Alcohol flowed perhaps too freely and it may have been this more than anything that led five youths to visit my tent that fateful eve. I am not one for partaking of fermented roots and fruit; I prefer to keep my connection to the ethereal clear and concise.
(There are some that say they do their best work ‘under the influence’ but their lives are run by the wrong kind of Spirits. Strangely enough I learnt long ago that ‘fate’ has an uncanny habit of happening regardless whether the medium is influenced or not. The individual has such a desire to ensure what they are told comes to pass that they will undoubtedly make it so –even if they are, themselves, unaware of what they are doing.)
I tend to enjoy my fortune telling sessions on a one to one basis; far more time to build a rapport and in-tune myself to what that person wants to hear. Fortune telling is more about reading a person that it is the future. The future is easy to discern –any fool can tell it, indeed everyone knows their own future but they spend every waking moment trying to supress that information, hence why they stumble and fall so much! But not everyone wants it confirmed, and there are many ways to impart the same information; it’s the way you tell it.
These youths were a mixture; two men of supposed high standing and their three waifs. It was obvious that the men were part of the manor and looked down on all around them; they were there purely to impress the three girls. Immediately I felt sorry for the girls; whether they were also of high birth it was difficult to tell –I make it my business not to care about courtly fashion and do not care for rich things. I felt that there was some rivalry between the two men though and that delighted the women; well, at least two of them it did.
“You shall tell me my future, old woman!” The ‘lead’ male said imperiously as he sat down in front of me. He was arrogant, full of himself –puffed up chest and stomach; reddening full cheeks and not an ounce of intelligence. However, there was a cruelty behind the eyes; he was a spiteful one, I could tell that easily enough.
“Humphrey, that’s not very nice.” One of his female companions exclaimed and I liked her immediately. She had a kindness in her eyes that had not been diluted by the inebriation. “I must apologise for my…friend.” I nodded serenely. The lady had a fuller figure, one that I might have coveted in my youth, but her demeanour was charitable and demure; she would be hurt if she stayed with her current company.
“Bah, what do I care, Alice?” Humphrey spat back boisterously. “She’s just an old gypsy, it’s what she’s here for, right, Walter?”
“I wouldn’t have put it quite like that, but that is what we’ve come here for. Will you tell us our fortune, woman?” Walter asked me, though he wasn’t as brash as his porcine friend he was just as arrogant. The other two girls giggled inanely. I kept quiet, simply stared at these two bullish braggarts.
“Well, woman? You try our patience!” Humphrey slammed his hand down on the table. “Do I have to force you to tell us? Will we have to destroy your shabby caravan?”
“Bravo.” “Oh super!” Cried the other two slatterns, neither possessing much in the way of charm or intelligence; to me they seemed little more than bit parts in a narrative they’d never truly understand, let alone their own lives. Their appearance was bloated by the alcohol possibly, but the make-up was shambolic and was more akin to the theatre of the absurd than alluring. The only thing that was eye catching about either was the ample cleavage that was perhaps of an inverse ratio to their intelligence.
“And what if I choose not to tell you your future then, my Lord?” I ventured. I was not one to be goaded by such ill-mannered louts. I knew I had nothing to fear from either of these sops.
“Then you shall taste my steel –see how I pierce the wine skin on your wall!” Humphrey announced and produced the most pathetic blade I have ever seen. It was like him, lopsided and ineffectual and he brandished it with the same skill as a child might. He thrust at the wine skin and missed by a foot, imbedding the blade in the caravan wall. Try as he might he could not withdraw it. “I’ll leave it there as a warning to you, of what happens to those who make fun of Sir Humphrey of Herstperpunt! Now tell us our futures.”
“I will do as I am told, Master Humphrey.” I acquiesced. I had had enough of this bravado and knew how to end it quickly. I motioned to my partner who sat in the next room; he was my confederate and made it his business to keep an eye on me and change the ambience when it suited. (I knew that these louts could never have harmed me, my confederate would have stopped them easy enough) At my nod he altered the wicks on the oil lamps so it suddenly became darker. “I will tell you all your futures. It is a simple enough thing to prognosticate. All but one of you will die ere the dawn, and there is nothing… NOTHing you can do to forestall this moment.”
At another nod my confederate blew the oil lamp out, plunging the caravan into darkness allowing me to slip out through my secret trap door. When the light suddenly flickered back on I can only imagine the look on their faces!

I am not a psychic and know the cost of walking such a path, but I have been able to piece together quite a bit myself. I consider myself quite a study of people, after all, and I had come across many a sot such as Lord Humphrey of Herstperpunt!
As they came to grips with the empty caravan the ladies were unsure of what to make of the news. The vacuous blond whose name could only have been Cecily started to cry. “I don’t want to die.”
“It’s one inevitability we can all agree on.” Alice drily chipped back. See? I told you there was a reason why I liked her; she shared my sensibilities! However Cecily was none too mollified by this news and her sobbing increased.
“Oh, do be quiet Cec!” Walter snapped. “My sister, though correct in her observations, is just trying to get a rise out of you.” Alice sighed and walked out of the caravan, unperturbed as to where I might have gone. Had she seen the trapdoor? Possibly. The others followed her as best they could, Humphrey pausing long enough to wrench his prized, but ineffectual sword from my wall.
“It is a connumb. Connun..drum though, to be sure.” Humphrey drunkenly conceded. “If we are all to die tonight there is but one way to go.”
“And what way would that be, my dear Humphrey?” Walter shouted back.
“Further debauchery!”
Together they lurched out of my caravan and stumbled through the crowds that were still making the most out of the fayre. I have no doubt that there was no definite destination in mind; they all lived within a stone’s throw of each other and the village green so it probably depended on who had the most drink in the house. It was a moonless night, but balmy; there was a fog arising and it made them huddle together closer as they walked up the road towards Handcross.
“I don’t know how you any of you can be so calm though.” Cecily said, breaking the muffled silence. The fog was getting thicker and swallowed them whole, making it impossible for them to really orientate themselves. They heard nothing of the fayre now and it was very disconcerting, was as if they were adrift in a world of their own.
“It’s very easy under the circumstances, Cec.” Walter replied matter-of-factly. “It’s too cold, it’s too late and I’m far too sober to be listening to you prattling on!”
“Walter, please.” Margaret remonstrated, slapping him on the arm. “I do wish you wouldn’t treat Cecily like that.”
“I’m sorry, Mags –but she is dreadfully dull when she gets in her snits.” Walter said, suitably chastened.
“Well, you probably shouldn’t have married her then, eh?” Humphrey interjected, snidely.
“We’re going to die… I know it; we’re going to die in the fog.” Cecily carried on.
“Well, all but one of us is.” Humphreys laughed. “And if it’s going to be you then you’d best hurry on and do us all a favour!” Walter tried to put his arm around Cecily to steady and calm her down but she just became more agitated and pushed herself away from the group.
They never heard the horse-drawn carriage until it was far too late; Cecily was raving too much. Although she managed to avoid being trampled she was knocked flying by the side of the coach, and ended up lying like a ragdoll at the side of the road.
“Cecily!” Margaret and Walter cried out, almost in unison and rushed out to her, but it was far too late. Alice was strangely silent, almost accepting of her fate. Humphrey was going to have none of it.
“That crazy harridan was right…” He snapped. “We are all going to die tonight. Well, all but one of us… and it’s not going to be me!”  He pulled out his sword, turned to Alice and ran her through with the sword in one swift motion. Alice crumpled without a word.
“Alice!” Shouted Walter, who launched himself at Humphrey and knocked the sword out of this hands. “You mad bastard, I can’t believe what you just did!”
The dawn was slowly casting an eerie glow on the fight that unfolded, but Margaret was having none of it. She knew that regardless of who won she was going to be next. She would never be able to take them in a fight, her only hope was to run away from them, so she darted into the woods.
“Don’t run too far, dear Margaret!” Humphrey shouted to her. He knew that although Walter could easily take him in a fair fight, this was not one of those occasions. There was too much at stake for Humphrey to lose. He shammed defeat, falling weakly to his knees as Margaret disappeared from view. Walter backed away, knowing that it would be too easy to succumb to the same madness that inflicted Humphrey. That was his last mistake.
He hadn’t seen Humphrey pick up the boundary stone and never actually felt the blow that killed him. He barely saw Humphrey’s strike, it was so fast. Walter may have been concentrating on Cecily and Alice’s bodies, but it didn’t really matter; he was dead.. which left only one more person. In a perverse way Humphrey was going to enjoy this.

All Margaret had to do was get to safety. She knew that in every other way Humphrey had the upper hand; he was far stronger than her and he had the determination and will to kill her. Even knowing that her life depended on it she knew that she could never bring herself to kill him, which meant getting back to the village of Handcross as fast as possible. That meant running through the woods which would have been unthinkable twenty minutes ago but the sun was rapidly emerging making it a lot easier to see where she was going.
She didn’t realise that it was also making it far easier for Humphrey to chase her.
Twenty minutes later she had reached the base of Puck’s Church; an outcrop of sandstone rocks they used to play around as children. She remembered that it wasn’t so long ago that the outcrop had been used as a place of worship and devotion. She prayed that she might be spared from the nightmare. She paused to get her breath and looked behind her to see if Humphrey had caught up with her.  There was still a slight fog lifting from the wood behind her but she could see no sign of him. There wasn’t much further to go and, God willing, she might get home.
“Too little, too late; dear, sweet Margaret.” It was Humphrey, but where was his voice coming from? The realisation came too late. By the time she looked up the boulder was already on its way down and she never had the chance to move out of its way. She was dead, like the rest.
The sun was higher in the sky now and Humphrey could feel no remorse for what he had done. It was necessary; surely it had been foretold thus? He knew that had Walter but thought of it before him it would have been his body at the bottom of the rocks. He turned back to the path but was stunned by what he was now facing. He was horrified to see the shuffling form of Alice walk out of the lifting fog, holding out a bloodied hand to him.
“You… you killed them all…” She moaned and came closer. “Why? Why would you?”
“No…” Humphrey said, blanching of colour. He took a step back as the pale form inched closer.  “No.. I killed you too..”  He backed further, each step laboured with trepidation “You should be dead.. you should be…” So intent was he on evading the ghost he saw before him he failed to look how close he was to the edge. The fall was swift and the end quick. His body lie crumbled against the boulder he had thrown. Dead.
Alice walked to the edge of the rocks and saw his twisted form and spat at him. “You always were a terrible swordsman.”

Friday, 3 January 2020

The Redeemer

***Hawk the Slayer is the copyright of Terry Marcel and the estate of Harry Robertson. I have been a fan of Hawk for over 30 years and this (and hoepfully subsequent others) is my homage to the stories that so beguiled me as a youth. I hope you enjoy! ***

It was a time when magic was leaving the land and the people no longer believed in heroes. The war had been costly for all and darkness was sweeping from the North. From this there came stories of a mighty warrior welding a wondrous sword who championed the old ways and fought for the light. His name? Hawk. This is how he came to be.

He had come to the tavern to forget; to become someone else. His every decision had been perverted by forces he never even knew existed –the life he knew as Prince of the realm had kept him secluded and na├»ve and he had suffered for it. Had he though? If he could bare the real truth then no, he hadn’t suffered at all but those around him had. His father and wife dead by the hands of his once beloved brother, Voltan. And it was all his fault.
Hawk looked around him; there was much talk and fervour around –the Purging’s were in the next village and the crowds were getting restless. Over the last few months the True Faith had swept in from the North, slowly at first –little more than a few buildings converted into churches, preaching of a single deity that ruled over all. To the True Faith the Deity stood over all else; no longer were there Spirits of the woods, the fields, the streams. No more belief in magic and the ‘old ways’ as they were now called; they were considered dangerous. The one Truth said to worship no other and as the movement grew in strength so the Purging’s were born. Those that did not align themselves to the truth were scourged of the old ways until only an empty shell remained, which could then be filled with the Spirit of Truth. The Unfaithful were never killed but converted, hollowed out.
The country was slowly put to the sword as the True Faith gained more power and a state of war was declared on those that were Unfaithful, though there was no ‘enemy’ to fight. In the end it was all political but the nobles were forced to choose a side. Hawk’s father had chosen to remain impartial –in truth he was steeped in the old traditions and had taught both Hawk and Voltan their importance- but when his castle was threshold was threatened King Ferdyn relinquished his neutrality (at least on the surface). His favourite son, Voltan, was sent to the war leaving Hawk embittered and alone, jealous of Voltan’s position. Hawk longed to be a warrior but did not have the stomach for it; he was a womaniser and loved the more refined things in life. The Old Ways did not sway him as much as they did Voltan, who coveted the legendary Elvin Mindsword. Ferdyn had promised it to him upon his return.
Hawk heard a ruckus behind him but he tried to ignore it. A beggar was being harassed and jeered but Hawk did nothing to intervene. The beggar should have known his place and kept outside, content with the scraps that others left him. It was then that he felt someone tug hard at his scabbard and he turned around quickly. It was the beggar, trying to lift the Mindsword from him. He was about to push him away and make an issue of it but he suddenly found himself at the business end of two other swords. The harassment had been a diversion whilst the beggar had picked the pockets clean.
Hawk allowed the thieves to leave with his sword knowing where they would be going. It wouldn’t be too hard to get it back. No one had lifted a hand to help him. After a couple of minutes he left the tavern and walked to the side alley where the beggar sat, going through his hard earned money. He was alone. The sword was on his lap.
“Give me the sword.” Hawk said to the beggar as he walked toward him. “Give me the sword or I’ll take it from you.” He was almost level with the beggar now who was grinning maliciously at him.
“You will, will you, my fine friend?” Came a voice behind him. The beggar’s accomplices had followed him out of the pub and now blocked the entrance to the street. There were four of them.
“This is no concern of yours. All I want is the sword, you can keep the rest.” He replied.
“We’ll keep it all.” The beggar spat and motioned to the men who advanced, weapons raised. Hawk concentrated on the sword, felt the green glow within himself as the Mindstone started to glow and pulsate in time –the connection was becoming easier to establish each time he used it. The beggar felt the sword pulsate and was astonished when it started to vibrate. Just before taking hold of it the sword flew off of his lap and straight into Hawks hand to the shock of the thieves around him.
“How the hell did he do that?”
“Don’t know… and I’m not sure we want to know. This might not be a good idea.” Replied another.
“He’s only one man!” The beggar snapped. “Got any questions? Well, ask his corpse!” He lunged, dagger in hand ready to skewer Hawk, hoping to catch him off balance but Hawk was ready and neatly sidestepped him, slamming the back of the beggars head with the haft of his sword. Despite the overwhelming odds he didn’t want to kill any of them; he’d had enough of killing but equally knew that the thieves would have no such concern. The rest of the thieves rushed him and it was impossible to use the sword properly.
Just then he heard a deep voice and the rest of the thieves stopped and looked round.
“AHEM! This is most unbecoming, it’s certainly not very sportsman like! Do any of you… gentlemen feel like testing your prowess on an easier target?” The man who spoke stood firm at nearly seven foot, rooted to the ground like a wise oak. He was dressed entirely in black except for a metallic breast-plate and he was completely bald and clean shaven. His left hand hung by his side, the fingers drumming on his leg whilst the other was behind his back.
“Looks like you’ve got an admirer.” One of the thieves said to Hawk. “Its payday lads, make the most out of it.”
Four of the thieves charged for the giant but were slammed aside when he suddenly showed what he had been holding behind him –a huge metal mallet- which he swung at them. They never stood a chance. The remaining thieves turned and ran, knocking over Hawk in the melee. The giant stood over him and held out his hand.
“Thank you, I’m very grateful.” Hawk had a chance to study the face that towered above him. Despite the sudden violence of his actions there was a silence behind his eyes; an unknown resignation.
“It’s not often one finds a nobleman alone in such an alley. Are you lost per chance?” The Giant asked.
“I’m not sure why you think me a nobleman. I’m just…” Hawk thought for a second. He wanted to remain incommunicado for the time being; there was still too much he had to atone for. He could no longer be known as a man of the blood, he was no longer noble so he had to adopt a title more befitting. “I’m just a man who’s lost his way…”
“Haven’t we all.” The giant agreed, solemnly. “I am called Gort. I am the last of my kind.”
“In many ways, so am I. I am called Wren.” Hawk replied.
“Wren? Well.. if you say so.” Gort looked at Hawk who quickly sheathed his sword, not wanting to draw any more attention to himself. Hawk now had to move on, too many people would be talking about the altercation in the tavern and he wanted to remain away from the spotlight. The less people knew he was around the better, but where to go next? “If it’s places to lose yourself I know of a couple.” Gort ventured.
“Am I that transparent?” Hawk asked, smiling. There was something about Gort that was easy to like; despite his sadness there was a sense of a childlike glee as he smiled back.
“The old teachings state that one can only recognise in others that which is obvious in you.” Gort replied.
“It could be considered dangerous to hold such beliefs.” Hawk acknowledged. “If I didn’t hold to them as well.”
“I knew that I could trust you.”
“Trust is a strong word to use these days. I’m not sure that I’m worthy of such a word.” Hawk replied, feeling the sense of his burden again.
“I have a sense of people.. and of words. But enough of that, shall I take you one of those faraway places, Wren?” Hawk nodded and followed Gort to the horses. “There’s enough food and drink to last us a few days there. Maybe after that you’ll have more of a sense as to where you want to be.” Hawk just looked at him, one eyebrow raised. “I have a nose for these things, but I won’t pry. Not yet, anyway.”

The journey to Gort’s was uneventful. Hawk had previously maintained that provided you kept your own company other people didn’t bother you unduly; however the events in the tavern made him aware that maybe it no longer held true. There used to be a concept such as unity and community but this seemed to be slowly dying. How much of this was due to the True Faith? The True Faith seemed to put more store in materiality as the means to gain a position in their church and sought to cause friction in the togetherness that was part of the old ways. Confusion and suspicion were rife now and there seemed to be more crime now.
Gort kept quiet, he understood the need for silence and knew when to talk. As a magical being himself it was second nature; like the dwarves and elves he was in harmony with the world around him. When the world thrived so did he, but the times were so different now. It seemed as if the time for magic had passed; no one trusted the old ways anymore. Worse still he and his were hated and feared. The Faith were to blame but how to fight such an entity when your power stemmed from the energy that it was supressing. Gort was supposed to be a giant and had been in his youth, but as the belief in the old ways died so too did his stature. He knew that the same thing was happening to the dwarves and elves; their powers which had been magical in nature were deserting them –the iron hills, once a thriving industrial empire were now almost finished and the iron smelted using modern methods. That very iron had been used to imprison the fey folk; the same fey folk that had been protecting them all this time from the darkness. Was it any surprise then that the darkness was encroaching at the same time as the True Faith?
Hawk could see signs of a past battle in the distance; and what looked to be a hamlet now smouldering and ravaged.
“No.” Gort exclaimed and geed his horse onwards. “What could have happened? Why would anyone want to attack us? We were peaceful.”
“Careful, Gort – you don’t know what exactly’s happened.” Hawk tempered. “There could still be danger.”
“The only danger to them is me.”
Hawk looked around at the devastation, it seemed too meticulous, too planned. This wasn’t a raid or a battle field; there was thought behind it –but what. He kept his thoughts to himself until there was evidence to back things up.
Gort saw the burnt out husks of his former hamlet; saw the ruined hall where he had gone to commune and it seemed most damaged of all the buildings. However one thing seemed strange –there were no bodies; no dead nor wounded. If this was a battle then where were the casualties?
Gort’s hut was still standing surprisingly, arrows imbedded in the door and windows smashed but it was structurally sound. Hawk opened the door gradually and Gort waited until it was fully open. Suddenly a plate was thrown haphazardly, followed by a bowl and a goblet, all smashing on the floor. Gort and Hawk looked at each other.
“Hold! Throw anything more and there won’t be anything to eat off of!” Gort shouted. “Get your priorities right!”
“Gort! You’ve returned!” Came a cry from within. As Gort walked in to his cabin he was greeted by dirt streaked children, clothes torn and ragged.
“What happened?” Hawk asked. The children said nothing, burying their heads in Gort’s massive frame.
“It’s ok. You can trust him. He’s a friend. His name is Hawk.”
“You knew?” Hawk replied, raising an eyebrow.
“I wouldn’t say it was obvious, but now is not a time for subterfuge. Something has happened to my hamlet –this is bigger than either of us.” Hawk nodded and got down on one knee so he could be the same height as the children.
“Please, tell us what happened.”
“Slavers came.” One of the girls replied, sniffing. “They waited until we were in communion before attacking.”
“They waited until I was away more like.” Gort replied.
“You can not blame yourself.” Hawk confided. “It’s clear that they have been taken somewhere. You can still help them.”
“Me help them? What about you?” Gort snapped back. Hawk hung his head in shame, unsure of whether he could trust his judgement any more. Without thinking Gort took him by his vestment and banged him against the wall. “So this is how the world is? I help you, save your life, show you succour and this is how you repay me?”
“I can not trust my judgement in a fight, Gort. You don’t know what you’re asking of me.”
“I’m asking you in the name of friendship; of the old ways. I’m asking you to be a man!” He turned his back on Hawk in disgust and walked to the children. “Tell me, young ones, where did they take the others?”
“I overheard them talking about the hunchback of the river, but I thought they were joking.” A boy sniffed. Gort knew immediately who they were talking about and he involuntarily shivered. If it was true then they needed to be quick, each hour mattered now.
“Slavers.” His voice was filled with hate and the children were glad they were not on the receiving end. They had only known him as the gentle giant, playing with him in the dappled dewed mornings, this was an avenger.
“What are you going to do?” Hawk asked, turning to Gort.
“I’ve had dealings with Sped the hunchback before. Let’s say that this is his idea of payback. There will not be another transaction –this time I’m going to end it.”
“What will you do?”
“Whatever is necessary. What is it to you? Will you be joining me after all?”
“I can not abandon you after you have shown me so much, but if we approach this wrong then there could be much bloodshed on both sides.”
“What do you suggest then, my friend?”

There was about an hour’s ride through the beech woods to the river which gave Hawk enough time to put things into perspective. It helped having Gort by his side.
“You’re looking at me in that way again, Gort.”
“Which way would that be?” Gort smiled warmly and then turned to Hawk before continuing. “There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. You have chosen to isolate yourself and I wager that it is due to a mistaken belief that it is better to be alone than to hurt people by making wrong decisions.”
“You see much.”
“Maybe too much?”
“No. I do need to talk about it.” Hawk replied.
“There’s nothing wrong with making wrong decisions.”
“What would you say then if I were to tell you that the evil that is spreading the land is due to my poor judgement?” Gort kept his eyes in front, now was not the time to interrupt. This was Hawk’s time. “Voltan was not as now; he was the strong one, brave and righteous; favoured by my father and engaged to Eliane. I coveted all that was Voltan’s and did my very best to find ways to wrest it from him; all the time appearing to be the dutiful brother and son. My brother went off to fight in the wars on behalf of my father –through the dark times.”
“The dark times were harsh for all of us.” Gort conceded.
“But not for me. Voltan entrusted me with the safety of his beloved; bade me look after her whilst he was gone fighting. And so I did, and more. I spent the time slowly poisoning her mind against him but with the smoothest of tongues. She never realised what I had done, not even when we were betrothed and….” He hung his head then, the events still so fresh in his mind, sickened by the weight of causality. The war had been far from glorious; the atrocities too grisly to comprehend, with casualties high on both sides –a far cry from the noble ballads of old. Hawk knew that the only thing that had kept Voltan going throughout those deadly days and black nights was the thought of his beloved.
“What you did was wrong, ill-conceived and pig headed, even; malicious certainly… but evil? No; far from it. You did it out of jealousy and pride; nothing more. What happened afterwards was not of your doing – you can take responsibility for what you did and so you should, but you can not take responsibility for what other people have done.”
“But Eliane… my father… they died because…”
“Did you kill them? Did you take the sword to your father and kill him yourself?”
“No – but the end result was the same. I as good as killed them.” Gort stopped riding and took Hawk by the shoulder.
“Voltan made his decisions and he made them alone. There were other options open to him, there always are. He could have chosen to fight you, to challenge you to Eliane’s hand; but he did not. He went a different path.”
“Eliane once said that the war had turned his mind inwards….” Hawk mused.
“Who knows what horror’s he faced when he was at war. Who knows what horrors he still faces. I can not help but feel sorry for what he must have endured.” Gort replied and Hawk hung his head in shame. “But in the next breath I condone him to hell for everything he has done since. He chose the dark path, you did not choose it for him. In many ways you have been trying to atone for his decisions by hiding yourself from the world; and in doing so you deprive the world of its beacon of hope and strength.”
“How do you mean?”
“The Mindsword. Did you never wonder why it chose you?”
“How do you mean? Chose me?”
“I do seriously wonder about you people sometimes. The Elfin Mindstone, did you never think about breaking that word apart and wondering why it comes to your hand? You think it comes to everyone who wishes it?”
“I never really gave it much thought.” Hawk admitted.
“The sword will only go to the person who is worthy to hold it. When you looked in to the heart of the stone so the stone looked into the heart of you. Had you not been worthy you would soon have known about it.” Hawk had a lot to think about and the river banks were fast approaching –now was the time for the plan to unfold.

The banks of the river Shale used to be an idyllic, one might say almost picturesque spot. Children used to bathe and play; fish could be caught by the boat load without fear of exhausting the waters. Then came the slavers who saw the richness of the natural harbour, secluded enough to be hidden if necessary, with perfect access to the main throughways and causeways. There used to be many families jockeying for possession of the river, many factions at war with each other, frittering the meagre profits through bloodshed and skirmish. Then Sped the hunchback came from the west and changed things within a week. He called all the heads of the four families that ran the river to a meeting and then gave them an offer –serve him or die.
He was a ponderous person, malshapen and misformed; surely a laughing stock but those that laughed at him would often end up dead or crippled. He possessed very few enviable qualities; he wasn’t gregarious or jovial in any way; he didn’t speak more than necessary (except during his selling patios) preferring his spiked club to do the talking for him. When he gave his ultimatum to the four families he let them laugh for at least three minutes before smashing the skull of the most powerful of them; the other three family heads came into line quickly after that. He was not one to be crossed; there was only one person who had ever done so and Sped had finally had his revenge.
Hawk knew this when he walked into Sped’s camp and had reasoned that it would be wiser to put Sped off guard from the first. If Gort had attacked straight away then the battle could have been over quickly but with casualties on both sides.
“Ah – a customer!” Came a shout; voice cracked with drunken hatred and bile. “What’ll it be, my posing peacock?” Hawk looked at Sped with obvious disgust, never had he met such a loathsome creature. Part of him wanted to kill him straight away; his sword demanding to be slaked. “What are you in the mood for: blonde, brunet? I have the finest slaves on the river Shale!”
“I hear you laid waste to a hamlet not far from here.”
“Eh? What are you saying? What’re you accusing me of?” Hawk saw the studded club in Sped’s flatulent fingers and so wanted to wrest it from him, but that was not the plan.
“I would take them off your hands.” He replied.
“Oh, would ya now?” Sped spat, his voice raised now; an obvious sign to his underlings that trouble was brewing. Hawk counted half a dozen. The club in Sped’s hands tapped the ground hard and Hawk knew that it wouldn’t take that much provocation to make him use it.
“And what will you offer me for such a pretty hoard?” Sped asked.
“I thought that you might let me have them, as a good will gesture.”
“Of course you did. Well, you thought wrong, my fine friend.” He gestured to three of the underlings who advanced on Hawk. “You’ve got guts to walk in here alone. I guarantee that you’ll make someone a fine slave, but you need to be taught a lesson in humility first.”
The underlings charged Hawk who just stood there ,he knew that all eyes were on the upcoming battle which gave Gort the chance to sneak into the camp without being seen. In swift succession Gort managed to silence the three remaining guards with swift blows with his mighty hammer as Hawk did his best to dispatch the other three.
“You’ve bested those slatterns but you won’t stand a chance against the rest of us, scum-sucker.”
“Honestly, this is what the river has come to! Behold the humble hunchback!” Gort remarked.
Sped spun round, shocked by what he saw. His worst enemy standing there, gloating; large as life. “You.” Sped spat at Gort as he hefted the club in a fighting stance. “It’s always you. This time we’ll end it, dung eater. This time I’ll have my reckoning.” A tap on the shoulder made him whirl around again where he was now faced with the tip of the Mindsword.
“There’ll be no reckoning. Not this time.” Hawk was firm, he knew of the darkness inside of him and knew now that Gort was right; there was always a choice to make. He was no longer alone in that choice now. “You’ll go about your business, far away from here. We don’t want to see you here again, hunchback.”
“There won’t be a third time, worm.” Gort affirmed. Despite his initial desire to see the hunchbacks skull squashed like a pumpkin he knew that Hawk was right.

Back at the hamlet, Hawk was torn between conflicting desires. For once he had a place to stay, where he could be accepted and stay hidden; but was that really what he wanted? He had stayed to help rebuild the shacks and huts and Gort was happy once more. Hawk felt satisfied with what they had accomplished.
“What will you do now, my friend?” Gort asked him that evening.
“Thanks to you I now understand that I have a path to follow. I have ignored it for too long, the powers of darkness are growing stronger by the day and there is no longer any belief in the old ways to combat them. Someone needs to stand against the tyranny, against the horror –to show that there are alternatives… that there is choice; and I have you to thank for that.”
“It won’t be easy.” Gort conceded. “But you know that you have an ally here if ever you need one; you also have a home should you ever need one.”
“Thank you, but my path lies out there.”
“God speed then. Remember we are one, you have but to ask and I will be there.”
“God speed, Gort; and my thanks.”

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Tink & Taylor: A Christmas Dirge

Every generation has its Tink and Taylor’s: gentlemen of a simpler nature; one might call buffoons to be spiteful, but good natured to be sure. The Victorian age of enlightenment was no different and there we can find Tink and Taylor ready to indulge in a bit of petty thievery, but surely for the best of reasons –they felt aggrieved by a certain gentleman we shall call E. for history has other tales to tell.
December was a hard month; bad enough if you were industrious and worked in such crippling conditions but neither Tink nor Taylor knew much of industry. They tried selling hot chestnuts in the middle of summer and then, at the present time, ‘mint bullets’ (a sweet that was neither crunchy nor chewy, but a stage inbetwixt. It didn’t taste much like mint either!). They had the misfortune of borrowing money from E. during the harshest winter and it was a time that no one wanted sweets, let alone funny tasting mint ones.
They were down to their last few pennies and couldn’t afford to pay the rent any more. They tried to petition E. for leniency and even tried to offer him free sweets as a part payment. E. wanted none of this and walked away with a scornful: “Mint bullets? Humbug is more like it! You have a few more days, gentlemen, to supply me with what is rightfully mine otherwise I will take what is rightfully yours, Christmas or no Christmas!”
Tink and Taylor looked at each other with dismay.
“What are we going to do? Do you think we should have sold chestnuts like the rest of ‘em?” Tink asked, scratching his beard.
“We’re just men of vision –no one appreciates men of vision.” Taylor replied. “Until they’re dead.”
“So… I don’t want to die in order to become rich.. at least, I don’t think I do. What do you we do next then?”
“I don’t think we can get money the honest way.” Taylor stated matter-of-factly. “We’ve tried, God knows we’ve tried.. but whether this business succeeds or fails I wants a bit of satisfaction with old misery there. I wants me own back on ‘im.”
“What do you suggest, like? I don’t like ‘im, but I don’t’s want to ‘urt ‘im either.”
“I suggest we frighten the old bugger.” Taylor replied. Taylor was a large, portly chap and not one to annoy, except when he was in his cups and merry… which was most of the time. Tink was always good natured, just a little more simple than most.
Both had read Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Wandering Willie’s Tale’ and Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and knew of the concept of hauntings and could think of no better way than to frighten the money out of E. They had it in mind to dress up as ghosts, cover themselves in cheap bed linen and douse themselves in flour so they would leave ghostly vapours in their midst. The plan couldn’t fail.
The first night they tried to scare the fortune out of him, they managed to sneak into his abode before he locked it up for the night. Tiptoeing up the stairs they tried their best to hide their merriment, both having partaken several mugs of their own brand of scrumpy cider for courage (Since the dawn of time the Tink and Taylors of the world have always managed to create alcohol from whatever was around them, the Victorian era was no different.). As they neared E.’s bedroom however they heard something already disturbing the scene. The door was open a crack and both tried to listen to what was happening.
““What! Would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow!”
Tink had his ear closest to the door and shook his head, he couldn’t fathom what was happening or just who was talking to who.
“What’s wrong, Tink? What’s going on?” Taylor asked, trying to push his way in.
“I dunno, but looks like someone’s beaten us to it.” Tink whispered. “There’s someone already in there with ‘im!”
“What? What are they saying?”
“The geezer’s tellin’ ‘im about ‘at’s! I think ‘ee was an ‘abberdasher that’s gone out of business!”
“See, it’s not just us ‘e’s victimising. E’ll go after anyone!” Taylor replied.
“Wait a minute, scarper – they’re coming this way!” Tink hissed, watching in horror as the two started walking towards them. He backed away, knowing there wasn’t anywhere to hide, yet no one exited the room causing Taylor to poke his head round the doorway. To their surprise there was no one in the room at all.
“What ‘appened, Tink? I thought you said they were both in there!”
Tink barged into the room and was shocked to see that they’d both disappeared. “Bloody ‘ell. I swear’s to you, Taylor –they were right there!”
“I guess we’ll ‘ave to try tomorrow night then!”
“Phew, that means we’ll be able to get out of these bloody sheets!”

The next evening they elected to try again, this time without the sheets. It was far better to use trickery strange voices than show physical embodiments –the sheets were very unwieldy and, what was worse, the flour made them sneeze.
Sneaking stealthily up the stairs they were determined to get inside E.’s bedroom this night. Once inside they would be able to hide and throw their voices (or shout very loudly, if nothing else) and frighten E. into giving them money and food.
The bedroom door was ajar again and once again there was someone else inside with E. This time both men could see who it was. It was a giant of a man, dressed in a simple green robe, bordered with white fur showing his hairy chest. His hair was rich and curly too with a holly wreath atop. The man seemed merry but E. was anything but, cowering and shivering in front of him, despite a roaring fire.
“You have never seen the like of me before!” exclaimed the giant man.
“Never,” E. replied, cowering.
 “Have never walked forth with the younger members of my family; meaning (for I am very young) my elder brothers born in these later years?”
Tink looked at Taylor and shrugged as they shuffled back into the hall.
“Someone else is playing a number on old E.” Taylor hissed.
“Think it’s sumfink we can get a look in on?” Taylor replied.
“I dunno, ‘e looked a big bugger; I wouldn’t want to go messing in with him, would you?”
“There’s two of us…” Taylor chided.
“But there only needs to be one of ‘im! And god knows ‘oo else ‘e ‘as wif ‘im.” Tink explained. Taylor hadn’t thought of that so they took one last look into the room. To their shock and dismay neither the giant nor E. were there.
“Twice? This has happened twice to us now, Tink. Now I’m not a superstitious sort but there’s something goin’ on ‘ere, and there’s no mistake.”
“Look – ‘e’s left something behind, that giant bloke.” Tink said pointing to a sack by the fire. Inside the sack were two flowing robes, of the deepest green, that were similar to what the giant wore.
“Waste not, want not.” Taylor said, snatching the robes and giving one to Tink.
“Who know’s, maybe we can use these tomorrow.” Tink replied. “I say we give it one more try. Third times the charm, right?”

Dressed in their stately green robes Tink and Taylor were more than prepared to forego the haunting and march straight into E.’s room and demand recompense. They were obviously not the first people to have grievances against him but the way this was going there might not be any money left for them.
This third night they were ready to storm through his bedroom door and make a scene but to their dismay yet another person was already there. This time E. was actually kneeling to the stranger, who was shrouded in a deep black garment. Neither Tink nor Taylor could see his face but both had a sense of immense dread. The air around seemed far colder but that wasn’t the only reason they shook. They were about to leave when they heard E. implore the man.
““I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?”
“Rather ‘im than me.” Tink whispered to Taylor who was still rooted to the spot. Tink turned to leave, but couldn’t. The man in the robe turned to them and pointed. Tink saw the arm stretch out in their direction and was horrified when he saw there was nothing but a skeletal hand; just bone.
“Nope – E. can keep ‘is money! I’m outta here!” And they both fled out into the Christmas Eve night. Behind them the room lay empty, the two men had somehow disappeared again!

Christmas Day was abysmal for Tink and Taylor. Their sweet trolley was on its last legs and there was no one about to buy any of their odd-tasting confectionary. The only thing that was in their favour were the green cloaks that they wore. They were about to call it a day and retreat to the local watering hole when they saw Mr E. storm up to them. Unfortunately there was nowhere for them to hide so they prepared themselves for his tongue-lashing.
“Gentlemen!! My fine, fine gentlemen!” Mr E. said, beaming; his arms outstretched in greeting.
“Does ‘e means us?” Tink asked Taylor.
“Can’t do!” Taylor replied and Mr E. clapped him on the back laughing.
“Native cockney wit, eh? Nothing else like it! Merry Christmas to you both!”
“Merry Christmas to you too, Mr Scrooge.” Tink and Taylor said in unison.
“Have you got any of those delicious sweets left? I should like to buy a load, if I may. They really are my favourite!” Tink and Taylor looked at each other, shocked by the revelation. They had to be dreaming!
“Of course, Sir. How much do you want?” Tink asked, after Taylor kicked him in the shins.
“Let me see… I know… I want to go into partnership with you two, actually. This could be a new venture for me! I’ve been such a sour old man, hated by all that I need a sweeter outlook on life –so what could be greater?” He laughed heartily again.
‘E’s gone of his rocker.’ Tink thought to himself and just nodded in agreement, not knowing what else to say. Taylor did the same.
“Humbug!” Scrooge suddenly exclaimed and Tink wondered what had happened to suddenly change the old bugger’s mind! “HUMBUG! That’s what I’m going to call these wonderful little sweets! HUMBUGS!!”
Taylor let out a sigh of relief and nodded. “That’s a very good idea, Mr Scrooge. Mint humbugs!”
“Mint? They were supposed to be mint?” With that Scrooge roared with laughter. “I thought they were meant to be lavender flavoured!! No matter, we can talk about that later on. Come back with me to my house, I’m feeling generous!”
And go back they did where Mr E. Scrooge bestowed upon them such gifts that they could hardly carry it all home with them: gold coins, mince pies, bottles of claret and a huge turkey! This was surely going to be the best Christmas yet!

And it would have been excepting that on the way home the two, slightly inebriated gentlemen found themselves accosted by a small group of ragamuffins; street urchins out for a quick buck.
“’Ere – what we got going on then? You coming to deliver us our presents then, gents?” The eldest of the lads said with a sly grin. He wore a large top hat obviously denoting his rank.
“We were on our way home… well, we are on our way home.” Tink replied nonchalantly. Taylor kicked him again.
“What my esteemed colleague means to say is that what is ours is yours!”
The urchins cheered and started to help themselves to the duo’s newly given treasure, much to Tink’s dismay.
“’ang on a minute! Time’s is tough for us all, lads –we’ve only just been given all this. You can’t take it all away from us else we’ll be no better off than you!”
“What do you mean?” Asked one of the smaller lads, finer faced with still a glimmer of innocence in eyes.
“We’re so poor I’ve even ‘ad to use me britches for kindling!” Tink replied. The lads laughed at that, and Taylor, seeing an opportunity chipped in.
“That’s right, lads. We don’t call ‘im nickerless for nuttin’! E’s so ‘umble, he should be sainted!”
“Saint Nickerless it is then, lads! Suits you, with that green coat an’ all! We’ll call you St Nickerless in future and leave you be, just don’t forget us when you makes it rich!” The top hatted youth said, grinning his cheeky grin. “And I’ll let you keep the turkey as well, just for making us laugh! Merry Christmas, gents!”
“Merry Christmas, boys!” Tink and Taylor replied. When the kids had run off they looked at each other and smiled.
“Well… we are going to need a workforce if the humbugs take off, like.” Taylor said, and Tink agreed. They still had the turkey and the business proposition to look forward to –it did indeed look as if things were going to pick up for them in future.
“’ere’s to you.” Taylor said, smiling. “And ‘ere’s to Scrooge ‘imself… an’ ‘ere’s to St Nickerless!”

Monday, 2 December 2019

One last lullaby

You may think me mad, and mad I am for it is death that I am waiting for –though it be a long time in coming; she will make sure of that. Each night she takes it from me in exquisite agony. Do you know that there is a point when sensation becomes so intense it is near impossible to tell pleasure from pain? I had heard this but never sought to discover whether it was true or not; now each night takes me further and further past that point and each night I become less of a man.
The story; my story started off with so much hope: a young man seeking his fortune, cock-sure of himself; born of poor parents who sent him out in the world with nothing more than a song in his heart, the clothes on his back and the luck of the ragged. I was a quick learner and educated myself by the road, picking up whatever language I could from those I passed. You have heard this story many times, I’m sure, but I was happy to be the living testament to it – I believed most strongly that we create our own luck; and for a time this was true.
I had many adventures –the life of a vagabond is varied and no two days are the same. One day you can be sleeping under the stars with a roasted coney in your belly and a warm fire by your side, the next hiding from the local militia in a cave, shivering ‘mongst the cold and slimy walls. Hardships I could always endure for it was those that made the good times so much sweeter.
And there were good times; there was always wine, good food and women if you knew how to look and how to take! I was blessed with good looks and a boyish charm that hid the cold nature of my inner most. It was easy to tell the young girls what they wanted to hear in the various villages on the way and then leave when I had taken my fill with nary a thought to them excepting a notch on my walking crook.
But it was whilst I was sitting minding my own at the local inn at Dunninsford where I met him that was to change my life. I had recently charmed a few crowns out of a local doxy who took a shining to me –she believed my sob story about my parents dying; gave me a lay for free and the crowns to boot. (All I can say is that she can’t have been on the game for long; most other scut’s I know have raised their cynicism up to the level of an art form!) I was quietly smug and took no notice to the other people that were around me –I found it best to mind my own. Trouble only finds you if you go looking for it (or so I thought at the time). Consequently I didn’t see the man eyeing me; sizing me up –it could have been for a casket or to mark me as a fool.  In the end it could well have been for both of those as he turned to me and asked a simple question.
“How would you like to earn the wages of a Prince for doing no more work than a pauper?” I looked at him: the eyes bedevilled and bloodshot, recessed in a hollow stare; a stubbled and fear etched face hiding the clothes of a noble man, no less. These were no rags of a street seller or beggar but fine silks and embroidery. His hair was finely cut too; albeit bestraggled and unkept. I turned away from him and laughed briefly.
“There’s nout you can spin me that I haven’t tried myself, mate; nothing you could give me that you wouldn’t steal back when my back was turned. I’ve been doing this too long; go back to your pint and I to mine and we’ll both be much better off.” I replied but he weren’t having any of it.
“This is no joke. I have need of a strong, smart man… with his wits about him and that can hold his own.” He explained, motioning to the bar keep to serve drinks to the both of us. He tipped the bar man in gold. “You can see I have wealth; I have no need to rob you of yours.”
“Having wealth don’t mean you’re not desiring of more. In some ways it just makes you more determined.” I replied, nodding to the barman for the beer. I drank the first mouth full and knew that I had nothing else to lose by hearing this man out so I turned back to him and bade him continue.
“Well, I am determined. Determined to live at all costs… and this is where you can help me, and for doing nothing than to watch me sleep.” I laughed at this and immediately realised what he was getting at.
“I ain’t no god-cursed buggering soddomite. I suggest you leave now, matey whilst you still can.”
“You misunderstand me, Sir. I ask for nothing more than what I have said already –someone to watch over me and protect me whilst I sleep…” His eyes glassed over, the gaze pleading.
“You have made enemies then?” I ventured.
“Yes; enemies that would think twice if they saw another watching over me. You have arms of your own? Weapons?”
“No… save a small paring knife.” I lied. One of the first rules is to lie regarding weapons. If people know what you are carrying then you are easily disarmed; the less they know the more damage you will be able to do should the need arise.
“That’s ok; I have plenty. God willing you won’t need them.. .but it always pays to be forewarned.” There was a slight twitch in his eye when he said that but I thought nothing of it. “It could be dangerous, but you will be well rewarded when all is done. In the meantime you will live in my humble abode and what is mine will be yours until the job is over. Is this agreeable to you?” I nodded and finished my beer in a few gulps before being shown to the man’s abode –a castle no less!
Gerbert of Auriliac was a man of means –or at least his father was; and it was actually his son that I was to oversee the next few nights –he had wanted to keep his son’s reputation free from scandal, hence the lies.. Gerbert’s father, Raymond, explained to me that his son had become infatuated with the beautiful daughter of a local university dean. So enraptured had he become that even when she turned him down, due to his lowly birth-right and lack of social standing, he took matters into his own hand.
We had just entered the castle threshold and upon hearing this information I stopped before Raymond shut the door behind me.
“Now look; vagabond I may be but I’ll not actively break the laws so flagrantly –especially not when witnesses abound. I won’t do anything that’ll end me up in jail.” I said.
“No.. Please don’t think he did anything like that.” He looked shocked as if the very prospect was abhorrent to him. I bade him continue, mollified by his apparent genuineness. “He wanted her to love him more than anything in the world, but he’s not practical. I’m afraid his mother doted on him too much when he was a child and filled his head with all the wrong notions. She had leanings towards… witchcraft, would you believe? And this is how much I am trusting you now, young sir, for such a thing could ruin me if it became knowledge. Would I part with such if I were going to trick or double cross you?”
“It depends on whether I would be alive by the end of this transaction.” I replied.
“I give you my word – you will not be harmed by either myself or my son. We have no wish to see harm come to you at all!”
“Very well then; go on with your tall tale.”
“I wish it were such; alas..” He replied, closing the heavy wrought door. The castle seemed very quiet, haunted even. The walls dense with despair and dampness; it seemed far colder within than it did outside. “Are you hungry, Sir?” Raymond asked, changing tack before telling me any more of the story. I hadn’t eaten for a while and one of the rules of the road is never turn down the offer of a meal so I shook my head. He led me to the kitchen and found some joints of meat.
“No kitchen staff or servants? Are you that hard up?” I asked.
“No; I have given them time to themselves. They were distraught over what was happening to my son and he needs peace and protection not people cloying over him.” This didn’t ring true but I had no reason to doubt what he said; I made a mental note and bade him continue with the narrative regarding his son. “Gerbert became infatuated with this lady and, through his mother’s contacts, sought out a wild woman from the woods around here. You know the sort I mean, I take it.” I nodded; some were indeed wild; though not all of them wise. “She made him a draught; a love potion which he succeeded in slipping into her wine one evening. Since then she has visited him at all times of the night; though God knows how. I have taken great pains to lock the castle down each night but she still manages to torment him. That is why I have come to you; a man of the world, who has seen many things on his travels. Can you help me? Can you help my son?”
I thought this over. I knew the strength of some of these potions and philtres; some were indeed intoxicating –some people said that they could even grant spirit powers to those who desperately needed them. Could such a thing have happened here by mistake? I doubted this very much; no doubt it would be little more than a love-stricken harlot that could easily be dissuaded by someone of a much more manly physique. Who knows, this might even be fun! I agreed and a princely sum of one purse of gold pieces was agreed and I was shown up to Gerbert’s room, up in the tallest tower. How anything, let alone any slip of a girl, find their way up there during the day time –let alone at night- was a testament indeed. I was given a rather uncomfortable chair to sit on, level with Gerbert’s head and told to watch over him whilst he slept.
Gerbert was already asleep and his pallor was as white as the stone that lined his room; had he not moaned at that precise moment I would have thought the deed over before it had begun. Raymond left me then and wished me luck, for his son’s sake. I nodded and started my vigil. I wasn’t concerned for I was, as the father had surmised, well-travelled and would easily be able to handle whatever life threw at me. What a fool I was!

It was to be a quiet night. Nothing happened for at least the first few hours and I admit that I fell asleep very quickly. I knew there was no truth to the story I had been told, knew not why I had been chosen for such a task but was happy, nonetheless, to take the man’s money.
Whether it was the intense cold that surrounded me or the sound of such tortured moaning that woke me up I’m not sure, but wake I did. What I saw astonished me!
Gerbert writhing in what I assumed to be the throes of sexual ecstasy until I saw the look of terror on his face –he was still asleep! I tried to shake him awake, ashamed that I had fallen asleep and hoped that I could make amends. Strangely enough my hands gripped something else instead of Gerbert’s shoulders –something far more lithe and scaly! There was something lying on top of Gerbert and it was attacking him somehow, forcing him to do things. I had no clear thoughts of what to do; it can’t have been the woman that Raymond had told me about as the door to the bedroom was still closed and there was no way anyone could have scaled the walls.
I moved around the bed quickly to try and see if there was anything interfering with him; to my horror there was. There was… something straddling Gerbert, I could see an outline against the open window and the stars outside. This form was writhing and bucking against his naked body causing him no end of pain. He cried out again and I did the only thing I could; grabbed at the.. thing and pulled it off of him. It was surprisingly light and again there was the feeling of cold scales where it should have been skin. I was horrified and backed off when it suddenly revealed itself to me.
It was female; that I could discern in the gloom but it had wings! I could feel the currents of air beat me as it hovered in front of me. There were indeed scales where there should have been flesh and it looked at me and leered. What had I done? What was I a party to?
“That was foolish, mortal.” It leered at me, the voice rasping from hell itself. “He was a willing slave to me but by interrupting us you have become my next and I have a feeling your torments will be longer lasting still. Until tomorrow.” And then it furled its wings around itself, the air around it shimmered before it disappeared. I went to see if Gerbert was ok but felt my head go light, my body went numb and I just felt myself fall in to a place that had no end.

I woke thinking that only a few minutes had passed, but upon trying to move my limbs I realised that I could not. Opening my eyes I realised that I was in the same bed that Gerbert had occupied and my arms and legs were now chained to the posts. I was naked as well, the bed clothes barely covering me. The window had been blocked up with stone but I could see Raymond sitting on the chair that I had sat at just a few hours ago and Gerbert stood by the door looking at me with pity.
“I did not tell you the whole truth, after all.” Raymond explained, his voice little more than a whisper. “How could I? What would you have done, had you known?”
“What have you done?” I shouted and thrashed violently, trying to extricate myself. “What’s going on?”
“You’re quite secure there; there’s no escaping. I’m sorry.” And he was, as strange as it might sound, he was genuinely sorry. “I told you half-truths, I’m afraid. My son did go to a wild woman when his beloved scorned him, but she did not give him a love potion; for that was not what he wanted. He wanted to be free of the lust that plagued him and sought the services of a succubus that could drain him of those energies so he could live a normal life. However he knew not what he was asking; indeed even the wild woman did not understand his request, had she done I’m sure she would have dissuaded him of such an action.”
“That was a succubus that I interfered with?” I shouted, cursing my own stupidity; of course it was! What else could it have been, and why the hell hadn’t I realised it before?
“You see, even you –a mere tramp knows of the dangers of such a spirit. So, why then didn’t my son? Why should he suffer for such ignorance?”
“So I’m to suffer instead?” I asked, trying my best to talk my way out of this.
“No doubt you have done much worse in your life; how many people have you used for your own purposes?”
“But you’re condemning me to death!”
“So that my son can live. For a father there are no depths I won’t plunder; you would feel the same, I’m sure. No one knows you are here and no one will miss you when you’re gone. The same can not be said of my Son, who will grow to great things now. Thanks to your sacrifice he will live to be pure of heart and noble of purpose. Can the same be said of you?”
“You said that I would be unharmed!” I snapped as a last desperate gamble.
“And neither my son nor myself have or will harm you. To be fair, neither will the succubus; all she offers is love after all.” He looked at me one last time before leaning over and kissing me on the forehead. “I thank you for your sacrifice. You will not be forgotten”. He then walked to the door, ushering his son to do the same.
I then hear the sound of the door being blocked up; now that his son had been rescued it was safe for Raymond’s servants to return –he did not wish them to be victim’s themselves. Oh no; far better to be some traveller that no one would ever miss to bear the burden!
So I wait, chained to this bed, and I can tell that the hour is getting close again. They say that the kiss of a succubus is to die for, but death is often the last thing she will bring. Madness and delirium first, followed by exhaustion –only when there is nothing more to take will she leave one last lullaby; a kiss before dying.