"Call of the Dragon, Part I"
"Call of the Dragon, Part II"
"Ruins and Hopes"
"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3
"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4
"Childhood of a Fighter"
"The Pledge" Cornell #5
"The Rock of Discontent"
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"A Tale of the Gods"
"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6
"The Pilgrims' Trial and Faith"
1 / SECTION 2
“Archer, she’s dead.”
The man seated at the desk showed no reaction. He was hunched over, staring at a piece of parchment before him, a quill clutched in one hand. His desk was set before a wide window, opening towards the ocean, surrounding the island of Milonisi. Rocky cliffs completed the lower frame of the window, the sea’s white spray foaming, the noise of the waves droning its endless, melancholy song.
Sirch closed his eyes for a moment, breathed deeply, then spoke again, “Her son sent a message by magiscribe this morning. She died in her sleep.”
At the desk, the man looked out the window, put the quill’s uninked end between his teeth. He looked to be in his mid-twenties, a shock of light brown hair on the head, a pair of glasses on his nose, the wrinkles of smiles furrowed in around his lips. He wore a white shirt, too large even for his blocky frame, and breeches that ended right beneath his knees.
“The funeral will be in two days,” Sirch continued. “Her son said he’d be willing to wait if you want to come. The Decirius priest can keep the body from… Everything will be fine, if… Archer?”
For a short while it seemed the man was frozen at his desk – then suddenly he threw the quill through the window, shouting angrily, “And good riddance to you, worthless bird appendage! Find yourself a breeze and get as far away from me as you can!”
Sirch frowned, folding his delicate, long fingers together. There was a slight blueish tint to the skin, proof of his elven grandfather. “Archer, did you hear a word I said? She’s dead!”
“This is garbage!” the man shouted out the window, then threw the parchment after the quill. “There! See if you can find some words on the way to the ground!” With a sudden motion, the man jumped from his seat, pausing only a moment to tug his shirt into his breeches before crossing his study quickly, past the thin figure of his servant. “I’m going into town, Sirch,” the man announced hurriedly as he headed for the door.
Hardly had he reached it that he raised an eyebrow, cast a fuming glare at the window. “Fetch that parchment I just threw out. And get dinner ready for tonight,” Archer Melt the Divine huffed, then hurried out of the door and his house.
The innkeeper of The Traveller’s Delight set the stein of ale before Archer, then ran his hand over his bald blue pate. “I saw your play today, your excellency. The Merry Ladies of Sir Ffastlaf. By the old trees, it was wonderful! I laughed so hard, the director wanted to throw me out of the house.”
“You’re easy to please,” Archer groused, then took a quick sip from the stein. “Gwerin, this beer is wonderful. The hop and barley were of the best crop, they were mixed with water from the source at Xeraell, by a master alemaker. Now their joint product is served by you, fresh from a keg of good oak, as cold as it should be. That, Gwerin, is wonderful.”
“Excuse me?” the chara elf asked. “I don’t quite understand…”
Archer rolled his eyes while he took a longer draught of ale. Setting the stein down, he said, “The play you saw today was directed and cast by Jaros Vancher. You can give him the best ingredients, and all he would turn out is horse’s piss. Really, Gwerin, a dwarf played by an elf? Shuffling over the stage on his knees, painted the same gray as the rocks and the steel?”
Gwerin shrugged uncertainly. “I thought that was funny. The dwarf – I mean the character – wasn’t he supposed to make one laugh?”
“Yes, but not by his appearance!” Archer retorted angrily, then quickly held up his hand and sighed irascibly. “It’s not your fault, Gwerin. You should have seen the production Deevad Lien put together forty years ago – now that was the play I wrote. Ffastlaf was played by a dwarf, and what an actor Peyano was! He walked proudly on the stage, every inch showed that the stage belonged to him. You thought he was seven feet tall, because –“ Archer smiled softly “ – he ‘played tall’. Gods, I miss Peyano.”
The innkeeper raised an eyebrow. “Is he dead?”
Archer shrugged. “Thirteen years ago. A stroke on stage, during Elanios of Trebonshire. He went out the way he wanted to, in a performance. The only taint to it is that he died half an hour before his character was supposed to. Oh, Peyano would have loved that. The truest death scene ever performed.”
“Anyway, your excellency,” Gwerin said and wiped the free side of the table subconsciously, “I liked today’s performance well enough. Your words shone through. Take comfort, your excellency. If the play has once been done the way you want it to, it will happen again. Nothing really comes to a close, it will all continue.”
Suddenly Archer’s eyes lit up and he jumped up from the bench, nearly throwing over his stein. “Sweet gods, Gwerin, what did you just say?!” he yelled excitedly.
“I just said that –“ the confused innkeeper started to say, but Archer cut him off, “No, don’t mind that. I’ll have to – do you have paper? And a quill? I must write this down, this could be what I was looking for!”
Gwerin blinked at him, trying to find his way through the flurry of words cast towards him.
Archer rolled his eyes again and said, more slowly, “A quill and a sheet of paper, please? The back of one of your menus will suffice.” He waved towards the shelf near the inn’s entrance, where the menus were kept, in the hope that the gesture would get the elf moving. It took Gwerin far too long for Archer’s impatience to understand, but then the innkeeper rushed appreciatively to fetch the required items.
But when he returned, bearing an inkwell, a quill, and a fresh sheet of paper, all of the impatient exhilaration had evaporated from the human. Despondently Archer stared into his stein, watching the thin layer of foam. “Your excellency,” Gwerin said, “you… Do you still want these?”
“What?” Archer looked up, noticed the items, then he grimaced. “Yes, put them down. I’ll write it down, even though it’s no use now. It doesn’t fit, you know, Gwerin? No, of course, you don’t. I will explain it to you some other time, just not… today.”
“As you wish, your excellency,” the innkeeper nodded right away, then quickly bowed and left the table to serve his other customers.
The human drank from his stein. He took a deep breath, then pulled the paper towards him, placed the inkwell next to the paper, dipped the quill into the ink, raised it over the paper and waited for the words to come.
“Somebody please remind me why I put up with that idiot,” Sirch muttered, half-way down the cliff, secured by rope to a pulley system on the house. Seagulls were crying petulantly in the air above, complaining that the human (well, mostly human, three quarters, anyway) was in their territory. A fisher’s net was spread out at about the height where Sirch was now, attached to wooden stakes rammed into the cliff. From the window above, it was next to impossible to see it – one would have to lean out of the window very far, almost far enough to fall out. Which, sometimes, was a pleasant enough idea to Sirch’s mind. There were many items caught by the net, almost the entirety of which had come by the way of the window.
“Does he even wonder how I get his stuff back? Does he ever say, ‘Thank you, Sirch, that was well done’? No, sir, he doesn’t.” A gull raced down to course over his head and neatly deposit a special gift of its own on the man’s jacket. Sirch closed his eyes, clamped his fists around the ropes of the pulley system, and counted slowly from one to ten. Having done that, he slowly opened one fist along with his eyes, lowered himself a bit further and reached out to search the net for the sheet of paper. Meanwhile he muttered in the vague direction of the heavens, “Look, folks, he doesn’t need your defense. He’s quite capable of ruining a day all by his lonesome, trust me. I’ve known him for almost a century now – and do I have to remind you that I was included in the deal? I’m your favored, too!”
There was the sheet, moist from the waves’ spray below. Sirch quickly grabbed it and stuck it carelessly under his jacket. “I’ll have to transcribe it anyway,” he grumbled while he started to climb back to the top of the cliff, pulling on the lead rope.
A little while later he was back on safe ground, slipped the harness off and hurried inside the dry house. He took off his jacket, looked at the gull’s present, cursed, then threw the jacket into the basket next to the door, where the maid would pick it up in the next morning. Sirch shook his head, picked up the sheet of parchment, then headed up the stairs towards his own study, taking a cursory glance at the page. Most of the ink had been blurred by the moisture, but enough was legible that Sirch recognized it as the play that Archer had been working on for two months, apparently the last page. Sirch knew the handwriting well enough that he could tell, when the latters were as hurried as this, Archer was always anxious to get the writing behind him.
Yet there were seven crossed out lines at the end, even though Archer prided himself on rarely correcting his texts.
Sirch stopped and glared towards the door of Archer’s study. “That’s it? I tell you that she’s dead, and all you care about is writing the last line of your bloody play? Damn you bastard, I thought you had feelings inside your thick skull!”
There was a small stage in The Traveller’s Delight. Every evening there was a performance, sometimes a narrator or bard reciting an epic poems of times long gone, sometimes a comic who tried for amusement – never easy with a crowd as diverse as this -, but most often musicians took the stage. Music had a way of pleasing the majority, except for the occasionally jarring acts that Gwerin had booked for his inn.
Archer remembered one occasion when there had been two dwarves on stage, clanging rocks against each other and singing in gravel-deep voices. Sirch had liked it, but he had been vastly outnumbered by the other patrons of the inn – including, to Sirch’s misfortune, the two ladies that had joined them that evening. Elves, after all, had a very different idea of music than dwarves did. Although, Archer mused, it was odd that Sirch’s tastes rarely included elven songs.
But that evening had turned out to be enjoyable enough when the crowd first pelleted the dwarves with food and whatever else was handy, shouting loud enough to drown out the singers’ voices (who, apparently, thought that this was a kind of applause and sang all the harder). Then the patrons got rowdy and tried to pull the dwarves off the stage, just so they would shut up. Sirch jumped up, running on the heads and shoulders of the crowd towards the stage to cry that these simple folk didn’t understand good music, and that the dwarves should forgive them.
Very enjoyable indeed. Gwerin had to rescue not only the dwarves but Sirch as well, and –
No, not Gwerin. A frown settled on Archer’s face. That had been Xiphos, Gwerin’s father. More than sixty years had passed since that evening, and Xiphos was enjoying his retirement, far away from the bustling tavern.
So many years. So many memories. They flowed into each other in his mind, drifting into the further recesses of his memory. Was it worth it? Had it been a mistake to accept the deal?
A singer took the stage, a young chara girl, no more than fifty years old. Archer had grown accustomed to gauging the age of elves. There had been a time when he would have automatically thought this girl was sixteen, eighteen at best. So long ago.
The girl started to sing, her soft voice gently caressing the crowd into silence. It was a song of young love, the flowers of spring blossoming, and all the typical imagery. A song like so many others, but she carried the tune very well.
And Archer remembered hearing the song before, right here in The Traveller’s Delight. Twenty-one years had passed since then. Gwerin had just taken over the tavern, but his father still checked on business every few days, much to Gwerin’s discomfort. Archer remembered the scene vividly, and painfully:
it weren’t for the journey by boat, I would come here more often,” she
sighed. “Milonisi is a beautiful island.”
Archer answered, “it is.” He stared at the stein before him, one part
wondering why he hadn’t ordered ale as usual, and an uncomfortable part
wondering if he couldn’t bear to look at Etiam and see how time had dug
its traces into her face.
picked up her glass of white wine, sniffing at it daintily. “The vintage
is very good, Arch. I really wish you would give it a try, wine is so much
better than beer. There are so many varieties, and you don’t have to
drink it until you are drunk.”
you say so.”
still like to get drunk?” Etiam raised an eyebrow. “Archer,
you’re eighty-three years old. One would think that you had learned to
act your age at some point.”
don’t feel my age, why should I act like it? I don’t look it
you don’t,” Etiam replied, her voice a shade darker than before.
Subconsciously she raised her hand to touch her wrinkled cheek. After a
moment she noticed what she was doing and quickly dropped her hand,
forcing a smile to her face. “So, Arch, what have you been up to? A new
play, or another book? My granddaughter loves your stories, especially
those about Dalron the Weaver. She can’t believe that I know you.
Her grandmother must be hallucinating!” Etiam laughed – and suddenly
broke off when Archer didn’t join in the laughter. “What’s wrong?”
she asked, putting her hand on top of his.
looked down at the gnarly old fingers on his smooth and firm hand. “Oh,
nothing,” he shrugged. “I was just wondering which granddaughter
you’re referring to. Tikara? Or Laynam?”
name is Bendiga, Tikara is her sister. You don’t really care about that,
Archer. I know you too well for that. Have you forgotten how long I’ve
didn’t answer. What could he say? Which were the right words? And what
did that say about a playwright who was called the Divine?
at me,” Etiam said, clasped his hand and brought it to rest on her
cheek. Unwillingly Archer raised his gaze, breathing deeply as he looked
at the face of the woman he loved. “Am I ugly because I am old? Is that
it? Age is not unnatural, Archer. It is what must be. Answer me. Do you
think I’m ugly?”
can tell when you’re lying, you know that.”
lips suddenly curled up in a grin. “You think so, do you?”
know so,” Etiam said confidently. “Now answer the question.”
shook his head, slowly rose and walked around the table to stand before
her. For a moment he looked at her, his hand still on her cheek. Then he
bent forward and kissed her gently on her lips.
smiled. “That doesn’t answer my question, but don’t mind that, young
lowered his head. “You need to know, my – my love. I wanted to grow
old with you, by your side, that I could see each new wrinkle in your
face. That I could hear you laugh about me when I try to yank each gray
hair from my head and go bald before my time. It – it hurts to know that
you have grown old without me. And that it’s all my –“
pulled his head against her chest, stroking his hair gently. A viewer who
did not know better would have thought her to be his grandmother, not a
woman only a few months older.