Tales of Strange Adventures

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Home Index of Tales of Strange Adventures

"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"

From here on, downloads will only be listed at the Downloads page!

"A Tale of the Gods"

"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6

"Life's Values"

"Tangled Elves"

"The Pilgrims' Trial and Faith"

 

 

 

Life's Values

  by Marc H. Wyman & Chris Bogues

 SECTION 1 / SECTION 2

“You’re late,” Sirch mumbled, barely looking over the rim of the heavy book he was reading, a tome of adventure stories. “You can choose between cold broth, cold peas, and cold ragout. And you got drunk without me.”

“Sorry,” Archer growled and dropped heavily into the chair nearest entrance. Sheets of paper fluttered from his coat and scattered around the foyer. “Isn’t like you did any of the cooking.”

Sirch put a marker in his book, closed it and put it in his lap. “Fortunately not. It’s bad enough that I have to clean up after you. Did you get an idea for the play?”

“Dozens. All worthless.”

“I see. And there was nothing else on your mind?”

“Like what?!” Archer shot from his chair – regretting it right away when he had to take a very deep breath and put his hand against the wall to keep from toppling over. “Mind your own business, servant, understand? You ought to be grateful for every damn day that you’re alive, because without me you’d be rotting away in a grave, understand?”

Sirch raised his eyebrows. “You’re too drunk to pick a fight with. Repeat that tomorrow, when you’re sober, and we’ll see about it.”

“Bloody coward,” Archer muttered. He continued staring at the part-elf viciously, swaying noticeably, then he turned about and headed for the nearest room with a bed. It took him several false starts and more than one bump into a wall before he’d located a place to sleep. Then he started to snore loud enough that Sirch could hear him in the foyer. “Who’s the real coward, Archer?” he asked softly and remembered a time eighty-three years earlier:

“Call me ‘servant’ one more time, and I’ll kick your balls off!” Sirch promised furiously.

“Oh, come on,” Archer laughed. “It worked, didn’t it? My – our – play is presented at the Ducal Theater. This is fantastic!”

Sirch shoved his friend. “It’s crazy, that’s what it is. They’ll find out shortly that you’re no nobleman, and that there is no Lord Melt in all the Arrufat Peninsula. We’ll be lucky if they don’t hang us! However did you think of this anyway?”

“Etiam did,” Archer shrugged and leaned forward to peek through the curtain to the theater stage. An actor was proclaiming the key soliloquy. The audience was completely enthralled by his words, but not as much as Archer himself was.

Sirch sighed. “I should have known. That was about the only way you could actually go out and sell the play. When are you finally going to tell Etiam that you’re in love with her?”

“What?” Archer muttered, his face quickly set to a neutral mask. “I never said anything about that, did I?”

“No,” Sirch agreed. “Neither did you ever mention that you breathe, but both are obvious. Look, it’s been more than a year that you’ve known her. If you’re not going to tell her or at least give her a sign, she’ll start looking for a man sooner or later. I don’t want to hear you cry about losing her. Listen to me, will you?!” The part-elf smacked Archer’s arm, with a little more force than was suitable (but very rewarding for Sirch who had spent a full three weeks posing as his friend’s servant, something that he never wanted to do again).

Applause issued from the theater room, after the current scene was over. Archer grinned, started to take another peak through the curtain when Sirch smacked him again. “Mark my words, you idiot. Tell her the next time you see her, understood?”

“All right, all right, I will,” Archer muttered, only concentrated on the reactions of the audience. “Some day for sure.”

Sirch muttered something inaudible and turned away from his friend. Then his expression suddenly froze, turned first to disgust, then quickly to servilitude. “Young Lord Melt,” he said pointedly, “there is someone to speak to you.”

“Who is it, servant?” Archer responded with the haughty voice of a nobleman.

“You’re on bloody thin ice,” Sirch whispered as quietly as he could, then loudly said, “A holy cleric, your lordship. If I may ask for your name, madam?” The last he directed at the woman approaching them, wearing the festive robe of a priestess of Grenage, the Goddess of Joy and Beauty – which also included a penchant for stageplays.

“I am Reggane,” the woman answered with a nod. “Your master wrote this play?”

Now Archer turned around, a charming smile on his lips as he bowed deeply before the priestess. “Unfortunately that is true. It was my pen that created this plodding simulacrum of a play, and I beg forgiveness if the crudeness of my words offended you.”

Reggane crooked her head to study Archer closely. “You should try performing your own plays, Lord Melt. Were you on a stage and I in a seat of the audience, I might believe your humility to be honest. Be that as it may, I wish to hire your services. The local temple of Grenage will celebrate its one-hundredt anniversary in the month of Farestun. Can you write a play worthy of the goddess until then?”

For a moment Sirch thought that his friend would continue his charade, but he quickly shed the false modesty. “If you pay me in advance, I’ll write two, one tragedy and one comedy, each as good as or better than this play.”

With no sign of surprise, Reggane plucked a pouch from within her robe and handed it to Archer. “One thousand gold coins, my over-confident lord. Deliver the plays to the local temple on the last day of Gloreshton. And take note that you have made a deal with the goddess… through my presence.”

“Don’t worry,” Archer grinned, barely containing his joy until the priestess had left. “Sirch, can you believe this? We’re rich! One thousand coins, and all I have to do is write two plays in four months. Somebody pinch me, this is so marvelous!”

Instead of a mere pinch, Sirch shoved him hard against the wall. “Yeah, I’m glad about the money. But do you realize that I’ll have to play your servant again when we deliver the plays? And when we watch them?!”

 

 

“Good morning, Archer,” Sirch said cheerfully and beamed at the playwright.

“Keep your mouth shut, get me a coffee, and don’t say a word,” Archer muttered. He held up his hand to shield his eyes, as if Sirch’s beaming face was far too bright.

The part-elf grinned heartily. Loudly he said, “But of course, my good master, you will get your Tonomai drink right away, freshly brewed, just as you like it.”

“Did I mention that you should shut up?”

“Yes, you did. Why?”

Archer buried his head between his hands, muttering vile words and hoping to be shaken free by a cup of coffee very, very soon. Instead he sunk back into memory, eighty-three years back, to a time when he had been sitting just like this, with a hang-over the size of Robhovard.

The luxuriously furnished room stunk of alcohol. A mug of beer had been spilled over a silk chair, ruining the fine cloth. Sheets of paper were scattered across the floor, all scribbled on, but clearly it had been some time since the last words were written, since a layer of dinner plates, empty pitchers and other odd remains covered them.

The door swung open, and Sirch’s voice cried out, “What in all the abysses is going on here? I take a vacation to visit my parents, and when I get back… Archer, this is a pigsty!”

“She’s getting married.”

“Who? Etiam?”

Archer nodded, keeping his head cradled. “To a fellow from Ibrollene. A bloody Ibrollenian! Bastard just came to town, swept her off her feet, and now that.”

There was the noise of the door closing, loudly, then some of the debris on the floor being kicked about. “I said that you should tell her. So, did you? No, of course not. Why would you do that? Etiam surely can read your mind, after all, that’s what women do, right?”

“I was about to tell her,” Archer protested weakly.

“Sure you were.” Sirch made some more noise, then he dropped into a chair he had just reasonably cleared.

Archer raised his head and focused his reddened eyes with some effort on his friend. “I’m serious. I wanted to tell her, just as soon as I got the plays finished. Look, Sirch, we’re forty miles away from Eregon, and I’ve got to maintain our façade as noblemen, right? So I’ve focused on writing, and –“

“When did you hear about the marriage?”

Archer shook his head. “Yesterday… No, the day before yesterday. She’d sent me a message that she had something urgent to discuss.”

“Excuse me?” Sirch blinked. “You mean, this is the result of only one and a half days? Am I glad I only play your servant.” Casually he picked up the pitcher closest to his friend and checked whether there was anything left inside. Of course Archer had been too thorough in his drinking. “Look, you’ve brought it on yourself. You won’t get any pity from me. At least,” he sighed, “since you’ve been writing all the time, you ought to be finished with the plays by now. It’s already Gloreshton.”

With a jerk Archer’s head shot up. “Gloreshton? Are you sure that it isn’t still Glymarion?”

Suspicion and dread entered Sirch’s eyes as he answered, “Yes, I am sure. Deadly sure that it’s the 10th of Gloreshton. What have you written?”

“Oh, well, a few treatises on how plays are to be written properly, and a few short tales, toying around – it really is Gloreshton?” Archer got up, massaging his temples hastily. “Great gods, I haven’t even started with the plays! I thought that I still had more than a month! How am I going to write two plays in – and one of them a comedy. I can’t write comedy, not now!”

Now it was Sirch’s turn to cradle his head. “Archer, what have you done? You heard that priestess – she said we’d made a deal with her goddess. We’re in big, big trouble!” He cramped his fists into his head, then looked up and said, “All right, not all’s lost. She thinks we’re some noble folks. So we’ll just go back to being simple Archer and Sirch, and we’ll deal with –“

“Shut up!” Archer cried, hastily digging through a pile of various eating utensils, then yelled triumphantly when he located an inkwell. “See if you can find some empty paper. And a quill!”

“Archer, you said yourself, there is no time for –“

“And you believe me?” the playwright-to-be grunted. “Get a priest to cure this hang-over, we ought to have plenty of money left for that. Oh, and find out if the priest can keep me from sleeping for a month, I don’t have time for that nuisance.”

 

 

“Your coffee, your excellency,” Sirch said with a bow as he put the cup over-ceremoniously on the table next to Archer.

“We did it, you know.”

“What did we do, your excellency?” Sirch beamed.

Archer hurried to drink the coffee, burned his tongue, but ignored the pain as he downed the cup in quick sips. “The plays for the Grenage temple, remember?”

The part-elf’s chipper attitude evaporated in seconds. “Too well,” he muttered. “Whatever makes you think of that now? Oh… Right. Etiam – A Fool’s Comedy. The one that tore the roof down at the temple.” Sirch sat down on the table. “I had thought you’d gotten her out of your system with that.”

“You don’t forget the love of your life.”

“Don’t you hate clichés like that? Hrolfwald of Keroull wrote about that all the time, didn’t he?”

Archer looked curiously across the room. “You’re getting better at insults, Sirch.”

“A master in the art taught me,” Sirch half-smiled.

An evil grin took hold on the playwright’s lips as he responded in an easy flood of words, “Yet it took you nigh upon a century to grasp the basic functions of the art, despite your master’s best intentions, and his hard, tiring work to instruct that vapor-laden hole some would call a head.”

Sirch grimaced. “You just can’t stop, can you?”

There was no response for a moment. Outside, the seagulls cried their morning song, and the waves tirelessly crashed against the cliffs. The light shining through the windows was not very bright, it had to fight its way through a thick layer of clouds in the sky, sure precursers of stormy rain to come.

Finally, Archer got up from his chair, glanced remorsefully at the empty cup of coffee, then started walking across the room. “Sometimes I think that I should stop. A wish merrily asked for, the gods might easily grant, but ward their demands, they’ll leave you sore.

 

 

There was a balcony at the top of the house, in a spire decorated with reliefs depicting historical scenes. From a distance, as close as standing on the front porch, only the sharpest eye could discern that the slight patterns on the spire were reliefs, so softly were they engraved into the stone. On the balcony, several were easy to see, showing the conquest of Arrufat by the heathen Tonomai and the valiant effort to wrench it away from the unbelievers. Right below, there were scenes about Cayaboré’s history, and so many more, along the rounded forty-yard length of the spire, telling the tale of the world in rich detail. It seemed that only the gulls could enjoy the depictions, but there was a harness secured below the balcony, much like the one Sirch had used to retrieve the sheet of parchment from the cliff. With the harness, one could descend along the spire and be inspired – a pun that Archer had always enjoyed telling.

In their first decades on Milonisi, the two of them had spent many evenings on the balcony, talking about the plays and stories, and how they should develop, how they should grow to the fruition they so richly deserve. Over time it had fallen into disuse. Sirch ventured there occasionally, sometimes wistfully remembering those happy, hopeful times; sometimes considering his own life, that matched Archer’s in so many ways; sometimes armed with a broom to clean off seagull’s presents.

Now Archer had returned to the balcony, sitting on its edge, his legs dangling over the side, and his arms resting on the banister as he watched the sea run against the rocky shore seventy yards below. His face was expressionless, and his eyes seemed not to see anything aside from the eternal rush of the waves. There was a small fleet of boats out on the sea, with their sails dyed in many various colors, the weekly regatta of the summertime. One very large ship trailed the racing boats at a goodly distance, filled to the brim with spectators who cheered on their favorites.

“She really is gone, isn’t she, Sirch?” Archer said after a while.

Sirch frowned in surprise. He’d thought that the playwright hadn’t noticed him when he came to the balcony, sitting crosslegged next to the entrance. Now he sighed, looking at his eternal enemies (the gulls) in the sky. “From this world, yes.”

The playwright nodded. “A mortal man could find rejoice in that, don’t you think? He could say, ‘Oh, death. It is no more than a passage into the world of the Divine. She has preceded me, but it shall not take more than a few days or weeks or months before I shall meet Decirius’ messenger myself. His black hand I will joyously take, so that he guides me on to my judgement, and to the blessed reunion with her whom I love.’”

“Should I write that down?” Sirch commented.

“Perhaps it’s an epitaph. Perhaps mine.”

Sirch grinned. “I doubt that. Decirius still hasn’t forgiven you for The Old Man’s Conversation with the Messenger of Death.”

“I could force his hand,” Archer said, staring forlorn at the cliffs below. “Slip under the banister, fall down, beat the sea with my body, let the waves thrash me and drive my soul up into the heavens.”

“Why?” Sirch asked drily.

The word stood in the air, as if the voice had painted it onto the sky. The gulls seemed to follow the curves of the letters, enhancing the question.

With the waves continuing their dour song, finally Archer said, “What is there left to look forward to? I have lost her.”

“Say her name. It’s been long enough that we only called her she.”

“What’s in a name?” Archer mumbled. “It’s a precious gift, a marker of the soul, but oh so easily bestowed by parents who have no idea what the child shall be in years to come. Did you know that her name means love? How fitting, and how inescapable.”

“Say her name.”

A seagull coursed low over the balcony, as if seeing how to deposit its special present in the most uncomfortable manner, then the bird settled on the top of the spire, gazing down with interest at the humans.

Archer sighed.

“Etiam.”

The seagull cried, then lifted off from the spire and rushed away to join its brethren in the sky.

“Sirch, did I ever mention what my mother always told me when love’s aspiration was dashed? She said that other mothers have pretty daughters as well.”

“What of it?”

“I will see the daughters become mothers themselves. I will hear them tell this to their own sons. And I will see the daughters of the daughters give life to another generation, yet I myself will remain a young man, with the desires and hopes and foolishness of youth embedded in my heart.”

“I know.”

“Do you?” Archer swiveled his head to look at Sirch. “You’re a quarter elven. You haven’t yet exceeded your ordinary life’s span. You might have been old now, a wizened one-hundred-two year old quarter-elf, but there’d still be a few years in store for you. I, on the other hand, am twice as old as most human beings in this world.”

Sirch shook his head. “But I am not an old man, Archer. I am as fixed in time as you are.”

“Yes, you’re right.” The playwright shook his head, studying the other man for a few moments before turning his gaze back to the ocean outside. “I caught you in the same trap that I am stuck in. A man shouldn’t do that to his friend.”

“That’s the first time in thirty years that you’ve called me your friend.”

“It is?” Archer blinked. “I thought that…” He shook his head, then withdrew his legs from the edge, turned around and sat as crosslegged as Sirch. “I am sorry. It’s been so easy to treat you as a servant, I guess, and… Have the adolations really gotten to my head that much?”

Sirch raised an eyebrow and crooked his head. “You mean, Archer Melt the Divine? The Greatest Playwright in the Known World? He Who Turns the Coldest Hearts? The Songbird of Wordsmiths? Do you mean something like that?”

Archer smiled, an odd moment of humbleness. “Something like that, yes. Except, what was that about a songbird? I can’t remember that one right now.”

“Peyano called you that. The dwarf actor. Most of the dwarven race have taken to calling you by that name.”

“It seems that dwarves have more taste than their rock music would allude to.”

Sirch let that comment pass. The playwright knew very well that Sirch kept magical recordings of dwarven music in his quarters and would listen to such musicians as Raubzaumby every now and then, terrorizing the seagulls with the volume of the songs.

They sat on the balcony for some while longer, looking quietly at each other. Finally Sirch broke the silence and said softly, “I am here to talk to, Archer. Whenever you need someone to talk to.”

“A friend?” the playwright responded with a gentle smile. “Thank you, Sirch. But,” he slowly got to his feet, “I don’t need any more words right now. You know what, Sirch? I’ve finally found the last line for my play. I’ll go down to my study, write it in – provided that you have kept the inkwell fresh -, and then I shall pack my bags. There should be a ship headed for Fowgelstadt today, and I can surely find a carriage afterwards.”

“You’re going to the funeral?” Sirch asked a bit surprised.

“Right,” Archer nodded. “Send a magiscribe to her son. I’d bet a thousand coins of gold that he’s already arranged to wait for me. He is his father’s son, no wonder that she chose the bloody Ibrollenian.” He shook his head wistfully. “It’ll be a month lost of immortality. I think I shall enjoy being a mortal man again, if only for a while, and I will say my good-bye to her. To Etiam, the woman named love.”

Archer walked by his friend, playfully kicking Sirch’s legs, then vanished into the spire.

The part-elf stayed on the balcony, wondering whether it had been his words that had brought about the change. The seagulls continued their dance, and one sent a rather special – though crude – message to the balcony, barely missing Sirch’s clothes. “All right, all right,” the part-elf muttered, “I’m happy that he’s coming to his senses. No need to push it, all right? Archer’s the megalomaniac here, not me.”

The gulls gave no sign that they had heard his words, and Sirch shook his head. He was getting old as well. Talking to birds, now, really. One of these days it could be him sitting on the balcony, waxing in silly words about the meaning of life. By the Eternal Forest of his ancestors (grand-paternally), he hoped that Archer would kick him off the spire if that ever happened.

Some minutes passed, then Sirch saw Archer leaving the house, with his cloak and a small bag of change clothes slung over his back. “Have a good journey, my friend,” he mumbled. “One day you’ll see her again, in this world or another.” Then he sighed, got up and went down to the playwright’s study, to see about that last line. Certainly Archer had only scribbled it down, barely legible, and it would be up to Sirch to copy it into something that a printer could decipher.

He was stunned when he saw that the final words were written clearly, each letter perfectly drawn on the parchment. And then he shook his head with a smile when he read the words themselves. “You’re a sentimental fool, Archer. I have no idea what the gods see in you.”

Sirch added the parchment to the pile of already finished sheets, containing the bulk of the play, then carried them over to the magical appliance that would see the sheets’ contents copied and sent out to the printer. Within a week, he guessed, theater companies all around Gushémal would pay hefty prices to get copies of the play – and then they would race for the honor to be the first troupe performing it.

He had to admit that he was rather looking forward to seeing it performed – though not under the direction of Jaros Vancher. Sirch would never admit to Archer that he shared his despise for that director – after all, they never agreed on anything, did they? -, but the man was an utter fool.

“Whatever,” Sirch muttered, then retrieved the sheet with the last line, placed it back on the desk in the same spot where it had been before and left the study.

There was a single line on the sheet, devoted to the main character’s last speech in the play.

“All I have left in life is a friend. That, believe me, is a good end.”

 

T H E   E N D