by K Griffin ©
"The solitary searcher is more single-minded. Seek
an extract from the Tenets of
The noise assaulted her ears. The heat and smell was like a physical force pressing her back out into the cold night. She paused in the rough-hewn doorway for a moment, firming her resolve to enter this rustic tavern. A greenish haze filled the room, burning her eyes as she tried to peer into the barely perceptible recesses of the room. She was looking for a quiet space, where her tired and aching body could relax in relative safety. She forced her way past the drunken crowd that hovered near the doorway and made her way deeper into the tavern. She ignored the hands that mauled her and pushed her way towards the hearth. At first, Chrys thought it was the smoke from the green wood that had kept the space around the fire clear of crowds, but then she saw the silent figure. He was hunched alone at the table nearest to the fire. It seemed none were brave enough to break into the circle of solitude that surrounded him. Chrys, however, didnít hesitate. Entering the circle was like entering a peaceful oasis. She reached the fire and breathed a sigh of relief.
From the secure haven of the hearth, she turned and surveyed the room. The noisy taproom of this tavern was really no different to many she had been forced to brave. The long wooden bench that served as the bar was no more battered and scarred than most, and the clientele was the same. It was the usual mix of tired quiet travellers and noisy brash drunks and the Inn Keeper presided over it all with an iron rule. He was a solid square of muscle, as wide as he was tall, with a bluff friendly face half-hidden behind a red bushy beard. His smile never wavered, but she also noticed that the smile did not always reach his eyes. Many a drinker cast a quick sideways glance at the big barman, as an argument grew heated. She also noticed that he seldom intervened, instead allowing a word, a nod or a new pot of his home brew to ease any rising tensions amongst the patrons of the tavern.
However the man closest to her was different. He took no part in the discussions, nor did he seek any tacit approval for his actions from the Inn Keeper. She stole a glance at his stern face, studying the tall, dark, silent figure. A heavy cloak was wrapped around him, despite his position close to the fire. She caught glimpses of richer clothing beneath the cloak. She found herself fascinated by the aura she sensed from him, of loneliness, of anger. A prickle of warning ran down her spine. This dark stranger had an aura that screamed danger. She understood why the tavern revellers stayed clear, but she was too tired to run any more tonight.
Chrys huddled in a corner near the fire. She hoped to remain inconspicuous and make the most of the opportunity to let the warmth thaw her cold and tired limbs. She gazed into the fire, mesmerised. Red tongues of flame danced and licked their way up and down the smaller branches and the fire crackled and hissed as sap in the green wood exploded. A log collapsed, its centre eaten through by the hungry flames, and the sudden burst of sparks was like a shower of shooting stars. Chrys felt her eyelids droop but she was sure that the nagging hunger pains would keep her awake. "By the grace of Helena, how long since I ate last?" she wondered to herself.
"You are hungry little one and I am not. You may wish to finish this." a deep voice commented.. There was a pause then the deep timbre of the voice continued, "Little one, are you ill?".
Chrys liked that voice, deep, but tentative and a little gruff, as though unsure of its reception. She closed her eyes, hearing the concern in the voice, wandering in her thoughts. In a waking dream, halfway between sleep and awareness, she imagined how it would feel to no longer be alone, to have someone who cared enough to worry about her. She smiled, losing herself for a moment in the harmless fantasy of her dreams and then someone gripped her shoulder.
With a gasp, Chrys snapped fully awake and leapt to her feet, her hand reaching for her dagger. Who? And then an iron hand clamped around her wrist. "Never draw a weapon on me little one, unless you plan to die" the deep voice growled. The strength of his grip brought tears to her eyes, but she blinked them away. With more defiance than she felt, she raised her eyes to his and managed to say, "You touched me, my Lord?" The rest of the words froze in her throat as her eyes were locked with his. Feeling like a trapped animal, she glimpsed death and fainted.
Skye Bloodsworn, whom many called the Red Prince of Darkness, gave an exasperated sigh. He caught the waif as she fell. She was as thin as he had thought. Castigating himself for a foolish noble gesture, he hoisted her up into his arms amidst smothered snickers from the Tavern. She was not the child he had assumed her to be, although she hid it well under that full length caped cloak. He frowned and looked around and no-one dared hold his gaze. Sadly he knew he could do whatever he wanted with this woman-child. No-one here would lift a finger to help her.
With a growl, he stalked to the bar and the path magically cleared in front of him. "Yo, Hergoth, send my food to my room", he commanded. He almost sneered as he saw the relief on the Inn Keeper's face and heard the grovelling assurances that it would be done, that he would be left in peace, that he would be left alone. Alone? Of course he would be left alone. He'd been alone even in the crowded Tap Room.
As he left the bright warm room he heard the hum of conversation restart. He should be used to it by now but tonight it bothered him. Why was he in such a melancholy mood? He looked at the waif in his arms, confused as to why he still held her.
He climbed the rickety stairs and made his way along the dark hallway. He opened the door to his room. It was a dingy little room. Hergoth put little effort into making his rooms pleasant, since most of the lodgers shared the big communal space next to the Tap Room. A tiny window let some air in through the thick hessian nailed across it. A shelf beneath the window held a cracked water jug and a candle. The room didn't boast a real bed, just a large lumpy pallet on the floor. In the far corner, a stool completed the room's furnishings. The room did however boast a large wooden bar, to lock the door against intruders. It made the room private.
Skye laid the woman-child on the straw pallet and perched uncomfortably on the stool to wait. Soon enough he heard the tentative scraping at the door that signalled the arrival of his food. "Enter", he growled. The house serving-boy inched his way into the room. He held a heavy tray loaded with food and drink. Hergoth was obviously not risking Skye returning to the taproom for more sustenance. The boy gave a strange parody of a bow before launching into a description of the night's fare. "My Lord, the stew tonight, is made from the finest venison, killed by my own uncle for the Inn. Mistress praised his eye, saying that none can choose better the meat for her pot. She exclaimed at its tenderness all day as she baked the bread and kept everyone out of the kitchen for fear that it would disappear as the temptation to taste became too much. I managed one taste before she caught me and sent me out to clean the stables. She's promised to save a serving for me though." Skye watched the boy quizzically for a moment as the nervous babbling continued. He was sure that if he waited long enough, he'd have the boy's whole family history, his daily routine and his hopes for the future, imparted without the boy even pausing to take a breath. Finally in self defence, Skye waved vaguely towards the shelf. The boy gratefully dumped the tray on the shelf before backing out of the room. Skye carefully slipped the wooden bar into place, locking the door against further intrusion. He then returned to the stool to wait.
He lay the woman-child on the straw pallet and perched uncomfortably on the stool to wait. Soon enough he heard the tentative scraping at the door that signalled the arrival of his food. "Enter" he growled. The house serving boy crept into the room holding a tray of food. Skye waved vaguely towards the shelf. The boy gratefully dumped the tray on the shelf before backing out of the room. Skye carefully slipped the wooden bar into place, locking the door, then returned to the stool to wait.
When he had laid the woman-child down on the pallet her hood had fallen back exposing her face fully. He studied her face now. She was beautiful though he doubted many ever got to see her full beauty. He already knew how wide and blue those eyes were. He'd seen them wide with fear. They dominated her face so that at first glance you failed to notice the delicate bone structure, the perfectly shaped lips, and the golden hair framing the face. The hair was matted and tousled, and worn loose it contributed to that child waif appearance. There was no doubt that she was at least part elf, a rare race in these parts of Theran. His reverie was broken by her soft groan. He saw her draw her knees up as though in pain, but he refrained from touching her. "Twas my touch that brought her to this state" was the bitter thought that crossed his mind.
Chrys drifted back to consciousness slowly and reluctantly. In her halfway dream world, she knew she was lying down. She even knew it was not the usual hard ground or earth. She sensed a brooding presence, but no danger.
It was the smell of food that finally defeated her and a muffled groan escaped her lips as hunger pains hit. She opened her eyes and attempted to calmly survey her surrounds. She might have fooled him with her calm exterior, though she doubted it. She certainly didn't fool herself. Chrys forced herself to sit up. She felt dishevelled and dirty and the smell of the food made her stomach complain loudly. She lowered her gaze, embarrassed as the noise filled the silence. Having lowered her gaze, she couldn't find the courage to raise her eyes again. She felt, rather than saw the movement in the room. She could sense no malice though and that was the one sense she did trust, but still she could not look. She closed her eyes in an attempt to focus herself and when she opened them, a tray of food lay beside her.
She suppressed an impish grin. Once she might have wondered if she'd loosed the wild magic in her sleep. Wild magic could grant her innermost desire, but this night, she knew she had the tall enigmatic stranger to thank. Without thinking her hand reached for the crusty bread and she dipped it in the steaming broth. The bread was in her mouth before she even realised what she was doing. This time she went scarlet at her rudeness. Chrys clambered to her feet, stumbling over both her cloak and her words as she tried to apologise.
The stranger simply stepped forward and in one deft motion undid the clasp at her throat. Her cloak fell to the floor revealing her threadbare incongruous clothes beneath. He looked thoughtful for a moment then stepped back. Finally he spoke "Tis safe to eat, little one"
Neither spoke again until Chrys had finished wolfing down the food. The broth warmed her insides and the strips of meat were tough but nourishing. The crusty bread was irresistible. She had intended to save some to offer back to him but it seemed to just disappear, to melt in her mouth. She had been so absorbed in simply eating that she had almost forgotten the stranger. His words when they finally came, startled her a little. His voice was soft and gentle and it seemed as though he was talking more to himself than her as he murmured "Will you talk now little one, or will you run?"
Chrys simply stood and gracefully dropped into a deep curtsey. The humour and lightness had returned to her voice as she said with a touch of irony 'As you command, my Lord, I am in your debt'. She waited for his reply. None came. The silence lengthened. She sensed the tension return to him. In a twinkling the gentle stranger had gone and when she looked up she knew she would find that the brooding dark mood had settled upon him again. She looked up to find his gaze rivetted upon the small tattoo above her left breast which her deep and graceful curtsey had exposed to his view. She reached for her cloak and hurriedly pulled it around her.
The stranger seemed to have difficulty speaking, and his deep voice shook as he managed just one word "Triskellian?"
The hate and anger in that one word hit Chrys with such force that she took a step back. She looked at him then with all the dignity she could muster and quietly said "I, my Lord, am simply Chrys".
She saw him clench his fists tightly as though fighting for control. Then he raised one hand as though to touch that ugly mark that branded her. She remained motionless. Finally, he lowered the half raised arm and turned away from her. The strain was still evident in his voice as he said "You're right little one, I apologise."
Chrys sighed and said "I am sorry, My Lord. Truly, I would explain if I could, but I have no past." Musingly, almost to herself, she added "at least, not one that I can really remember."
The pale winter sun had long since set. The dancing evening star was just slipping below the horizon. The full moons were starting to dominate the night sky. It was a night for the hunters, not the hunted. The night noises all came from outside though, since even the most persistent revellers in the Tap Room had called it a night and retired or collapsed in a drunken stupor.
The two figures in the tiny room above the Tap Room were far from asleep. Chrys loved the night; loved being wrapped in the cloak of the night shadows. She sat calmly watching the dark figure pace the room. The night seemed to be his natural element too, but in a different way. It didn't seem to bring him peace, rather it fed his life force. He seemed to burn with energy. It almost seemed that the locked door kept him in, rather than kept intruders out. Chrys finally spoke. Her soft voice seemed to float across the room "I'll talk, my Lord, not run.....or I can listen"
He nodded and turned to look at her. She couldn't make out his expression in the gloom. He sat on the stool. Although he looked uncomfortable, the discomfort seemed to focus him.
He began with the simple words "I am Skye Bloodsworn".
It was as though a floodgate had opened. It was a tortured tale of love, family, loss and hate. There was pain in his voice as he recounted the deaths of those who had loved him. But there was virulent hate each time he mentioned the recurring enemy in his life, these Triskellians.
Skye explained that they were not truly a race, since they conquered and absorbed so many races. They were a decadent and amoral people, wallowing in their lusts for power and pleasure. They were so sated by now, that she could hardly comprehend the sadistic tortures they inflicted on the conquered cities. Her mind shut down in horror each time she tried to envisage the story he related to her.
Eventually his words trailed off into silence. He seemed shocked to see tears streaming down her cheeks. He stood and abruptly turned his back. His deep voice was shaking slightly as he said "I'm sorry little one, I did not mean to scare you. I don't know what force made me say so much tonight." He stood as though staring out the window, but there was nothing to see through the hessian cover.
Chrys shook her head vehemently as she hurriedly brushed the tears away, then realised he'd turned his back and couldn't see her. It was the first word she had spoken in some time and it cracked in her dry throat and came out much louder than she intended "NO!". Chrys stood awkwardly, feeling the blood rush back into her limbs. She laid a hand gently on his arm and repeated softly "no"
"Its a curse, my curse, to feel other's pain, and there has been so much in your life." she explained softly. "Forgive the presumption, My Lord".
He turned and looked at her quizzically and asked "Who are you really?"
Chrys sighed. "I truly do not know, my Lord, though I think that once I was far more powerful than I am now". Chrys shivered as she continued almost in a whisper "Sometimes, a wild magic courses through my veins, and I think, once long ago, I could command it. I think, there is something terrible in my past, that my mind protects me from." Her shoulders drooped a little as she added "and something terrible in my future. I think I need to confront that past, to survive the future ".
Her impish grin returned. Chrys said "You are in my future too, my Lord".
Instead of laughing with her, his voice was soft and serious "You can see the future? Am I the terrible thing?"
Chrys matched his mood and replied "No my Lord, no to both questions. What I can do is sense events or people who are important to my destiny."
He nodded sombrely. "So you wander...." he murmured, "alone."
Skye seemed lost in thought. Finally he frowned, closing his eyes tightly for a moment. He looked like a man coming to a painful decision. When he opened his eyes, he stepped forward, scooped her up effortlessly in his arms and laid her on the pallet. He spoke softly almost sadly, "Sleep well, my Lady Chrys. I'll be gone when you awake, but I'll watch over you till the morn. I journey into the Mountains tomorrow and it's a journey I must do alone" he finished regretfully.