Kinslayer Chronicle Part 3
And so it goes.
Chapter 2 – The Stony Entrance
Once across the threshold, his escort pressed the heavy door shut. Once in place, she lowered the latch and on this side the traveller could see that it was much larger than any he had expected. A curious mechanical device was fastened that allowed the latch to be raised and secured so the door could be moved by its own weight.
“For the storms,” she said. “It wouldn’t do to have your door slam open and a great shower of leaves to ruin everything you’ve got inside.”
Once the latch was fixed, she turned, carrying his staff about the room. She opened the storm lantern, removing the stub of what remained of the candle and lighting a few mounted about the space. Soon, the supports glowed a soft orange, dancing shadows over the long tables and benches filling the hall. The traveller could tell that this was an inn. His escort blew out the candle, placed it back in the lantern and handed the traveller back his staff.
“Welcome to the Stone Swan.”
“Is this establishment yours?” he asked incredulously.
“Does this place look like it was built by a woman?”
As she shook off her cloak, he took better stock of the hall. Most of the furniture and structure was crafted from the characteristic dark Naupstern hardwood. But much of the adornments appeared to be imported dark charcoal wood. Even the stones were blackened slate, creating a strange black on black on black design that was a confusing mass of the shade. The execution wasn’t even pleasing.
The decorations didn’t bode well either. Black polished mounting boards lined the walls. The grisly heads of gruesome beasts hung like a macabre trophy room. Weapons appeared rather neglected in between, their edges worn from use but dulled from a lack of maintenance. Which was a pity, for many were exotic arms gathered from across the realms. Curved swords and elegant bardiches hung against the dark frames. A small collection of rondel daggers with a particularly long and intimidating misericorde hung over the bar. There was a pair of stylish katars, a simple cinquedae, an enormous zweihander, several flails of various design, a pernach, guisarme, partisan and swordstaff. A sling, bow and pile of chakram hung on pegs and seemed to cover the ranged necessity.
While the collection was expansive, one element tied them all together. They were all favoured darkly, either their pommel stones and wraps or the wood and steel used for their construction were various hues and shades of the familiar black. And while many looked expensive and well-crated, none showed any affection after their acquisition.
In fact, the only thing that appeared to gleam with polished reverence was a collection of bottles behind the counter.
Ultimately, it didn’t look good.
The traveller turned back to his escort to find her laying her cloak over a table and fetching a pair of needle point pliers to begin picking at the leaves still caught in the heavy fabric. She motioned to the bench across from her as she worked, slowly wriggling the offending pieces free.
“They’re barbed with the smallest of hooks,” she explained. “Simply trying to fetch them out with your fingers will leave them embedded in your tips. You also need to work them carefully, least they catch while you’re teasing them free and tear the whole cloth.”
The traveller looked down at his own hand, the needles protruding grisly.
She didn’t even look up for her response.
“I started a fire in the back while you were looking around. Once the water is boiled, we’ll be able to tend to your cuts. Don’t worry, I have some thread and a needle and we’ll get the worse closed up before we set you to bed.”
She dropped one of the leaves into a small tin before turning to the next.
“Who… are you?”
“I could ask you the same. And seeing that you’re a foreigner to these parts, I feel mine would be more pertinent.”
“You don’t seem particularly local to me,” the traveller said.
That seemed to catch her attention as the pliers paused in her hand.
“Firstly, your accent is not accurate,” he explained. “It’s clear you’ve come to Janogradt recently. Your inflection still holds a hint of a southern land but nothing too distinct. I would gather a traveller or wanderer, even possibly from the City of Roads but it doesn’t sound that confused. Your clothes, barring that curious cloak, don’t seem local either. And given the slow trade that comes up these parts nowadays, it would suggest either you’re incredibly affluent or you acquired them in cheaper markets.”
She pursed her lips, laying down the pliers and regarding him carefully. Her eyes remained cool but her nostrils flared slightly, hinting at her annoyance.
“And you are a fool and a coward,” she said. “You bumble into danger, wholly unaware of the situations you enter, then immediately surrender to the first sign of trouble you encounter. It is a deadly mix of short sightedness and carelessness that will only lead you to an early grave.”
“It’s true what they say about Janogradt hospitality.”
He stood, trying to mask the pain still claiming his hand and moved towards the door. He got to the latch, struggling with the mechanism. But though he pulled on the handle, the contraption didn’t move. He jerked harder and harder against the iron but it rattled uselessly.
It wasn’t until he turned towards the window that she spoke.
“The storm will likely last night – a hidden blessing. I suggest you take the ‘Janogradt hospitality’ that you jeer and stay until it’s clear. Then you can see yourself safely on your way to whatever highway banditry you seek.”
“I am not looking to be robbed!” he exclaimed. “I am trying to get to Talarheim.”
“Yes, you’ve mentioned that,” she said, turning back to her work. “And if you weren’t so pig-headed you would realize that you’ve already arrived.”
“This is it then?” he exclaimed, his face searching about the inn once more. “This is the place?!”
“Well, I suppose the village is really out the door but I’d wait for morning until finishing that leg.”
The traveller hurried to a table, depositing his satchel upon it and struggling to free the latch. The woman was upon her feet immediately, hurrying to his side and easing him away from his things. He tried to protest but she led him back to a bench, talking over his outcries.
“We must addressed that hand first. I won’t have you make my job more difficult through impatience.”
But the traveller fidgeted upon his seat.
“Is this it then? Is this the inn of Talarheim?”
A whistle from the back drew her attention and she crossed the hall looking about the beams and supports.
“I suppose it is. Though I don’t reckon what sort of reputation would draw distant strangers to its hold.”
She moved into the back and he could hear her working beyond as she gathered her implements for the coming operation. The traveller raised his voice.
“The master of this place, is he here? Can you direct me to him?”
A few pots clattered.
“So far, I’m not of any mind to assist you. You still haven’t given me a name, stranger.”
She emerged with hands full and he scrambled to his feet rushing to her side. He attempted to assist with her load but she shrugged him aside and carried the large vessel of steaming water with a cloth soaking within. She had another container underneath her arm and she dropped that first before setting down the pot.
“I am a Chronicler,” he said slowly. “I seek to document in detail the information and lives of those that shape the history around us. So often people give to the bard’s tales, more entertained by their exaggeration and dramatic flair than in the true actions and events that inspire the stories. If we were left to nought but their songs, I fear what would be lost.”
“Perhaps there is more value in a story than the real event,” she dismissed, directing him to his seat.
The Chronicler shook his head.
“I disagree. Years from now, when those that come after us turn to our records, I feel they will want an accurate portrayal of what happened. Stories give us little but entertainment but there is much that can be learned in accurate documentation.”
She took his hand gently in hers, fingers careful to avoid the bloodied leaves.
“And what truth would send you so deep into Janogradt?”
She pressed his hand into the boiled water and he gave a great shout. Reflexively, he tried to pull his hand free, but she kept it submerged. Even though her fingers were in the hot water, she didn’t seemed bothered despite the searing pain tearing his.
“Don’t bite your tongue,” she warned.
He gritted his teeth, his body squirming and writhing as the pain encompassed his thoughts forcing all else out. But her warning was heeded and he retracted his tongue as far as he could though he could feel his skin sweating from the heat.
But she didn’t relent and as time began to pass, the initial shock began to fade. While his hand still stung, it no longer felt like his flesh was melting from his bones. He looked into the pot and saw a filthy reddish muck tainted the once pristine water. And as his muscles relaxed, he could feel her grip ease. He looked up at her, but found instead of the cold, austere exterior there was a softer, almost concerned face watching his closely.
He took a slow breath.
“I seek the Kinslayer.”
It was a reveal he hadn’t anticipated needing until the proper time. But there was little escape for him now. So much of the truth was already out that little could be gained by holding the rest.
“And you think to make your discovery here?”
“It’s what I’ve been led to believe. ‘Seek the lonely inn in distant Talarheim and you will find what you desire.’”
She looked to his hand, raising it from the water and turning it with gentle pressure upon his wrist. Satisfied with what she found, she pulled the damp cloth from the pot and rested it on the wood, placing his hand on top.
“Now, try not to move.”
She fetched her pliers then pulled an end of bench over. With precision, she grasped the protruding edge of the leaf and began to work it free. While she wiggled, the Chronicler could feel fresh stabs of pain course through his hand, but it was weaker than before and the damp liquid seemed to numb much of his sensations.
“It’s not as bad as it was,” he observed.
“I wouldn’t expect it too. I put in some alcohol and boiled some rudimentary medicine in it to help. We needn’t fear a dirty wound once we’re done.”
The first needle came free with a jolt of pain and she watched his reaction briefly before depositing the leaf in her tin and moving to the next. A silence feel between them as she worked. It was an awkward stranger to the Chronicler and he worried that perhaps he would have to be more direct to get his question answered.
“Well,” he began, “do you know if he’s here?”
“Who?” she asked, looking up. “Ah, your Kinslayer.”
She looked back down to her work, plucking the next leaf free before responding. Her lips scrunched up in brief thought and she shook her head.
“Can’t say I rightly do.”
“What of the innkeeper. Do you know him well?”
“Him?” she laughed. Then she paused, thinking to herself. “Well, I suppose I am not overly familiar with him.”
“Do you think he is the Kinslayer?”
“The legendary warrior who is said to have slain demons, rescued princesses, brought down kings and murdered their own blood?”
A smile played at her lips as if a great joke had been made. After a few moments she shrugged.
“I suppose there are stranger things in this world of ours. But if you truly seek the Kinslayer, don’t you think it will be a little difficult? What with the Kinslayer supposedly in hiding and presumed dead?”
“It may only be rumour,” the Chronicler said, “but there is little else to follow. So much of his story is untold. So much of it has been fabricated and slandered. It is my only wish to get the truth, from his own lips if able.”
“And what makes you think this version will be any more true than what others say?”
“Well, for one, I suspect he didn’t eat children.”
She laughed, pulling free another leaf.
“Perhaps you are right. Once I have finished with your hand I shall see to your room. In the morning you can meet with the keeper and determine for yourself if he is what you seek or not.”
“Well, he is likely sleeping now,” she replied. “And I have no intention of dealing with him in such a state. That’s my offer, Chronicler. You can take it, or I could toss you out to the stables until the morning then charge you for it.”
The Chronicler bristled but held back a retort.
“Good, now keep very still, this one is a mite tricky.”