Kinslayer Chronicle Part 4
I’m halfway through my NaNo novel. I’m even somehow ahead of schedule this time. Which is weird. I’ve never been ahead of schedule. What is this bizarre feeling?
Chapter 3 Part 1 – The Hero with no Name
The Chronicler awoke to find a thin shaft of light working its way through the thick storm shutters. Dust drifted in small flakes beneath its heavenly shine, like tiny faeries dancing in their own little domain. He shifted upon the bed, the wood creaking beneath him.
It hadn’t been the most comfortable sleep he’d ever had. The storm outside raged long into the night. The shutters clattered and banged against their restraints. Things scratched and struck at them in the darkness. Alone in the small room, it was easy for the imagination to wander and for fearsome conjurations to take form on the other side of those thin walls. He couldn’t shake the dangerous weapon his escort had worn or the peculiar sounds he’d heard in those last minutes along the road. The need for such a device and the stories of this land created terrifying thoughts that kept him watchful long into the night
It didn’t help that he could have sworn he’d heard the lock click as he was helped into his room.
He slipped his sore feet from beneath the scratchy wool blankets. He tried to stretch the muscles, raising the toes into the light and wincing at the purple discolouration painted across his flesh. His ankle in particular seemed quite dark and tender. He dropped them upon the matted fur of some creature’s hide stretched across the floor. He sucked in breath as he raised himself erect. His feet protested. Now that they had some decent rest, they were prepared to decry every single step of his long journey north.
Limping, he gathered his clothes haphazardly strewn over the small table. Once he’d slipped into his breeches, he moved to the window. At first he examined his hand in the light. It still throbbed from the operation the night prior, but the swelling had gone down and it was mostly a bright pink with faint scratching. He tested it against the window, lifting the pane and struggling to push open the shutters.
Talarheim opened to him as the thick wood clattered against the inn’s side. The brisk morning wind sent shivers down his naked torso and he scurried back to fetch his stained shirt. He returned to the window, slightly more protected and more eager for a peaceful start to his day. He leaned against the sill, looking out over the village beneath.
The Crossroads wove straight through the settlement and most of the important buildings were arranged along its side. From his vantage spot, the Chronicler could see the smithy directly across from him. The bellows were already stoking, a thick cloud of smoke raising and twisting into the sky above. Within its stone enclosure came the ringing of a hammer pounding against its anvil. A fire crackled and water hissed and steamed as the smith and his apprentices worked.
Down the street walked women with baskets heading towards the small cluster of resting wagons with their horses tied nearby. The village market was an open air gathering of makeshift stalls erected about some worn and tumbled ancient stones. It formed a natural circle and appeared as if the great road had punched a hole in its old outer rings, knocking aside any of the old standing stones that stood in its way. The Chronicler wondered if it was one of the ancient way-rings primitive tribes erected in ages long past. Few knew their original purpose. Some speculated they were sites of religious importance. Other scholars argued that they were portals connecting this world with another. Even more claimed they were part of a large nexus of arcane power stretched across the world, gathering interest of the wizards who dutifully studied any they came across.
Talarheim’s served simply as cheap posts or tables for enterprising merchants and farmers who stretched their foods and tools across the weathered rock or fastened large cloth tarps to protect from the wind and sun as they hawked their wares.
A few of the more permanent stalls hung dark and empty and many areas were completely bare with only the weeds rising to claim them. It was easy to imagine at one time the bustling business that happened within those moss covered rings. Few traders came this way now. There was just not enough business to be had. And there were only so many stalls that could sell the same scraggly ferns, clumps of moss and dark mushrooms.
Then there was the smell of the tannery. It was easily identified with the numerous wood racks outside keeping stretched the hides of whatever beasts the locals caught in the scrub land or woods. The scent of the liming drifted from the open door. This mixed with the stench of decay from the pieces removed and tossed in a pile near the exit. Likely, those were the remains of the morning’s work and would be disposed before the shop was closed.
But the most tantalizing sensation was the smell of fresh bread wafting in the air. It brought a grumble to the Chronicler’s stomach as he had little than the rations from the last village for many nights. And at this time, he couldn’t even remember when he’d passed through it.
He closed his window, finding his cowl and gathering up his satchel. He poked at the little holes left from the leaves that had found their way through. It was no surprise that the thick cloth of his escort’s cloak or adorning the front entrance of many buildings was a local craft. He couldn’t tell what it was made from as most were treated and dyed. But it was clear they were strong and thick to protect from the whirlwind of leaves that kicked up with the heavy winds. Possibly they were woven with the hairs of some local beast.
The Chronicler made a mental note to enquire about it later.
The stairs groaned as he descended. The main hall was empty though the candles from last night had already been replaced with fresh ones. Their wicks stuck straight in preparation for the evening. The fireplace had been shovelled and cleaned with fresh logs propped in a small mound inside. The windows were pushed open and the door sat wide letting a cool cross current to blow through.
There were no signs of the owner though he could hear sounds coming from the kitchen. Unsure what he should do, the Chronicler simply laid his satchel on a table and took a seat. He listened to the din beyond, wondering if a meal was being prepared. His stomach seemed to grow more ravenous over the thought of some cooked eggs, cheese and finely spiced porridge. But he realized that options were probably limited here and feared some sort of green, mushy monstrosity.
Eventually, his escort emerged with her face red and cheeks puffed as she breathed heavily. A kerchief had been tied about her head, keeping her long hair back from her face. She paused, seeing the Chronicler sitting patiently at the table. Her face then turned into a short frown.
“Should have said something!” she called, depositing a pile of dishes beneath the front counter. “Don’t know to feed you if I don’t even know whether you’re up or not.”
“That’s fine,” the Chronicler bristled. “I was just wondering if it was the master back there or not.”
“It’s not fine,” she sighed grabbing a mug and heading into the kitchen. A few more dishes and pans clattered before she emerged with a plate of cheese and rolls along with a full cup. She dropped them before him. “The fish’ll be done in a few.”
“This will do,” the Chronicler said, lifting the mug to his nose to test its contents. “I’m not even sure I can afford this.”
“Yes, what with your robberies and all,” she said. “Don’t worry, your room and board has been covered. We’ll just see if we can’t straighten out the wreck you’ve become or not. The fish’ll be done in a few.”
She didn’t even wait for a thank you before returning to the kitchen.
The Chronicler turned to his meal. The ale was passable but he was especially wary of the rolls. Though small and crisp, they were tinged a curious green-yellow and flecked with something darker. He picked one up, breaking it gently open. A soft steam rose from the fluffy interior though the scent was slightly woody despite the heavy presence of herbs. Slowly, he took one bite. Followed by another and then another. In no time his plate had been cleaned and he regarded the last piece when she emerged from the kitchen with a fish steaming in her hand.
“What is this?” he asked.
“Local speciality,” she said. “Close kept secret. We’d have to kill you or hire you if I were to tell.”
She dropped the fish briskly before him.
“Most travellers are best served not knowing. I’ve seen too many patrons turn up their nose after learning its secret.”
“So it’s made from those ferns?”
“Sutislauf,” she said. “Boil the sin from it, let it cool and you get a mush that you can bake. Add a few herbs and whatnot and you’ve got yourself some bread. Though considering how difficult it is to get, we aren’t apt to make whole loafs.”
“And what is sutislauf?”
“Leaves we gather from the corpses of animals in the forest,” she said simply before turning and walking away. “Or foolish travellers.”
And much like she predicted, the Chronicler had less interest in eating the remainder. The fish, however, seemed less likely to contain his own blood and he gladly finished that off with a silent promise to himself not to ask about anymore of the food.
Once done, he collected his plate and utensils, walking them to the kitchen. But she emerged before he could enter, looking at him questioningly. He held out his things.
“So, about the keeper?”
“He went out to get supplies,” she said, taking the plates.
But as she turned to head into the back room, he called out, “I don’t think I ever got a name.”
“You can ask when he gets back.”
“I mean yours,” the Chronicler said. He heard the plates clatter in the familiar manner before she appeared in the door once more.
“You can call me the help.”
“That’s not a name.”
“Neither is the Chronicler.”
“Why? So you can pen it in the margins of your great heroes? I won’t be your footnote, scribe.”
He could feel the past night’s frustration returning but he took a slow, deep breath. The northerners were known for their stubbornness and he knew he should have been more prepared. He let out his breath slowly, unclenching his fists.
“I just wanted to thank you. I realize that I would have been in ragged shape had you not found me last night and brought me here with nary a question or demand for recompense.”
And this bit of bold faced honesty seemed to catch her off-guard. She looked at the floor before turning back to him. And when she did, some of the prior agitation seemed to have washed from her face.
“Lafnis,” she said.
“Like the Aenir?”
“The gods touch our lives in many ways,” she replied. “But to head off any of the standard jests, no I haven’t seen the altar.”
“Well, it is a pleasure to meet you my Lady,” the Chronicler said with a bow. “As for myself, I am Nikola Tasservert.”
She looked slightly shocked.
“House Tasservert? Son of Archduke Karlisle Tasservert the III?”
“Ah, you have heard of me then,” the Chronicler said with a smile. “Though I’m surprised to hear that news from the Archduchy carries all the way up here. I would have thought such politics would not interest the northerners.”
“Yes well,” Lafnis shrugged, “we do get the odd rumour from time to time. And it’s not like the Fyrste’s throne provides much gossip for these halls.”
She gave a modest bow of her head. “My lord.”
The Chronicler shook dismissively.
“Please, I am just the lowly fourth child with really no claims or titles to be had. I prefer my work over any sort of expressed nobility. What I do now will carry far beyond any courtly intrigue that my brethren may busy themselves with.”
“Pity,” Lafnis sighed, “and for a moment I thought you might be able to repay for your lodgings. But, it looks like you are in luck. The master has returned.”