Kinslayer Chronicle Part 5
I’m on the third week of my NaNo novel and still ahead of the expected curve! Take that, Derek! And Kait! Also, something something Kinslayer Chronicle. Are you happy yet, SEO?
Chapter 3 Part 2 – The Hero with no Name
The Chronicler turned at the nod of her head to hear the sounds of heavy boots upon the floor. Stepping into the interior of the inn was a large man who paused for a moment, a great sack balanced upon his shoulder. He regarded the visitor and turned to the empty door.
“This him?” he called in a thick, southern voice. But when no answer came back, he simply set his parcel down with a heavy thud and stepped forward, large hand held out. “You must be our honoured guest!”
The Chronicler approached, taking the pro-offered hand. He looked the man up and down.
It wasn’t quite what he’d expected. Of course, the man had a wild shock of bright red hair, brighter than he’d ever seen before. His eyes seemed to shine like green emeralds in a chiseled face that smiled as if he were half hearing a joke only he knew. And though he was wide, it seemed he had started into his own stores of ale as the lip of his stomach began to spill over the hem of his pants. He wasn’t quite as tall as what the Chronicler expected either, but then stories and legends had a tendency for exaggeration.
“You must be the master of this establishment?”
“That I am!” he boomed, releasing the Chronicler’s hand from his crushing grip and wrapping his arm tightly about his shoulders while he pulled him in close. “And the Stone Swan is my most magnificent work yet! Would you not agree?”
He waved his hand over the dark upon dark interior, pausing only briefly at his glimmering collection of bottles as if they were meant to impress the most.
“It is like no inn I’ve ever entered before.”
“Or will again!” the keeper cried, bending over and scooping up his parcel. “And I’m so glad to hear that you’ve already paid through the next two nights as well. Always enjoy a good bit of business, especially in these trying times.”
“Two nights?” the Chronicler shook his head. “I really don’t think it will take that long. My business may not even be concluded.”
“And what business is that?” the keeper asked, carrying his load towards the back room.
“I am seeking the Kinslayer. For Scarlet Heather.”
The innkeeper paused. Slowly, he lowered his parcel before the doorway.
“For your nightly wanderings!” he called, rapping on the door. He turned back to the Chronicler, running a thick hand through his glowing hair. “What a curious quest. And why would you find the hero here?”
Lafnis appeared, untying the top of the parcel and looking inside as the keeper scratched at the makings of a rather haggard beard while awaiting his answer.
“There have been words and whispers – rumours carried on the wind – of an inn in far flung Janogradt. They say there is a man of foreign origins and flaming red hair who appeared from far off to live in quiet solitude. They even say he can sing a decent song or spin a hardy tale when the mood takes him too.”
“That hardly describes a great hero. It could be anyone,” the keeper said, his voice straining at some semblance of modesty. The Chronicler could see Lafnis rolling her eyes as she began to fetch the supplies stored with.
“Scarlet Heather is a curious name for a man,” she said, dragging the sack from view.
“I’ve heard it’s for the rugged land that he represents,” the Chronicler said. “For only someone as fearsome as the Kinslayer could herald from a world so barren and harsh that only the stubbornest of flowers can take root.”
“He would have to be well versed in weaponry,” the innkeeper mused, easing into one of his benches and gazing at the walls with their assorted armoury. “Quite a man to have accomplished so much in such little time. I hear he’s still of young stock. Barely shy of thirty seasons or so.”
The Chronicler regarded the innkeeper’s face. And while it was hard to say between the jagged scruff striking through his jowls and the mop of hair falling over his eyes, he would have placed him a few more years past thirty.
“As I explained to your assistant, I mean no harm,” the Chronicler said, sitting across from him. “My sole motivation is in preservation. I don’t think anyone is served by the outlandish tales spun in his name. There are lessons to be learned in his actions. Heroism and hardship so commonly go hand in hand. But what we get now is some idealized fantasy of either extreme. The Kinslayer is either betrayer or liberator, depending on who you asked. Surely, the truth must lie between.”
“And what do you get from it?”
“It would be a lie if I were to say there were no profits,” the Chronicler confessed. “My interests aren’t solely academic. Not only are the chronicles best served by accuracy, but there is a call for stories better moderated by an earthly sense of scepticism and restraint. Though its unlikely to win the hearts at festivals or tavern hearths, there are some far flung courts of the eastern dynasties who value wisdom over entertainment. ‘Ink of the scholar is holier than blood of the martyr,’ or so they say.”
“So you wish to sell this story.”
The Chronicler shook his head.
“I have no meaning to appear as a brigand of thought. Knowledge is no mere commodity to be traded and bartered. It is a precious resource that should be preserved and shared for all who would desire to learn. So much is often lost to petty squabbles between nations and individuals. Secrets aren’t served by being buried along with their masters. We Chroniclers have no intention to live in marbled halls surrounded by our lore and barring our gates from those wishing to enter. Let the wizards keep to their tomes and towers. We ask only for enough recompense to continue our search and nothing more.”
The innkeeper stroked his beard in thought. The Chronicler felt this was his chance to press home his advantage. He turned to his satchel, flipping the copper latches and removing a stack of thick sheaves which he handed to the red haired warrior.
“These are the latest accounts I have documented. You can peruse them yourself to see that there is no duplication or modification. We seek to pen that which is true whether it is entertaining or not.”
The big man took the papers reluctantly. He looked over them, flipping each one slowly. After a few cursory glances, he deposited them upon the table once more. He clasped his fingers together, leaning forward and fixing the Chronicler with a fierce look.
“And what is in it for me?”
The Chronicler gathered his papers, organized them and returned them to his satchel.
“I have little to offer, I’m afraid. My order carries little coin but it is my hope to clear some of the slander surrounding your name. We need not remember the people of our past as villains but simply as the men they were.”
The innkeeper raised a hand to his chin once more. It was then the Chronicler noticed the great scar running along the palm – the kind of mark found on a true warrior. The innkeeper weighed the offer. He turned, regarding the worn blades on the walls. What he saw in their dulled surfaces, the Chronicler could barely know. Perhaps it was the faces and names of the countless bodies they’d bitten, their spirits contained in the faded gleam of the steel in the sunlight. He turned to the backroom, an undecipherable look etching across his face.
Finally, a slow nod took hold of him.
The Chronicler smiled.
“I’m so glad you see the value in this.”
“There is but one thing,” the innkeeper said, tapping his finger hard against the table. “You must record what I say exactly as I say it. I’ll tolerate no changes or alternations to my tale. It must be preserved as I see fit.”
“Also, you should prepare yourself for three full days. My story will take no less.”
“Three days?” the Chronicler gasped. “Are you certain?”
“You expect less of the Kinslayer?”
The Chronicler shook his head.
“I meant no offence. It’s just… I recorded the tale of the Duke of Cosa del Vicolia and I was only there for an evening.”
“This is a long tale.”
“He was sixty-seven!”
“Very well,” the innkeeper said, getting to his feet, “if you don’t wish this tale then our business is concluded.”
“No! No,” the Chronicler said quickly, “if three days I must then three days you will have.”
“Good,” the innkeeper smiled. “I hope you write fast, scribe, for I won’t wait for you either.”
It was the Chronicler’s turn to smile.
“Do not worry about your flow of thoughts, sir. I can pen as fast as a word be spoken.”
“And maintain accuracy?”
The Chronicler opened his satchel once more. This time, he fetched a clean sheet, dry quill and an ink pot. He unstopped the container, dipping the sharp end of the long feather into its contents and looking expectantly at the large man.
The innkeeper eyed him for some means of trickery. But as the tip of his quill waited, gently touching the skin of the page and pooling a long dark dot on its surface, he realized that the Chronicler was not jesting.
“For this is the day of our great lords,” the innkeeper began hurriedly, barely stopping for breath. “Breached upon their golden shields came their spears as they threw themselves into the midst of their enemies. The heavens shook with their mighty battle. Glad was he that his bracers were strong and polished, wrapped tightly about his wrists. The sand bit his eyes as he regarded his adversary on the other end of the pit, the cheer of the crowd giving him strength as he spits. ‘For the Emperor!’ Ques wrings the hands of Josep. ‘For the glory of battle!’ He frustruk boasts the evening stall with his mate. Lamed, white knotted, lips a landed hand.”
The innkeeper went silent and the Chronicler’s quill came to a scratching stop. Leaning over, the keeper regarded the page before the robed man. The Chronicler turned it, smiling proudly at the product he’d produced.
“By the frozen halls, what is that nonsense?”
Scribbled across the surface was a bizarre series of weaves, cords, lines and symbols. It was no language that the innkeeper had ever seen, though the components seemed simple yet distinct from one another. It was almost beautiful the way each one seemed to flow into the next needing no separation save for the spaces the writer imposed himself.
“A cipher,” the Chronicler said. “We of the order have developed our own method to transcribe that is not slowed by the language conventions of the speaker.”
“A code, eh?” the innkeeper asked, pulling the paper closer to him. His eyes narrowed as his brow furrowed. He looked up briefly.
“This is accurate? Read it back to me.”
The Chronicler turned the page, dictating the short test to the innkeeper. As he drew to the end, the red haired man snatched the paper back and peered over it.
“That’s… remark…” he shook his head before the compliment could formally take shape. “It must be based on sounds for you to record the gibberish. Each of these symbols represents a different portion of a word?”
“More or less,” the Chronicler confirmed. “It’s a little complex, though. It takes some years to learn the script.”
“Consonants must form the longer scrawl, and vowels the shorter?”
“Well, not precise-”
“And spaces indicate individual words, no?”
“Actually, they separate diff-”
The innkeeper began scrawling on the bottom of the page. His mouth scrunched up in concentration, his eyes scanning the section the Chronicler had penned in constant reference. His hand moved with a self-assurance that drew each stroke as straight and deep as if he had penned this a thousand times. The quill scratched noisily trying to keep up with his fevered fingers as they worked to keep pace with his frantic mind. At long last, he leaned back with a puff of breath, turning the sheet over to the Chronicler.
What followed beneath the Chronicler’s passage was a childish and awkward scrawl of indecipherable scratches and swirls that ended in a short, simplistic smiling face which he could only assume was the innkeeper’s attempt at coy humour. But as he looked up to his slightly puffed face, he had such an expression of pride and self-satisfaction tinged with the slightest hint of an earnestness for approval that the Chronicler realized it wasn’t him being glib.
So it was an awkward, slow smile and nod that the Chronicler returned.
The innkeeper beamed rather pleased with himself. The Chronicler was subtle as he blotted out the distracting nonsense.
The innkeeper looked about his inn. His eyes travelled slowly over each weapon and each trophy. He lingered on his bottle collection and the dark hearth with its even darker stone. At long last it seemed to settle on the Chronicler looking at him patiently. He leaned forward, knitting his fingers together upon the table.
“Prepare yourself, scribe, for this tale is a long one. It is a story as grand as it is tragic. It is the kind of story that can not be told at firesides. Even the bards during their great competitions would balk at the task laid before them should they try their hand in its telling.”
He paused, and the Chronicler realized he was waiting for him to prepare. The Chronicler hadn’t expected that to be his start, but slightly flustered, he dipped is quill into the ink pot and waited for his master to resume.
“In some ways you could say it began with a song. It was a melody that vibrated to the pulse of the gods themselves, echoing through the stones and trees around us.”
The innkeeper shook his head.
“No, that’s a bit heavy handed. It began at the King’s court. Intrigue is always rampant at the seat of the liege and each whisper or gossip could spell the beginning or end of another. We look to their decorated halls for enlightenment and leadership but it is petty schemes and self-serving hearts that truly reside within.”
He smacked his lips as his mane twisted from side to side.
“No, I’m getting ahead of myself. I suppose it really began when Freyre and Freyja walked the desolate sands and mistress Freyja dipped her toe into the ocean, creating the first of life that swam the seas. And Freyre did draw the first of the trees, plucking them from the shallows to dry on the earth so as to fashion his cup with which to fish the people…”
The innkeeper stopped, sighing and thrumming his fingers against the wood as he cast about for the proper beginning. His agitation read easily in his rigid posture and, despite the prior warning, the Chronicler lifted his quill and gave him a comforting look.
“Perhaps it would be easier to start with a name.”
The innkeeper looked at him strangely.
“My name?” the innkeeper blinked then laughed at the sudden realization. “There are many names I’ve carried. It is hard not to gather them for those of us who walk the trails. The people of this village know me as Koudi but that is not my true name. Names, you see, tell you much of an individual. Those given by others tell you even more. To carry many names is to touch many lives and each will speak differently of the owner.
“The Memnons know me as the Scarlet Heather – a fantastic name given to their tendency for artistic flair. It bares similarities to many of the wicked that have bested their Empire, reducing their sprawling claims to little more than a fraction of what they once held. The Scarlet is in reference both to my great hair, which would be obvious if you’ve ever seen me, and to the amount of blood that I’ve extracted from their people. Heather is in reverence to the harsh foreign plant, a symbol within their culture of unbreakable barbarism.
“My first real teachers called me Mal-Karr for I took to the blade like a woman to kneading. The sword seemed to spring to life in my fingers and those wizened battle masters knew that they were training greatness though it was impossible for them to know whether the sword would be used for liberation or bloodshed.
“My first love called me Baecan in remembrance of her home and all that had been lost. And of course, I am known as the Kinslayer for the most heinous of crimes that man can commit against his own. For there is no greater betrayal than that raised against our own flesh and blood. Such action is what tore the might Aenir and Vanir apart, sparking an unending conflict in heaven that will inevitably end with the destruction of the world.
“But I was not always so. Know that I am descended from the Maen Nkowainn – those displaced people who wander in their caravans across the realms. At sight of their bright sails are gates and doors barred, least they bring more than an impoverish people in their rolling landships upon the gentle folk within. It is said that my people are cursed. That it is winds of deceit and trouble that drives them along the dusty trails. It is this reputation that makes even the most kindly hearts wary when their wagons roll through…”
And at long last, it seemed that the innkeeper had finally found his voice.