I Typed a Thing Part 3
Part of the reason I enjoy my little D&D series is the enjoyment of crafting an expansive narrative of events and developments that occur “off page.” The stories revolve around a rather core group of individuals and follows them on their journeys. But quite frequently, the stories that are told are small personal affairs wedged between major occurrences. One technique I try and use to date and chronicle the narrative is through certain “key events.” I envision these as rather epic narratives that could encapsulate a full novel but ones that likely won’t ever happen because I don’t have the time to write them. Instead, they’re used as time landmarks to keep track of where a short story occurs in respect to others.
So, often when I start into one of these stories, the first question I ask myself is usually “When does this occur?” This particular piece I wanted to throw further in the future than anything else I’ve done. That’s why I was toying with all the comments on age in the first chapter. It also means that I typically need to establish quickly what has happened recently as well as lampshade any prominent absences.
And if the tone didn’t give it away in the first chapter, the D&D stories are usually aimed at being bittersweet.
The one thing that stuck out to me when envisioning this project as a realistic examination of fantasy tropes and structures was that all the fun elements of the heroic quest were simply unsustainable. There’s really no way an individual could commit to a life of an adventurer. The whole genre is predicated on an unsustainable lifestyle. Thus, the motivation for the adventurers to strike out on their quests was always one of selfishness and avoidance. They were looking to escape their problems rather than address them. But the problem with ignoring is a fire is that it doesn’t make it go away. So invariably the problems they wished to avoid would rear their ugly heads.
Course, even with this overarching idea of chronology I have no assurances that I’ll keep my original plans so things end up being vague anyway.
Chapter the Second
“Where do you see this heading?”
Keirn paused, taking a moment to look at his feet. Even with the coarse hair, they were turning a disquieting shade of blue. He took a moment to climb upon the face of the sheer slate jutting from the cracked earth like a nail of a buried giant. He bent his knee, inspecting the soles of his feet. The skin was cracked but leathery: not unlike the pad of a hound’s paw.
It was a little strange but, as he picked stones from the folds of his skin, he could hardly deny its usefulness now that he lacked good boots.
“I’d rather hoped to come across a helpful cobbler or peddler but that, mayhaps, was a tad optimistic.”
He leaned against the stone, exhaling a slow breath and taking a moment to drink in the scenery.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Well, I expect it’ll be at the Alfather’s Cradle. But there’s an intersection in Shorweld that we can’t miss.”
Keirn’s leg began to shake impatiently. He tried to hold it steady so rest could last a little longer.
“That’s not it either.”
“For being the Unquenchable Scholar, you don’t really seem to know much.”
Keirn felt a cold tingle run down his spine. He frowned at the weak attempt at showmanship.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve had to do this.”
“If you’re looking to address any perceived concerns weighing my conscious, you’re about five years too late.”
Keirn’s leg dropped to the ground and tried to propel forward but he simply leaned back and kicked his feet into the air.
“I know you, Keirn of Gault. I have peered inside your mind and seen the doubts that fester in the darkest corners of your soul.”
“Oh? And they are?”
Keirn grinned. “And how does that make you feel?”
“It sickens me.”
Keirn’s body convulsed in protest and with a long sigh he finally slid of the rock. His feet were happy to return to the road, padding along the short grass. Keirn pulled the cloak tighter around him as he saw a small caravan rolling in the distance.
“But I have also seen your kin and colleagues. I know your straying thoughts. Even you must recognise this would be easier with them.”
“I never am.”
“You don’t know them,” Keirn said. “You know my perception of them. And that’s as flawed a judgment one can ever have.”
“Are you to say you don’t have a measured view of those closest to you?”
“They’re not here now, are they?” Keirn asked. His feet slowed as he turned his nose to the air. He closed his eyes, smelling scents invisible to all man. He craned his neck, looking over the shattered rock and clinging scrub. He bent to the ground, running a hand across the dirt. He couldn’t see it but it smelled as clear as a roasting hog.
He stepped from the path.
“So why are you?”
“You already know that answer,” Keirn said, tapping his temple. He needn’t travel far. The remains of the campfire were near suffocating in the air. He approach with such wary steps that he expected to find them still resting in their cots.
He rounded a small ridge of raised earth. It provided just enough cover from the road that a small party behind it could remain unseen. There wasn’t anything there. They had broken camp some time ago. But he could smell them. The heavy scent of sweat and alcohol lingered in the air and clung like a bad memory to the stones. As he sniffed, he caught more though. There was the hint of passion amongst the rock and he made a short circle of the overhang. With each step came a shift in odours and he leaned close, pressing the earthy aromas from his mind as he took in the rest.
A man and a woman had spent an intimate moment. But they were not the only lovers. That could serve his purpose should they meet. Sentimentality was always an easy wedge to drive between a group. Especially one that was clearly as clandestine as what he sensed here.
“But they have each other.”
“I am hardly alone,” Keirn said, adjusting his cloak. “I have you.”
“And the Hound. And a half dozen others. Forgotten all and desperate for that which they barely recall. I know, oh Tattered King, how solitude can drive one mad. It can even turn a fearsome figure into… well… a dotting father.”
“Perhaps even a surrogate to one that was never had?”
Keirn laughed. “Feeble. I have no need for such misplaced sentiments.”
“You must have wondered. Even when your sister found hers.”
“The one thing you never understood was trust.” Keirn poked amongst the ashes of the camp. The cinders were long cooled. They likely left at daybreak. Only some charred bones of their meal remained. “And I trust my mother had good reason to never share the information.”
“I could learn it for you.”
“Ah, and now comes the bargaining? This is hardly my first dance at the ball and that shouldn’t surprise, Eventide Stranger, for very few attempt to look behind the pale mask anymore. Very few indeed.”
Keirn stood and turned towards the road.
“It must gnaw at you. Like worms.”
“Did you never once question why you stood out from others? Why you alone never felt like you belonged?”
“Terribly,” Keirn said. “Then I realised many felt that way. I can’t even be remarkable in my loneliness.”
“But yours was different.”
“Everyone’s is different.”
Unfortunately, he had forgotten his feet.
Keirn kept walking until he was called again. Reluctantly he turned.
“How fare thee?”
“Adequately,” Keirn replied, still not meeting the driver with his eyes. He could hear the huskiness of the man’s voice. This was one of those weathered locals that had spent their entire life within a few safe, comfortable villages. He was one of those good, Aenir fearing men with a small home, unhappy wife and despondent children that wished to see the world but were instead locked into raising their own families a mere league or so away from where they were born.
His greatest trial was to keep food on the table and tend the crops as best he could during their growing season. He had seen his own hertig’s men but twice in his life. He always remembered how their metal had gleamed beneath their tunics and how he had filled with a sense of pride to see his hertig’s forces marching boldly through his village.
But more swam beneath those thoughts. Dark waters gathered even in the clearest ponds. But before Keirn could explore those, he shifted on his feet and turned to leave.
“Need you a lift, stranger? Don’t get many coming out this way so close to coming winter.”
“I shall manage,” Keirn replied, his legs twitching in protest to the thought of inactivity.
“Awful lot of road.”
“Wouldn’t wish to inconvenience.”
“It’s no bother.” The driver leaned in his seat. “Alfather’s mercy, where are your shoes?!”
Keirn tried to pull his cloak in the way. “I should really be going.”
“Now hold up…!”
Keirn hastened his steps as laughter rang in his ears. “It is useless.”
Keirn could hear the cart turning behind him. His heart beat and he could feel the muscles of his legs tighten. He had to consciously hold himself back and struggle against his body from entering full flight. He had no doubt that he could outrun the man in his waggon but leaving such a disturbance wasn’t his aim.
It was better to leave a story behind of a queer man with no shoes than one possessed.
He turned off the road, deftly scaling over the cracked land that the cart could not follow. Once he’d put good distance between him and the farmer, he found a patch of dirt to squat behind and wait for the man to give up.
“You could have dealt with him.”
Keirn frowned. “Not even once.”
“I’d be willing to indulge the Hound just this time.”
Keirn’s foot twitched. Obstinately, Keirn grabbed a fistful of dirt and shoved it in his mouth. His body shuddered in protest to the filth but he forced it down through sheer will. He was panting and sweating by the time he finished.
“How could you?!”
“Don’t forget who is in control here,” Keirn warned. “You are a guest and little else. Your time has passed.”
“This is why you have no friends,” the ground hissed.
“You would never be one,” Keirn replied. “Not that I’d expect you to understand the word anyway.”
“And you would?”
“I have friends.”
“While you fail to be one?”
“Yes,” Keirn said after a moment. “Perhaps you think I unwilling to acknowledge my flaws but I am a bare soul. There is nowhere for you to hide. It is why I won’t succumb like others before me. Go on with your whispers, they are nothing just like you.”
“Or you some day.”
“I have courted death long enough to know it does not want me,” Keirn said.
“Such hubris. If only you believed that.”
Keirn peeked from his cover. He did not see the waggon or its driver. He stood, brushing himself off as well as he could.
“Worrying over the Frozen Queen’s heralds is a futile past time. They will come when they are ready and no later. Even you with all your knowledge and sight do not know their passage. So what does that speak of your abilities… or obsession?”
Silence, for once, was Keirn’s companion and he relished it as he returned to the road. He knew, then, that darkness would be his friend. Its shadow would conceal him from eyes and ensure he wouldn’t have any further complications. He could rely on the Hound’s strength and easily cover the distance of his quarry in time that would make even the most wizened magus scratch his head. He needn’t worry so much about maintaining appearances or normalcy.
“It won’t work.” When he received no response, Keirn continued. “I know full well that my prudence keeps the chains in place. One measure restraint can reel in twice its value.”
Still he walked in silence.
“Now you’re being childish,” Keirn chided. But when he was denied a response, he shrugged. “Have it your way. My loneliness is self enforced. Yours is not. I can at any time seek her out and reconnect. I could scamper back for that idyllic life with a squat farmstead and my own little patch of dirt constantly interrupted by the simple prodding of tired neighbours. But when our pact ends you will have nothing but long waiting with the ever gnawing doubt that no other will make contact. I did not struggle with the rites due to difficulty. Contrary to your belief, some things can be truly lost.”
Petulance persisted. So Keirn continued on his way, whistling a merry tune while contemplating all the lovely meals that his sister could cook.