I Typed a Thing Part 4
Sorry for the absence last week. It was our crazy Thanksgiving and, alas, I was too busy to post. That’s on me and for that, I apologize. I would have said something sooner but then this weekend was the venerable birthday of our very own contributor, Kait, so I was busy getting ready for that, to varying degrees of success. What turned into a day celebration became a weekend celebration and now, here we are.
But I see that we got a book review up so it’s not like the week was a total waste. Just a partial one.
So let’s continue on with my first draft of the aforementioned untitled story.
I have a rather love/hate relationship with titles. Sometimes the inspiration for story will come from its name. Mary Creek’s Blood, for instance, was something I had to wring out from its label. Other stories, however, never get a proper title until I’ve wrapped the project mostly up. Then I languish forever trying to give it some moniker that befits it. Usually I fail. So for this little short, it’s a bit of an ill omen that I don’t have some snappy name to bestow it. I may never come up with one.
Bit of a tragedy, really. But then, so is the tale.
Chapter the Third
“I simply must apologise. We don’t get a lot of people passing through. Oh, here let me get your cloak for you.”
“Oh. Yes. Well, come on in, come on in!”
Keirn waited for her to turn before stepping from the schlammraum. It was awkward walking with a bit of a stoop so his cloak dragged on the ground. He looked back at the discarded shoes and hoped that perhaps she wouldn’t notice he hadn’t added to the collection.
He followed the lady into the adjoining sitting room. A small fire crackled in its stone pit. A pot rested over it and the scent of cooked pork and turnip made both his mouth salivate and his stomach roll. The matron waved towards a chair around the fire and puttered into the kitchen.
“I simply must know what is happening in the world,” she called, a few dishes clattering. Keirn gave his arms another anxious examination but nothing about him seemed too peculiar. He fell into the seat with a long, well deserved exhalation. He let his cloak drape over the back of his chair as he rested his eyes and held his feet close to the flame. “We’re so reliant on foreigners in these parts to bring us the word. But with the cold winds blowing off Freyr’s spine, few make the journey. Can hardly blame them. We don’t have much to offer off the season and we’ve already sent the hertig our share of the tax. Ygrimm was rolling out the last we could put to market and without any good forest we can’t even grow moss like some other villages to supplement our season.”
“Perhaps for the best,” Keirn said. “I’ve heard those make hardly palatable dishes.”
The lady – Helbera by name which seemed a touch too fitting giving the encroaching season – returned with a small bowl balanced on the edge of a long, curved wooden plate. In her other hand she held a steaming cup and she presented both to Keirn in her calloused fingers. He licked lips at the sight of the dried meat and even drier bread beside the stew. But he took the cup, politely waving the rest off.
She looked at him with that practised motherly eye of reproach.
“Not right for a wanderer to turn down a warm meal. I swear with Freyra as my witness that it’s the best thing you’ll find within a thousand leagues of Skaneling’s Hollow.”
Keirn raised a brow. “And what’s in the Hollow?”
“Oh, a juniper and cranberry pie to die for!” Helbera sighed. She finally accepted Keirn’s neglect and sat across from him to eat the meal. “Didn’t your mother teach you that it’s rude to reject a host’s food?”
“She did. She was a wonderful caregiver. I’m afraid it will upset my stomach is all. I had a big meal before departing.”
“Thought there’d be nothing in the Hinterlands, eh? Get lots of folk like that,” Helbera said, dropping her bread in the broth and watching it sink. “Course, we also get the rare soul come out that’s been higher than Wotan’s watcher’s looking to find some Arrowcup mushrooms.”
The matron looked Keirn hard in the eye. It took a second for him to catch her meaning.
“Ah,” he said, adverting his yellow pupils to his drink. “I understand if you have no wish to entreat me.”
He stood but she clucked her tongue and motioned towards the chair. “So many folk think we are a bunch of know-nothings. Couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re just kindly souls. I noticed the signs the moment we spoke. I was willing to take you when you had no coin to your name, I’ll still accept you and your failings.”
“I appreciate that, Mum.”
“Oh, hush with that. You sleep off that dreadful haze as long as you want. And you get that pile of wood out back split and we’ll call ourselves even, you hear.”
“Now, what’s the word out there,” she asked, picking into her broth and fishing long, soggy strings of bread from its murky depths. She raised dripping pieces to her mouth and slurped them down.
“Truthfully, I haven’t spent much time in this land,” Keirn said.
“Good. We can get old Rangvaldrsun’s movements when Torben comes through selling his pots and bad advice. What this old caribou wants is word of the world. That alone is worth a night’s stay in the world’s emptiest inn!”
“If it’s the movement of the spheres and the petty dealings of the wider nations that interests then I have much to say but little flair with which to say it. I’m afraid I’m no bard, though I travelled with one for a spell.”
“You think I can afford a storyweaver out here?” Helbera laughed. “You could list off some petty lord’s tax collection and it’d be far more interesting than listening to Snolla recount to me one more time about her old sheep’s pregnancy with twins.”
“Well, I wouldn’t rightly know where to begin,” Keirn said. “Nations war. People suffer. And the gods play out their genocide beyond the wishes of us mere mortals.” He heard a snicker but not from the matron. “There’s crime and death and pain. But still people push on in their petty little plots with hope things will change though they fear any that truly comes.”
Helbera snorted. “You’re right. You do not have an entertainer’s spirit. If I wanted to hear about the world’s end, I’d listen to Geirren. And no one wants to listen to that cracked pot. From where did you come for surely you can share that even if you’re reluctant to say where you’re headed.”
“I… don’t rightly know,” Keirn confessed. He shifted awkwardly on his chair as such a truth was uncomfortable for him to bear. The implications were unsettling and he felt his nape tingle with unwanted glee. “I’ve been through New Vannin, walked the mountain paths of the mysterious Far Wa, delved the dungeons of Norigr and been lost along the streets of the City of Doors. I’ve wandered through untold petty counties and kingdoms and seen far more between.”
“Quite the treasure,” Helbera said. When Keirn shrugged, she gave him a light chuckle. “I too was a bit of a wanderer myself in my prime. Oh, don’t look so surprised. You are hardly the first soul to be unsatisfied with their tiny village prospects and struck out on their own. Truthfully, I miss it though the quiet life on this frozen teet of land has treated me well. And my knees would hardly support such travels anymore.
“But I know a thing or two about distant fortunes. I’ve tasted the succulent peaches of T’dm. I’ve carried the undying flames of the Malla between sanctuaries and wrapped myself up in the multicoloured weaves of the Parsa peoples.” Helbera’s eyes twinkled with memories. “I’ve looked upon a field of glittering diamonds and seen the fabled Caverns of Silver full of their brilliant wheat. You speak of misery and war while ignoring the beauty which balances it.”
“And here you are.”
“Here we both are,” Helbera corrected. “I’ve also seen my fair share of refugees. So which are you? Plunderer or exile?”
Keirn watched the cinders crackle. “Perhaps both.”
Helbera lifted the cup to her mouth and slurped at the broth. “I suppose we all are.” She finished the last of her bowl and pulled at her meat. “I fear the Hinterlands aren’t particularly welcoming to either. Been many that come out here to lose themselves. Can’t help but think that more are found than not.”
“Perhaps they simply aren’t trying hard enough.”
Keirn bowed his head but did not confiscate his smile.
“Let an old thief steal some of your secrets then. It’s hardly like I’ve a market to sell them here, regardless, and it would make an old timer happy to try her hand one last time at the trade.”
“I was not being coy when I said I know not from where I come,” Keirn replied. “Directly, I mean. You cross enough roads and they all blur together. You stumble into inns typically in worse wear than not. After awhile, the uncomfortable beds are indistinguishable. There is little meaning in distinguishing between languages when all seem meaningless. Faces are unrecognisable. I rest my head in Dzakar and I awake in Ys. I speak to the shades of people no longer here or others I have yet to meet. I’m lost on the road that I mapped. Any one of those lands I may have set out from to come here. Or perhaps I have yet to leave them in the first place.”
“It’s the arrowcup,” Helbera clucked. Keirn was silent. “If these memories are a plague upon you then surely exorcising them would be the cure.”
“They are not a plague,” Keirn said. “They are my stolen treasure. But how typical is it for plundered loot to be cursed?”
“Far too common.”
“Had it not, however, I wouldn’t be here now,” Keirn said. “I had… friends, at a time. They were with me for many of my travels. They are not now. They had their fun and quit while they were ahead. Not unlike you, I’d imagine.”