Category Archives: The Great Table

IV. The Great Table

IV. STEWARDS

Seven…no…ten. No matter. He stared through a thick blur that sat on his eyes. His head was heavy with Ficasa, the dark molasses-like nectar, usually consumed from thimble sized cups. He drank his Ficasa from a horn attached to a thong about his neck. Sinking. Through mud. Foul. Stink…flying?  First came the sound of his back crashing against the stone wall, then came the sound of a familiar “You smell like shit, drunkard”, said Creighton. “Do you sleep in pig shit? Let me hear you snort!”, Creighton demanded in his whiny voice. Get on…fucker. “What are you on about?”, asked Creighton.  “I think under his mumbles he called you a fucker, Ole Crey”, teased the Pretty. Not pretty… Pretty’s dainty foot landed on the side of his mouth. He swallowed some blood and a tooth. So few left. “You going to say something else?” asked Pretty in a threatening voice. The Pretty brought himself low and grabbed hold of his mouth and squeezed. The Pretty had milky, lazy eyes. A face scarred from too many fights and diseased from too many whores. Pretty popped one of the sores that crowded around his lips and rubbed the puss on his victims mouth. “We should be friends really. Neither one of us is made for the looking glass”, said Pretty. Indignant, Creighton said, “at least you don’t bugger little boys like this one”. The taunting never satisfied Creighton or Pretty for long. It was only in the reprieve that Creighton and Pretty heard in a faint whisper, “lie…er.”  It was then that the clubs came out. Yes. Heard. Yes. Maybe this time they will finally kill me.

The clubs landed haphazardly all over his body. Each painful blow the promise of release. He could finally say goodbye to a world he hated. His body lay limp on the cobblestones. It would be so easy to snap his neck, but Creighton and Pretty wanted his pain to linger. It won’t be long now. This body can’t take much more…crying? The Ficasa dulled his wit. The sound of a crying babe confounded him and for some reason stirred in him a sense of dread. He hated that sound. But why?

Creighton’s body was the first to fall into view, headless. He was tied to the cobble stones by broken ribs and bent legs to watch Creighton’s blood rush out of his open neck. He could hear Pretty begging for his life, and then his body lifted up. Pretty was gently propping him against the tavern wall. Someone was given Pretty commands but he couldn’t see through his swollen eyes. Then he heard the sound of hooves. Creighton was the Constable so it couldn’t be the law. Wheels creaking over cobblestone? A wayne? Yes. He was laying in the comfort of soft, clean hey. The sway of the wayne was lolling him to sleep. I was so close.

His death would not come today, and he had lost at least one tormentor. He could only hope Pretty had survived. Then to his absolute horror he saw the grey shield badge upon his savior’s baldric. His eyes dilated from the despair. The grey shield badge was empty of other heraldry which meant he had not been bonded to a house, an acolyte. The words “You can have no more of me”, clawed at his throat and pounded against his skull, but no more than a grunt escaped his lips.

“My name is Jin, I am an Acolyte of the House of Stewards. I have brought  your Skene back to you, Alric the Stripped,”, the young man said. A boy really. He could furious rattling, but couldn’t see the box. The Skene wanted him back. His heart cracked open that it may soon have its wish.  He heard another cry of the babe. No. It was a different cry, a second babe. And was that a Mahikee at the acolytes shoulder? Then the world went to black.

He couldn’t fight, at another time he could have easily taken the acolyte, but he was too weak now, too much like everyone else, frail, frightened and at the whim of the Stewards. “I have paid for my sins”, bubbled through the blood in his mouth, . Jin’s response was predictably cold and direct, “Not enough it would seem”. The diminutive Steward, lifted his huge half dead body easily from the ground and brought him near the wailing babe. He couldn’t move, half stilled from pain, but mainly from fear. He knew what agony awaited him, the infant could sense it too. Jin removed a battered black box from his cloak and set it on the table near Alric’s head. The box danced wildly on the table, the Skene inside desperate for freedom. Alric witnessed the tempest through thick tears. I pay my debt everyday, with blood in my mouth and broken bones I pay my debt. In the anger of this injustice he purchased a bit of strength, “No slave”. It was a much strength as his voice had exercised in years. That was it. All he had. In a whisper closer to thought than speech he said “I will kill you for this”. At this Jin showed the first sign of emotion, fondness even. “I know” he said, satisfied that his last task would be accomplished.

Jin swaddled the infant, shushing the babe rhythmically like wind through a tree. After a moment the babe begin to settle and Jin propped her on his chest, bouncing her up and up down. Jin gazed into the babes azure eyes and thought, she will be dangerous in so many ways. He then lay the babe to the other side of the box, which was now furious with anticipation, and cut the infant’s throat.

Jin drew the blade away, careful not to lose the infants blood, then drew the hungry edge across Alric’s throat. The box was now a million suns exploding in space. But to open it too soon would only weaken the dying couple. The tension was exquisite. It must be timed perfectly. The two must be brought to the brink of death. A subtle dance whose rhythm was hard to follow. The mistake was to look to the dying for clues. The Skene knows this, it can sense this as clearly as a mother can feel a child in her womb. Just as the fury of the box crescendoed into an army of clanging swords Jin struck the latch and the Skene exploded forth, wrapping itself around the couples throats and drinking their blood like a drought starved animal, and spreading over the rest of their bodies like ink on parchment.

Alric and the babe were covered head to foot in a crimson shroud, which muffled the gurgling sound of their choking.  The babe went silent first, Alric moments later. They were two monuments of beauty carved in scarlet alabaster. The hardness of the Skene shimmered into a silkiness that rippled across Alric’s body as he fought to take a breath. With each strain of his lungs the Skene lightened in color and thinned. Within five breaths the Skene had been absorbed.

Within the moment of a sigh Jin’s dagger had been torn from his hand and planted in his skull. There was no malice in Alric, no satisfaction at how swiftly his threat had been delivered. There was only the all consuming desperation to care for the child.

 

The Choke Lords

II

Castle Ferin had changed Houses many times over the years, presently it was the seat of House Berthold, a young House that had proven itself noble and true.  There were so few worthy humans, thought Terik, unfortunate the Bertholds should perish.  Not all would, they must find solace in that.

Terik mused on the drama of human architecture. For all their faults the humans had never lacked a flare for spectacle. Castle Ferin had been built on land known as The Choke. A point at which the wide and lazy Breede River was choked into raging whitecaps by the banks of two opposing rocky beaches. The Choke Lords had built Castle Ferin straight across the river from bank to bank and at the fore-wall they had fashioned a fantastic yawning mouth through which all traffic must pass. A gluttonous fool washing down the hard labor of the south with the Breede, thought Terik. 

The lands surrounding the Choke were to rocky to grow any tradable quantity of crops, but the Breede was the fastest route between the bountiful southern lands and the seats of power to the north.

It had been several weeks since the Choke Lord had taken a drink. Terik would remedy that.

But Jerin, clang, clang, clangThe burden you bear is for all of us.

Terik breathed deep, the pride of his sons sacrifice filled his chest. He turned back to find his Mahnikee assembled. There were no horns or drums. The battle cry of the Mahnikee was hardly a whisper, “lets give them a drink”, Terik said, and so the the taking of Castle Ferin began while the pigs lay sleeping in the mud.

The Great Table-I

This is a bit of a republished post. I started out wanting to redo the Great Table Page as a series of individual posts and immediately realized I also needed to do some editing and revisions.

I

Clang, clang, clang, the two small cylinders that hung from Terik’s neck began to rattle. Both cylinders were fashioned in iron and etched long ago in a language now dead. They were battered and ugly and looked more like the discarded vials of a cheap apothecary than the vessels in which lay the hopes of an entire people.

Clang, clang, clang, the cylinders sang.

“They rattle more of late my lord”, said Terik’s man, Jekin.  “Yes” answered Terik, “they sense their freedom. They long to be released.”  Jekin was wise in all things soldierly but little else. The subtly of magic confounded him.  “How so my lord? They are but garments.”

“Stronger than any shield, yet lighter than silk. ‘Garment’ is such a small word for something so big , old friend”, retorted Jekin’s liege lord.

“Powerful, aye, but not alive. My platelets are just as strong.”

“I think yours stronger than most Mahnikee. But even your platelets cannot bid one soul to another.”

“It takes more than magic  to make a king, and much more to make a goodly king, begging your pardon my lord.” Not even Jekin’s platelets could protect his heart from cracking open at the loss of his nephew, his charge.

I am sorry I could not have chosen you old friend. “You have the right of kingship. Magic is not enough to make a goodly king.  A mistake the humans make all too often. But you are wrong about these garments as you call them.  They are the key which shall open the door for our people.  It is time we have a seat at the great table.”

“Hmmpf” answered Jekin, “I won’t pretend I understand my lord. But my sword is yours as ever.  As for the rest. I would rather a tent than a table, great or no.”

A smile crept across Terik’s face. “A tent?” That is rather soft old friend.  Have we been around the humans too long that you should need a tent?”

The comment was as silly as saying the sun is cold. “No need to be cruel my lord”, answered Jekin.  “It is bad enough we serve the pig lords on this campaign, but the rain is worse. Nonstop for seven days. The Breede has overflowed and washed out the latrine lines. Now we walk in cold mud and shit. Begging your pardon again, my lord.”

Terik looked over the camp at the soft skinned humans, the luckiest of whom were sheltered from the rain under heavy canvas tents. But those were for lords and landed knights. The larger part of the human host sat pruning in the rain, their resolve softening like bread in stew.

Terik and his fellow Mahnikee were not quartered from the rain either. But the Mahnikke were protected.

The platelets that grew hard over their skin in adolescence, the very same bark like armor that earned them the hated name of Wood Elves, protected them from rain and blade alike.

Wood Elf. A derogatory term shackled to the Mahnikee by the supposed High Elves to frighten children. “Behave or the Wood Elves will steal you away and eat your heart. Be kind or your heart and skin will grow as hard as a Wood Elf.”

Clang, clang, clang, the cylinders stirred.

Anything that was wanton or craven or other than good and pure had been ascribed to the Wood Elves, and all the lies made up and whispered through the thin lips of the soft, pasty skinned High Elves. High Elves indeed.

Clang, clang, clang.

Soon the truth would be laid bare and the Mahnikee would take their place at the Great Table. But to bring low the High Elves Castle Ferin must fall.

Jekin stood just off his lord’s shoulder, both looking on the human camp. “The Pig lords have little regard for their rank and file. It makes them weak. Most will run before scaling the walls.”, said Jekin.

Terik pitiedThe Pig lords small folk. Conscripts. Unworthy adversaries. “They shall have no need to storm the walls. We shall let them in.  All will have what they want, and with little blood.”

“All but those within the castle, my lord.”, said Jekin. Terik, still looking on the human camp answered his man, “The Pigs will not have the slaughter they desire, and Castle Ferin shall not lose as much as it fears.”

“Unless the Pig lords should learn of our intentions, my lord.”, warned Jekin.

There is advantage in being discovered thought Terik. “If so this land will be littered with dead Pigs. Either way I think this will be a happy day for the Mahnikee.”

For the first time in a long while Jekin smiled.

A quarter league off the lords of House Martin were rutting about in the Campaign Tent planning the final siege of the castle. The Martins were a gross lot, their sigil a pig,  and never had a sigil been so truly matched to a house. Most Martins were squat, round of belly and short of legs, and just in case the imagery were not blunt enough the gods had seen fit to give them flat, turned up noses.

Clang, clang, clang, clang, the cylinders flew into a rage. Jerin must be near. Terik turned to find his son’s head bowed in deference. Terik bowed in return. Jerin then paid the same courtesy to Jekin.

“I am no lord that you should bow your head to me” said Jekin. His tone suggesting he was offended. His eyes betraying his affection for the young lord.

With a broad smile Jerin replied, “Soon enough I shall no longer be a lord”. A sore subject with Jekin, he brushed it aside with a hmpf. Neither Jerin or his lord father pressed the issue. Instead Jerin addressed his lord father, “It is just as the soothsayer said it would be. We must act quickly, my lord.”

Terik turned back to look on the pigs of House Martin and said, “Tonight we wrap our hands around the throat of the High Elves and reclaim our birthright”.

Jimmie G.