Fab Four Fables: The Merchant in Oria Part 4
Well folks, it’s been a little while. Family crisis diverted, and I can once again focus attention to my writing. This includes my part of the Fabulous Four Fables. This round was started by The Scholarly Scribe, David Wiley. You need to start here to begin the story. Eric Storch of Sinistral Scribblings took on Part 2, and Shannon of The Squeaky Wheel Blog grabbed Part 3 by the horns, leaving me to finish up the story.
However, we decided we enjoyed this story so much ( and Part 4 was turning into a novel by itself) that we want to keep it going. This is why I will be tagging someone to write Part 5 at the bottom of this post. I really hope you are enjoying the story so far.
So, without further ado, I present to you Part 4:
It was dark when Kheldar awoke, a small fire providing what little light there was. He found himself lying on straw with a coarse wool blanket covering him. He gripped the unfamiliar blanket reflexively. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he could make out a shape just beyond the firelight and realized he was in a cave. He shifted in his seat and the shadowy figure arose and moved towards him. It walked with a shift, as if it had been gravely wounded at some point in its past. He was astonished to see a human face and human albeit hairy body above a set of goat legs with cloven feet.
A satyr! Kheldar thought. Impossible. They have been extinct since the Great War!
The figure stopped short of him and bowed at his hairy waist. Light bounced off two small white horns on either side of his head surrounded by a halo of chocolate brown ringlets. “I am Grimuir, assigned to watch over and protect you.”
The satyr busied himself testing and stretching Kheldar’s legs and arms. An unexpected giggle caught Kheldar by surprise.
“What’s so funny?” Kheldar tried to sound injured but a squeak seemed to have attached itself to his voice while he had been sleeping.
“Nothing really. It’s just surprising that the Elder Boulder is adamant that you are you.”
“I am me?” Kheldar’s eyebrows knit together in confusion. “Of course I’m me. But where am I?”
“You are in Gormadth. Well, the southern part the trolls haven’t completely taken over yet.”
Kheldar sat up. “The trolls…we aren’t safe here.”
Grimuir smiled. “Tsk. The trolls don’t know you’re here. Don’t look so confused. ’Twas not the trolls who summoned for you, but the Great Boulders. ‘Twas the only way to get you away from those wretched dwarves. You should have listened to Aang.”
Crimson heat appeared on Kheldar’s cheeks. “My father…” He began.
“Your father embellished his stories. He keenly left out the sour details. ‘Tis a pity. You would have fared much better had you known what you were getting into.” Grimuir shook his head. “Now, it’s left to you to pay for his sins. You have the heart to break the pact between the dwarves and the trolls.”
“His sins? My father was a merchant. What ‘sins’ could he possibly have that would cause this turmoil?”
“Your father was much more than a merchant, Kheldar. Appearing as a merchant was a means to get him where he wanted to go because he had access to cities that would otherwise close their doors to him.”
“I don’t believe you. All of the stories he told me growing up…he was nothing more than a merchant.” Kheldar said.
“Yes, your father was a powerful speaker, full of the gift of persuasion. He persuaded the dwarves to open their mines to humans, and then persuaded the humans to strip the mines of all wealth, including the Dwarves’ sacred ruby.” Grimuir replied.
“No. This is a lie. My father was a good man!” Kheldar exclaimed.
“He was a good man to the humans, Kheldar, but not a friend to the rest of us at all. There’s little doubt among us non-humans that if your father had more time, he would have robbed us of our riches, too. Thus, the dwarves made the pact with the trolls to protect their mines and what wealth they had left. This treaty has affected the whole world, human and non, and now it is left to you to find the ruby and return it to the dwarves.”
Kheldar’s mouth dropped open in horror. “And have them imprison me again? No, I think not. It was never in my plans to become troll food.”
“So you refuse to find and return the ruby?” Grimuir eyed Kheldar, his face expressionless.
Kheldar sat quietly, his eyes to the floor. He was afraid. The boulder people rescued him from certain death, but the price seemed incredibly high. His dreams had already been shattered.
“I want to,” he said so quietly Grimuir had to strain to hear him.
“You want to what?”
“Refuse. I don’t want to do it. I just want to get back to my trade.” Grimuir’s eyes narrowed until they were slits.
“Hmmm. ‘Twas not a request. Mayhap you’ll feel differently after you get more rest. Those minesinks aren’t healthy for anyone. Besides, your ‘trade’ can’t exist in this world as it is. It is corrupt due to the treaty.”
“Why am I responsible for my father’s sins?” All the angst Kheldar felt came through in his words.
“You are your father’s son. Would you have another, an innocent, pay for crimes he didn’t commit?”
“I didn’t commit this crime, either.”
“No, you’re right, you didn’t, but you are the only one from the bloodline with the heart to do the right thing.”
Grimuir taught Kheldar all he could to prepare him to find the ruby. He armed him with fruits and dried meats, mead, and a small dagger. The last gift he had to give Kheldar was a small packhorse.
“Where did she come from?” Kheldar asked. He had a way with animals that others envied. His pack ox had loved him dearly. A brief moment of mourning overtook him as he thought about the last time he had seen them, leading the cart of supplies to the trolls. He wondered what became of them.
Grimuir saw the sorrow in Kheldar’s eyes. “There are many people counting on your success, Kheldar. She is a gift of the Boulder people. Many eyes will be watching your journey. My cousin, Nephisticles, will be roaming the forest and the hills. If you need help just yell.”
Kheldar’s eyes widened in surprise. “I thought your race was extinct? I mean….” He blushed when he realized how that sounded.
“No, I understand. I am the last of my kind, hence why I stay hidden within my cave. Nephisticles is a centaur. You will find his allegiance of great assistance.” Grimuir patted Kheldar on the back. “Now, all I can tell you about the ruby is that your father stashed it somewhere. You are his most beloved and ‘tis up to you to find it. No one knows your father like you do.”
Kheldar thought for a few moments. His father had few favorite places.
Grimuir continued, “You must heed the shadows because you are a wanted man. The dwarves discovered the Boulder people’s deception and they are clamoring for your capture. They’ve put quite a price on your head. If someone captures you, you’ll be imprisoned until the Troll King himself can claim you. Not even Nephisticles can help you then.”
“I understand. I will keep to the low roads.”
Grimuir shook his head. “No, the low roads are filled with thieves, trolls, and orcs. You must be well away from them come nightfall.” He opened a small chest that sat at the foot of the bed and rummaged through it until he found a black hooded cloak. He pulled it over Kheldar’s head. It fit perfectly. “This will help disguise you. Keep your hood up and your face down. Now, where will you be going first?”
Kheldar paced the small cave in silence, allowing the plan to form in his mind. Grimuir was correct. Kheldar did know all of his father’s favorite haunts, as long as his father had been more honest with him then he had been about the dwarves. He envisioned a map of the world in his head and pinpointed his current location.
“It’s four days journey to Banes Bluff from here so I’ll start at my father’s home there. Then I’ll follow the sun.”
Grimuir walked to the cave entrance with him. As Kheldar mounted the packhorse, Grimuir sighed.
“Godspeed, Kheldar. Mayhap we will meet again.”
The packhorse, though small, moved faster than Kheldar expected. She knew the lay of the land and picked her footholds well. They made better time the first day than he expected. As the sun melted into the horizon, she picked her way to a small cluster of trees. It was not much but it did provide shelter. The day had been hot enough he would not need a fire tonight. He rubbed the packhorse down as she grazed within the cluster.
“You are a surprising old girl.” Kheldar spoke lovingly to the horse. “Thank you for bringing me so far today.”
As Kheldar made camp, a rustling from the trees startled him. He pulled the small dagger from his boot and held it at his side.
“Who’s there?” He called. Silence answered him. He thought he saw a bush move. He stepped closer to the packhorse and raised the dagger, ready to fight.
“Who’s there?” He called again, a bit more sternly this time. The packhorse nickered softly beside him. This time there was no mistaking the rustling of the bush ahead of him.
“Announce yourself. I am armed!” Kheldar said, braver than he felt.
A small centaur stepped into the cluster of trees holding his hands up. “My apologies. I did not mean to frighten you. I bring news of importance.”
“Nephisticles?” Kheldar asked, putting the small dagger back in his boot.
“No. I am Coen, of the tribe R’athulai, cousin to Nephisticles.” Coen bowed slightly, though his eyes never left Kheldar’s face. It was unsettling to be stared at that way.
“What’s this news?”
“You must delay your travels tomorrow. A bad sun rising in the east deliberates trouble. Should you choose to ride, you are on your own.”
“Delay my travels? Don’t be absurd. I want to get this over with so I can get back to my life!”
“We promised to keep you safe, but if you disregard our request, we will not be able to help you. I have cast a spell on this place. Stay within the cluster of trees and you will be safe. Do you understand?”
Kheldar nodded. His heart sank. A bad sun rising in the east meant orcs were on the prowl during the day. Someone must have enchanted them. “I will stay, but only for two sleeps, then I must move on.”
“Agreed. Do not look to the east tomorrow. Do not face the sun. Trust that the tribe is protecting you.” Coen stepped back into the woods as quickly as he had appeared.
“Did you hear that? Orcs are afoot. You get an extra day of rest,” Kheldar said to the packhorse. She nickered in return. He scratched between her ears before settling down in the soft moss between the roots of one of the trees in the cluster. Within moments, he was sound asleep.
A thunderous crashing through the forest woke Kheldar. He sat up instantly, the sleep knocked from his now-widened eyes. He leaped to his feet and reached for the packhorse. She stood behind him.
“Coen! Is that you?” he whispered. His eyes darted left and right, straining to see any indication of his friend in the woods beyond the cluster. He stepped towards the bushes, and the packhorse nickered in warning. Stay within the cluster and you will be safe. Coen’s words rippled through his mind. If Coen were nearby, he was not responding and that made Kheldar nervous. Since learning of his father’s betrayal, he found it hard to trust anyone, especially someone he had just met.
More thunderous crashing made Kheldar move back into the middle of the cluster. “Coen? Please if you are out there, announce yourself.”
All at once the thundering stopped. A man emerged from the trees and stood at the edge of the cluster. His clothing was top quality, made of cotton, and the rich color of his robe explained that he held a high status. His back faced the cluster, however, and Kheldar could not make out his face. The bottom of a grey beard tumbled in the soft breeze. A large wooden golem stomped out of the woods several feet from the man.
“My woods.” The golem said, rigidly.
“You can’t deny me passage,” the man said.
Kheldar stepped closer, recognizing the voice.
“My woods!” The golem repeated in a steady monotone.
“I need passage!” The man said again. Kheldar, now at the edge of the cluster once more, reached out and tapped the man on the shoulder. The man startled but did not turn. “Who dares interrupt the great Dhelvane during his rites of passage?”
“It is I, your nephew, Kheldar.”
If Dhelvane heard, he did not acknowledge. He spoke to the golem, who was preparing to crush him, instead. “Grant me passage.”
“No,” said the golem flatly. “My woods, no passage.”
“You will regret it!” Dhelvane screamed as the golem picked him up, prepared to toss him over the treetops.
“Wait!” Kheldar shouted. This time he got the golem’s attention. “That is my uncle. Let him go, please.”
“Will you guarantee his passage?” the golem asked, his voice unchanged.
Kheldar hesitated. He did not wish his uncle harm, but he did not desire his company, either. His uncle was an incredibly greedy, haughty man. Kheldar decided to take the honest approach.
“Honestly, I’ve no desire for his company, but I am in need of his assistance. I wish not to infringe on your hospitality, but he has answers that will help me on my quest. I have no choice but to guarantee his passage.”
“I leave him to your care then,” the golem answered. A lilt of gratitude decorated his voice, though it remained just as wooden as he was. He set Dhelvane down into the cluster of trees, but held onto him for a moment before releasing him fully. “Do not expect passage again, Dhelvane. You are not welcome here.” He turned to walk away but stopped short of taking the first step. He turned to Kheldar. “If he will not comply, turn him loose. The golems be not the only race in these woods want to be rid of him.”
Kheldar acknowledged the golem with a nod of his head. “Thank you.”
Dhelvane tried to sneak away but the packhorse impeded his path. She nickered a new warning to Kheldar. He turned to Dhelvane. “Must I bind you like a prisoner? I will, fear not. Unlike you or my father, I mean what I say. Besides, orcs travel by sunlight today. Would you rather chance your life with them or with me?”
“You would betray your uncle?” The look of shock on Dhelvane’s face was as false as the tone in his voice. “Your father reared you better than that.”
Kheldar spat on the ground between Dhelvane’s feet. “My father is a liar, much like the man standing before me.”
Dhelvane laughed. “Yet you trust me enough to desire answers from me.”
“I pitied you only. I am not the idiot you take me for.”
Another derisive laugh burst from Dhelvane’s throat. “The day you stepped foot in Oria proved idiocy is alive and well in you. You should turn yourself in and save me the trouble. You should have let him toss me, nephew. I have no use for pity.” Dhelvane moved forward swiftly, a dagger in his hand. Kheldar stepped back cautiously, careful to remain within the cluster. “The satyr taught you well. Tis a pity I cut out his heart. He could have been useful.”
Kheldar gasped but kept his guard up. “You’re lying.” Kheldar parried with his own dagger, this time on the attack.
Dhelvane swiped low, slicing through Kheldar’s leggings and into the flesh of his thigh superficially. “How else would I know about this foolhardy quest he sent you on?” Kheldar’s dagger found flesh of its own. He gasped. “It was with great joy that I slew him and cut his heart out.” His free hand pulled at a pouch around his neck.
This angered Kheldar. He thrust with all his weight, knocking the dagger from Dhelvane’s hand as they fell to ground. Kheldar straddled him and pressed the tip of his dagger into Dhelvane’s throat. “Move once and the smile people see won’t come from your lips.” Dhelvane struggled futilely. Kheldar pressed the dagger harder and a drop of blood tarnished the tip. “Where did my father stash the ruby?”
“Wha…what ruby?” Dhelvane stammered, feigning innocence.
Kheldar gave the blade a slight twist. Innocence was an ill-fitted suit of armor on Dhelvane. A rustle in the bushes behind him shifted his attention. It was Coen, emerging from the woods.
“He lies,” Coen stated, loading an arrow into his bow and aiming it at Dhelvane’s heart. “Answer Kheldar truthfully or my arrow will find itself embedded in your heart.”
Kheldar sighed in relief yet maintained his pressure on the blade. “Where did my father stash the dwarves’ sacred ruby?”
Dhelvane refused to answer. Fear freckled his face as Coen lowered his bow and released his arrow. Thwack! It pierced the ground beside Dhelvane, narrowly missing his ear. Coen fit another arrow in his bow and aimed it once more at his heart. Dhelvane whimpered.
“Your father has many hiding places and moves things around regularly.” He shivered as Coen pulled back on his bow. “Just be…because he wo…once hung it above his hearth in Silveria doesn’t mean it is still there!”
Coen pulled his bow taut. “You helped him steal it. You will help Kheldar find it and return it!”
A wicked smile crossed Dhelvane’s face again and he licked his lips. “Fine. Then we start in Silveria.”
The Fab Four Fable Fictioneers consist of myself, David Wiley, Shannon Potts and Eric Storch.
We gave ourselves a few parameters to follow:
1. No one will be privy to the story until it is posted.
2.The next person won’t know who they are until they are tagged, when the post goes live.
3. The person publishing the most recent part must adhere to the following:
- choose the next person to write the story
- keep the title and stay within the genre provided
- provide an image of their choice at the top of their post that relates to their piece
- the story must continue as a whole and not combined with any other prompt or meme
4. There is no word count or time limit.
And so, in the spirit of tagging, I now tag Shannon to continue with Part 5.