A Daemon-Horn Blade Ch. 04byStultus©
It was the sixth of Lagufæ, the late-mid summer month of the Goddess of the Sea, before Rowan had regained much of his strength once again and realized probably for the first time that his old life here in this village was now over for good. His master's-piece done, his relationship with his old master Gorge was now rather different; not strained, but things were indeed now a bit different between the two men. Sitting here and sharing a pint of beer at the Goblin's Head with him at the same table was definitely quite a new and rather strange experience. Always before, Rowan had sat at a different table, with his friends and the other younger craftsmen, but now Rowan too was a Master and he now sat at their table as an equal.
The beer wasn't really any tastier sitting at the master's table... but for a just a brief moment as he first sat down there it was in fact the most enjoyable beer he had ever drunk. With a brief toast to his old mentor, Rowan and Gorge sat and finished most of their first blackjack of ale in altogether silence. It was an odd moment for both of them as the old master-pupil relationship was finished and now the two men looked at each other to see if instead they could become now just old friends.
In silence, the older smith delved into his purse and withdrew a pair of folded sheets of parchment and with a slight nod, handed them to his former pupil.
"Rowan, my young friend," he haltingly said, "I have signed on three previous occasions Master's Affidavits for the guildhall in Tellismere, but never before with such pride and confidence as I now have in you. I think that for at least awhile, your path will keep you apart from the toils of smithing, but someday... hopefully soon, you will become a most renowned master of your own forge. Instead of the usual two copies of my certification of your talents to the guild, I have had Miletas, the village clerk copy out an extra one for you. Since I believe that the city of Tellismere will not be your final destination, this will give you a copy for the guild there, one for your own records and safekeeping, and an extra copy for the guild at whatever other great city you might find yourself in."
"Thank you Gorge, old master... Sir."
"I do not think we are saying goodbye forever, but I feel that the road you are about to set foot upon will be a long and perhaps an arduous one. It is always best in these sorts of matters to prepare for unexpected eventualities, whenever possible. I didn't begrudge the extra six silver spent for this additional copy in the slightest. Speaking of which, do you possess the one gold mark needed for filing your master's certification with the guildhall?"
"I believe so Sir, but it shall all-but empty my purse." Currently a gold mark was worth nearly fourteen shillings or nearly three silver crowns, or about a hundred and sixty pence, and paying such a sum would indeed take well over half of Rowan's carefully hoarded savings.
"I had thought as much. Perhaps there is a small way in which I can help with expense and add yet some additional weight to your purse. My good pair of heavy forge tongs is beginning to show its age just a bit and my remaining journeyman doesn't have to skill to make another to its exact measure. It was indeed a rather talented young man who is no longer in my service that crafted that tool for me several years ago." Gorge winked at Rowan and continued. "In fact, it would be well worth a gold mark to me if a certain new young master could forge another one for me before he takes his final leave."
In no way was such a tool worthy of the cost of a small gold piece, but Rowan understood that his old master was making a very generous gesture to provide a simple opportunity for him to earn the entire cost of his guild master's fee in but a relatively simple days work. Touched, Rowan agreed and the two masters shook hands. The work was easily completed the next day and Gorge happily declared the new tongs to be at least as sturdy and well-crafted as the old ones had been.
It was rather odd to Rowan to now be hailed around the village as a hero. In fact he felt like anything but one! Seemingly, everyone around him was constantly thanking him, or congratulating him, and even pressing a gift or a handful of thin battered bronze or small silver coins into his hands anytime he set foot outside of the smithy. Even the relatively few remaining castle guards had done a whip-around and had collected nearly nine shillings for him. Gifts and contributions from the villagers equaled a bit over eight shillings more, for which his meager purse was more than thankful. Now, even after his travel expenses, he thought that he could easily afford to pay his guild fee and perhaps have some money left over with which to start a new life.
Two other villagers, on the other hand, were much less impressed with the young hero. The headman and miller, Vainard, the father of his late beloved was in a brutal rage at just the sound of Rowan's name, and the one time that they crossed paths he swore an oath of violent vengeance against the lad. He, along with his sycophant parish priest, both loudly blamed him for every bit of the misfortune that had occurred on the pavilion green several weeks earlier. It was Rowan's fault, they cried, that the Lady Ayleth had been grievously hurt and that his own daughter Cedany had died, and no protestations of innocence or explanations by anyone would sooth them. Fortunately, their harsh and rather ill-chosen words fell largely upon deaf ears in the rest of the village, to their increasing unhappiness. After one encounter where they nearly come to angry blows, Boyle took to acting as Rowan's faithful bodyguard anytime the lad left the smithy.
It didn't help at all that Rowan blamed himself as well. Comforting friends assured him that he had done everything humanly possible, that Cedany had been one of the very first ones to die in the earliest moments after the Daemon's arrival. She had been the first, and the only one of Lady Ayleth's attendants to deliberately put herself into harms way to protect her Lady, and to give her the brief opportunity to escape into the protective arms of the Foole. By every account of the survivors, Cedany was certainly already dead before Àcheram's horn at the docks had even begun to blow and long before Rowan had even left the forge. Still, Rowan felt that he should have somehow reacted sooner and faster. Even now, not even the combined mirth of the gléaman and his jovial friend Boyle could lighten his spirits. Always before quiet and reserved, the young hero became increasingly morose and sullen, despite the best efforts of the ever-humorous Boyle to cheer him up.
Sometimes now Rowan felt that he was surrounded by jesters, with his young friend on one side of him and the gléaman at his other side, each competing to provide a glimmer of mirth and humor into the sadness that was Rowan's life, now that he was without his Cedany.
Boyle was indeed in much good humor these days as he had received a hefty sack of silver from the personal hands of the Duke and was praised as a hero at least as equal as Rowan during that battle. Although he had not slain the monster, or even injured it any sort of way, it was his brave assault upon the Daemon without any weapon in hand that the Lady Ayleth had best remembered from the ordeal, and accordingly, in her view of the battle, was the most worthy of the credit. The other guardsmen in or near the battle saw things quite a bit differently and they publically praised Rowan's heroics as the unquestioned hero of the combat, but the Duke seemed to have been swayed to his daughter's viewpoint. There was no similar reward waiting for the brave young smith apparently.
Rowan shrugged at the controversy; his friend had indeed been exceedingly brave and well deserved any offered reward. As for a reward for himself, he wanted and desired none... if he could no longer have Cedany, than nothing else was worth even a fraction of her loss to him. Even the apparent anger of the Duke meant little to him.
Even now trapped forever within layers of steel and silver, as a sword now worn constantly at Rowan's side, the Lady and her father the Duke, had agreed with the counsel of his village headsman and his priest, that Rowan now was evermore tainted by his seizure and use of the Daemon-Horn... and the fact that it was now a Daemon-Horn blade wouldn't give any of them any comfort.
If Boyle now worried that his morose friend was carrying a weapon forged from Infernal metal, he appeared to care not a fig! Under the mask of pain and self-misery, he could tell that the goodness of his old friend was still there waiting for the clouds of despair to clear. And if a sturdy mug of ale or three, at his expense, could lighten his friend's fearfully heavy load, then it was small coin very well spent indeed... despite the fact that Ypreth the innkeeper had told him quite firmly that his money was no longer any good here and for now at least, he and his friends would not pay even a farthing for drink in his taproom.
"So, we leave at dawn tomorrow morning with the caravan to Haldyne?" Boyle asked of Oddtus, the Lore-Master, while they somberly enjoyed a few beers the next evening in the Goblin's Head's taproom.
"Indeed, but what is this 'we' that you speak of?" The Histrio laughed. "After perhaps a second sack of heavy silver as an additional reward from the hands of the Duke, or is our company just too mirthful to do without?"
"If it is offered, certainly an additional reward is not to be declined, but my purse is nicely fat and heavy enough as it is. It is my friend I'm concerned about. He has lost his lady-love and now faces as well a new life of uncertainty and peril. As he is a good man worthy of much praise, and not just regarding the celebrated events of recent, I would desire to stand by his side for awhile yet to come, perhaps in merry fellowship or perhaps in mortal heated battle against impossible odds yet once again. They are all the same to me... besides, a good farrier can get work anywhere and I'm a wee bit tired of shoveling shit here for drunken old Cegred. It's a big world out there and my da' said to never sleep when opportunity is knocking!"
Rowan laughed and hugged his friend. "Boyle, of course you can come with us... but I'm still not entirely sure as to why you, O Goode Foole, have volunteered yourself to my service, but I accept your assistance gratefully anyway. My beloved once told me that I could trust you, but I don't understand what interest you have in me? As I understand it, the Duke might or might not even wish to see me, now that I am recovered, but it is very uncertain what sort of welcome I shall receive from him. From the letters that Cedany's father and our wicked priest have surely sent him, the weak but great man will be much swayed by their ill-counsel. It is also quite uncertain what sort of thanks the Lady Ayleth will have for me? Praise or scorn? Shall I get tossed at once into some dark dungeon, or perhaps even the headsman axe shall await me, not that I care a fig at the moment."
"Life is always uncertain, so drink your ale down first before starting your dinner and then pour yourself some more." The wise joculator spoke, draining his blackjack down swiftly but effortlessly and refreshed it from the large earthenware pitcher in the center of the table. "As to trust? Only a true fool would trust a Foole! But I shall offer my wisdom to you never the less, for you are the means of a song... a great wonderful song, and it would be a terrible shame for you to get your brave neck cut off by an angry Duke or a stealthy Goblin on the road, so I shall attempt to guide your path! We shall have songs, and merriment and an odd-tale or two for the road. We shall have good ale... and bad, soft beds or a blanket upon rocky ground, and whether in good company or bad we shall not quarrel... agreed?"
Aroused to his feet, the gléaman raised his blackjack of ale high, and after refreshing his pipes, he burst out into an old familiar tavern song that everyone knew and could sing along to.
Bring us good ale, and bring us in good ale;
For our love of The Seven's sake, bring us good ale.
Bring us no brown bread, for that is made of bran,
Nor bring us no white bread, there therein is no game;
But bring us good ale.
Bring us no beef, for there is many bones,
But bring us good ale, for that goes down at once;
And bring us good ale.
Bring us no bacon, for that is passing fat,
But bring us good ale, and give us enough of that;
And bring us good ale.
Bring us no mutton, for that is often lean,
Nor bring us no tripes, for they be seldom clean;
And bring us good ale.
Bring us no eggs, for there are many shells,
But bring us good ale, and give us nothing else;
And bring us good ale.
Bring us no butter, for therein are many hairs;
Nor bring us no pig's flesh, for that will make us boars;
And bring us good ale.
Bring us no puddings, for therein is all Gods' good;
Nor bring us no venison, for that is not for our blood;
And bring us good ale.
Bring us no capon's flesh, for that is often dear;
Nor bring us no duck's flesh, for they slobber in the mere;
And bring us in good ale.
"Aye, let it be so good Foole!" The three clinked their leather blackjacks together and then drained them, and then yet again were they refilled anew from their serving pitcher. The pitcher in turn was also soon refreshed full and yet further once more before their late evening revels were over. If Rowan didn't quite laugh, for awhile there was a smile on his still tired face. Their beds at the southern warehouse awaited them, and they would be up at the very first crack of light to assist with the final caravan preparations.
Offered seats together on a less than full wagon, the trio began their day long trip down to Haldyne where they hoped that they could catch a ship across Crystal Lake to the city of Tellismere.
The road journey started off well. The summer month of Lagufæ was normally one of the most placid and safe times for travel on either land or sea, but like its mistress the Sea Goddess, the weather by the middle of the month could start to become fickle. Clouds started to gather toward the west promising a rain shower sometime later that afternoon. Sun was still bright and hot and even with a tarp rigged up over the top of the wagon on poles to provide shade, it was soon humid and fairly miserable.
The Foole had brought an ample supply of watered wine for the journey, but after their heavy drinking the night before the two lads sipped sparingly.
"Alright, explain once again for me, and in smaller simpler words this time, just why that Daemon was there on the Duke's island? The time you tried explaining this to me earlier I was still exhausted and recovering in bed, and I only understood about one word in every three that you told me. Keep the story simple and don't make a production out of it... we're supposed to be your friends, not a paying audience!" Rowan asked.
"Oh very well, but sometimes there are no simple explanations for complicated problems... and a story quickly told is lightly regarded and soon forgotten." The Foole replied.
"Trust me... neither of us is every like to forget anything regarding that horror!" Boyle muttered with a slight shiver.
"Very well. For many big problems in life, there is an underlying small petty problem at the heart of it; tiny wounds that fester into something greater. In this instance, the great Lady Ayleth might have been relatively kind to some of her favorite attendants, such as your Cedany, but she was often much less than kind to some of her other ladies. In particular, one such lady, Gwynth, a daughter of one of the larger southern landholders, a baron I believe, apparently had a particularly thin skin for such ill-treatment, and gradually her canker sore of annoyance grew into such a monstrous boil of seething rage that she burned with the desire for revenge, ill-advised or not. With the aid of a rather inadequate, inaccurate and very appropriately forbidden old text, she desired to summon a minor creature from the infernal realms to torment her abuser, but instead she accidentally summoned something rather more considerable and worse."
"So, she thought she was summoning a minor creature and instead found herself the first victim of that terrible Daemon?" Rowan asked.
'Quite. That is why it is a mortal sin and a certain sentence of death to be caught summoning any of the infernal creatures back again to this world. Even the weakest of that sort longs to return to this world and such an opening is inherently dangerous under the best and most controlled of situations. That a Greater Daemon made its way through the summoning opening was rather exceptional and quite rare, fortunately. There are unfortunately few weapons that can harm any of the Greater Infernals, such as this particular Daemon, as even pure silver is not necessarily fatal to it, at least in smaller doses, and the misguided young lady had no ability to either re-banish the creature or even temporarily bind it to her will. Naturally of course, she became its very first victim. They found her a few hours later in the center of an old stone circle in one of the less visited and overgrown parts of the Dukes island. These old stones are mostly harmless enough these days and they were normally avoided out of superstition, and not all superstition is silly old wives tales so it is sometimes wise to heed them. In any case, she managed out of sheer anger and will to summon a creature for a wicked act of revenge and got far more than she had bargained for and paid the price for her foolishness!"
"And then some!" Boyle added.
"As the Daemon was now mostly freed to its own devices, it did set itself upon the Lady's party, out near her pavilion. It could have rejected the slight geis that its ill-prepared summoner had placed upon it, but for reasons of its own it decided to kill the Lady but to save her until the very last. Cedany did bravely try to delay the monster at the certain cost of her life, and did so in fact long enough for me to reach the Lady's side. While I had no weapon that could harm it, I knew certain very old prayers that would and could keep it at bay, at least temporarily until other help could arrive. Naturally, I had little hope that any certain old magical or charmed or even pure silver weapons from the days of the Dragon Wars would be readily on hand, still the longer I could make the creature wait then the greater chance for some miracle to come along. And at length that miracle did come along! Its horn, one its greatest sources of infernal power and the very seat of its evil soul, was somehow impossibly torn from its head and its own malevolence was then used against itself. Now bound forever helpless into the sword that you bear, that Daemon's soul and its vast power is forever trapped inside, bound by silver, wards and enchantments to serve the sword forever... hopefully for the cause of good. Does that make the explanation any simpler?"
"For the most part, yes. So then, because I tore the horn from its head and slew him with it, and then forged the sword, only I can draw and use this sword?" Rowan wondered.
"For the most part, also yes. Only you can safely draw and use the sword, having defeated and trapped it forever, your will can never be at threat from the small amount of malevolent malice that remains within. Beaten under the Peace Lilies and surrounded by a million layers of folded silver and steel, it still has great power, but very little innate will remaining of its own. In your hands, and that of your bloodline, it can do naught but obey your will. In the hands of a stranger, things would be far less certain, so avoid that if at all possible. A good man with a stout heart could probably easily master it and use it for good as well, but if a wicked man should gain that power... well things could get nasty."