An eleven chapter saga of swordplay and sorcery
|Previously: Wanderer Kael comes upon a city besieged by strange beast men. After fighting his way through a throng of the besiegers, Kael is finally admitted inside the city's walls where he falls unconscious from his wounds...|
to find himself in a soft bed in a darkened room, his wounds cleaned
and dressed, his clothes stripped from him. The sound of rain drummed
against the windows behind closed curtains, which let only the dullest
of illumination into the room, enough though for him to survey his
surroundings. A stone fireplace contained a crackling blaze, casting
it’s own eerie glow into the room.
He tossed the blankets that covered him aside, the
heat beneath them stifling and, naked as the day he was born, save for
the dressings on his wounds, stalked across the room to a large ornate
dresser, where he hoped he would find his clothes, his body a mass of
aches and pains from the battle only... hours? before. How long had he
He touched his shoulder gingerly, the pain less
intense than it had been. He flexed it a little, happily noting that it
still moved as it should, then opened the doors of the dresser. His
clothes were absent, it was empty but for a few old books. He picked
one up and examined it. The writing on the spine was unfamiliar to him.
His father had taught him many spoken languages, but few written
ones-that was something he would have to do for himself.
As he stared uncomprehendingly at the meaningless
script upon the pages, a soft giggle alerted him to another person’s
presence in the room. He turned around and met the gaze of a girl of a
similar age to himself, olive skinned and clad in a simple grey woollen
dress, her raven black locks flowing freely behind her. A wry smile was
on her lips, her dark eyes sparkling mischievously as she looked him up
‘Although you may find it strange outlander, here it
is our custom to put clothes on before we start wandering around an
unlocked room.’ The girl’s voice was melodious and playful.
Suddenly aware of his nakedness and his attraction
to his new visitor, Kael uncharacteristically attempted to protect his
modesty with the open book he was holding. The girl chuckled quietly as
she looked him up and down, a naked man, bandages covering his many
wounds from a terrible battle, trying to hide himself from her scrutiny.
‘You can’t hide anything from me that I didn’t see
earlier,’ she said, teasing him. Kael realised that it must have been
her who had cleaned and dressed his wounds.
‘Lie back down,’ she said firmly, putting her arm
around his broad back and guiding him over to the bed. ‘You’re still
Kael allowed himself to be guided by the small girl.
As easy as it would have been to resist her efforts, he felt strangely
compelled to do her bidding, though he still found the spur to voice
one small protest.
‘I feel fine, girl!’
She ignored him and, as he sat on the bed, leaning
against the headboard, she pulled the blankets up to his chest.
‘First you get some food inside you, then I will
decide whether or not you feel fine.’
By the tone of her voice, Kael realised he had
little choice in the matter.
She opened the curtains, and grey light streamed in
through the rain-lashed windows. She turned as if to leave, but a call
from Kael made her stop and look back at him.
‘I doubt not that you already know who I am girl,
but who are you, and where am I?’
‘My name is Cara,’ she said gently. ‘And you are a
guest in my father, Tarran’s inn, ‘The Tree of all Seasons’, in the
town of Varl. Rest a while longer Kael, and I will bring you a bite to
When Kael said nothing further she turned and left
the room, leaving the nomad alone once more with only his own thoughts
for company. As she disappeared, Kael realised how lightly and quietly
she moved, and now understood how she had entered the room earlier and
had stood watching him, undetected until her giggle had given her away.
Cara was not gone long however, and on her return
she brought a tray loaded with a bowl of soup and crusty bread, which
she laid on Kael’s lap. He tucked into the food with gusto, and she sat
on the edge of the bed, watching her “patient” eat.
‘Do you treat all your guests this well, bringing
them their meals in bed?’ Kael asked, his mouth full of soup and bread.
‘Only those who single-handedly take on an entire
Thrait raiding party,’ she said. ‘Olver and Siman told me you fought
‘You know those two?’ he asked.
‘They are my cousins-my father’s side. That was how
you came to be brought here. You are fortunate I have a knowledge of
medicine and herbs, or you may have bled to death from that wound in
your shoulder. It was foolish to pull the arrow free yourself.’
Kael shrugged indifferently as he gulped another
spoonful of soup down.
‘When they brought you to me, you were already
unconscious. Neither Olver, Siman or I could wake you up, so I patched
you up as best I could and let you rest. Nobody knew whether you would
‘How long did I sleep?’ he asked her.
‘You stirred briefly yesterday, but soon drifted off
again. You’ve been asleep for nearly two days. Why do you think you’re
‘How do you know that I don’t always eat like this,
girl.?’ he said, wolfing down the last of the bread.
She studied him, marvelling at his regained
‘Think yourself lucky that there was somewhere for
my cousins to bring you, there are few people in Varl who will trust a
stranger at the moment.’
‘People like Tarabus you mean?’
‘People just like Tarabus. Don’t be too harsh in
your judgement of him, he has lost a lot recently, as have many others.’
‘To this... Kelmar?’
‘Yes-Kelmar. Tarabus lost his whole family when...’
she suddenly seemed hesitant. ‘I really shouldn’t say any more for the
moment. Olver and Siman want to talk with you themselves.’
‘They are here?’
‘They are on their way by now, I should think. They
left word that they wanted to be informed as soon as you awoke. My
father sent his cellar boy to find them as soon as I told him you had
Cara stood and lifted the now-empty tray from him.
‘I’ll fetch your clothes, you no doubt have many
questions that you want answering.’
‘What’s more, I suspect that if I don’t fetch you
your clothes, you’re just as likely to wrap yourself in your bedding
and go and find them yourself,’ she said as she went through the door.
She was gone but a moment, then was back, a pile of
folded clothes in her arms. He was pleased to note that his sword lay
across the top of her burden, the leather belt wrapped around it.
‘Your own clothes were ruined,’ she said, laying the
pile on a chair. ‘I’ve brought you some of my father’s things,
hopefully they’ll fit you.’ His leather boots she set down on the floor
next to the bed.
She did not leave, but instead she went to the door
and closed it. The mischievous sparkle was back in her eyes.
‘Aren’t you going to get dressed then?’ she asked
him, doubtless noticing the effect she was having on him, and was
obviously seeing it as a game.
Kael felt ridiculous. He was actually embarrassed to
dress in front of this girl. What did he find so difficult? He had lain
naked with many a woman before, what was so different about this? Then
he realised. He wasn’t in control. She was.
Cara smiled, looked at him, then the clothes
questioningly. She was clearly enjoying the sport. She laughed,
throwing her head back with delight.
‘Has the mighty warrior gone shy with me again?’ she
said, in a voice like she would address an infant.
Kael glared at her, trying not to look embarrassed.
He breathed a sigh of relief as she nodded and left the room, all the
while still smiling with delight.
He dressed quickly, throwing on the clean breeches
and shirt that Cara had left him. They were both comfortable, fitting
almost as well as his own had. Then he slipped his boots on - now
thankfully dry - and stamped his feet on the floor to get them
comfortable, the newly-polished leather soft and supple. Finally he
strapped on his sword belt and adjusted the lacquered leather scabbard
so that it hung comfortably against his left hip. He lifted the Katana
free and hefted it before him, it’s long, gently curving blade gleaming
in the dull light. Its cutting edge had been honed to a razor, the
blood line cleaned of the life fluids of the Thrait. Someone had taken
considerable care in cleaning, sharpening and oiling it. As he slid it
back into its scabbard, Cara returned.
She inspected him carefully, walking around him,
tugging at his clothes here and there as she went, testing their fit.
With his bandaged wounds and multitude of scrapes hidden by the loose
white shirt and black breeches, he was an impressive figure- tall,
proud, and defiant under her scrutiny. There was no trace of his
‘You don’t clean up bad for a savage,’ she said,
sporting a noticeable grin. ‘Come. Your visitors are waiting.’
She led him from his room into a corridor with
several doors on either side, some of which stood open, revealing empty
rooms similar to his own. These she passed and led him through a plain
door which opened into a dimly lit common room, flanked on one side by
a serving area around which stood barrels of ale and flasks of wine. A
few customers sat at plain wooden tables, quaffing mugs of the ale or
wine, or gnawing on joints carved from the large hunk of meat that was
roasting over a roaring fire, and was kept turning on its spit by a
youthful looking servant. The air was thick with the smell of the
roasting meat and of the smoke from the fire. Olver and Siman were
lounging at a table in a corner by the door, mugs in front of them, and
as they saw him they called him over with a hearty shout. Several of
the other patrons watched his passage across the room warily, marking
him as an outsider.
‘Cara! A mug of ale and a plate of meat for our
friend here!’ Olver shouted.
Cara nodded and hurried off, seemingly taking no
offence at the demand. Although she was their cousin, it seemed the two
men treated her as though she were their younger sister.
‘It is good to see you well again, Kael,’ Siman
said, as the Nomad seated himself next to him.
‘Aye, it is at that,’ Olver affirmed from the
opposite side of the table. ‘For a while we believed you would not be
with us for long.’
‘I for one, had no such worries,’ Kael said. ‘I can
remember nothing between getting on that cart and waking up a short
Cara arrived at the table, and leaning over him, she
placed the plate of meat and mug of ale in front of him. He detected a
subtle hint of a delicate perfume about her which he had not noticed
before, and he could feel the soft roundness of her curves against his
back as she reached over him. He wondered if she were doing it on
purpose. He would not be surprised at all if she were. Nor would it
bother him. She retired to another part of the common room, where she
attended to another patron.
‘We have something for you,’ Olver said, as Kael
picked up the greasy joint of meat in his fingers and began to gnaw at
it. Siman groped under the table and produced Kael’s longbow and quiver
of arrows, both of which were wrapped in his cloak.
‘We retrieved your saddle and bridle as well,’ said
Siman. ‘They’re in the stables at the back of the inn. Both men looked
particularly pleased with themselves.
‘What of my horse? I note that you say nothing of
Olver and Siman exchanged worried looks, first at
each other , then at the plate in front of the younger man. Kael
stopped chewing, realising what was coming next.
‘You’re eating it,’ they said together. Then,
noticing that Kael had paused in his meal, Siman added;
‘The Thrait cut its throat as it bolted for the
trees. It was already dead when we retrieved it. If it were not for the
fact that we are so short of meat in the city... we never would
have...’ He fell silent as he saw Kael contemplating the piece of
horseflesh in his hands.
Kael knew the horse was already dead, that the
Thrait had killed it. Dead, it was worth no more to him than a dead pig
or cow. It made more sense that these people should make a meal from
it, than it should lie rotting outside the city walls. He resumed his
chewing, waving a hand dismissively, these people had probably saved
his life, whatever the cause of his injuries in the first place, and if
they were short of food, then sacrificing the carcass of his dead horse
was a small price to pay for their hospitality. Licking his
fingers clean, he said;
‘You say you are short of meat. Why? I gather it has
something to do with this Kelmar fellow?’
‘That is what we wish to talk about. Finish your ale
and walk with us.’
Kael swilled down the beer in the mug, a strong brew
with a hoppy flavour. He put the mug down and wiped froth from his
lips. A shadow fell across the table.
All three men looked up as a huge, bear-like man,
bigger than Kael himself, loomed over them. Round faced and round
bellied, his face half covered by a huge black beard, he stood there,
wiping his ham hock sized hands on the front of his leather apron. With
arms and legs like the limbs of some age-old oak, Kael had no doubt
that this man were as strong as he looked.
Olver and Siman smiled as they realised who their
‘Uncle!’ they cried in unison.
‘Kael, this is Tarran, Cara’s father and owner
of ‘The Tree of all seasons.’ Olver told him.
The big man grinned broadly as, his long whiskers
spreading wide. He held out one massive hand for Kael to shake. The
young warrior stood, and, his own large hand dwarfed by this bear of a
man’s massive paw, shook it firmly. The other man, though much older
than he, had a grip like iron, his strength undiminished by time.
‘Greetings friend, welcome, welcome. My nephews here
told me of your bravery yesterday. It almost makes me wish I’d been
there myself.’ Kael found himself wondering how this man had become an
innkeeper. He did not doubt that he had an exciting past. No
innkeeper, no matter how many barrels he lifted, ever had strength like
that. It was no great effort to see where Cara had inherited her self
‘You are welcome to stay here as long as you are in
the city, my young friend. Any enemy of the Thrait is a friend of
As Tarran released Kael’s hand and rushed back to
whatever business he was involved in, Kael realised that, during the
man’s brief introduction, he hadn’t said a single word in return. The
man’s sheer presence had shocked him into silence, and he had departed
so abruptly, he hadn’t had time to regain his wits.
‘Tarran has been wanting to congratulate you ever
since you arrived, Kael. He’s a strange man, but if he takes a liking
to you, you’ll always have a friend in him,’ said Siman.
‘And did he take a liking to me?’ Kael asked,
looking over his shoulder as he watched the big innkeeper disappear
through a door into what he presumed was the kitchen. ‘He didn’t give
me time to speak.’
‘Don’t worry about that,’ Olver said. ‘It’s his way.
While the inn is open, he rushes around like a madman. Speak to him
when this place is empty, you’ll see a different person. You’ll get
‘I’ll take you at your word. Let us finish our
The other two men grabbed their helmets from the
floor and the group stood. Kael wrapped his cloak about himself, and
took up his bow and Quiver. With a call of goodbye to Cara, the small
group stepped from the inn and out into the rain.
Next: Chapter Three:
A Tale of Woe
back to Chapter
One: The City
The Crimson Blade is copyright by Chris Gordon. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)