One God's Folly: Part One

One God's Folly

By Richie Adams

Chapter I


He rode into what the locals called a town just at sunset. His stature told of a once regal bearing but had anyone been close enough to see his eyes they would have seen a man who has looked into Hell itself, and been changed by what he saw.

Everyone present during his somewhat less than magnanimous entrance pegged him as either an out of work guard or a thief. Either way they intended to not allow him to stay. A small town on the back end of nowhere with plenty of its own problems was no place for a drifter with no apparent socially redeeming qualities. It was a harsh judgement of a stranger who had done nothing to wrong anyone here, but then these were harsh times. Well times were usually rough following a war. Especially for the losers.

The war had lasted roughly five years, which was just long enough to only kill half of the town's population. Of course most of those killed were adult men in vital positions. All in all, every family in town had lost fathers, sons, brothers, and even wives and daughters. And for what? To live in the shadow of the Black Tower? It had all started seven or eight years ago with the rise of a politically unknown mage to the throne of nearby Zaratia. Of course he had to make a name for himself, that surprised no one. The way he did it lifted eyebrows though. Of all the things he could have done, no one expected him to pledge allegiance to Sintrik, God of Death. That single act had spurred him to lead an all out invasion on Dantrill, as well as her neighbors Trinsk and Elvendor. How he managed to keep his armies supplied was a question only those who had never fought them wondered about. For Hemlock the Mage Most Black commanded an army of the dead. And to make matters worse, his army grew with each battle, until the stories of militia fighting the animated bodies of their own kin spread to demoralize entire counties enough that they fled south in a single exodus of men, women, and children, leaving everything but their fear to be ground into dust under the feet of the approaching wall of death.

But that was a long year and an unconditional surrender ago for the people of this town, which the natives had affectionally renamed Death's Door. They only thought about where their next meal was coming from, and how high the tariffs would be next season. They had no energy to spend on this stranger, be he friend or foe. They only wanted to be left alone to their suffering and allowed to die in peace.

But the stranger apparently didn't care what they wanted, for he rode his dappled grey up to the hitching rack in front of the town's only tavern and dismounted. It was during this later action, that the few locals on the street who were eyeing him saw the brace on his left leg which had earlier been concealed by his weathered blue traveling cloak. The brace was an elaborate metal and leather device which stretched from mid thigh to his ankle. It allowed his knee to bed only slightly and his ankle not at all. The stranger whispered something in the horse's ear which caused the grey to nicker softly as he deftly gave the reins a flick around the hitching pole. The stranger then stepped up onto the board sidewalk and walked inside. It was obvious to those few on the street who watched him that while the brace wasn't entirely new to him, it still gave him some trouble walking, since he was fighting it with every step, as if he hadn't yet resigned to his fate of wearing it. As the crippled stranger went through the swinging bat-wing doors of the tavern, and disappeared into the gloom of the Dust Devil Inn, the watchers turned back to their own chores, no word having ever been said.

The creak of the saloon's doors fulfilled it's purpose when it alerted Jarill, the Dust Devil's owner, proprietor, cook, and bar keep to the presence of a potential customer. Upon being awoken from his late afternoon nap, Jarill sat up with a start. It was a bit early for his usual barflies and other customers to be arriving for their dinner and conversation. Jarill's eyes soon adjusted to the gloom of the nearly dark room and quickly opened wide when he realized that he didn't recognize the newcomer. Jarill jumped up from his seat atop the only padded barstool and hurried over the rope tied to the wall which held up the light wagon wheel adorned with five unlit lanterns. As the stranger made his way to the bar Jarill called out " Just let me get these lantern's lit and I get you something to drink." As he hurriedly ran through the motions required to lower the lanterns, light them, and then raise them back into place, the stranger settled himself slowly onto the padded stool, pausing slightly to fumble with his left knee, or so it seemed to Jarill, who was working blind, because all of his attention was held by the quite stranger. Jarill stumbled back around the bar before asking "O.K. now, what'll it be? I've got ale, some mead, a little wine, and if you've got enough silver, maybe a drop or two of dwarven spirits." The stranger, head bowed toward the counter, asked in reply "Anything cold?" Jarill replied, "No, not in this weather, It takes longer to get back from the mountains than the ice lasts. The mead and wine have been in the cellar for a while now though, so they may be a bit cool." "Mead then" the stranger sighed.

As Jarill dug under the bar for a clean mug, he asked "I didn't catch your name stranger, what did you say it was?" "That's because I didn't throw it" replied the stranger. Jarill straitened up, his search at an end, and looked unhappy, his prying attempt having failed. As he began to slowly fill the mug, the stranger asked "What's in the pot for tonight?" Jarill handed the now full mug of golden liquor to the man and replied "Goat stew" The stranger barely suppressed a shudder, then ordered a bowl. As Jarill handed a bowl of steaming gray chunks of unidentifiable meat swimming in a greasy brown gravy, accompanied only by a few pitiful bits of potato, the stranger failed in his attempt to hide his disdain behind a look of indifference. "How much?" he asked, digging into an interior pocket of his cloak. "A silver for the drink and two copper for the stew" replied Jarill. "Can your break a gold?" asked the stranger. At the sight of a real gold piece, Jarill's eyes bugged out as he grabbed the offered coin. "Maybe" was his reply, as he took the bowl of stew from the counter and turned and dumped it back into the pot from whence he dipped it.

"How do you like your steak?", he asked the stranger, as he walked into the small kitchen, and stopped just out of sight of the stranger. Rare was the reply from the stranger as Jarill dropped a lonely piece of beef onto the grill. In a moment He speared the still bleeding steak and dropped it onto a small carving board and returned to the stranger. As he dropped the board in front of the surprised man, he quietly whispered "Eat that before anyone else comes in, they all thing I ran out of beef a week ago. The stranger quickly began sawing at the tough meat with a small serrated blade given him by Jarill for that task as he asked again "How much?" Jarill answered, "One gold for the mead, the steak, a room for the night and hay and water for your horse." "You do have a horse I presume?" he added. The stranger flipped his thumb back toward the door, but didn't answer, his mouth being full of steak.

After a few more quiet moments of the stranger eating and Jarill watching awkwardly while he nervously polished the only true gold piece he had seen, much less touched since before the War. When most of the steak had disappeared down the strangers gullet, he paused a moment to catch his breath and say " Have you any bread to go with this?" The stranger then turned his mug up for another swallow of the sweet mead and was disappointed when only the dregs remained. "Ale, and leave the pitcher" He croaked, the last bite of steak he had eaten not wanting to stay down where it belonged. Jarill hastily deposited his gold piece into a hidden pocket somewhere under his dirty tunic, and then pulled an old wooden pitcher full of a nut brown liquid from under the bar and after filling the strangers mug, and after a moment one for himself, then placed the pitcher within the strangers reach.

"Narri!" cried Jarill, so suddenly that the stranger almost choked. "Narri!, bring a loaf of today's bread." "In a minute, I'm not dressed yet!" cried a distinctly female voice from somewhere upstairs. "Now girl!, a customer's waiting." replied Jarill. In a few minutes, a somewhat gangly young girl, of no more than 16 or 17 years old bounded down the stairs, robin's egg blue tunic and matching knee length skirt, making her slim figure seem more robust'. But when she returned from the kitchen's pantry, and stood beside Jarill, her spring grass green eyes and reddish brown hair, pulled back into a long braid running down her back, gave away her true nature, that of an innocent young maid, whose only fault is in being as naive as a new born, having been protected since before the war by first her mother, and then after her death, Jarill.

Narri laid the bread down in front of the stranger, and stood near Jarill, her eyes wide, taking in the sight of the first stranger to town in a long time. His rugged face, badly in need of a shave, crisscrossed with several small, thin white lines, indicative of old scars barely showed from under his ragged mop of hair which had fallen forward over his eyes. The stranger filled his mugs with the cool ale, and drained it again nearly as quickly, in an attempt to force the steak to settle down. It did, and he seemed satisfied for the time being, as he refilled his mug and sat up strait to look around.

He shook his mane from his face, revealing more of himself to the cowed girl. His wasn't a truly handsome face, not in its present state of disarray, but it seemed to draw her attention as a moth to a flame. "See to our guest girl, and get him whatever he wants. I've got to go rouse that lazy good for nothing boy Tenner and have him see to his horse." This was accentuated by Jarill's thumb jerking toward the batwing doors, indicating he ment the strangers horse. Jarill head off for the kitchen, and soon disappeared from sight. Narri shifted nervously from foot to foot as she watched the man settle down for a few minutes of quiet as he drank.

But her presence didn't go unnoticed either, as the stranger saw her, probably for the first time as he raised his mug. "Hello" he said, dipping his head in greetings. "Hell loooo" she stuttered in reply. "My name is Narri, I work here, and live here too. What's your name?" "Well Narri, it seems that manners haven't died completely around here. I've been in town for a while now, and your the first person whose asked my name. I wish I knew it, so I could tell you. But I've gone by Hey You!, and Move along there! For a while now, so call me whatever it is you wish to, and I'll answer." Concern slipped transparently into Narri's eyes as she listened. "You don't know your name? Are you an orphan too? I am, but I remember my ma, and the name she gave me." "I... don't know. I seem to remember my parents, and life from before the war, but when ever I try to, its just slips away. Its a long story. I'll tell it to you some time if you'd like. But for now, I'm beat. Could you show me to my room?" the stranger said this last as he stood stiffly, and eased off the stool.

Narri led the way toward the stairs, and then noticed his leg.

"What happened to your leg!?!" She proclaimed, never haven seen such a brace before.

"I took a bolt in it during the war. But thats part of the story, and best saved for another time. If I start telling it now, I won't be able to sleep." he replied softly.

"Oh. Well your room is on the second floor, can you manage the stairs?" She asked mechanically, her eyes still glued to his embraced leg.

"I believe so, If you'll lend me your shoulder for the climb."

She did, and the climb went slowly as he stiff legged it up the fifteen stairs. When they reached the second floor, she stayed close to him, to maintain her contact, while leading him to his room.

She opened the door, then stood aside. "I'll...I'll leave you alone now. Come down later if you feel better. Holler for me if you want me to help with the stairs again, I'll be glad too." She was fidgeting again, and staring at the floor, shyly.

"Thanks. I may do that, but first I've got to get some sleep. See to it that Bo is taken care of would you? He's my horse, and my only friend. If you go out there, tell him I sent you, He'll gentle down for you then." this bit was broken by a yawn, so Narri knew he was truly tired. "Come up later, and I'll tell you a tale. Its been a while since I've talked with anyone, and you seem nice enough to listen to my story. But now..." He plopped down onto the bed, and Narri closed the door, while saying "I'll check in later, I'd love to talk with you too." She skipped back down the hall, with a smile that threatened to split her whole face.

The stranger, still nameless, was in a different mood.

He sat up on the side of the bed, and began his hated ritual. He began undoing the complicated straps and buckles to free his leg. It's dead feeling a hated thing. When the brace fell free, he punched his thigh, hard, and sadness filled his face, when no pain radiated from the impact. He pulled his leg up to the top of the bed, and lay back, hands under his head, and cried ever so softly.

To be continued...

Copyright 1997 by Richie Adams

Richie Adams is currently, (for for the forseeable future) attending Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville Georgia, where he is striveing to achieve a BA in English and a minor in history. He is a self declaired underachiever (some say just plain lazy) with a passion for the printed word. This is his first "published" work. --

You can E-Mail Richie by clicking here.

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