Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Stoors Prophecy - Conlan of Brunfield


I've used the ideas that came to me while out walking a couple of days ago, to write this episode that introduces one of the main characters from The Stoors Prophecy my humorous fantasy.

Conlan of Brunfield is a bounty hunter and wannabe hero. He travels the countryside doing his best to promote his image, but unfortunately he carries a lot of 'baggage'...

Please understand that this is a draft piece, cobbled together over a couple of hours last night and this morning, so there's probably grammar and structure errors in there, but I'd like you to read it anyway and give me your impressions.

What I'm aiming for is a fantasy tale with a vein of humour throughout, but still with a certain level of action and adventure.

It's quite a long piece, but I'd appreciate it if some of you could stick with it and give me your comments once you've read it.

Conlan rode slowly along the path. He smiled to himself. He had come a long way, both on his journey and in his career. Conlan had a vocation. He was determined to become a hero. One day his name would be sung in ale houses. One day people would tell stories about his exploits and adventures. One day.

For now though, Conlan could only concentrate on his image. Though his ambition was to be a hero, he knew that a great part of it would be in what people thought of him and it was a long process to build up a reputation. While all that was going on, he had to earn a living, and the jobs he chose, were not seen as heroic in many people’s eyes, so he promised himself that he would at least look the part.

There had been harder days. He’d started out learning his trade as a mercenary, but that was a dangerous job, and since nobody ever thought of paid heavies as heroic, and because it’s very difficult to even look heroic when you’re covered with the blood, mud and animal shit of battle, he’d decided to get out of that line of business as soon as he could.

Conlan now worked as a bounty hunter, and that suited him fine; well almost. It served his purpose to travel to destinations far and wide, and he always made sure that the people he met remembered his name, though often they’d remember it for the wrong reasons. Some of them remembered him as the man who’d dragged their father away for non payment of fines incurred long ago in some foreign land, or the thug who’d tracked down their husband and taken him away to face his creditors in court. But people still saw him riding past, wherever he went, and though he said so himself, he did cut a dashing heroic image. He’d seen the look of awe on the faces of the people in the towns and villages he’d passed through; he’d heard them whispering things like “Who is that man?” and he made sure that they knew his name, though he wasn’t sure that handing out flyers as he passed was a particularly heroic thing to do, but ‘needs must’.

He certainly did look the part: riding high atop his magnificent charger, accompanied by his faithful wolf, and followed by his hawk, though right at this moment, Conlan knew that his image counted for nothing.

His horse was black, and since it was late at night and there was no moon at all, he doubted that anyone would have seen his mount from much more than a few feet away. He glanced to each side: nothing! “Ardolph!” he called. A low growl sounded from a few feet to his right. Wolves were particularly good at not being seen if they didn’t want to be. As for his hawk, as usual it was flying free, probably high above him, but he knew that a sharp whistle would always bring it back to its perching place on his left arm.

As it was, all he had for company was his horse; he’d talk to it as he rode, but of course he never got an intelligent response. Occasionally something he’d say would be met by a low whinny from the front of the horse or a fart from the rear, and sometimes it would be opportune enough to sound like the horse was expressing an opinion of its own, but those times were few and far between, and it hardly counted as conversation.

Of course there was her. She was always with him, though she was surprisingly muted when there was nobody else but him around, even though it was only him that could hear her. She’d been like this ever since she realised that he’d trained himself to resist her suggestions, to not be influenced by her taunts, to not let himself be goaded by her remarks at all.

But now she spoke: Someone’s coming! Who’s that? Be ready. He’s probably armed!

The voice sounded from somewhere close to Conlan’s left shoulder, rousing him from his thoughts. He looked up and saw the short squat figure approaching him, illuminated by the flaming torch he carried in his left hand. In his right he bore a dangerous looking sickle.

Conlan dismounted. He whistled: one long sharp high pitched tone, and his hawk swooped out of nowhere to land on his left arm as he extended it. He nodded to the bird and it climbed up onto his shoulder. A glance to his right and he saw Ardolph’s eyes glowing in the approaching torchlight.

He is bloody armed. Don’t take any chances my lord. Kill him now. Go on: kill him. I’m ready!

The man approached. Conlan could see now that he was a middle-aged man, slightly overweight, and certainly not dressed for travelling. He wore a long nightshirt over his rough trousers, and a pair of work boots, that looked like they’d been donned hastily since the laces were still untied.

“Greetings sir,” said Conlan, “May I introduce myself? I am Conlan of Brunfield, adventurer and hero. I assume these are your lands that I’m crossing?”

“Aye, that they are,” answered the newcomer, “What brings you here good sir? I trust your aims are honourable. I am a poor farmer and have nothing worth looting.”

“Worry not sir, I am merely passing this way in pursuit of my quest,” Conlan reassured him, then added: “Though the night is cold and dark and I would appreciate the chance of a place to rest my head. I can pay you.”

Sod that. You can’t trust him. Kill the bugger. Go on! Have him! Conlan was glad the stranger couldn’t hear the words.

“I have little, but there’s room in my stable for your horse, and I can make you up a bed in my meagre hovel, though your dog will have to stay outside.” He nodded toward Ardolph.

Dog? DOG? The cheeky bastard. Go on my lord, Stick him. Stick him now.

Conlan ignored the outburst that came from over his shoulder, instead saying to his host: “This is no dog sir. This is the last of the Cursed Wolves of Deepwood.”

The plump man looked a little taken aback. There was fear in his eyes as though he was having second thoughts about offering to share his abode. He hesitated a little then said: “Well that’s as maybe. He’ll still have to stay outside though, and in the yard, not in the stable. I have the safety of my livestock to think of.”

“I thank you sir,” replied Conlan, “that is acceptable to me.”

“You and your budgie are OK though,” added their host, “You’re welcome in my house.”

Conlan was a little confused. Budgie? He must be talking about his hawk. Conlan was the first to admit that it was quite a small hawk, but a hawk it was. Nobody had ever mistaken it for a budgie, even in the dark.

Budgie? Bloody BUDGIE? How dare he. This cheeky git is really asking for it now. Go on. Just chop his head off and have done with it!

Conlan held his tongue for a short while. The landowner turned and led the way; Conlan walked at his side, leading his mount. Ardolph lurched along unseen, somewhere behind them.

“This here is the northern field of my smallholding,” said the farmer, “It isn’t much but it provides me with a living. I’m saving what little money I earn, and who knows: one day I might be able to afford to buy myself a wife?

They walked a little further; the hawk shifted a little on Conlan’s shoulder and the farmer turned to it and said “Who’s a pretty boy then?”

“It isn’t a budgie. It’s a hawk, a bird of prey,” said Conlan.

He’s getting on your nerves a bit isn’t he? Go on: top the fat old bugger!

“Well it’s a very tiny one then,” said the farmer, “I didn’t think they came that small.

Conlan told the farmer the story of how he’d gone to the falconer’s store and how the proprietor there had explained how the do-it-yourself method of obtaining a hawk worked out much cheaper. He’d showed Conlan his stock of eggs, explaining that the expense in feeding and rearing the chicks was saved by selling an egg instead, and that he was quite happy to pass part of those savings onto the customer. Conlan had been a little limited in his finances at the time, and he’d noticed that one group of eggs was much cheaper, though much smaller than the others. The falconer had assured him that the bird that hatched from one of those eggs would grow just as well as those from the larger eggs, and so it was that Conlan had bought and reared a merlin, the smallest bird of prey he’d ever seen.

“Aww, he’s cute though,” said the farmer, “I’ll give him some seed when we get home, and I think I have an old cuttlefish bone somewhere.”

“He doesn’t eat seed. He’s a bird of prey. He eats mice and such”

“Oh, perhaps we should put him in the barn then. I have an awful problem keeping down the rats in there.”

“Ah, well. A rat might be a bit much for him,” replied Conlan. He saw the farmer raise one eyebrow. “Oh, I’m not saying he couldn’t handle a rat,” he pointed out, “It’s just that he’ll only kill what he can eat, and to be honest, there’s too much in a rat. He just can’t manage to eat a whole one. You could put Ardolph, my wolf in your barn. He’ll soon clear the rats for you.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you about him,” said the farmer, “About the curse and all that. Tell me, what happened to the rest of them?”

“The rest of them?” said Conlan, “The rest of who?”

“The rest of the Cursed Wolves of wherever. You said he was the last of them.”

“Oh, they’re all still living in Deepwood,” replied Conlan. “He isn’t the last of them alive, he was just the last one of them to be cursed.”

“What about the curse then?” inquired the farmer.

“The way I’ve heard the story, they just started out as ordinary wolves, doing the things ordinary wolves do: keeping pretty much to themselves, except for on a full moon when their howling would keep the whole neighbourhood awake all night. But one or two of them were a bit mischievous. They’d get up to things that people really hate wolves for; you know the kind of thing, sitting up in bed, disguised as old ladies, just to scare little visiting girls.

“Then one day one of them went a little too far. It blew down a pig sty owned by a witch and gobbled up three of her little pigs. She was furious and went around the wolves cursing every last one of them. Ardolph hid as well as he could, but eventually she found him and his fate was the same as each of his brothers.”

“So what is the curse, exactly?” asked the farmer.

“They were all transformed into...” Conlan paused for the sake of suspense, “Weremen!”

The farmer looked very frightened. “Well I have no idea what weremen are, but it certainly sounds frightening. Perhaps I’ll let him in the barn to handle the rats, but I wouldn’t want to let him into my home.”

“You wouldn’t say that if tonight was a full moon,” said Conlan.

“Why?” asked the farmer, “What happens? Does he become even wilder and more violent? Would he tear my home apart and me with it?” He seemed to be shuddering now, more from fear than from the cold.

“No, not at all,” Conlan replied. “In fact he’d be more likely to tidy up your home than to bust it up. That’s the point of the wereman curse. Every full moon he turns into a man. Pretty much just a regular bloke really, and he’s filled not with rage, but with overwhelming guilt for all the things he’s done while he’s a wolf. To be honest I don’t look forward to those times. I don’t really get on with the human Ardolph: he’s such an annoying little prat.”

Minutes later Conlan and the farmer were settled in the farmer’s little one roomed home. Conlan’s steed and hawk were in the stable, and Ardolph was curled up outside on the porch. Conlan had been telling the farmer tales of his exploits, embellishing them a little, he had to admit, but he had to consider his image and saw his exaggerations as merely a public relations exercise.

“More bread my lord?” asked the farmer, “and I have another cask of ale put away if you’d like some more.”

“Thank you, but I’ve had my fill,” replied Conlan, “I’d like to sleep now, in that armchair if I may.”

The farmer waved his hand toward the armchair as a sign of assent and Conlan rose from his place at the table. He unbuckled his belt and dropped it by the side of the chair, he then carefully unfastened his baldric and gently laid his sword and scabbard upon the table.

His sword caught the attention of the farmer: “That’s an uncommonly fine weapon you have there, my lord,” he said as he reached out as if to touch the hilt.

“DON’T touch the sword!” Conlan barked at him. The farmer jumped up in shock, toppling his own chair.

“I was merely admiring it,” he said. “The craftsmanship is incredible, the beauty of the castings on the hilt make it almost irresistible to me. I only want to hold it though, nothing more. Pray sir, will you draw it, so that I can see how fine the blade is?”

“Sorry no,” replied Conlan, “I cannot. It is an enchanted sword, possessed by a magical spirit. It has served me well, but if I let my guard down for but a moment, I may find myself serving it. It must remain sheathed tonight.

The farmer shrugged and went to his bed. Conlan settled in his armchair and slept.

It was almost morning when Conlan was awoken by the sound of the farmer’s voice.

“You’re right, he is a cocky bastard. He comes here from out of nowhere with tales of his exploits just to frighten me. Why should I put up with that?”

Conlan half opened one eye. The farmer was standing at the other side of the table, with the sword in his hand.

“And then he has the effrontery to eat all my bread and cheese and to drink nearly all my ale. Yes, I think I’ll slit him from gullet to groin.” He walked around the table toward the armchair where Conlan was seated.

Conlan opened his eyes, lifted two fingers of his left hand to his mouth and whistled long and hard. At that his hawk flew through the window toward the farmer, who swung at it blindly with the sword. Suddenly the door burst open and Ardolph stood there, framed in the doorway, snarling and growling at the farmer. The farmer turned his attention to the wolf.

“And as for you,” he said, “I’ve had just about enough of you. I’ve hardly slept a wink all night for fear of you outside my window. Well I’m not afraid of you now.” He swung the sword as he approached Ardolph.

From his place in the armchair, Conlan stuck out his leg as the farmer attempted to pass. He caught the farmer in the shin, causing him to fall full length across the farmhouse floor.

Conlan arose from his seat immediately and as the farmer hit the floor, he stamped with all the force he could muster, down upon the old man’s hand. The farmer yelled out in pain and released the sword, which Conlan grabbed and swept up in his own hand immediately.

Conlan struggled to contain his own rage as a familiar voice came from the sword: That bastard tried to kill you! Don’t let him get away with it. Kill him now!

Conlan ignored the voice and managed to control his own anger long enough to call his wolf: “Ardolph, yield. Don’t hurt him.” The wolf backed away. Conlan looked down at the unconscious form of the farmer. He hadn’t fallen hard enough to knock himself out. The poor old sod had probably fainted away in terror once he was free of the influence of the sword.

Why do you let him live? He would have taken your life. He had it in mind to kill you.

“It was not the poor farmer’s will that caused that attack” Conlan said as he looked at the decorative hilt of his sword. The image of the naked woman cast as if to be standing on the guard, still seemed to be draping herself around the hilt, still seemed to be reaching up with one arm to caress the pommel, but now her head seemed to be turned to look directly at Conlan and she had a definite frown of annoyance on her face.

My lord, do not be so angry with me. I exist only to kill. You rarely make use of me, and then only by your own will, never by mine. It was refreshing to have a less well controlled mind in my grasp. I weakened under my own blood lust for a little while, but you must believe me, you alone are my only true master.

“Only for as long as I own you though,” he replied. “I’d better just make sure I don’t let you out of my grasp again.”

Conlan had contained his anger fully by now. He sheathed the sword, fastened the scabbard back over his shoulder, picked up his belt, then prepared to leave the house. He looked down on the prone figure of the unconscious farmer, thought for a moment, then walked over to the table and left a small bag of silver there. As he departed he smiled and nodded to himself “That’s what a hero would do.”

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