Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Just Rewards

     This is a tongue-in-cheek sword & sorcery tale.  I hope you enjoy it!                     
It was rather a slow night at The Hammer and Shield.  Korrin was about to send Rosie home when the door flew open.  A cold wind whipped through the tavern as a green-skinned creature stomped inside.
     He growled, “A message for Daimanus, the Defender.”  The goblin trudged to the far corner where the light was dim.  He sat down, pounding the table with a massive fist.  “Bring me an ale, and stew.”
     Korrin sighed, got a mug and walked to the table.  “Rosie will fetch your stew. I’ll take the message.  I’m his wife.”  Her voice was cold and clipped. She extended her hand, waiting for the parchment.
     “Orders are to deliver this message directly into The Defender’s hand.  Get him while I eat.”  He removed his cloak; Korrin blanched at the stench it released.
     “Of course.  I’d expect nothing less.  Care to give me a name?”  Korrin tapped her toe, scuffing the paper-thin leather.
     “Say Gorak brings an urgent message.”  He drained the pint, handing it back to her with a belch.
     Snatching the mug, Korrin stormed back to the keg.  Rosie spaced the mug and stew at opposite sides of her tray for balance, when Korrin reached out and stopped her. 
Reaching beneath the bar Korrin opened a bottle of rose water.  She splashed it along her throat, sighing as she inhaled.  She offered the bottle to Rosie.  “You’ll thank me once you get a whiff of him; reeks like a dung heap, he does.  Now off to find my man.”
She found Daimanus in their bedroom, oiling his bastard sword.  The ruby in the pommel reflected crimson light across his face.  She moved between him and the lamplight, causing him to look up.
“There’s a goblin out front with a message.  Says it’s urgent.”  She moved behind him and massaged his shoulders.  “I suppose you’ll be leaving again?”
The warrior set down his sword and snorted.  “What do you expect me to do?  I wield the Blessed Sword of Unfettered Virtue.  It’s my duty to answer any plea.”  He jerked free of her and stood, knocking her off balance. 
Korrin thumped to the floor.  “I just get so lonely when you’re gone.  We bought the tavern to run together, but you’re seldom here long enough to serve a meal.  The children hardly know who you are.”  She stroked his rock-hard calves and looked up through her thick eyelashes.
“It’s my job, Korry.  You knew I was a swordsman when we married.”  Daimanus pulled on a chain mail shirt and a studded leather skirt, and added a chest plate and a sheath at his back for the sword.
“You were a sell-sword when we met,” Korrin pouted.
“Ahh, but that was before I found the Blessed Sword.”  He pulled on his boots and shin plates.
“And don’t I wish you never had.  I hate magic.  I don’t trust it, and that includes your damned sword.  How long will you be gone?”  Tears twinkled on her lashes.
“Damn it, would you stop?  I don’t know.  You have plenty to keep you busy ‘til I come back.”  Daimanus strode into the tavern.
Drying her face, Korrin returned to work.  She uncovered a bowl of dough and began kneading a batch of bread.  She punched it with both fists, watching Daimanus.  He took the parchment, scanned it and then left without a word.
Rosie cleared the table.  “He’s gone off again?  I hate seeing you so upset.”
Korrin pummeled the dough.  “What makes you think I’m upset?”  She glanced up as a group of dwarves entered.
Rosie filled a pitcher with Rocksplitter Dark.  “Well, it’s the third time this month he’s gone off saving the world. You usually don’t attack the dough as if it’s the one what’s left you alone.”  She took the pitcher to the newcomers.
Korrin wiped away a tear, leaving a powdery smear on her cheek.  She shaped the rolls and put them on the stovetop to rise, as Rosie returned.  “It’s his job, that’s all.  I wish he’d never found that damn Blessed Sword of Unfettered Virtue!”
Rosie put her arm around Korrin.  “I hate to ask but until he did, had you ever heard of it?”
Korrin blinked.  “No, I suppose not.  What exactly are you implying?”
“I think you should consult the hedge-witch.  My aunt went to her when she thought Uncle Otis was sneaking off with another woman.  She won’t talk about it, but Uncle Otis hasn’t left the house since.  I could come in early tomorrow.”
“Perhaps it’s my only choice.  At the very least it will be a nice walk through the meadow.  And the girls love when you come early.  Thanks, Rosie.”
Daimanus followed Gorak into the woods.  “How far?  I need to keep this adventure short.”
Gorak snorted, “Not far.  He didn’t want to risk being spotted.  He’s still wanted for passing counterfeit coins.” 
Gorak passed through a patch of pines and stood before a stone cliff.  Pulling a dagger from his belt, he rapped the rock four times with the pommel.  A purple glow spread across it and a doorway appeared.  Daimanus walked into the hidden cave and greeted his old friend.
“Roderic!  No details in your message?  Don’t keep me in suspense.  What have you lined up this time?”  Daimanus flopped down on a pile of furs.
Roderic pulled a bit of sulphur from a pouch, rubbed it in his palms then blew the dust into the air.  He whispered an unintelligible word and a globe of light appeared, hovering above them.  “A trade caravan is headed to Zargoth tonight.  We’ll take them by surprise and make a respectable haul.”
Roderic wiped his hands.  “Meanwhile two street wenches are waiting for us to unfetter their virtue, as it were.  In the morning you can return and share whatever portion of your cut you want with the wife.”
Gorak grunted and wandered outside.  Daimanus heard him relieving himself on the rocks.  “Can’t he do that further from camp?  He reeks.”
Roderic whispered, “You won’t have to endure him much longer.  Tonight you will be the hero, and we will go into town and claim our just rewards.”
The trade caravan was small, just three wagons.  There was a driver and guard in the first wagon, a single guard in the other two and two more guards at the end on mules.  The first wagon held a tent and cooking pots, the second was heaped with furs and bolts of linen, and the last held seven large barrels and three small chests. 
Gorak farted, causing the draft horse to snort and twitch.  Roderic glared at him.  “Gorak, attack the guards.  Kill them all but the driver.  Daimanus, wait with me a moment.  I’m going to cast a spell; cover me while I do.” 
Daimanus nodded, and gave the goblin a shove.  Roderic pulled a pinch of sand and duck down from his pouch and whispered the spell.  A gray mist flowed from his fingertips toward the goblin.  As it cleared Daimanus saw six burly goblins join Gorak charging toward the wagon.
The wagon guards drew their swords, but were helpless against the magical creatures.  Daimanus clutched his sword, his knuckles turning white.  “Now what?”
Roderic smiled.  “Look closely at the goblins.  Only one fights left-handed.  That is Gorak.  I’ll slip down there, pull the chests off the back wagon and cover them with a concealment spell.  When only the driver remains, you rush in to assist.  Slay Gorak and the doppelgangers will run off into the woods.”
Daimanus watched Roderic pull the chests and place them behind a tree.  There was a brief flicker of light and Roderic was again at his side.  The driver swung his whip at Gorak who decapitated the last guard.  With a warrior’s yell, Daimanus raced forward.  With his Blessed Sword he ran Gorak through, and five shadow twins melted into the trees.
He cleaned his blade on Gorak’s shirt and held out his hand to help the driver down.  “I wish I’d gotten here sooner.  This one must have been the leader.  The other cowards ran off.”
The driver bowed low.  “Thank you, sir!  Surely your skill scared them off.  Let me offer you a token of my gratitude.”  He took a key and unlocked a chest beneath his seat, removed a leather pouch and held it out.
“That is not necessary,” Daimanus protested.  “I regret I was too late to save your comrades.  I failed in my sworn duty.”
The driver spluttered, “I insist.  It was my fault for traveling at night.  Behind schedule, you see.  I am offering you what I’d have paid my men.  You earned it honestly.  Consider it just rewards.” 
With a nod Daimanus took the pouch and watched the wagon disappear down the road.  He motioned for Roderic.  “Damn, now we have to lug the chests back to the cave!  Some plan.”  Daimanus shouldered the two largest chests and followed Roderic to the cave.
The first chest held jewelry.  Daimanus tucked a ruby ring into his pouch, and passed the rest to Roderic.  “Any of it magical?”
Roderic wiggled his fingers over the chest, and sighed.  “Not a one.  I’ll fence them all and we’ll split the proceeds.  What’s in that one?”
Daimanus held up a strand of orange peppers.  “These are rare.  You have any use for them?”
“No.  No use in spell-casting, and I abhor the taste.   They make my eyes water.  You keep them.”
Daimanus dropped them into the chest and pried the lock off the last one.  He pulled out a bound parchment and started to untie the ribbon, but Roderic grabbed him by the arm.
“Stop!  If you untie it without a protective aura you could blow your fool head off!”
Daimanus grunted, dropped it into the chest and closed the lid.  “It’s full of papers tied up like that.  You take them and we’ll call it even.  Now let’s not keep the ladies waiting.”
They left the cave; Roderic sealed the magic door behind them.  As they reached the alehouse where the wenches waited Roderic asked, “Does your wife suspect what you really do on these missions of mercy?”
Daimanus laughed, rattling the cheap oilskin windows.  “She definitely resents the time, but a good romp in bed and a new dress and I’m the realm’s greatest hero.”
Korrin returned just in time for the lunch rush.  Daimanus stumbled through the door as she was busy with a large order for the town jail.  He kissed her on the cheek, slipped the ring in her pocket and went to bed.  From the fumes he left behind, she knew he was quite drunk.  She thrust the bags of bread and crock of soup at Rosie, who hurried out the door.
Korrin heard Daimanus snoring over the lunchtime noise.  She took out the ring.  Sliding it onto her finger, she dropped her hand back into her apron pocket, fingering the tiny bottle inside.
Korrin put a second batch of rolls in the oven.  Rosie returned, and dropped a handful of coins in the till.  As quickly as the tavern had filled, it emptied and the two women began cleaning. 
Rosie gasped, noticing the ring.  “It’s beautiful!  Where did you get it?”
Korrin sighed, “Daimanus gave it to me before he stumbled off to bed.”
“At least he wasn’t gone long this time.” 
“But what about the next time, or the time after that?”  Tears slid down her cheek.  Her fingers clenched the bottle in her pocket.  She drew it out and held it to the light.  A deep blue liquid swirled inside.
“Did you get that from the hedge-witch?”  Rosie stared at the bottle.
“Yes.  It’s a Potion of Just Reward.  She told me to mix it into a sweet and send it with Daimanus the next time he leaves on a quest.  If he is honest and true, nothing will happen.  If he is deceiving me, I will know the truth.”  Korrin wiped her hands.  “All I have to do is wait and hope I have time to make the cake.”
The smell of fresh-baked bread filled the tavern as the women prepared for the evening rush.  Daimanus still snored in the back bedroom.  Korrin set the tray to cool as her children rushed in, flushed from playing.  A boy she did not recognize accompanied them.
“Mama, Mama!  He says he has a letter for Daddy!”  The children rushed behind the bar, clamoring for her attention.  The boy ducked his head and held out a parchment, sealed with wax.  Korrin gasped, recognizing the royal insignia.  “Surely this is a true quest,” she thought.
“Daddy is sleeping, so be quiet.  I’ll give him the letter.  Now sit down and let me feed you all.”  Rosie set bowls of stew and a basket of rolls before the children.  They attacked the food, sloshing the counter as they raced to finish. “What’s you name, son?” Korrin asked the boy.
“Roderic.  Thank you. I have to get back to my uncle now.”  He hopped down and ran out the door.
Korrin sent the children to bed while Rosie filled a pitcher of ale for the first group of the night.  Korrin returned and mixed a batter of flour, apples and nuts. 
“Are you sending it with him tonight?”
“No, in the morning will be soon enough.  Besides, I’m worrying over nothing.  Look!  It has the royal seal.”  She showed Rosie the wax stamp on the letter.
“Still, do you think the royal house would send a message with a small boy like that?”  Rosie set out a row of mugs.
“I suppose, if they did not want to attract undue attention.  I’ve never claimed to understand how protocol works.”  Korrin tipped the blue liquid into the bowl.  Faint sparks shot into the air and the color disappeared.  “I hate magic,” she muttered, pouring the batter into a pan and sliding it into the oven.
A rooster crowed, waking Korrin at dawn.  She looked at the nightstand where the small nut-cake waited.  She kissed Daimanus, who responded with passion.  He made love to her with a tenderness that had been long lacking.  She turned her head to the side and let the tears sink into the pillow.  When it was finished she got up and fetched the letter.
“A young boy brought this last evening.  I’m sorry if I should have awakened you, but you seemed so tired that I just couldn’t.”  She held out the parchment.
Daimanus gasped.  “Korry!  It’s the royal seal!  Didn’t you recognize it?”  The veins bulged down the sides of his neck.
“Yes, but he was just a little boy.  Surely if it were urgent they would have sent a guard, wouldn’t they?”  Her voice trembled and she took a step back.
“A boy?  Who?”  Daimanus broke the wax, unrolled the letter, and then rubbed his mouth to hide a smile.
“I’d never seen him before.  What did he say his name was?  Let me think.  Yes!  His name was Roderic, though he didn’t give a last name.”  Korrin watched him roll the letter and slide it into his pouch.
Daimanus rose and assembled his armor.  “I don’t have much time.  How about fixing me something to eat?”
“Will you be gone long?”  Korrin pulled on her chemise and overskirt.  She tied on a fresh apron and pulled her hair back with a ribbon.
“A few days this time, and don’t go on crying about it.  I am the wielder…”
Korrin sighed, “You are the wielder of The Blessed Sword of Unfettered Virtue.  I know, and I am proud of you.  There are not many men who would leap out of bed and rush off to defend the helpless and besought.  I’ll have a full breakfast ready soon, and a bag of rations for the journey.”
Daimanus stopped dressing and pulled her into his arms.  “That’s a good girl.  I’ll be back soon.”  He slapped her rump and returned to his armor.
The sun had passed its apex and twilight was approaching as Daimanus rapped on the rock wall.  He waited for the purple light to fade and stepped through the mystical door.  Roderic lounged on the furs with the two women from Zargoth.  All three were naked, and the women giggled as they pulled at his buckles.
“Ahh, good to see you again, and so soon.”  He dropped his sword and breastplate to the ground.  “Still, I think I’ll be needing a little fortification before we get started.  After all it was a long, hot walk getting here.”
Roderic passed him a bottle of wine.  He swallowed most of it and then opened the linen sack that Korrin had packed.  The small brown nut-cake sat on top.  A sweet fragrance tickled his nose, unlike anything he had ever known.  Daimanus popped the entire cake in his mouth and swallowed.  A deep blue smoke appeared, swirling around his head.  It expanded until it covered him completely.
Roderic and the women sputtered, fanning the smoke away with their discarded clothing.  As the air cleared they gasped.  Daimanus was gone, his armor lying in a jumbled heap on the ground.  A fat, black rat sat up on its hind legs and released a string of chittering squeaks. 
The women shrieked; Roderic cursed, searching for his wand.  The rat ran over to the closest woman and crawled up her thigh.  She reached out, grabbed the breastplate and brought it down on the rat, cutting it in two.  Roderic retrieved his wand, turned around and fell to his knees.  The rat began to smoke and within a moment the naked body of Daimanus lay on the furs, severed in two at the waist.
At the tavern, the tiny bottle on the bar began to glow a deep red color.  Korrin shrieked and threw it to the floor. She fell to her knees, wailing as Rosie swept up the broken glass.

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