Tales of a Lost Bard – Part One

Writing Prompt: It seems even the little choices in life matter as well; You’re glad you decided to wear blue today.

“Gods above.” Kali groaned, pulling his hands over his eyes, “I really shouldn’t have drunk so much last night.”

Sitting up on the Inn’s pitiful slab of a bed Kali noticed a man standing by the room’s door. He could barely make the man out beyond the shadow, for his vision was clouded by sleep and all the world about him was spinning in a blur.

“Get up, get dressed and get out.” the man said with a grunt, “Lady Hafner is waiting.”

Lady Hafner? What in Hells’ Fire could Lady Hafner want with me?

The door slammed shut and the broken footsteps of the man sounded off down the hall, hollow on the floor boards.

Littered across the floor were metal tankards and green and blue bottles, shirts from a closet that had been emptied in a frenzy, and puddles of wax from melted down candle sticks. Looks like a party. Kali grimaced, he hoped it had been a party, he couldn’t remember anything after…

Oh, tell me we didn’t. Fleeting images appeared imprinted on his memory, his face gave a cry of disappointment. He’d been out on the lake, last night, with Budny no less (a youngling coming upon his Elder years, troublesome, tricky and terrifically quick). He recalled that they’d been racing on the frozen waters – not so bad, that I can live with… oh, but then – they’d come across a nest of baby Skunks in the thickets by the edge of the icy waters, curled up and sleeping.

It’s safe to say that Skunks aren’t particularly popular, but they’re far from the most hated of creatures. In the eyes of most that is. But in the eyes of Lady Hafner? Hafner’s estate was on the far side of the lake, a ruining manor house with too little roof and too many shattered windows. Kali was certain now that he and Budny had – …had tried to teach the Skunks to fly. Oh Gods, imagine it! One minute you’re sound asleep, the next your tearing through the air, falling as if in a dream. Only it’s not a dream, and you won’t wake up before you hit the ground. It’s SPLAT! Or worse… you end up stuck behind Hafner’s picket fence… not too bad for us human creatures, but for a Skunk?

“Kali?” the same voice that had been waiting for him to wake up called from far down a corridor.

“Coming, Hunz! Coming…” Kali staggered from off the bed, eyes still adjusting to his far from sobered state. He pulled up the first pair of tight pants he could find, threw on a shirt, gathered his finger-less gloves, and in a thoughtless motion slung his lute over his shoulder. Wait a minute. He turned back into the room, stood at the door. I’m forgetting something. He scratched his head dully, staring at his… feet! Can’t be blundering about bare foot now, can we? With a click of his fingers a pair of loathers, with silver linings in the soles, came tip toeing out from under the bed. They strolled casually up to Kali and then, as if fading for a moment from the World, they re-appeared upon his feet. That’s better. And then he left.

Hunz, the Inn-keeper, was a Dwarf by all accounts but size. Six foot tall with braided hair that formed into a well tamed beard and ears that hung around his chin.

“What took you so damn long?” Hunz grumbled, wiping the dirt of his hands on his soot black apron, “After the trouble you caused last night… well, let’s just say I thought you’d be eager to make amends.” Hunz laughed, a deep and unnerving laugh, “I’ll say one thing though, you got some stones kid, stones I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“I take it you meant the Skunks?”

“Skunks?” Hunz looked confused, then shrugged, “I’m talking about the… well, you know what.”

Kali’s pale grey eyes widened in shock. The tankards, the bottles, the melted wax of the candles… no, surely not?

“Looks good on you, the blue.” Hunz nodded, busying himself with wiping down the surface of the bar, sticky and ripe with ale and blood, “You really should get going. Hafner’s waiting, and I dare say… well, you know it won’t last much longer.”

Gods tell me we didn’t. Tell me I wasn’t so stupid.

Kali left in a hurry, out the batwing doors and into the the bustling… hold on a second. This isn’t right. The streets were empty. Shops and homes alike shuttered down. For a moment Kali believed it had to be night, that his eyes had betrayed him in a blinded stupor. Suns out. He sighed, scratching his head. But it was still cold as night, the warmth of that great ball of fire doing nothing to ease the howling winds of the winter. I wish I had my cloak. But he’d lost it, somewhere last night. A beautiful thing it was too, covered in patches from each and every place that Kali’d ever travelled to.

On his way to the lake, and the Hafner’s estate, a string of rather odd events unfolded. Odd even for a Bard. Not that Bard’s minded the peculiar, it always made for better songs and story telling anyway.

First was the young woman on the balcony, the only person Kali met as he wandered through the vacant village.

“You there,” the woman called, she had a basket under her arm and a patch that covered one eye, “how would you like to come inside.” she winked (or was it blinked?) then added, “I could use some more attractive company.” there was a loud coughing from inside the house, and a guttural moan like the sound of pig choking on its chins. The woman scowled, and threw what looked like a sock (and smelled like rotten fish) out from the basket and back into her home. The coughing silenced.

“I can’t, I’m already late.” Kali called up politely.

“I won’t keep you long.” the woman bit down on her lower lip and winked (or blinked?) again.

Kali decided the woman must have been blind, it wasn’t that he was an unattractive man, but more that he was inept when it came to flights of fancy. And a Bard? Ha! We’re not exactly known for… well, you know.

As Kali raced away a fishy-smelling-sock flew after him, carrying with it the cry of, “Blue, it looks good on you!”

Then came the Guardsmen, not of or in the village, but a patrol from beyond the outer reaches of the Juniper Forests.

“You heard what’s happened, over at the Hafner estate?” one guard asked the other.

“Just that some lunatic Bard’s been causing trouble again.” the second guard unfolded a piece of weathered parchment, it had Kali’s own face scribbled upon it.

Looks nothing like me! The nose is far too big, the frame far too skinny… and are me knees really that hobbled? Gods, my hair! I fail to see how it’s grown so long – he flicked his fringe from out of his eyes – only three Moons back I had a little off the top.

Junipers, as you might know, can grown in many shades of colour, one shade being blue. Quite remarkably the Juniper Forests had taken to this shade in their entirety; the berries, the bushes, the trees and the leaves all grew to be one or another shade of blue. Some rumoured that magic played a part in engineering this artificial beauty. Others said it was nature, a gift to behold and let’s leave it at that. All that Kali knew was that he’d been damned lucky to pick out a blue shirt in his hurry that morning. He blended perfectly into the forest, and managed to hide just barely inches away (or the length of a nose) from the guards as they pondered over the parchment of his face.

Kali was silent, holding his breath, his face turning the same colour of the forest. Then the guards left, not even sparing a look for where he’d been standing.

That was too close.

Finally, when coming up to the Hafner estate, by way of the frozen lake, Kali managed to cheat death by again the sheer remarkable luck of the shirt he’d chosen to wear that morning.

Prowling the rim of the lake there had been a Mungark, about the size of a bear. Mungark were creatures of the skies, they rarely roamed the ground less it was in search of food. Usually scampering around on four dexterous legs, bodies lightly coated in crimson and deep brown coloured feathers, with eyes crowning the fore-front of their heads (most Mungark would have between eight and thirteen eyes), they were fearsome beasts, and known for their keen sense in picking out an easy target. Sometimes it would be lone children, sometimes elderly couples, or perhaps even a Bard falling arse over ankle trying to skate across a frozen lake.

But here’s the thing, the Mungark searched the lake from tip to toe and never once saw Kali. 

Well what’s it doing? Why’s it looking… through me? 

Mungark’s eyes are each tuned to a certain colour. One might see red, another green, another yellow or even blue. This Mungark had no eye for the colour blue, and though it saw the stick-like, shaking legs of green it thought they were hardly worth the hassle of hunting (too much bone, and nowhere near enough meat… just look at those knees!).

Here we are then. Kali looked up at the hinge-hanging double doors of the Hafner estate. A horrible musk seeped out from within, like a mould that had set into the timbers. As he’d seen from afar so many times before the entire roof was stripped bare of its tiles. There were two dozen windows at the front of the manor house, the sunlight dripping through each shattered pane like tear drops of a blaze. Lovely place.Straightening the strap of his lute, and preparing again to hold his breath for what might be an awfully long time, Kali went inside.

“Hello? Lady Hafner?” he called out. Why am I here? To convince an old lady to…

“Arthur? My dear boy is that you?” the voice quivered in the dusk of the grand entrance hall, a tall shadow lingered against the far side wall beyond the open spiral stairs that curved up either side of the room. There was a heavy sighing sound coming from upstairs, and a glaring white light. “Come closer would you boy, let me see you.”

What choice did Kali have but to play along and hope he might slip away to the…

“Blue! Oh heavens boy, go get changed.” the shadow of the old lady crooned, “You know I detest the colour.” and with that the form of Lady Hafner retreated into the further reaches of her home, calling out, “Upstairs, third room on the right, you’ll find suitable clothing there.”

This was the last time that day the colour blue would hand Kali a sweet release from an otherwise devastating turn of events. He flew up the staircase, ignoring the Lady’s directions, and instead followed the moaning and the glare of the light.

How stupid. Kali groaned. I didn’t think I’d ever do it, not really. But the tankards, the bottles, the candle wax too… I should’ve known! Not to mention Hunz babbling on about making amends for the trouble I’ve caused. No wonder he wanted me up and out as quick as was possible. And the guards, good thing they didn’t spot me… likely this is treason, punishable by – gulp – death.

Inside a dark and long forgotten bedroom, beneath the curtained bed surrounded by dull mirrors, there was a door, swung open in the floor. It sang with a voice like nails, crying to be heard, to be shut. There was a medical-white light leaking out from the doors edges.

“Arthur… you’re not supposed to be in here.”

Kali swung on his heels and saw now Lady Hafner in all her glory. A thin and skeletal creature, naked as a babe, sagging from every inch of skin that still clung to her fragile bones.

“Sorry, m’lady, I never meant to disturb your sleeping.” Kali started to back away from the festering ghoul that was the Lady Hafner, slowly taking off his lute. “Do you like music, m’lady?”

“Put it away, Arthur.” the Lady growled, baring fangs of a poisoned tip.

“Again, I am sorry that we woke you.” Kali began to play, a sorrowful lullaby; When all ends we’ll meet our Maker, there’s no need for tears tonight.

“Stop it!” the Lady screamed, her sagging jaw drawn open in an expression of endless pain, her frail hands thrown over what was left of her ears, “I won’t listen, I won’t go back.”

But she had no choice. The door’s light strained around the Lady Hafner’s body, binding her ankles, trapping her arms at her side, opening her ears. When all ends we’ll meet our Maker. She howled in defiance as slowly the light dragged her down toward the waiting mouth of the open door. There’s no need for tears tonight. And then she vanished through the door, and with that the door dispersed from life itself.

Christ Budny! That’s the last time we ever share a drink! How by all the Gods you managed to talk me into conjuring your dead Great-Grandmother… Kali shook his head, then collapsed, exhausted. Ah, well. It all makes for a good story, I suppose.

Copyright © K R Perry 2019

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