Lore of the Underlings: Episode 3 ~ FyryxJohn Klobucher / Fantasy
Lore of the Underlings: Episode 3 ~ Fyryx
Tales of tongues unknown
Translated by John Klobucher
(he wrote it too, but don’t tell anyone and spoil the fun)
Copyright 2012-2013 John Klobucher
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Cover art by John Klobucher
Faint praise for Lore of the Underlings
“It’s an affront to the language!
The ‘author’ should be brought up on charges
(which I’m filing as we speak).”
~ Marcus Harshley, Professor of Letters (A through M),
University College of the Arts and Crafts,
B.A., B.S., Ph.D., U.S.B., F.Y.I., B.B.C., I.M.F., M.S.G., F.D.I.C., H.T.T.P., Esq.
“Worth the price — nothing.”
~ J. Throckmorton Moneybags III
~ Everyone else
Table of Contents
Episode 3 ~ Fyryx
About the Author
Episode 3 ~ Fyryx
Fyryx slowly shed his wet coat and hat then laid them carefully at the foot of the thick mat of bristlebush on the floor before him. Though soft sleep seemed to beckon, he showed no sign of napping abed this night. Instead the restless man straightened and turned about, brushing aside a flap stitched of old sector flags to emerge from the battle tent’s aft chamber and into its dim, high-domed meeting hall.
With measured steps he reached a pike-mounted torchure wheel of molded malaphant bone at center of the circular room and took from one of its seven spokes a short handtorch, soot upon the handle but flame aglow of gold. Its soft light seemed to soothe his reddened eyes. It smelled of sweet fat and comfort.
He let the glow lead him to a slumbering lamp that hung by the tent’s yawning fore door, a dark way of passage made stable this night. Fyryx lit it by slipping the torch through a collar just below and the warm flame flared and licked at the air. Then he crossed the threshold, the line where light cast shadow aside, and without a sound slid gingerly in. His red hair and beard, turned briefly ablaze by the aura of burning oil, faded into embers.
As his eyes grew full to the half-light, Fyryx found the vell’s still but beautiful form curled like a babe in a cradle of straw. The three boys, his treasured nephews, sons of his brother Ayryx, had labored hard and done just as he had asked of them. Never before had they been more like men. But, the mission met, he sent them home to night the moon’s last hours in their own beds. Boys or men, they would stand stronger by the Keep well slept.
They had not gone willingly.
Fyryx knelt on the edge of the fragrant straw but the hilt of the strangers’ sword pressed into his ribs beneath the web-woven umbershirt he always wore. He unlet the lash of spring vine that bound it to his blood-snake belt and set it down on the floor. Then he placed his right hand gently on the vell’s smooth, tan coat, not far from the heart, and closed his eyes.
Cold. So cold. Beyond the cold of death. It ran up his arm, standing each hair on end.
He sought the signs of life. The heart beat still though only an echo. The chest yet rose yet further it fell. Breath, yes, but shallow, grave. The chill wisp of a passing ghost.
Then he could hold the touch no more. He took back his hand but barely felt fingers. He shook them alive, slumping back on his heels. His eyes opened wide and wet.
“Heavens help me,” he whispered aloud. The vell quivered but it could not hear him.
Fyryx looked on Arrowborne’s hind left leg, all curled up, too hideous to wash, and gnashed his ground-down teeth. “I shall slay every oddcat that prowls this sacred land, I vow by my blood, I swear.” The wound grew still with an ooze of its own… a sinister stew of sinew, skin, and bone abubble in colors unknown…
The chamber’s air went heavy and damp, beading into summer sweat on what warm flesh it found. Fyryx wiped his brow and noticed the feeling returned to his fingertips. Now he turned onto his hands and knees and crawled like a child through the golden straw to rest close to the face of the angel-made beast. And there at last he sat.
“Do you remember the day, Arrowboy? The day we came to make this Keep, so, so long ago?”
The vell kept quiet and stiff as stone, its lidless eyes icy, disturbingly blank.
“We knew it was coming. For months of moons we knew, all since the Guard of the ull returned with word of a far new home, the promised land at last and hope. The Treasured talked of nothing else.
“We watched our parents ready and plan, and helped our families pack. The trip would be long and hard they said. And it was. But our lives had been hard already, ever lost in this savage Wilderness, so it was that many survived.
“Those left made a grand caravan nonetheless, winding our way from the northern wastes, climbing slowly the slopes of the Hail of Shales to the shadeless sweep of the high, flat plain. Scores of tired traveler’s carts. Teams of the strongest chevox, yoked or free, but all bearing our burdens. A small herd of boven bulls and cows. And the teeming folk, thick afoot.
“I remember Ayrie and me, riding in a creaky cart that tilted to one side. We lay in a bed of bush hay to cushion the bumps. You trotted alongside, with a smile that only a vell can smile. The warm morning sun washed our faces. So pure and bright. I’d never felt the likes of it. Even the dust in our mouths tasted good. If I close my eyes I can taste it still and see that sweet new light, shining on the boys we were…
“It was on the faces of others too. The peace of a people being reborn, free to tell folklore anew. And who could deny us childish dreams? We were not prophets or ages-old sages, but nomads who’d never planted a seed. Who could foretaste the fruit of this day?
“No… I was all of seven, my brother just turned ten that spring. You, Arrowboy, you were already ancient yet acted a pup. So we played. As our columns crossed the empty plain to a distant dot, a speck in the hazy far where prey birds flew to flock, we played without a care. A game of names or ‘mock the folk’. Racing carts. A gumpod ball you chased and caught. We played as the white sun of noon sailed the sky’s wide blue, a prow of hot to plow the cool… A duel of spit. A wrestling match that always followed it (which Ayrie won each time). A round of your favorite hop-a-vell to entertain the Guard.
“Midday passed yet we ate as we rode, unwrapping cold flyrat from leaves of swamp palm, breaking off chunks of dark brickbread, downing gulps of knownot juice. Between bites, Ayrie leaned over the side of the cart and pulled up clumps of tough, musky scrubgrass, all but falling out each time. He fed them to me then I to you from the palm of my outstretched hand.
“With the end of lunch we were sleepy and bored, so Ayrie and I both napped. Not you of course. And you had a joke — to poke our backs and bellies with the cold of your nose just as our eyes closed, every time we nodded off. But that only worked a while…
“When we woke the crossing was well past half and the distant dot had blossomed into a deep and misty wood, a forest that rose on the horizon with a halo of prey birds high overhead. Still long away, hours thought Ayrie. With all else exhausted, but one game remained. It was Ayrie’s idea. Though we’d have to be quiet…”
Fyryx leaned forward, his lips near to Arrowborne’s ear. “Keep it secret…” he whispered. Then back he sat again, noting not a flinch on the vell’s frozen face.
“So we came to counting the folk. No one knew the number then. No one ever asked. They dared not find it different from the Semperor’s Rule of Threes, set when he chose the first Treasured ones, fathers and fathers before Ayrie and me. But you were there boy, you knew them all. And when the young Semperess herself, the beautiful Amyly, gave them the gift of a farewell song, you heard each note from her fabled lips. I know but the naked words:
Three thousand, three hundred, thirty-three
Heroes every one
Cast to dwell in this hellish place
To keep the blood of their people safe
Left alone to wander lost
In wastes no foe would know or brave
Hidden for some fearsome day
Three thousand, three hundred, thirty-three
Jewels in the Semperor’s vault of souls
Treasured in our hearts to hold
“It is said she sang as an angel… from childhood raised a Voyce of the Court, but enchanted in time the Semperor so… he fell in desperate love… and banished his first to take her as bride… What does an angel sound like, boy?…”
Fyryx snapped back with a start, having nearly slipped into dreamy sleep. “Oh, I’m sorry Ary… Arrowboy… I must have… So, the counting…