“What does this mean?” His mother asked pulling the book away from Fisher, but it was a question to the two of them.
“Well,” Lash let Fisher do the answering, if he had it. It was always best to pretend to be slower, and how Fisher answered. His brother scratch thoughtfully at his hairless chin, he didn’t have a clue. “I’d say this low born idiot just made up this rubbish up.”
“Lash,” She ground her teeth together but kept a loving smile on her face, for her darling Fisher.
“I think maybe Fisher is right. But,” He feigned as if the idea just came to him, as if it was a passing thought. “We all know The Battle for Elm Water by Ieve Eshe and Tammella “Star Sight” Keamen’s Elm Water Reflections differ by a great degree. From this reading and the one by Breck Coleman it seems that both songs hold the seeds of truth of what happened in Volkshield. Elm Water Reflections only just names of people and locations, almost nothing else.”
“And? Go on.” He looked to Fisher hoping his brother would get it, finish his thought.
“_Peace that Lasts_ by The Great Queen herself doesn’t mention much of Shelvan Crusk.” Lash pointed to the tome on the large wood table, one of a dozen by the woman who conquered and then first ruled a united Midlands. Then to the book Fisher had just finished reading, that Lash had read minutes before. “But Shelvan Crusk’s recollections are more… are a more bloody and cruel tale. Not like any concept of what I heard happened at the Shield Wall.”
“It’s boiled down to this boys. History is written by the victors.” That smile never faltered, but it shown brighter as she stroked her hand across Fisher’s cheek. Then dropping before she reached Lash, picking up the book instead, coming around front. “But it’s made memorable by the Bards.”
“Hail,” Hals Meebler shambled up to the dozen of so Reachers who stood together, all talking. “Hail, friends. Have any of you seen Meeshla Brel? Meeshla Brel the baker’s daughter?”
Unfortunately none of them did, looking at each other searching for anybody who recognized the name. Hals nodded, looking off to the east as if he might see her there. He didn’t leave though, massaged his damn ruined leg the only thing that had kept him from completing his urgent task. A few of the good people shrugged, about ready to turn back to their conversations, when Hals went on.
“The devils are gone, thought we’d be under their nails forever but they’re gone!” Everyone nodded to this fact, it was evident.
“You… know something bud?” A balding man asked.
“I know I’m going to find Meeshla Brel and I’m going to marry her. Those Elk Lodgers just killed that evil bastard Mordie and… I don’t know, banished the devils, or something.” Now he had everyone’s attention, but he was talking distractedly, looking off at another group. For his soon to be wife. “I gotta go find Meeshla and…”
“Now just wait a second,” Baldy reached out, grabbing hold of Hals, then apologetically steadying him when Hals’ leg almost gave. “You’re in no shape to go running around just yet. So catch your breath. Tell us what happened.”
“I said it.” Now he did seem more out of breath than he’d been before, leaning on Baldy.
“How do you know?” A woman demanded clutching a tiny child to her chest in a practiced way that said she’d been doing so since the Devils came to town.
“I know dear lady because I was THERE.” He brushed that away though since that wasn’t important at all. “I was there and thought for sure my days were done. The whole while all I could think of was that smile. On doing something I should have done months ago. My Meelsha.”
“You were there!” More than half of them hadn’t heard anything he’d said after the initial announcement, they were so busy talking over each other.
“Start at the beginning man. Tell us what happened.” Another man, judging by his apron and the towel he was holding he was a Innkeep. He offered out a flash from one of the apron pockets and Hals waved it away, but the child clutching woman took. “Well calm yourself. Tell us what happened. Nobody else knows nothing.”
“I live over on the west side of town, by the gates.” Hals had to pick his words and gather strength from each of them. All of them crowding in closer and closer. “I was risking my damn life, like we had to every time we went out with those… things all round. For some bread, and cheese this time. Half starving myself before I went out. Well, I look up and what do I see. Those bloody Elk Lodgers strolling right down the middle of the street, just as bold as you please.” Hals shook his head and ran his hands through his greasy hair, laughing raggedly. “I thought for sure ten dozen devils would descend on them, but it never happened. That Lash Bremlee, the bard you know of him right?” Nods all matching Hals’. Course they did. “I’ve done a few jobs for him and he sees me, and they all come over. Just as casual as a Sunday stroll.”
“What?” Asked one.
“Pelor’s bright light!” Whispered another, realized there was no longer devils around to hear, said it louder. “Pelor’s bright light! Really?”
“Yeah, I about ran away because I was still expecting those devils to rain in on them.” Now Hals’ laugh was a little bit manic, realizing just how crazy it had been. He puffed up a little though, “Lash says they are needing good women and men to come along with them, that they are gonna free the city. Don’t know why he’d think I was one, but what was I to say? No? I’d rather just risk my life going for lunch? So I nodded and went with them. Soon enough there was a big group of us and we are all strolling, me a lot less boldy then the rest. That bastard Mordie is taunting them, you know. Taking up the Elklodge as his manor. Cause that’s where we headed. All those devils just watching us. They must a made a deal with them devils, The Heroes of the Elk, for them to stand aside. Gave their souls up for us, maybe. Promised to burn in the depths of hell for a thousand years, for a chance at Mordie. I don’t know. But those devils stepped aside.”
“Dear gods!” They were all shaking their heads.
“Good folk those heroes of ours. Those Elklodgers.” Hals nodded at the imagined sacrifice they must have made to secure whatever pact they had to get the devils to stand down. “That mage of theirs, Rundel Code. He shouts a spell and the doors fly open, guess that Mordie had it magically locked. They all run in, I hobble behind as best as I can. Feeling like a man ten dozen times better than I am. When I get in the other recruits are forcing their way up the stairs, where Mordie had the Emerald Falcons locked away. I was dumb struck. Mordie sitting up on his throne, right on the stage of the Elk, where I seen Lash Bremlee perform hundred times or more. He’s staring hell fire at them, and what do they do?”
“Fight?” Asked baldy, all of them stuck to the tale, as stink on fermented fish paste.
“No, Lash and Borin walk over to the bar. They argue a minute over whose round it is to buy, turns out it was Emma’s. She plops a gold coin down, then they all got an ale. Looking surprised when Mordie growls something to one of his culty servants standing by. ‘Balguun hire some new dancers?’ Borin asks like he’s going to have a talk to the Innkeeper about his choices in entertainment. ‘Dancers? No, this here is a comedy troop. They tell jokes, throw pies at each other, and the one in the middle with horns and a tale shits himself as a grand finale.’” Hals does a feeble job of impersonating a female voice. “Emma the halfling says laughing like she’s seen them before. About that time I was looking for a place to hide, Mordie was glaring so hard.”
“Emma’s my favorite.” Milton told everyone worming his way to near the front of the gathering crowd. Somebody else shushed him.
“Well, that evil bastard can’t take anymore of this treatment. Not used to it since he got all those devils to push everyone around. ‘You fools can make jokes but the Silverwraiths got me The Devil Artifact. I control every devil in the depths of hell. I’m gonna use them to…’ Now it’s the Elklodger’s turn to look annoyed. Emma rolling her eyes at Mordie’s blatherings. He spluttered and all his loyal cultists start pulling out weapons. ‘It’s time for you to DIE!’ He waves his hands at them, I dive under a table at the back, thinking devil magic is gonna stream out. Nothing happens. I look up and Borin’s stroking his beard, Faelan’s looking out the window at a hummingbird, Rundel’s brushing some lint off his sleeve, and Lash starts to clap. None of them had even flinched, ‘Told you they was a comedy troop. He’s going to shit himself now.’ Emma says only then putting down her mug.”
Everyone laughed nervously not quite sure they were out of danger, Milton the loudest. “Told you she was my favorite.”
“‘Get them!’ He orders to his bodyguards but they can only get a nod off before Rundel spins his staff. Says some words and when he snaps it forward a he gives them a taste of what they are going to find on the otherside. Fire. Boom! I go back under the table and lots of spells get thrown around, go off like the worst thunderstorm ever. It goes quiet. I peek up and all the cultists are lying dead with Rundel and Faelan glowing with steam and moonlight. Mordie still standing there half looking like he might just do as Emma said he would. Mordie draws his sword and Borin aims his spear. Emma takes out that hammer of hers that I couldn’t lift two handed even before I was injured so badly. Lash draws his sword and says, ‘Get off my fucking stage!’” Hals looks to the woman with her child, then the others in the crowd, shrugging. “Sorry ma’am but that’s what he says. I’m just telling the tale like it happened.”
The woman waves away the idea of polite conversation. “I’m married to a docker sir, my husband starts and every sentence with that word.”
“Surely so.” Hals still looks sheepish and guilty about it. “Get off my fucking stage! Colder and angrier than I ever heard. Like somebody is with his lover and not just raised wood planks. ‘Get off my fucking stage!’ That fool Mordie don’t listen though and Lash runs and jumps on it. He’s wearing full armor, daggers, shield, that new singing sword of his, AND his lute. He jumps up onto his stage and I can’t even keep track of all that happens. Mordie must have had some tricks still up his sleeve because he grows in size, brushing the rafters of the Elk. A giant stinging of brimstone! Borin and Emma are stabbing and smashing away. Faelan conjures up what seemed to be Corellon’s own sword. Rundel’s throwing lightning, fire, frost like he’s every season rolled into one. All the while Lash is front and center, trading blows with that devil powered overlord. One moment I see half of Lash’s arm hanging off, then Faelan gets Corellon to heal it up. Emma’s on top of the the beast’s shoulder, smashing his head. Borin is dodging under it’s massive feet, stabbing and spinning that longspear. Then, finally, that great horned ass goes down. Like a falling tree. Only ain’t no tree I ever seen bleed that much. Lash ‘The Harpy’s Widow’ ‘Otyugh Wrestler’ and ‘Fiendking Slayer’ Bremlee , like taking out the chamber pot picks up that great big body. Throws it off onto the barroom floor, and says. ‘A thousand years was worth the price to keep rubbish like this off my fucking stage.’ And then The Emerald Falcons are coming down from upstairs all battered and bruised. Everyone saying the devils have gone off on their own accord, who knows if they’ll be back. I left Lash sitting on that stage playing his Lute, knew I gotta find my Meelsha. Life’s too short to go another minute without her.”
“Go get her man!” Baldy cries like he hadn’t been the one to hold Hals back.
“Brel you say? I think I saw her and her dah o’er by the docks, buying the last of the flour. Gods above, we gotta tell somebody to open the port up again. Get trade going.” Then the crowd parted, Hals on his way to love and destiny.
Everyone had something to go and do. By the way they darted to the next crowd over it was to relay the tale. Hals disappeared taking a shortcut down an alley towards the docks. A dirty young man in plain clothes came out from there very shortcut a few moments later, smiling. He joined one crowd, then another, and another. Each time he corrected a detail that he’d heard right from somebody who’d been there. Or added something that had been forgotten. Laughed loudest at the funny parts. Told how his mom and dad were both taken by Mordie’s cultist and never came back. A few others said similar had happened to them. Lost a relative, a friend, Mordie had even taken some favorite family pets. The bastard! To do some fiendish deeds to, everyone was sure. On his slow way home he heard the tale spreading like wildfire.
Smiled wider and wider each time he heard, “Get off my fucking stage!”
“Sometimes mother,” He told the stairway as he made his way up to his room at The Elk, which was getting busier and busier, for some reason. “The bard just has to make sure the dramatic stays in the tale.”
Cleaned up and properly attired in his feathered cloak, he thought. “Now it’s time to get ON my fucking stage.”
But really, all of the North was his fucking stage.