Fiction Friday - 17 October 2014

I've written some fiction stuff that might still be worth reading, but I don't consider it finished because not many people have read it at all. So I might as well keep up my post schedule and devote Fridays to publishing poems, excerpts, or serializations that I've written. Comments and critiques are welcome, or just ignore me on Fridays.

The Black Sorcerer of Doom's Barrow, pt. 1

The seer spoke:

This is the tale of Tyr Haefest and the Black Sorcerer of Doom's Barrow. Know it, traveler, and know it well.

Tyr was a man of broad chest and mighty thews, whose name was known from the chill wall of ice in the farthest North to the sun-kissed dreaming seas to the South. A demon-slayer was he, they said. A vanquisher of the agents of Chaos and the Outer Dark, they said. A true champion, they said.

On his wide-ranging journeys he never declined to aid even the lowliest peasantry, if some evil threatened them. He wandered according to the will of the Light Immaculate, and feared no evil, for no evil could long stand before this bronze-skinned warrior from the Empyrean Highlands. But one day word reached his ears of a great servant of the Crawling Chaos, a black-robed and hoary sorcerer who set the gibbering Squamous One high in his counsel. Through his wickedness, the countryside for miles around had darkened and withered. Crops grew sickly and rotted on the vine, if they grew at all. Maggots and flies, rats and carrion-crows, such vermin became the lords of this blighted and sorrowful land. And the people suffered. Those who stayed found lesions and boils on their skin, and their skin grew ashen and gray. Their hair thinned or turned bone-white. Their children sickened and some died. The dead began to stir unquietly in their graves, and some clawed their way to the surface, hungering for living flesh. Smoky clouds obscured the sun, which now resembled a jaundiced and rheumy eye, as corpses were burnt in great heaps to ward off the unclean and restless dead. Many villagers fled for the safety of sunnier lands, where goodness still held back the forces of Chaos. None dared to challenge the hideous shaman who lived in the ruined sepulcher called Doom's Barrow, for as they said, that place was fouler than all the Six Hells combined.

And so Tyr Haefest felt a chill rattle his spine as he rode into the village of Drummond's Fen...

The village seemed almost deserted when Tyr arrived. He only knew the villagers' presence when a few peeked out their windows, only to quickly dart away like furtive rats or thieves in the night. The hero called out a great Halloo! but it was long before anyone dared meet him in the village green. Nothing in the village, Tyr saw, was “green” any more. The buildings were all run down, their thatched roofs falling in. The people were all weary beyond their years, their faces lined and aged as if they were twice their true age. There were no children among them.

“Why have thee come, stranger?” The oldest man asked. He had been a the head of the group that greeted Tyr, and the first to clasp the hero's hand in welcome. But he also wore suspicion on his brow like a regal crown, and his eyes said Stay away, traveler, there is no happy hearth in this place.

“I see that this land is plagued,” Tyr replied, his deep voice rolling forth like thunder. “And I intend to cure it of that plague.” Some of the villagers stepped back without thinking, for the village had not heard such vigor and courage in a voice for a very long time.

“Thy spirit is well met,” the elder said. “But the Black Sorcerer of Doom's Barrow is not a one to abide questing heroes. His wrath, should he meet thee, would be swift and terrible. If thee value life, or even if thee want a quick and noble death, do not challenge him; his dominance over this land is all but complete. Nay, do not try to lend me a comforting hand, for he has taken my daughter, my only joy left in the world. She is dead, by his hand; and I can only weep for the fate of this land and all who live in it.”

“Then why do ye stay?”

“Because we have nowhere else to go.”

Tyr spent the next three days among the villagers of Drummond's Fen, talking with them, breaking bread with them, and learning more about the Black Sorcerer and his malignant ways. Each day, Barrec the village elder begged Tyr to leave, to flee the village and its surroundings, to never return to this cursed place. But Tyr would not hear of it, and finally, on the evening of the third day, the village elder relented.

“If thee must throw thy life away, at least do not go unprepared,” said he. “The Black Sorcerer is a master of trickery, and he will beguile your mind and ensnare your thoughts as easily as a spider snares the fly. Take this charm; may it shield your eyes and your mind from such evil hexes.” And he gave it to Tyr, who stuffed it in his belt pouch without hardly looking at it.

“I thank ye, good elder,” the hero said. “But I have challenged many a fell creature, and never have I needed the aid of unnatural things. Mayhap I will defeat this Sorcerer just the same.” But he still kept the charm in his belt pouch, for fear that the elder's words would ring true in the end.

As the night sky cloaked the village like ebon fabric, Tyr prayed to the Light Immaculate for guidance and a blessing to ward off the ancient evil that had found its ally in the Black Sorcerer.

“Blessed Light, Dawn of Creation,” he prayed. “Never have I wished for your blessing more than this night, for I fear terribly that the village elder speaks true, and that this Black Sorcerer will prove to be my unmaking. Send me a blessing, that I might defeat him and restore your Light to this dusky land.”
Tyr's prayers did not go in vain. The Light's blessing greeted him as the sun rose bleak and gangrenous over the distant hills.

“Awake, champion, awake!” A tiny voice sang in his ear. He opened his eyes and saw a sparrow staring back at him. Tyr heaved a great sigh and rolled his eyes toward the heavens.

“I thank ye, O Light of Ages, for this wond'rous gift,” he said, but secretly he doubted. How would a tiny bird aid him against a fearsome sorcerer? Still, his courage never faltered, and in no time at all Tyr and the sparrow had set off for the fens and Doom's Barrow that lay beyond.

“Light, what manner o' witchery be this?” Tyr rumbled. This was the fourth time he had tried to cross the Dreaming Fen and assail the dreadful Barrow itself, but on every attempt a curious fog had come up. He had stumbled out of the fog each time and each time had ended up at the far edge of the fen, no closer to the Barrow than when he first started.

“Have faith, o champion,” the sparrow trilled. “Take out the wooden charm the village elder gave thee, and the safe path through the fen shall reveal itself.”

“Would ye bet any tail feathers on it, wee birdie?” The wandering hero snorted. His life was devoted to slaying magic, not using it. Still, if it took one lesser evil to put down a much greater one — and in Tyr's mind, right now there was no greater evil than that which emanated from the forbidding Barrow across the marshes — then he would have to use the dusty trinket the tottering old man had given him.

With tender care he withdrew the charm from his belt pouch. It was a basically a hoop, a single sapling curved back on itself, with colored string crisscrossing the inside like a mangled spider-web. Some curious metal and wooden shapes hung off the bottom, and strange symbols were carved in them.

“A dream catcher,” the bird sang. “The mists that choke the fen are the condensed dreams of the villagers, their nightmares of the Barrow made real. The dream-catcher will stave off the misty phantasms and shew thee the true path.”

“But the villagers had this all along,” said he. “Why didn't they use it themselves?”

“Because none were as brave or as strong as thee,” the bird replied. “Come! I will take the dream catcher and lead you onward.” And with that, it plucked the charm from Tyr's hand and flew off into the mist.

Cursing, the hero followed, and soon was surprised; the mists parted before the bird and the charm as though they were a scythe cutting through a field of wheat. In no time at all, the fen lay dreaming behind them, and Tyr stood before the terrible gate to Doom's Barrow.

Author's Note: I'm trying to be a bit archaic or pulpy-sounding with this narration. Something like Robert E. Howard's Conan or Solomon Kane stories. I want it to be slightly ridiculous, but not distractingly so.