Happy Saturday and welcome to the Dog’s serialization of the novel Dark Soul. This is a work in progress, so if you have any thoughts or suggestions, don’t be shy about offering them up.
If you have just started reading this, you can find chapters one through three at the following links:
This serializartion is only available here at Docudharma!
The first thing that the Shadow knew was that the sun was shining. It may sound funny that his first thought was not ‘I am alive!’, but in fact it takes a super-human sense of self to think so clearly. Instead the Shadow asked, “When did it stop raining?” Moving his head slightly, the Shadow could see that he was lying on the ground under a shelf of rock. To his right was a flickering object that he guessed was a fire. Raising his hand to wipe the sleep from his gummy eyes caused such a symphony of muscle pain that he let out a long groan.
“Ahh, the sleeper awakens!” said the entirely too cheery voice of Brother Carlinus. As the Shadow glowered at him through slit eyes thinking that of course Carli would be a morning person! Rolling on to his side so he could see the priest without looking up at the sun, the Shadow found that the first burst of pain had not just been from sleeping on the ground. Muscles in his back and legs told him, in no uncertain terms, that he would be sitting or lying for a while yet.
“Shadow, don’t, “said Brother Carlinus losing his grin, “You really should stay there for a while, you were hurt fairly badly.”
The Shadow found that while he could not quite manage to sit up, he could lean against the saddle bag that he had been using a pillow. “So, what happened?” he asked once he was settled.
“Well, I don’t know exactly, but I will tell you what I saw. The horses and I had escaped the pass, and were standing out of the way of the water. I had just turned to see where you and Tyrone where, when out of the pass rushed a very good imitation of the Flood. Once the water left the confines of the pass, it spread to each side, and quickly lost it’s force and fury. As the water ran away, it left you and Tyrone, lying in a pile of mud and rock.
My first thought was that you had both been killed. I went to Tyrone to give the last rights, and low and behold he was breathing. Since he seemed to be in no danger of dying right then, I went to see if you had survived as well.
You had not been as lucky as Tyrone, where he was on top of the refuse of the flood, you where partially buried. I began to pull the rocks away from your body, and heard you take a breath. It was then that your horse came up and using those huge hooves of his, helped to dig you clear.
The Lord provided me with the light to find this shelter, out of the rain. And I was able to drag the two of you here. After that it was not much of a problem to patch you up, get a fire going and enjoy the rest of that amazing storm. See it is just as the prayer says ‘He prepareth a place for me in the wilderness’ ”
The Shadow found that he did not have the strength to roll his eye’s at the last part, and so instead asked, “Tyrone, how is he?”
“Sleeping behind you, and before you ask, the horses are hobbled out where they can get some fodder.”
The Shadow thought about it for a minute. Well, both he and Tyrone alive, if a little worse for the wear. The horses and all their supplies safe and at hand and they had a shelter to rest up in. He did not like it, but praise should go where praise is due. “Carlinus, you really did a great job. Thank you.”
Carlinus looked a little taken aback by the Shadows compliment, but having no false modesty, he let it go.
“So, it seems that you have become quite the woodsman, Brother Carlinus. But I have to ask, has Orobasson been wearing his saddle all this time?”
“No, he let me take it off, once I had done the other two horses, “said Carlinus rather smugly.
The Shadow sat straight up, winced in pain and lay gingerly back down. “And how did you manage that?” he asked
“Oh, well, we came to an understanding, he and I. For a creature of the Pit, he is quite smart. But enough of this would you like some food? I have a pot of stew that should not tax you too sorely,” said Carlinus moving to the fire. As the monk stirred the pot a delicious aroma filled the Shadow’s nose. “I found some wonderful mushrooms this morning, and with the two of you snoring away, the salted beef has had plenty of time to become tender.
“I hope you did not use any of the mushrooms from the forest, Brother,” said the Shadow. Even though his mouth was watering, he had no intention of eating the evil toadstools they had all seen.
“Well, they are from the forest, but not the one on the other side of the pass,” said Carlinus as he scooped some of the stew into a bowl. “If this is not the Valley of the People of Light, it is at least not the same type of forest as on the other side of the mountain. Can’t you tell?”
The Shadow realized the Brother Carlinus was right, he could no longer smell the evil in the air. Crossing through the pass had taken them to somewhere that was not tainted. One part of him was wistful that he was no longer in the environment that he understood best, but his stomach overrode that feeling and focused only on the bowl of stew that Brother Carlinus was holding out. Feeling every muscle in his arm and shoulder as he did so, the Shadow reached out and took the food. Say what you like about Carli, he thought, the man does know good food.
For a while there was no sound but the scrape of the wooded spoon on the wooden bowl. As he reached the bottom of the bowl, and his hunger receded to a manageable level the Shadow noticed that the sky was darkening to purple. Setting down the now empty bowl, he asked “How long have I been sleeping?”
“This is the end of the second day,” replied Carlinus
“Huh, it has been a very long time since I have slept this long at one go,”
“Well I would say that you earned it.”
“Not a hint of sloth?”
“No, not this time, Shadow”
“In that case,” said the Shadow with a huge yawn, “I think I will avail myself of some more.” The Shadow rearranged his blanket, wincing each time one of his wounds made it’s displeasure known.
As he was drifting off to sleep, he heard Tyrone awaken. His first words were, “Hey! It stopped raining!” Neither Brother Carlinus nor Tyrone knew why the Shadow laughed as he drifted to sleep.
The next few days passed lazily, as both the Shadow and Tyrone recovered from their ordeal in the pass. After a couple of days of mostly sleeping the Shadow got up and began to contribute to camp, gathering wood and such. A little shadow-fencing on the third day convinced him that it would be best if they did not run into any fights for a while.
By far the worst injury was still Tyrone’s ankle. Brother Carlinus had taken his boot off while he was unconscious, and it had swelled to the point that he could not put the boot back on. In a way it was just as well, if he could have gotten the boot on, Tyrone would have felt compelled to get up when the Shadow did. Instead he spent his time grumbling about being an invalid and waiting for the swelling to go down.
After the first day the Shadow took pity on him and stayed in the shelter. They passed the time mending their tack and sharpening their weapons. By the fifth day the swelling was down, and you would be able to shave with any of Tyrone’s knives, and his bastard sword.
The rest did them all good, but it was still an uneasy group. As his health improved the Shadow was less thankful than he had been at first. For his part, Brother Carlinus was chomping at the bit to continue into the valley. He was convinced that they had indeed found the valley of the Celesta, and it seemed that the two men were holding him back. Add to this mixture the enforced rest that Tyrone was struggling against and the result was less than a stable one.
Finally the day arrived that the Shadow agreed with Tyrone that he could ride, if not walk yet. This news redoubled Brother Carlinus’s efforts to get the expedition moving again. Rather than fight with the little priest any more, the Shadow decided that they would move on, as long as Tyrone would not try to mount or dismount by himself, or do anything more strenuous than tend the fire and stir the cook pot.
With these restrictions, more or less graciously accepted by Tyrone, the party took up their quest once again. They rode down into the valley, following a stream that gained size as they descended. At first the forest was all evergreens, growing ever taller as they moved further form the tree line.
They stopped well before sunset on the first day. They had found a clearing close by the stream and made camp. Tyrone sat on the bank of the stream and coaching Brother Carlinus in the art of catching fish by hand. The Shadow took Tyrone’s bow and went to see what kind of game might be had.
There was no doubt that this forest had not been exposed to the evil of one on the other side of the pass. The trees here, a mixture of Pines, Elms, Birch and Cedars, were straight and tall. The canopy overhead cast a green and yellow dappled light between the trunks. The ground, in direct sun, was covered with a mix of grass and wild flowers; the ground in the shade ran to emerald green moss, dry brown leaves and pine needles with a few shy mushrooms poking their caps above the level of the mulch.
For a hunter a forest is never truly quite. There are the sounds of the seen and unseen animals going about their daily lives, foraging, hiding, hunting or dieing. But even though the Shadow could hear all of this, there was a sense of hush about these woods; as though they did not have to try as hard or that there was less danger here then other places. For any other person this would have been soothing, but for the deeply cynical and suspicious Shadow, it merely put him on his guard.
Within an hour the Shadow had shot two fat partridges, but did not immediately return the camp. After more than a score of days spent in the near constant company of Brother Carlinus and Tyrone, the Shadow felt the need for some time to himself. It was very trying to have the priest relentlessly trying to get him to renounce his evil ways, but more than that, the Shadow was not used to constant company of any kind. Though the woods serenity made him nervous, the time by himself was a balm to his frayed nerves.
As the Shadow returned to the camp the last of the days light was dying behind the wall of mountains that surrounded the valley. The Shadow was in as good a mood as he could recall, since his possession. As he emerged from the trees, there were Brother Carlinus and Tyrone, sitting near the fire with two small bass cooking on sticks over the fire.
“Ho fellows!” he called, attracting their attention. “I see that our good monk has learned from your experience, Tyrone”
Brother Carlinus looked up with a mixed look of pride and chagrin, “Well, these two are not very big. I had a truly giant fish, but he got away from me”
“Isn’t that always the case with the big ones?” asked the Shadow with a wink to Tyrone, “But have no fear, I can supplement our dinner with these,” he said holding the two partridges up by their feet.
“Under those conditions, you may join our fire,” said Tyrone with a sweeping gesture. “In fact if Brother Carlinus will watch his fish, I will help you pluck the birds”
The Shadow came and sat down, handing one of the birds to Tyrone. They set to work removing the feathers, each keeping an eye to see how far the other had gotten, for each was determined to be done with his bird first. After a while, Carlinus pulled the fish down from the flame. He gingerly pulled the hot skin off the meat. Taking one of their wooden bowls, he made a heap of the thin slivers of white flesh. After taking the traditional chef’s first bite, he passed the bowl to Tyrone.
Tyrone popped two pieces of the hot fish into his mouth and chewed with obvious satisfaction. The meat was tender with a hint of salt and the warm taste of wood smoke. He quickly handed the bowl to the Shadow who was getting too close to being finished plucking for Tyrone’s peace of mind.
Taking the bowl, the Shadow took three of the smaller pieces. Blowing on them to cool them, he then set them down on his knee and handed the bowl to Carlinus. With an evil grin he picked his partridge up and began furiously pulling out feathers. In less than two minutes, he was done. He then ate his pieces of fish, as he watched Tyrone finish cleaning his bird.
Shaking his head, Tyrone said, “I thought for sure that I had you, Shadow”
“I do not like to loose, even in an undeclared contest. But you did well, Ty. Here let me have that, and I will get our main course going.” The Shadow said taking the bird from Tyrone’s out stretched hand. He quickly had the birds spited on the sturdy stick that Brother Carlinus had used to cook his fish. Glancing around, the Shadow found another stick in the fire wood pile that was split at the top. Using the new stick to brace the one that the birds were spitted on, he had the birds over the center of the fire and starting to cook in almost no time at all.
Returning to his seat and the last of the trout, the Shadow let out a sigh and relaxed. The three men enjoyed some companionable silence as the Shadow finished his fish. Setting the bowl down, he turned to Brother Carlinus and said, “Brother, could you get out your map? I think that it is time we discuss the rest of our travel plans.” Brother Carlinus dug the map out of his saddle bag, and spread it close enough to the fire to read, but far enough away to avoid sparks. With the edges of the map weighted down with a couple of handy rocks, all three men leaned in to look once again on the object that had started their quest.
Though it was a very detailed map, it had been drawn to show the complete Black Tooth range. The Celesta’s valley was only one small part of that range, and so did not have very much in the way of directions.
“Well, I think that we can all pretty much agree that this is the Valley of the People of Light, right?” asked Tyrone. The other two nodded in agreement. “That makes the question, where are the Celesta?” I don’t see any cities marked on the map, here or anywhere else, so we are kind of at loose ends.”
“Unfortunately, Father Delatora loved the land, but did not care for cities. None of his original maps has any hint of human occupation. He felt that his service to the Lord was to make a record of the Lords work, not mans. He was a stubborn old monk,” said Brother Carlinus, finishing with a sigh.
“So that runs in your order, does it?” asked the Shadow with a smile
“Aye, it does, or we would not be here, now would we?” replied Brother Carlinus.
“So what now?” asked Tyrone.
“Well, I also have Father Delatora’s journal. It does talk about a city here in the valley, but it is not clear where that was,” said Brother Carlinus. The three of them sat there staring at that map for a moment.
Finally the Shadow said, “It is a safe bet that they live near one of the rivers. Having a good source of water is important when you are building a village or a town. It looks as though there are three major rivers here in the valley. It also looks as though this stream feeds into one. Okay, here is what I suggest; we follow this stream to the river, and that river until it ends. If we have not found the Celesta by then, we can pick one of the others. How does that sound?”
“It seems as likely a way to find these fellows as any other,” said Tyrone. “At the very least we will get to see a good portion of this valley. Who knows? Maybe we will find another lost city?”
Brother Carlinus put on a sour face at the last remark, but nodded his head in agreement, “I wish the good father had been more interested in details about people, than about the lay of the land,” he muttered.
“Well, now, I don’t think that is a very good attitude for a monk of a map making order to have, do you Ty?” said the Shadow slyly.
“Oh, sure, can’t be leaving out the forests and the rivers, now can you?” said Tyrone, his face breaking into a big grin.
“That is where you would both be wrong,” said Brother Carlinus primly. “A true map should show the physical features, and the locations of man made origin”
“Well, I, for one, have learned something tonight, “said Tyrone is a strained voice, trying not to laugh out loud.
“And a good thing it is, since the Irish can only learn so many things before it starts to erase others” chimed in the Shadow.
“Too true, Shadow,” said Brother Carlinus glad to be dishing out the heat, instead of receiving it for once. “But there is not much danger of that. Our friend here seems to have spent all of his learning time on horse back, and hitting things with sticks.”
“Treachery, foul and baseless, “cried Tyrone is a mock wounded voice, “Set upon by my own allies! Have at ye; you who would attack a sorely wounded man! For that you, Brother Carlinus, may wash the bowls, by yourself! And you, Shadow-in-the-dark, you may find me a suitable tree to make a crutch of.” After this pronouncement, Tyrone folded his arms and huffed like a fat merchant, who felt his dignity affronted.
Still in a playful mood, the Shadow and Brother Carlinus bowed deeply and went off to their assigned tasks. The Shadow was back in just a few minutes, carrying a slender pole, about four feet long with a convenient pair of branches at the top. With a little work it would make a fine crutch for Tyrone. The Shadow sat by the fire and began to strip the bark of the wood with his knife. Tyrone took out his quiver of arrows and began to check each one for straightness and to repair any fletching that had been damaged by use.
“We lost too many arrows to those hell-hounds,” Tyrone said conversationally as he sighted down the shaft of an arrow.
“Do you have more heads and fletching in your kit?” asked the Shadow without looking up from his task.
Tyrone dug into his leather bag of bow supplies, and finally emerged with a hand full of steel triangles. “Looks like about twenty, but after that, we are done.”
“We could always just use a fire hardened points,” said the Shadow.
“Aye, but it is so much harder to kill something with those. It takes a lot more arrows, and they don’t strike as deep,” replied Tyrone. Brother Carlinus came back into the light carrying the dinner bowls.
“What don’t strike as deep?” he asked, sitting down.
“Arrows without steel heads “said Tyrone, “We are running a little low of arrows and heads. So, Brother Carlinus, how are your wood working skills? More to the point, can you make arrows?”
“Well, I have never given it any thought, nor had the need,” said Brother Carlinus.
“High time that you learned then, “said the Shadow. The rest of the evening was spent in various aspects of the manufacture and maintenance of arrows.
This set the pattern for the next few days, an early start, an early stop, with hunting, fishing and the light work around the campfire. The mood of the group had changed since their flight from Xenocox. Their differences of opinion had not been solved, but after facing death together, there is a tendency to give your companions a little more room for their eccentricities. This made the travel to the valley floor a more quite trip than the one to the pass had been.
The forest continued to be thick, healthy and green. The types of trees gradually changed as the stream turned to a broad river and lead them downward. Where evergreens had been the order of the day, there were now oak and birch. The canopy of the trees had raised as well giving the impression of a huge airy room, lit with stabs of green and gold light. On the second day, the Shadow seen some deer, but had not been able to get a good shot at them.
Each day Tyrone’s ankle improved, though his two traveling companions would not let him test it much. Both men knew that left to his own devices, Tyrone would have been up and using it and damaging it again in no time. So a strange little alliance was worked out between the Shadow and Brother Carlinus. Tyrone was never left completely alone, and thus never given the chance to over do it and set his recovery back.
On their fifth day in the valley they stopped even earlier than usual. The Shadow had seen another group of deer and was insistent that he would get one, if they could stop now. They quickly found a level spot not too far from the river. As soon as the horses where unpacked, the Shadow scooped up Tyrone’s bow and stalked off into the woods. Brother Carlinus decided that the early stop was an excellent chance to take a nap in the sun, which he proceeded to do with a will.
This left Tyrone with the perfect opportunity to really give his ankle a work out. He used his crutch to quietly get his sword out of the pile of his possessions. He then set the crutch down and put unsupported weight on his ankle for the first time since the pass. It did not hurt too badly, feeling more stiff than sore. Taking this for a good sign, Tyrone began to run through a few practice strokes with the sword, focusing on his foot work.
As he began to work up a sweat, the ankle loosened and became less of hindrance. For a warrior, trained from childhood, some habits are hard to break, or for that matter to be aware that they have been developed. This was the case with Tyrone. Taught by his father, brothers, uncles, and experience he would constantly work as hard as possible when practicing any of his fighting skills. This combined with the near trance state one must have in order to ignore small wounds in battle conspired to teach Tyrone some humility.
Quickly warming to the practice, Tyrone’s focus changed from the how his foot was feeling to where he was placing his feet, as he hacked and slashed around the clearing. His breath began to labor, and with it he began to mutter. “Got you there, you bastard! Ho! Thought you could sneak up on me? Take that! There’s one for your friend, too!” could be heard in a constant under tone. The horses looked up and watched the apparent mad man thrust and turn and mutter in the clearing. After a quarter hour or so of this, Tyrone felt confident that he had not lost any of his moves. He stopped, after one last lounge, setting the point of his sword to the ground.
With a giant grin on his face, Tyrone said, “Ha! That for your resting!” Feeling completely full of himself, Tyrone took a big step forward. As he set his foot on the ground, the weakened ankle twisted up, shooting a hot flame of pain through his calf to the knee, and toppling the grinning warrior unceremoniously to the ground. As he pushed himself up, Tyrone could see Orobasson looking at him. The black horse snorted once and then pointedly turned it’s head away, as if to say I have no interest in fools that do not know their limits.
Much chastened, Tyrone rolled over and sat up, to check if he had cut his own foot off, as the pain seemed to suggest. Remarkably, there was no change in the still attached foot and ankle. It was hot to the touch, and tender enough to cause a quick intake of breath when touched, but did not seem to be on the verge of falling off.
Knowing when to cut his losses, Tyrone sensibly crawled over to his crutch. After putting his sword back into it’s sheath, he limped over to the bank of the river and soaked his feet in the cold water. He was still sitting there when the Shadow came out of the trees, a small doe draped over his shoulders.
The Shadow strode up to Tyrone with a smile that could only be described as a victorious. There was something feral, yet attractive in the set of the Shadow’s eyes, as if a part of him that had been sleeping was now awake. It was the look of someone coming off a losing streak, and it made Tyrone happy and nervous at the same time.
Setting the doe down on the grass, the Shadow said, “Told you that I would be able to get one!”
“That you did, though you did not mention that you were going to get the smallest one in the forest,” said Tyrone.
“Oh, you just keep that up, and there will be no venison for you, limping boy!” said the Shadow as he turned away to get a rope. The deer had been gutted where the Shadow had killed it, and blood had run down the back of the Shadows shirt pasting it tight to his back. After getting a rope from their supplies, the Shadow came back to the waters edge and tied the hind feet of the deer together. Flinging the end of the rope over a low hanging tree branch, he then hauled the deer into place for butchering.
“So, now,” said the Shadow, stripping off his sweat and blood covered shirt, “I will give you a chance to earn some meat. You and Carli get a big fire going, while I cut up this beast. We will cook all of it tonight and not have to hunt for several days. How does that sound?”
“It sounds to me like you have a deal, with the limping boy and a priest!” said Tyrone as he levered himself to his feet. He wasted no time going over to the still sleeping Brother Carlinus.
“Up Brother, there is work to do!” Tyrone said as he prodded the priest with his crutch.
“What? What is it?” asked Brother Carlinus as he awoke with a start.
“The Shadow has made good on his boast. We need to gather a lot of wood to cook the deer he is cutting up for us.”
“Venison? Ahh, I can nearly taste it now, “said Brother Carlinus climbing to his feet, “Yes indeed, let’s get some wood”
The Shadow was engrossed in his work when Brother Carlinus came up to him. He had the head and the skin off the doe and was methodically starting to take the legs off. He turned as Brother Carlinus cleared his throat. Over Carlinus’s shoulder he could see a large pile of branches starting to shoot flames into the late afternoon sky. Tyrone was using his hatchet to cut the small logs that they had dragged to the fire side in to manageable pieces. They had already pounded two Y shaped sticks into the ground to hold the spit for deer.
“Well it seems that you have enough wood, Brother Carlinus,” said the Shadow, glancing down at the priest.
“Thank you, Shadow. Now I was wondering if you might be so kind as to give me a pile of small pieces. I have a mind to make stew, since we will be waiting all night for the bigger pieces to cook. ”
“I have to say it is scary when both of us think the same thing is a good idea, but never let it be said that I stood in the way of a good meal.” Both of Brother Carlinus’s hands were quickly filled with small cubes of venison, cut from the loin of the deer.
With Brother Carlinus out of his hair, the Shadow quickly finished with the butchering. After taking the meat to the fire and leaving it in the more than capable hands of Brother Carlinus, the Shadow went to the river and waded to the middle. There is nothing more satisfying than scrubbing away sweat and blood, and the Shadow wasted no time. After he was clean, he turned his attention to his clothes. The blood would not completely wash away, but at least his shirt and pants would not be sticky with it.
Climbing up the bank, he hung the wet clothes on a convenient bush to dry. Barefoot and naked, the Shadow walked up to the fire and began to root around for his other pair of pants.
“Shadow!” said Brother Carlinus in a highly offended tone “Cover your nakedness!”
The Shadow had not really had very many chances to twist the priest’s nose over the last few days, and so he smiled as he stood without picking up the pants that he had found. “Why?” he asked with the barest hint of a smile playing about his lips “Is the human form something to be ashamed of, good Father?”
“You know there is!” hissed Brother Carlinus, rising to the bait.
“Really? So, is that Yahweh’s rule or yours?” said the Shadow leading Brother Carlinus deeper into the trap.
“The Lord God’s rule of course! Lewdness is a sin, it has long been established.”
“Ah, so, by standing here, in front of two men, I am being lewd?”
“It is your nakedness, itself that is the lewdness,” said an exasperated Brother Carlinus.
Now the Shadow had him right where he wanted him, “But that does not make any sense. Where not Adam and Eve, naked in the garden?”
“Aye, they were, before your master temped Eve to defy the commands of the Lord and eat the forbidden fruit. Once they eaten, they realized that they where naked and hid in shame.”
“So, there you have it, Brother. This problem with bare skin is a problem of man, not Yahweh. He had no problem with Adam and Eve being naked, but they did. It was not a rule of his. And later, when he was showing off in the burning bush for Moses, he did have an opportunity to amend his rule with the Ten Commandments; but strangely, there is nothing there on a clothing issue. Could it be that priests have some problem with nakedness, hmm? Maybe this is a lust issue after all?” asked the Shadow with a coyly raised eyebrow.
This had Brother Carlinus nearly apoplectic, his eyes bulged, blood rushed to his face and he kept saying half words then stopping, as if a thousand thoughts were all trying to exit his mouth at one time. After a minute of this, Carlinus rose and with out a word stalked into the night, in the direction of the river. The Shadow allowed himself a well earned laugh at the priest’s expense.
“Was it something I said?” he asked looking at Tyrone over the flames of the campfire.
“You know, it is still sinful, by his lights. You are guilty of pride, standing there with your tally-whacker hanging out like a beacon for fallen women everywhere,” said Tyrone in a quite and reproachful voice.
“So you spotted the flaw in my argument? Good for you Ty,” said the Shadow as he reached down for his pants. “You should always leave your prey a way out, if you are just in it for sport. Though, I knew that he would get flustered once we started talking about the fall of man.”
“Why do you have to needle him like that? It seems needlessly mean, to me”
“Oh, no, it is good for him!” said the Shadow looking up quickly, “Look, Carli is not dumb, just limited. He found a set of rules that puts him in a position of authority over men’s souls. He likes that kind of power, so he has never really thought about the lessons in his religion. That’s dangerous for him, and those in his perish. Having to defend his beliefs and the rules that go with them, can make him better at what he does.
“I see, so you are doing it for his benefit?” asked Tyrone skeptically
“Well, I never said it was not good for me too,” said the Shadow, showing just a hint of teeth in his smile. “A man has to have is fun now and then, right?”
“But really Shadow, how much fun can it be? You know all of Carlinus’s sore spots, and just how to rub them, where is the challenge there?”
“Not much, I will admit, but I have other reasons for doing it.”
“And just what would those be?”
“Mine, but I will share them with you, if you insist,” said the Shadow, giving Tyrone a long look. When the younger man merely returned his stare, with out comment the Shadow went on. “First off a personal reason, I have to endure his countless comments, and pronouncements on the plan that Yahweh has, or the nature of evil, or the soul, as if I have not spent a large part of my life thinking on these very issues. He discounts my point of view, since I am, from his vantage, on the side destined to loose. So, I twit him on theological points, to get a little of my pride back.
The second reason is what you might call, professional. I am constrained from doing anything actively evil, by my so called holy keeper. That does not mean that I can’t strike an indirect blow.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Tyrone
“Doubt, my friend is the enemy of faith. By constantly questioning Carli on points of faith, I might let a little worm in to grow and push him away from his belief.”
“You would try to rob a priest of his faith, just for the fun of it?” asked Tyrone, some what aghast.
“Every chance I get,” the Shadow said without any irony in his voice.
Tyrone looked hard at his friend. It seemed to him that the darkness was thickening around his head and shoulders. The light from the fire cast red glints in his dark brown eyes, making them seem to be filled with fire. A shudder ran through Tyrone and he spoke almost without volition,” You truly are evil, aren’t you?”
“Of course, what else could I be?” asked the Shadow in a slow bass voice that seemed to fill Tyrone’s skull. The Shadow suddenly smiled a wide and charming smile and said in his normal voice, “But that is not the point. We have meat to roast! Help me put these cuts on the spit” and just like that the bone chilling moment was over.
Tyrone shook his head, as if to clear the images out of it. “Shadow, a favor, for me? Leave off Carli? It really is beneath you to jab at him so.”
“For you, I will,” said the Shadow, “At least, as much as I can. Not all of us still have the full choice of actions, you know. But I will do what I can.”
The meat was turning on the spit, popping and sizzling with drips of fat, filling the camp with it’s delicious aroma, when Brother Carlinus returned. The Shadow looked up from the pot that held the stew that Brother Carlinus had started earlier and said, “Ah, Brother Carlinus, I think this could use some garlic, if you have any left in your pack?”
Carlinus nodded and walked over to his sack and after a short search, pulled a bulb of garlic out and pried two heads away from the papery bulb.
The Shadow took the heads and began to peel them. Without looking up, he said, “I am sorry that our discussion upset you so. You see for me it is just an intellectual exorcise, but for you it seems to be more. I should not tease you so, I suppose,”
“No you should not,” replied Brother Carlinus,” but strong faith and zeal, can lead you to such situations. You are not the only person that has made me mad beyond reasonable speech. I should not have let you get the better of me like that.”
Recognizing that this was as close to an apology as he was likely to get, the Shadow decided to take Brother Carlinus’s unspoken truce offer. “Well, lets let it lay there, shall we?”
“Fair enough, Shadow,” said Brother Carlinus, “Now move aside, you are not slicing that garlic thin enough. What do you want to do, ruin my fine stew?”
The Shadow gracefully moved away and let the priest continue with the dinner preparations. As he moved to sit by the spit, the Shadow could see Tyrone, with a small grin on his lips, he replied to the grin with a single raised eyebrow. Sitting down he gave the spit a quarter turn and watched the logs burning down to coals.
The stew was ready shortly thereafter, and it was truly a fine one. There were some of the mushrooms that Brother Carlinus had gathered, as well as wild carrots, garlic, and the dried herbs that Brother Carlinus carried with him everywhere. All three of the men had second helpings and it was agreed that if the last of bread had been fresher, it would have been a truly fine meal.
After the dinner, all the men were in a fine mood, and Tyrone was trying to get them to sing some ribald songs that he knew. Brother Carlinus argued that they should sing hymns of thanks, instead of sinful tavern songs. The Shadow had early declared that he would not be part of this argument, as he had work to do making sure that the meat did not burn. Tyrone was just trying out the argument that surly the Lord would want us to sing happy songs about the fun things in life, when he noticed that the Shadow had gone completely still. It was not a relaxed pose, but rather one of tensed stillness, ready to spring into violent action. It was enough for a chill to run down his back and for him to glance in the direction of his sword, propped up against his saddle, a good five feet away.
In a low voice he asked, “Shadow, what is it?”
“We have a visitor,” said the Shadow a half whisper. “Behind you and to the right, at the tree line. Move slow, both of you, I don’t think we are in danger.” As Tyrone turned to look where the Shadow indicated, it took his eyes a moment to adjust to the dark outside the circle of firelight. For a minute, he could not see anyone, and then as if a mist moved from his eyes, he could see the man standing at the edge of the woods.
He was of medium height, with broad shoulders, and a thick beard, with no mustache. It was no wonder that it had taken Tyrone a moment to see him, the clothes that he wore were dappled like a fawn, blending from green to gray to brown in big slow lines. The man wore trousers tucked into some kind of skin boot. Tyrone could not quite figure out his top, it was a cross between a shirt and a long scarf. There where sleeves that came down to the wrist, and there was a front like a shirt, but from the left shoulder a long piece of cloth also draped across his chest and then seemed to wrap around his waist at least once, and then dangle down his right leg.
The man stood totally at ease as he watched the three by the fire, seeming neither sacred nor surprised by their presence. Though they could not see his eye’s it was clear that he was taking in every detail of their camp. He seemed particularly interested in the horses, his brow knitting slightly as he looked them over.
After a moment or two, the Shadow slowly stood, and called out to the man, “Hullo, friend, would you care to share our fire?” The man stood where he was without reply. Finally the Shadow gestured for him to come forward, and the man gave a small nod and walked to the fire. He sat where the Shadow indicated. The man looked around himself and then asked a question. The words did not sound like any that the travelers had ever heard. Each took turns trying the various languages that they had any knowledge of; Tyrone tried his native Gaelic, and a smattering of French that he had picked up; Brother Carlinus tried English again, as well as German and Spanish; the Shadow took his turn with Norse, all to no avail. Finally giving up the Shadow swore in Latin, a highly blasphemous and obscure curse. This prompted their guest to sit up straight.
In an archaic and broken Latin he asked, “You speak the language of Rom?”
Replying in the same tongue, the Shadow said “Two of us do. How did you come to know it?”
“The Celesta learned it during our journey to our valley. We had to travel through the lands claimed by the Romish city dwellers, and so we learned or so say the teachers.”
“Then this is the Valley of the Celesta?” asked Brother Carlinus in a breathless voice.
“Of course, the Celesta live here, what else would this valley be?” asked their guest in a perplexed tone.
“Are you hungry?” asked the Shadow, giving Brother Carlinus a look that clearly said his input was not needed nor welcomed, “Would you like to share our dinner?”
“I would like that, but you must be hungry men to eat a whole deer for dinner,” replied the man. This provoked a laugh from both Carlinus and the Shadow.
Tyrone, having almost no Latin, was feeling a little put out, and asked, “What did he say?”
“He said he is hungry and that we have big appetites, “said Brother Carlinus.
“Well, that is the gist of what he said, anyway,” said the Shadow in an annoyed voice. He watched as their guest reached into the poach that of his tunic and removed a blade shaped bronze knife. With quick sure movements he cut himself three pieces of venison. He wiped the blade on the back of his calf to clean it, and with a smile sat down to eat. He held the slices of meat in before his chest, and in his language said a quick phrase, then tore into the meat with gusto. Not to have the man eat alone, the Shadow sliced himself a few pieces of the hot meat.
The man watched him carefully, as he performed this task, and after the Shadow had eaten a bite or two, asked, “You do not thank the doe?”
“Thank the doe, for what?” asked Brother Carlinus, since the Shadow was busy chewing.
“For providing the meal,” replied the man, “If the deer ate you, would you not at least want acknowledgement as the main course?”
This question had Brother Carlinus completely nonplused, with it’s logic that was perpendicular to the way that he felt the world worked. It took him a minute to gather his thoughts on the matter, but finally he said, “We are taught that the Lord God put these creatures on the earth for the benefit of man, to be used as we wish. So, no, we do not thank the deer, but rather thank God for his bounty”
“It is good to thank the god, surely, but did not the deer help too?” asked the man after a small pause. The look on Brother Carlinus’s face made the Shadow laugh.
“I have to say, I like the way that you think,” said the Shadow, “Please, tell us about yourself, what is your name? Do you live near here?”
“Will you trade questions? It hardly seems fair for me to do all the telling, and none of the asking?”
“So, I can already guess that you are a merchant, by the way that you bargain, but yes, I will trade you question for question” said the Shadow, while giving Brother Carlinus a look that said, butt in at your own peril.
With a nod of his head, the man said, “A fair trade it is. In answer to your questions, I am Astiabo, of the Tralevet sept, Garshon clan. As to living near here, that is hard to say. I have a house in the City of Rushing Waters, but I spend most of my time here in the forest. And so we come to you, my new friends, who are you and where do you come from? ”
“Well met, Astiabo. I am named The Shadow of Abbadon, my companions are Brother Carlinus of the Order of St. Benson, and Tyrone Costello” said the Shadow, nodding to each of the men in turn, “We come from beyond the high pass, in what we call the Black Tooth Mountains.”
Tyrone had looked up when he heard his name mentioned, but the rest was just a confusing jabber in a language that he did not understand. He quickly got bored, so to pass the time, he found a stick and pulling out his second best knife, began to whittle away at it. After a moment, he noticed that all of the conversation had stopped, glancing up he met three pairs of eyes staring at him. “What?” he asked a little defensively.
“Astiabo has never seen a knife like yours before,” said the Shadow, “He would like to look at it if it is okay with you?”
“Sure, why not?” said Tyrone with a shrug. He flipped the blade over and handed it to Astiabo, handle first. “That was made for me in Derry, by the smith of the castle. Not many have that much of a curve in the top of the blade. ”
“That’s true, but I think he is more interested in the steel it is made out of, than the design,” said the Shadow between bouts of answering questions in Latin.
“They don’t have steel or iron?” asked Tyrone incredulously
“Apparently not,” said the Shadow.
During this exchange, Astiabo had been testing the knife, cutting slices of meat, then peeling a long thin strip of wood from a branch, testing the bend and sharpness of the edge. After a moment he handed it back to Tyrone, with a clear look of lust in his eyes. It seemed that the little party would have some things to trade if they wanted to.
The Shadow went back to talking to Astiabo, with Brother Carlinus interjecting comments, much to the evident annoyance of the Shadow. Tyrone worked on his stick until he had a fair approximation of a dog. The fire had burned down to coal, and the meat been removed, still the Shadow, Astiabo and Brother Carlinus chatted away. Nothing is more boring than listening to a conversation in a language that you do not understand, and so Tyrone decided to turn in for the night. After all, he figured, the Shadow would be able to give him the short version of this talk in English in the morning.