To celebrate the release of “Ritual of the Stones,” I am releasing a free serialised story set in the same world of Frindoth. The story will follow the journey of Pewtory the Lesser bard as he travels to Lilyon to witness the Ritual. I hope you enjoy.
Chapter 9 – The Threat
Part of him wished to rush the man, throw him through the window and send him to his death on the cobblestones outside. The stranger oozed malevolence. He was sinister and whatever he wanted, Pewtory was sure it was not good. Years of performing in front of an audience had taught the bard how to read people.
And yet, a small part of him yearned to hear what the intruder had to say. A little voice inside of him hungered for fame and notoriety. He squashed the voice inside of him, buried it deep down. He had worked years to perfect his performance. Patience was the key now.
“The market takes place in the morning, you’ll fit in well with the other salesmen and their ridiculous boasts,” he said at last.
Pewtory turned towards his storage trunk to retrieve a pair of fresh trousers. He concluded that the man was not going to harm him or he would have done so already. No, the man wanted something. Pewtory just had to figure out what. If the man wanted a duel of words, Pewtory was sure he could hold his own.
“Do not mistake me for a fool.”
The words were spoken with an icy chill but it was the sound of the plop of water that made the bard whirl around. His heart lurched at the sight he dreaded most in the world.
The stranger held Willow loosely in his fist. The red fish flapped between the man’s fingers, struggling for air. Were the fish’s eyes bulging more than normal? Pewtory fought down a wave of bile, he legs felt weak and he had to place an arm against the bed to steady himself.
“Please don’t hurt him.”
“Him,” the stranger sneered at the endearment. “You seriously think that you can converse with these simple creatures don’t you?”
Pewtory did not respond. He edged closer to the stranger who closed his fist a little more tightly and moved it away from the bard. Pewtory understood and stopped, his shoulders slumped.
“What is it you want me to do?” he said at last. His voice sounded small, pathetic. He hated the way it sounded. He swore he would never be a victim again. The triumphant smile that the stranger gave him only added to the bard’s shame.
“The ceremony of the stones takes place imminently. It will decide who the twelve stoneholders for the Ritual will be. I will come to possess this knowledge and when I do, I want you to attach yourself to one of the stoneholders and prevent them from attending the Ritual.”
Pewtory’s mouth fell open. What was being asked was unforgivable, the biggest crime someone in Frindoth could commit.
“B, b, but the Gloom.”
“Will punish Frindoth like it has never been punished before, yes.”
The matter of fact tone the stranger used was disturbing. There was no remorse in that voice, not a hint of indecision. In Frindoth’s storied history, no one had ever come close to defeating the Gloom. No one had even wounded it. It was an abhorrent entity that possessed strength and power that was almost incomprehensible. It demanded one sacrifice every twelve years and Frindoth obliged as the alternate did not bear thinking about. Yet this man in Pewtory’s room was asking him to consider doing just that.
“My reasons are my own. Although they might not be an impure as you think.”
Pewtory snorted at that.
“Thousands will be killed,” Pewtory whispered.
“Many thousands probably - An unfortunate necessity.”
Pewtory tried to push the horrific images that flashed in his mind. Bodies half devoured and strewn over the capital city streets, the white walls of Lilyon charred with soot and broken, children cowering in doorways and ravens pecking at the dead.
“I would never be responsible for such a thing,” Pewtory said.
“You would be the most famous man in history.”
“I don’t want to be remembered for the wrong reasons.”
The stranger shrugged. “Famous or infamous, either way you will be remembered. As a bard you will be remembered only by the scholars if you are lucky, as bringing about the single most significant event in history you will be remembered by the world.”
Pewtory mulled the comment over. It was not technically true, Pewtory the bard was remembered in most taverns and inns and not just by the educated, but the intruder did have a point. Pewtory was appalled to find he felt a certain frisson run down his spine at the idea. He quickly dismissed the sensation. The idea was heinous. His aim was to bring joy to people, not the opposite.
He glanced at Willow still flapping in the man’s hand. He could make out his mouth as it opened and closed in rapid succession, desperate to breathe.
“Please put him back in the bowl, you have my attention now.”
“I think not. But as a good gesture I will allow the poor thing to get some water.”
He thrust the fish back into the bowl, but held it tight as it squirmed to free itself. Wisp dashed against the man’s fingers in an effort to free her companion. The stranger seemed amused by this and smiled. His eyes had an orange tint as if burning. Weren’t they grey earlier?
The room dimmed slightly as a candle winked out. There was still the comforting sound of conversation downstairs but it was more muffled now. Pewtory was appalled as another image crept into his mind. Hundreds of years from now, a scholar recounting the events that changed the world and his name synonymous with it. He would be referred to in the same way as Gregorian the vain and Yasmon the slayer of the final Firelion. Only his name would be so much more.
“It is what you planned to do isn’t it? Meet a stoneholder on the way to the Ritual?”
“To interview them only. Not bring about the end of Frindoth,” Pewtory scoffed. How did the man know that anyway?
“Your aim seems a bit puerile now in comparison doesn’t it? What sounds better; Pewtory the Lesser or Pewtory the Destroyer?”
Pewtory shook his head as he tried to shake away the images that filtered into his mind. Images of fame.
“No, I will not do that. I can’t. You will have to kill me.”
“Oh I won’t do that. I will kill your fish, break your instrument and then chop off your fingers to ruin your livelihood. Maybe, I will even tear out your tongue. But I will let you live. Killing you will give you a sense of martyrdom. You may even be remembered as a promising bard cut down in his prime. I will leave you a wounded, husk of a man, pitied, shunned and driven away by towns.”
“That is still preferable to the alternative,” Pewtory sat down on the bed, tears in his eyes. What had happened tonight? How had this come about?
The stranger walked over to Pewtory. For the first time, the bard detected a faint sickly odour emanating from the stranger. It was the smell of decay. The man placed the bowl with both fish in, on the bard’s lap.
“I don’t think you believe that. I chose you for a reason. I know you are considering it even now.”
With that he walked out of the room.