Alturiak 9: Stalker goes into the cells. I spend the evening talking to the magistrates. There has to be a way out of this, right? Stalker, maybe he was possessed. There’s something not right with him, I can tell. But all I get out of the townsfolk is talk of gallows. Give them half a chance, they’d hang us all. Except they can’t do that, can they? He’d the king’s nephew. King’s nephews don’t hang for merely murdering a few guards.
Murdering a few guards. As if they didn’t matter. That’s what he did. That’s what Shifty did to The Gnome, crazy mad bitch that she was, it was still murder. I’ve killed men. I’ve killed slimeys and thuggers and other things besides. I’ve done a lot of things that were wrong. But I’ve never murdered someone. Not like that. Not with no reason.
And then in the morning, when we go down to see him, when go down to the cells to shake our Stalker by the throat and demand to know what the flying FUCK he was thinking, he’s gone. There’s a dead guard in his cell, the night watchman, and Stalker’s gone. Just like that. And the gibbering halfgit in the cell next door is telling us that what we brought back out of the snow wasn’t Stalker at all, but face-eating shape-shifting monstrosity. Stalker is gone. The Stalker we knew was gone a long time ago, but this is what he’ll be remembered for. Not for the noble things he did, even if most of them were by accident or to fill his own pockets, but for the pointless murders of a monstrosity while the real man we knew is out stiff and cold somewhere in the snow.
No, I’m not having this. I’m a bard. A slayer of stories as much as a maker of them. I can’t bring him back, can’t even find where he fell, but I can change how he ended.
Swayed by the wisdom of Diamond Cascade’s words, the good soldiers of Osmuld quickly galloped away to sound the alarm and call forth the good swords of the north, but it is not before the mystery of Stalker’s memory is solved: It seems he is none other than Lord Corren, nephew of the King of Osmuld himself! This joyous news flooded our hearts, and as the sun set, we bent our knees to the noble lord of this land and pledged, as did he, that our blood would feed the earth before any evil would pass us that night; and so we steeled ourselves to face the orc once more.
Nor did they disappoint. Goblin wolf-riders came, drawn to our lures. Then foot soldiers. Orcs, too many to count. Long and hard, Lord Corren and his valiant company fought them off, slaying many. Many a wound was given, and many taken too, until in the dead of the night, under the glare of a gibbous moon, a great ogre strode forth, a mighty monster, a champion of champions, scattering Diamond Cascade and his friends aside. Yet Lord Corren, alone, had the courage to face him, and one against they other they fought, in a cataclysm of blows that shook the very earth and made all else seem futile. Around them, the victorious goblins paused, transfixed by the fury of their duel, and yet, in the end, it was the ogre who fell with a mighty moan, and Lord Corren who stood victorious, drenched in blood that was not his own. And the goblins and the orcs wailed and shrieked and slid away into the night, so many, yet so afraid of but one man whose strength and spirit would not break. And thus Lord Corren, blood of Osmuld, served and saved his land unto his last breath, as he stood, still like a statue, glaring into the darkness until every last goblin was gone before he too fell dead beside the monster he had slain.
There. Let that be the story we sing of him.
NEXT WEEK: WHAT DO YOU MEAN HE’S NOT ACTUALLY DEAD? OH, HE IS NOW.
[In fact, Diamond Cascade will be taking a short break, but should be back, with luck, by the end of the month]