Butter & Rum
The ignorant are always ready to believe a lie.
All eyes locked upon him.
…and Terrin smiled.
This time he’d promised dragons.
Child and patron alike gathered at the Roadkill Tavern. Human, Gypsy, Dwarf, Elf and other races took their seats to hear the Master Bard tell his favorite tales. The great hall was overflowing, differences between races momentarily set aside to enjoy the weekly event. Youth gathered particularly close, forming a rough semi-circle around Bard and hearth, bodies sitting upon the rough stone floor three rows deep.
Gypsy maidens moved silently among the crowd, serving drinks and offering small treats to the children while the tavern owner, Wood, welcomed new arrivals and assisted them in finding the few remaining pieces of floor to stand.
At the far end of the hall, hundreds of candles encompassed two pieces of furniture and the old Bard.
Terrin waited patiently, his body a faint shadow centered within a deep red leather high-back chair. Slender fingers rested upon the ornately carved dragons claws protruding from under each of his arms, his back resting against two folded wings. Hovering over Terrin’s own scalp was a dragons head, leaning out towards the crowd in anticipation, its opal eyes glowing in the dim light.
Letting silence grip the room, the Bard looked up to meet the waiting faces of the gathered. Once assured of their attention, he leaned forward ever-so-slightly.
"This is not a happy tale, my friends.” His voice just above a whisper, he eyed the young children, walking his attention around the arc of bodies. “It is a tale of one who wished to die” his brows arched upward in a semblance of pain, “but could not.”
All conversations died within the hall.
Slowly rising from his chair Terrin held his arms outward to his sides, a soft glow emanated from the tiny rings worn upon his pinkies. “And as with all tales of trial and tribulation, it began in darkness.” With that last word all flame atop candles and within lantern of the Tavern leapt in a wild arc over the heads of the spectators, and into the palms of the bard.
Patrons gasped as Terrin clenched his hands tight, plunging the hall into sudden darkness.
One child let out a tiny shriek.
Terrin grinned again.
“What I share this night is more than a story.”
Curving his shoulders forward, the Bard waved his hands outward and gave life to the small sea of candles surrounding him. Again the audience gasped as the light of the candles cast eerie shadows of the Bard, who now looked more like a giant with wings upon the Tavern walls.
“It is a secret kept within these cavern walls.”
Wisps of smoke rolled up from the burning hearth, showing a will of their own. Taking his place once more within the ornate chair, Terrin sat back calmly, folding his long legs as he grinned wide at his audience. Slithering over the dragon back chair, smokey serpents wound down the carved wood and over his shoulders. Patrons gasped as the smoke curled along his arms, pausing to sit up and seemingly stare at the people around it, then wrap around his limbs.
“THIS is new,” squealed a child. He shook his little friend beside him in excitement.
Smoke gathered over Terrin’s right palm, swirling and growing, forming the detailed figure of a winged serpent, much to the delight of the children. Along his fingers, trees of smoke formed around the dragon, the candle light dancing off the shapes for all to see.
With a wink to the children, the Bard tilted his head and blew lightly. The trees of smoke fell in on the dragon, burying the winged shape as Terrin began his tale.
“The Dragon Lord awoke to a searing heat clawing his back and arms.”
Terrin looked to the children with eyes wide in concern, “He tried to rise, but could not. He struggled and pushed, but a great weight lay upon him, pinning him beneath the world above.”
Several children placed hands over their mouthes.
“Air, the Dragon Lord shouted within himself, I must have air!”
Terrin gripped the arms of the great chair as he slowly pushed himself upward, “With a strength of will no mere mortal knew, Verdräskinn forced his body to comply. Every muscle screamed in rebellion, but he pushed, calling upon the strength of his ancient kind.”
Smoke hovered around the bards face and chest, shaped like fallen logs as Terrin clawed at his own throat. “With his last breath, the Dragon Lord roared, thrusting bloodied fingertips up through tree and ash. Grasping stick and stone Verdräskinn pulled himself from the mound.” Reaching up to the ceiling with one hand, the Bard then gasped as he broke free of the smoke.
The children cheered.
Clenching his eyes tight, Terrin made strenuous motions. “Inch by inch he pulled his body free, once more born into a world that had cast him out.
“The late Autumn breeze cut like ice, pellets of rain sliding across his charred flesh like razors. Exhausted and gasping for breath, he pulled his legs free of the rubble and collapsed upon the mound.”
Looking out to the audience with a glare of determination, the Bard wrapped his arms around himself. “Mortal men would have cast themselves down and died, but he was Verdräskinn. A skin-changer. A Verrdrä, one of the ancient race.”
With a sudden motion of his hand, the tiny gem on Terrin’s hand flared, startling the audience in its wake. A shadow settled onto the bards face, where light could no longer touch his left eye. In its place, a gaping hole of darkness.
Terrin leaned his head to the side and rotated his face to look out over the Great Hall.
“For long moments he lay still, listening…and refusing to open his one good eye.
“There were no cries for help. No cries of pain. No sound of fear or weeping for the loss of loved ones.”
The Brad paused, straining his ear, “Gone were the voices of birds and beasts. Even the crickets of the forest were silent.” Another pause, “He waited for the sounds that would never return.”
Some of the patrons looked about, disturbed. The children reached out for one another in fear.
“The embers of the great fire cast a sinister glow, eyes of blood peering over the landscape, peeking through soot and smoke. Verdräskinn blinked until the tears washed his eye clean, then ripped at the frayed end of his tunic.” Terrin reached down at his own tattered cloak and tore at the end thereof, ripping free a long strip of cloth. “Taking the cloth, he wrapped it around his head, covering the socket where his eye once sat.”
Wrapping the cloth around his own head, the Bard staggered back from his audience. “No, he quivered. Please no.” Terrin’s body shook as the words fell from his lips, his good eye darting about him wildly.
“The great trees which once towered over the village were gone. In their place were fingers severed from a giant hand, smoldering in the streets. Huts once white and vibrant green now crushed and burned black.”
Terrin knelt in front of the candles, “Verdräskinn stooped and lifted a piece of charred wood. Blood smeared the grain as he caressed it. It had once been painted white.
“The melons were ready for harvest, he told himself. The garden fence was a decoration throughout the village—one he’d always admired.
“It would have been a good harvest this year.”
Throwing down the phantom piece of wood, the Brad stood up sharply, “The attack didn’t make sense. Against him and his kind, yes, but not aggression against the Woodsman.” He looked out to the patrons, hurt. “These were loving, kind, peaceful people! The woodsmen had always been the friends of Verdräskinn.”
The Bard froze.
For a long moment, his gaze locked on something no one else could see, tears slowly forming in the corner of his eye.
His voice cracked.
“Huddled together…behind the remains of a tree trunk, two bodies leaned against the charred husk. ” The Bard choked, but his gaze did not break. “One larger than the other. Arms wrapped about the child in a protective embrace, the tiny head turned into its protectors chest. The ground around them was scorched black beyond the ash.”
It was then the children swallowed roughly and gritted their little teeth.
One of the little girls gripped her doll protectively and whispered, “Dragon fire.”
The tiny stones on Terrin’s rings shimmered, tears streaking down his face like silver. “The village had been celebrating the fall harvest. The Woodsmen had been in the open.”
Terrin threw his head back and wailed. “THESE WERE OUR FRIENDS!”
The audience flinched.
“Shuffling to the trunk, Verdräskinn dropped to his knees before the bodies. With all the laughter and music, the loud merrymaking, no one would have heard the traitor approach.”
The Bard gasped and once again looked upward, gritting his teeth, “Damn you, Brann, Verdräskinn cursed. Damn you by any god that can hear me!”
Turning back to the audience, Terrin raised his arms ever so slightly and the candles around him burned brighter, illuminating the room more fully.
“He awoke to the brightness of an unfamiliar sun.
“Sharp rays which once danced among the delicate leaves of Andle trees now cut through the dead spires jutting out from the ground like spears from the back of a dead animal.
“Verdräskinn stumbled to his feet, squinting as he let the shovel fall among the graves.” Terrin then looked into the faces of his audience, his own expression softening, “For centuries, the Verrdrä had lived in friendship with the shepherds of the forest. He had known every one of them by name. Mortal lives dedicated to the prosperity of the land. Not out of obligation or duty, but out of love for the forest and every creature that lived within it.
“Such love and compassion did not go unnoticed. The Dragon Lords had walked among them, traded with them and over time, revealed their true nature.
The Bard smiled down at the children around him, “These people did not fear the Verrdrä. They did not shun them. They opened their arms and accepted them, unhindered and without expectation. It was a friendship the Verrdrä cherished.”
The children all smiled, nodding agreement that the Woodsmen were good.
Even the Dwarves sitting at the center table nodded approval.
“The woodsmen prospered under the watchful eye and protection of the Verrdrä, generation after generation,” nodded Terrin.
“But they were betrayed,” growled a patron from the back.
The Bard snapped his head up and pointed at the angry patron, “Yes they were! Even those whose bodies could not be found, a small marker now pierced ash and ground, a name etched out in remembrance.”
The smoke from the fire once more snaked up the Bard’s back, forming a wispy shadow of a dragon behind him. “I envy you, Verdräskinn whispered aloud. For I would surely join you if I could, my friends. His hand went to his facial wounds, claw marks already beginning to heal. My people will join you in the next life and guard you there. Fingers tenderly inspected the bloodied socket, ‘…while I seek justice for this evil thrust upon us all.’
“Hefting the scavenged supplies and a woodsman axe, he kissed his fingers and touched the etching, ‘I must take the long path for now.’”