Malkin: I have many stories to tell.  You can hear them all.
kosh: so Malkin how about a fantasy one? ;)
Malkin: Oh, a fantasy one?  Sure.
* kosh makes a campfire and sits down next to it
* kosh dims the lights in the channel

Malkin's Storytime: The Magistrate's Daughter

Dayvin's Tale

Dardun was a quiet town, for the most part. It was mostly a town that the more ambitious tried to get out of, as soon as they were old enough. I was happy to be there, though. I had had my fill of danger in my younger days -- and paid the price. When I moved here, three years ago, I took up an apprenticeship with a cooper. Certainly, I was old for an apprentice, but his own son had died a few years back, and he was happy to have someone to teach his trade. You see, there weren't many children in the town, in those days.

And in that, there lay a tale all its own.

thoth: Malkin, I didn't know you were a cooper's apprentice
kosh: thoth she is telling a story :)
thoth: ah
I often asked why there weren't more children in the town, but whenever I did, the townsfolk tried to change the subject. When I did get an answer, they would mutter something about fever, or bad weather, or fairies. Over time, I began to notice children who I had seen in the town before simply go missing.

In time, it was my own friend's son who vanished. I confronted him about it. In tears, he admitted to me that the great bear Arsand in the mountains to the North came down to the town eight years ago, and demanded that he be given one child in sacrifice every year. The townspeople refused, so, in payment, six children disappeared every year. The rumour was that the bear's spirit came down from the mountain and devoured them as they slept, though none had ever witnessed this horror.

* kosh hands malkin a glass of water
* Malkin drinks deeply before she starts again.

I investigated further, but to no avail. No one would speak. None of the town's records (what there were of them) made mention of the bear. Not even the Priest of Amaya had any words for me.

About a year and a half later, the silence broke. The Town Magistrate's own son had vanished, like so many of the others, to fill the belly of the old bear. Filled with righteous anger, the Magistrate offered the hand of his beautiful, young daughter in marriage to anyone who brought the great beast's head to him.

I felt a familiar old tingle -- a challenge at hand. Certainly, I would kill this bear. While I found the Magistrate's daughter pleasant to look upon, it was not for her that I would do it, but for my friend's son, and the children of the other townspeople. And because somewhere, deep down inside, I missed my more reckless days.

I crouched over the old chest at the foot of my bed, hefting its lid open, the smell of dust and old leather filling the air. Inside were the treasures of my youth -- my father's blade, and the armour that I had earned at my coming of age (but that is another story). I tried on the armour, which did not fit as well as it might, but would have to do. Raising my father's sword, I gave it a few swings, testing its weight. It felt very right. I knew that my father's sword had some magic in it, and might serve well to kill a spirit bear. On the other hand, I might die horribly. Still, I had lived a good life, and I was one of the few lads in town who truly had a chance at slaying the beast.

The Priest of Amaya was much more helpful, now that the secret was out. After some prodding, I managed to get him to show me a weathered old map, suggesting where the bear might be found. I gathered my supplies, and set out on foot, having no horse of my own these days.

Eighteen days and eighteen nights, I travelled through rough terrain. It suited me well, though; it was much like the landscape around Haverford Keep, where I had lived as a boy. I hiked and climbed, and the wind grew colder with every hour. When I reached the point where I thought the cave should be, it took two days of searching to find the right one. During my search, I encountered a few unsavory beasts, and an array of bleached bones, of both animal and man. When, at last, I reached the cave, I heard quite a clamour within!

It sounded as though someone were already fighting the bear. I lit my torch, and charged in, and saw what I, at first, took to be a brave youth locked in combat with the monster. Both combatants were sorely wounded, but the boy looked to be fighting with plain steel, and would not have the power to dispatch the hungry spirit within the beast.

I charged forward, and joined the fray, certain that this youth deserved saving. Just as I charged forward, the beast rent a huge tear in his leather armour, and he fell back, collapsing to his knees. I drove my blade towards the creature.

Taking advantage of its wounded state, I dealt the monster a few decisive blows, but not without taking a deep wound to one of my shoulders. Caught up in the moment, I pushed onward until the beast collapsed, breathing one last great, hot breath. Then, the air was filled with strange electricity. I could feel the hair rising on the back of my neck. A deep, terrible voice rang out, "Do you claim this prize?"

"I claim no prize!" I shouted out. "I want nothing but for you to no longer trouble the people of my town!" My voice faltered then, as I said, "And I wish to bring this boy to safety."

A deep, derisive laughter rang through the mountain. "I will trouble them no longer. And you may have that boy, but you will find that he is not what you think."

Silence fell, and the tingling feeling faded. I sheathed my blade, and went to the side of the fallen combatant. He -- no, she, was alive, but barely conscious. Yes, in my haste to charge into the battle, I had erroneously taken the armoured figure for a boy. The fallen lass had been fair once, but now bore four great gashes across her cheek. I knew her face, now that I saw her much closer. It was the Magistrate's daughter.

Against her protests, I loosened her armour, and gathered her up in my arms, feeling a great aching in my wounded shoulder, as I did so. "You won't... be able... to carry its head," she whispered.

"What good is that without you?" I asked. Through great turmoil, and though a fever rose in my head, I bandaged the lady -- Amina, and I struggled through the wilderness with her. It was all I could do to keep her alive on the road, and to bear the great pain in my own shoulder. After days that seemed endless, and fraught with doubt, we reached the safety of our town, at long last.

As I prepared to deliver her to the Priest, she begged me to tell no one of her deeds. Reluctantly, I agreed. When the Priest asked how she had been wounded, I told him that I had found her wounded in the wilderness, while hunting.

I left her there, with the Priest, when I was satisfied that she would live. She was my charge no longer. I would not go to her father, and I would make no claim.

A few days later, a loudmouthed young ruffian named Galen rode into town with two friends, bearing a large parcel. He marched to the Magistrate's office, proudly bearing the head of the fallen bear. I was dumbfounded. How could he show such dishonour?

* Malkin could, of course, cut this one short, and tell you guys to wait for
the CB edition to learn the ending... ;)
kosh: nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!
* Milamber cheers Malkin (knowing he'll be the first to see the ending in CB)

The Magistrate accepted the gift gladly, and word soon spread across the town that there would be a marriage. I felt an aching in the pit of my stomach, when I heard the news. Did Amina so fear her father's wrath that she would marry a scoundrel, rather than tell him the truth?

The day of the wedding came, and I wended my way through the town streets, my eyes upon the stones beneath my feet. I was welcome at the wedding, but I wasn't entirely certain I could bear watching it. Some part of me desperately wanted to find some way to ruin it all, and I feared, in the back of my mind, that that part of me might assert itself if I was there.

In the end, I had to go. I had to see what would happen. Verging on tardiness, I picked up my step, and made my way to the temple. As I entered, I discovered that all of the seats were taken. There was only room to stand, in the back. Carslyn, a wily old widow, and a good friend, motioned for me to join her.

"So, you've come to watch this terrible match?" she asked me, whispering.

"It is far worse than you know," I whispered, in turn.

It was then that I spotted the bride, in the far corner of the temple, beyond a trail of grey smoke. She wore the traditional wedding attire of a bride among Amaya's People, in spite of a recent trend to the contrary. You see, it was the tradition of old, when the townships were smaller, that the girls, of a certain age, were sent to another town, where a distant relative or matchmaker would arrange for her match. Upon the marriage day, the groom had never seen the girl. Fearing that he might pull out of the arrangement, if he did not like the look of her, it became a tradition to conceal the bride's face behind winding fabric, until the ceremony was complete. Recently, there had been a drastic decline in arranged marriages, and this relic of a different time had been cast aside by many of the young brides.

It chilled me deeply to see Amina's face so covered -- wound in gauzy fabric, of grey and indigo. I knew of the scars she was hiding from her husband-to-be, and I knew now just why she was letting this marriage take place. Indeed, she feared that no man would marry her if he saw her, and she could not hide her scars from the town forever.

I felt cold and unyielding, like iron, as the ceremony progressed. There was no joy in this room. The guests were there because of curiosity and scandal. I began to regret my decision to attend.

When the vows were completed, and the windings removed, there were hushed gasps in the temple. The groom stared in silence, for a long moment, before blurting out, "What is this?" He reeled on the Magistrate, "What is the meaning of this? Is this what you give me for saving the town? A ruined creature? A crushed flower?" He spat upon the floor.

My hand rested on the hilt of my blade. "What is going on?" Carslyn asked. "My sight is not what it used to be."

"She is scarred," I said. "Her face is scarred."

"How did that happen?" Carslyn asked.

"The Bear did it," I said, a little too loudly.

"Now you have me quite confused," the old woman said.

"Galen, show a little..." the Magistrate began, moving to the young man's side.

"Show a little what?" Galen interrupted. "Patience? Kindness? What kindness have you shown me? Look at this... this..." He grabbed Amina's hair, and I heard a small sound of protest escape her lips. The crowd in the temple was in shock, a sea of whispers washing through the room.

"Dayvin, what's happening now?" I heard Carslyn ask, as I began to cut through the crowd. "Dayvin? Dayvin!"

I could feel a deep growl rising in my throat as I pushed through the last of the crowd. The Magistrate regarded me, pallid and shaking, though Galen did not seem to notice me yet. The Magistrate's guards moved forward, as though to intercept me. My head burned, as though in a fever, and I growled out, "You ingrate! You liar!" Still, I did not draw my sword. Not in the temple.

Galen's eyes met mine, narrowing, "What does this have to do with you, old fool?"

Amina rushed forward, "Dayvin, no! Don't, please!"

I turned to look at the Magistrate's daughter. I could see her eyes now, grey, and filled with tears. I turned, to face the Magistrate. "My Lord," I said, "your daughter did battle with Arsand, the Great Bear, and were it not for her effort, he would not have fallen." The guests gasped quietly.

The Magistrate turned his eyes upon Galen, "Is it true? Was she with you?"

Galen's nostrils flared, "This man is mad." His fingers twitched oddly.

"No, Father," Amina said, looking down at her feet. "Dayvin saved me. He left the bear's head, because it was more important to bring me back to..."

Galen's blade slipped from its home, "What are these lies that you speak, woman?"

"How dare you draw your blade within the temple?" I spat.

"If my wife bears false witness, I may slay her. So sayeth the Law." Galen said, flippantly. The guards stood fast, looking to the Magistrate for their orders. The Priest looked agitated, and whispered quietly under his breath.

"Not while I live!" I growled back, finally unsheathing my own blade.

The Magistrate stepped back, out of the way, and quietly said to the guards, "Amaya will choose." Amina sank to the ground, hugging her arms around herself. The Priest clenched his jaw. The Temple Guards stood at the ready.

Galen came at me, blade moving for a quick blow. I beat his blade back, riposting, but he was nimble -- oh so nimble. It seems that I had underestimated the boy. I was sore and out-of-practice, and he was possibly at his peak performance. He wore me out quickly, and I began to truly worry. There were two lives riding on this, and I could not fail. He feinted to my right, I misread his move, and he sliced my left shoulder open, deftly. I ground my teeth together, and used the opening to push my attack, but he shifted out of the way at the last split-second, using my own momentum to throw off my balance, and send me sprawling to the ground.

I rolled, as quickly as I could, tightening my grip on my blade, as I heard Amina's voice yell out "No!" As I caught my opponent in my field of sight, I could see him about to thrust his blade downard toward me. Motion flickered out of the corner of my eye. I brought my blade to bear, clashing with Galen's, as it plunged toward my chest. I could feel it brush my ear as it passed above my left shoulder.

As my opponent lifted his blade for another strike, he suddenly froze, his face twisted in pain. It was then that I finally caught a hint of what had passed through the periphery of my vision before: Amina. Her figure was much smaller than his, but the hem of her dress, and bend of her elbow peeked from behind Galen's frozen form. Gasps erupted from the crowd again, as Galen sank to his knees. It was only then that I could see the blood on her hands. She had stabbed him in the back.

I pushed myself up from the ground, looking at Amina. The guards were beginning to approach. She stared at her bloodied hands, eyes filled with terror. I quickly came to the conclusion that neither the city guard, nor the Church was going to treat this act with kindness. In a moment of impulsiveness, exceeding even the one that led me into this situation, I reached for one of her stained wrists, and clutched it soundly, pulling her toward the crowd.

We plunged into the gathered audience, and most of them parted before us. The others were quickly pushed to the side, or pulled by friends. The guards had begun to give chase, but many of those gathered in the temple did their best to stall them. At least I had the townsfolk on my side.

As we pushed through the great doors, into the outside air, I could see that the sun was crossing mid-sky.

"Can you ride?" I asked quickly.

"Aye," she answered.

"We can move faster than the news. Come. I know where we can 'borrow' some horses. We've got a long journey ahead."