- Louis Sauvain
Old Man’s Tales -- Part the First
Asullus Anguli XXIV ... (Asullus’ Corner)
Old Man’s Tales -- Part the First
Good day to all Gentle Readers ! ‘Tis Asullus, yer old an’ trusty gray Mule, an’ the steadfast Spritae, Morphia the Scribe, bringin’ to yer somethin’ a bit different this day.
Now, I ha’ heard it said that some o’ ye do care fer a story e’ery now an’ then, so fer the next few editions, that’s what’s to be served. So be warned, these pieces be a bit long, so they’ll be cut in two an’ strung out an’ all.
An, all special like, one is comin’ from me Old Master, Silvestrus, himself, an’ the other from the beautiful Mistress Geanninia. Those o’ ye wi’ exceptional memories might recall that these entertainments were mentioned, but no’ spelled out, at the very first Mid-Summer’s Eve, when first the young ones’ was together.
As it turns out, this old Mule did commit the tales to memory, so that they no’ be lost.
An’ wi’out further ado…
The Harrowing Adventure of Murlak, the Spotted Troll, the Mermaid, Praesidia, and the Mad Centaur Corigio.
There was, upon a certain time long past, a certain land, the County of Kant. This land was judged blessed without measure for its wondrous disposition beginning in the east with snow-capped ranges gently drifting down over golden plains, bounded by endless forests, to a blue-touched bay enfolding a harbor of pleasing proportions, known the world over for its sheltering safety. It was there, in the midst of that harbor, that stood the famed black basalt out-cropping known as the Mermaid’s Wheel.
That name it had from olden times, its meaning wrapped in deep mystery and legend for, as all know, the Mer have little enough need for wheels. Yet, that was the name of the black rock and there upon it would congregate from time to time, members of the Mer community to discourse among themselves regarding divers issues or to socialize only. And it was there that the Mermaid, Praesidia, was wont to present herself, chatting with her sisters, playing her coral harp or simply combing her rich blue-black tresses in the warmth of the yellow-balled sun.
The folk of the village that lay at the back of the bay well-knew the Mer and had lived in peace with them since there was man. Many a young stalwart of the town had made the trip to the black rock, drawn by either the Mermaids’ songs, or their great beauty. But these were always rebuffed. The Mer did not reject those with two legs — in fact they would, on occasion, hold much trade with them — it was more a wariness, such as how one might treat with a stray cat.
Elders of the village would scoff at their young rakes’ attempts, asking, “And, oh, what, pray tell, would you with a fish-woman in any case?”
Such was the situation until the time Murlak, the Spotted Troll, came down from the mountain.
Murlak was said to be the last of his kind on account of the spots he bore — dark, scaly patches on his skin, as it chanced, seen in his people only once in a great number of generations. Whether he was, as a consequence, held in high regard, or whether he was belittled for being different is not known. Only, that he was and that he came down from the mountain — the home of the trolls, it is said, from the beginning.
For some time following, Murlak dwelt in the forests to the west of the plain that emptied into the bright bay, as his people were shy by nature, and, perhaps, he, himself, particularly, on the basis of his spots.
But one night, by the full of the moon, he chanced to be wandering the shore of the bay, seeking fish washed up there for his evening meal, when he first heard the sound of the coral harp and the chords of the Mermaid’s song. It was Praesidia, she of the iridescent gold and black scales, whose music entered his mind and heart, like smoke from a gentle campsite fire might a traveler’s tent, and there began to lay ahold of him.
He could do naught but whip his head from side to side to try to locate the origin of these nector-filled notes. At last he located the source of the spell-doured sound and crouched down, helpless, on the beach, losing all attention to any other thing surrounding him, save the Mermaid’s song.
When at last, Praesidia had finished and returned to her home ‘neath the waves, Murlak, crouched yet for some hours, rooted to the spot — in part, as a result of the effect of the Mermaid’s music and, in part, at the distant hope that she might return to play on.
At last, he left the shore-lined sands and returned to his abode in the woods — a cave he had found there and fashioned to his own needs.
The next day, an hour after dusk, and once the village folk had returned to their own homes, he again sought his place on the beach but, alas, went unrewarded. Thus it was for Murlak — some days he would be blessed in his efforts and hear her music, but other days, not so, and none could say what determined her choice. But he persisted and was content to do so, given the experience of the pleasure he took to himself from her music.
Following a time, he determined that he must draw closer to the elusive sea creature. His eyesight was less strong and he thought to make up for this deficit by proximity.
So the large, spotted troll set about constructing a sea-craft from the driftwood cast about, that he might draw nearer his prize. Now, as all know, trolls shun the waves — it is death to them. But such was his ardor, he persisted in his plan and, with time, had fashioned an ungainly and ugly craft which he, with much trepidation, paddled out toward the Mermaid’s Wheel.
Thus it was that the Mermaid, beautiful Praesidia, noted his coming one night when the full silver moon made clear what she beheld.
“Ho, troll,” for she knew him for what he was in the instant, “what do you here? Have you come to slash me with your claws and stuff me in your mouth?”
“Nay, fair Mermaid. Fear not. I am driven to thee by thy music, which hast captivated my heart and stolen my soul.”
“Then abate thy pace and hold thy place and I will sing you a song as a reward for your efforts this night.”
“Aye, lady, that would pleasure me much.”
The Mermaid sang and Murlak became even more entranced, gripping tightly the pole he used to both guide and propel his ugly craft. Now that he beheld the Mermaid more closely, he saw, in her, a beauty beyond his experience. All his life he had been derided by the members of his tribe for the spots that plagued his skin and turned his own brothers and sisters from him. If they, he reasoned, found him so unbecoming, then he must be unsightly and hideous in the extreme, and he began to loathe the image he would see in the ponds and lakes of his mountain home.
But this Mermaid, though at first as unfamiliar in her form as any, must, he reasoned, be the definition of beauty itself, given the ecstasy he received from her melodies.
And, in that mind’s frame, he dared to hope.
To Praesidia, however, the creature lurking about her island was what he was — a common mountain troll, uglier than most on account of his skin’s affliction. Yet, she found amusement in the beast’s attention. The season past, she had had dalliance with that knight — yes, Sir Derdrom. And he had amused her for a time, though not ending well — at least for him. But a troll — never could she claim such a one in her catalogue of passing interests to this point. Who knew what secret delights might arise from a summer tryst with such a graceless and inelegant one. How droll.
Thus, was a pattern born. The Mermaid would assume the Wheel and practice her art of music’s enticement, while the besotted troll would paddle out each night hoping against hope that this night would see his efforts rewarded.
After a time, Murlak began to bring gifts that he thought might please the Mermaid, such as sea-flowers, pieces of unusually shaped driftwood or certain rocks he thought she might find pretty.
After first reception, she soon became bored with such commonplace offerings, however, and began to set the troll more challenging tasks, such as demanding a nugget of copper, a bean’s-weight of topaz, or knot of beryl wood.
When these demands were met with seeming ease, the vain sea creature then increased the difficulty and value of her requests — never quite stating whether the subsequent attainment of her list would benefit him or whether any failure on his part to meet the Mermaid’s obligation would lead to any likely consequence.
As chance would have it, some miles from the adopted cave of the spotted troll, in the West Forest, lay the Hamlet of the Centaurs, of which Corigio was a member. That is, he was, traditionally, a member, but at certain moments he found himself a caste-out, depending on the periodic nature of his temperament and the tolerance of his community. As a consequence, he was considered Corigio the Mad, though it was felt his cyclic affliction was wont to be one more of mood than thought.
There was at that time among the Centaurs a singular weapon, the Spear of Portion, that the men-horse claimed was given them for their protection by one of their Gods. It was customary for the Centaurs to bestow upon one of their number, as an honor, the custody of said spear for a period of ten foalings. Typically, the accolade was accorded to the greatest warrior among them at the time. And, at the time of our story, the weapon’s custodian was none other than Corigio the Mad. Whether or not, one considered him merely unstable or touched by the Gods, still in all, they had to admit that he it was, who was the greatest of their kind on the field of battle.
He carried his weapon and honor with a special pride and none there were during that decade that sought to challenge him.
That is, until Praesidia, one day, in a fit of boredom, mentioned this to her imagined suitor, the solitary spotted troll.
“Ah, Murlak, you speak — during those times when you can speak — of your yearning for my company, my great beauty and your constant devotion. Yet I see no welcome display convincing me of these claims.” Here the sea-Lady raised her arm to ward off protest.
“True enough,” she continued, you bring me the occasional trinket, but if your love is so great as you claim, then this should be reflected in the value of your gifts. Hmm. Let me think.” The Mermaid fell silent for a moment or two, then spoke. “Know that from my Wheel, here, I see many things, both of the sea and the land. And the one thing I see day after day and year after year, is that stick with which the Centaurs swagger about, as if it has some value much beyond its appearance. Now, I note that it is carried currently by Corigio — he, whom his folk are wont to call, ‘the Mad.’
“So, there you are. If you truly think to have some portion of my consideration, then bring you to me, the Spear of Portion, for I shall have no other.” Having spoken her mind, she dismissed the miserable creature with a flick of her tail and with some measure of satisfaction. She would wager a sea-chest’s worth that the troll, all sinew and gonads, would be easily bested by the great warrior centaur. In this case, then, she would be rid of the pestering lout and return to the seducing of the occasional questing knight. If, however, by some miracle, the ugly, spotted one was successful, then she would have in her possession one of the rarest and most wondrous artifacts of this world, making her the envy of all her school…
Well, we’ll be stoppin’ here today, an’ as they say, to be continued. Faretheewell.
The Great North Tower, Northfast