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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Fantasy stories / Fairy Tales
- Subject: Horror / Scary Stories
- Published: 12/02/2019
The portly and very sweaty Carpenter dry-retched, as soon as the toad sprung clear of his mouth. The chunky man’s gob only ever accommodated the traffic of ale, meat and the vomited remainder of both. He spat rigorously, before storming off, away from the gathering crowd. All eyes turned back to the Stage-Mage, who bowed deeply, garnering a storm of applause. At the rear of the mob, a performance of another sort played out.
“You don’t know nuffing’ ‘bout magick, Yfel Bannan! Get out of here!” bellowed a tall, bulky youth, prior to pushing the smaller boy to the ground.
“I’m not here to watch, Unsýfre. I’m just trying to get past.”
“Go and cry into one of your stupid books, ya’ pig’s arse!” Unsýfre spat, kicking dirt in Yfel’s direction.
The boy picked himself up and dusted off his breeches. A young, frilly girl of roughly fifteen summers giggled like a simpleton. A muscular man with naked women etched onto his forearms, shook his shiny, hairless scalp and clicked his tongue. Yfel hung his head, allowing his long, dirty hair to conceal his red face. He scooped up his satchel, checked that the contents were all accounted for and ran all the way home.
A GIFT OF SORTS
Yfel picked some things from the dying vegetable patch before carefully pushing open the cottage door, trying not to wake his mother. He crept inside, pulled the purchased items from his bag and got to work. He ground, chopped and brewed, dutifully looking over to check on his patient every now and then. His preparations complete: Yfel placed everything on a wooden tray and walked it over to the bedside. He gently placed a cool compress on his mother’s forehead and she slowly opened her weary eyes.
“Yes ma, I’m back,” announced the boy, absentmindedly smoothing out his fair and very unkempt hair. “I brought some things from Sudorcastel. Some tincture of licorice for your chest and I brewed some tea with ginger and the last of the fennel from the garden, for your stomach. I made a little soup earlier if you can take it.”
“You’re a good boy, Yfel. I’m sorry you have to put up with all this,” croaked the boy’s mother.
“It’s not like that. I want to… need to make you better. I’m no healer; I wish I was.”
“No. I need to say this. I’ve wasted my life reading stories about other people with gifts… with arcane power. If only I’d invested my time wisely, learned how to-”
“You’re a fine article, if not a little scruffy,” quipped Yfel’s mother. “You are growing up to be an excellent young man and I’m p-proud… so proud,” she stated with growing difficulty.
“You’re not so bad yourself, although, you could do more around the house,” countered Yfel. “Now, sheathe that tongue. Don’t push yourself. Rest.”
“No, you need to listen now. I’m not so weak that I can’t smack those chops. You don’t need gifts like the heroes in your stories. You have the name I gave you, that’s a gift of sorts. Put a lot of thought into it, I did. It’s one of good standing and all the things you bring to it. It’s a powerful thing: a good name. It can take you places, open doors and even save you, if you let it. God’s know I have nothing else to leave you. Spêdig êower benemnan.”
“You know I’m not good with the old words. At any rate, I’m not opening any doors until you’re well,” Yfel responded, brushing a tear from his eye.
I THINK THAT'S RIGHT, MA
Yfel awoke with a start. He had fallen asleep seated next to his mother, his head on the blanket. He checked her breathing: it was weak but present. He got up, lit some candles and tended the fire. Suddenly, a sinking feeling in his guts impelled Yfel to run to his mother’s side. He grabbed her hand: it was deathly cold.
“You did it, old woman. You finally gave me the slip,” Yfel whispered before kissing his mother’s head. He wiped his cheeks and pinched his nose so hard, it hurt.
The boy silently built a funeral pyre that night, in the manner of his forefathers. He hesitated only briefly before lighting it and sending plumes of smoke to the Gods.
“Os imp hafa… êower,” Yfel read from an open book, staring into the flames. “I think that’s right, ma.”
CLOAKED AND HOODED
Yfel Bannan wandered in the dark, paying no mind to his direction of travel. He barely even noticed the chilling winds, blowing in from the mountains. He kept his head low and his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his tatty coat. After a time, he passed three farmhands, staggering about; one proclaiming loudly that the small fellowship was setting off on a tour of local pleasure houses. A bout of drunkenness suddenly looked very appealing, as it often does to one so grieved and Yfel headed for the tavern on the outskirts of town. The Witch's Lament wasn’t the best establishment around, or even the cleanest; it was simply the closest. Travelers, wanderers, and fugitives rubbed shoulders here. It was a place where a man could lay low, buy stolen things or be brutally killed, depending on the direction of the breeze. Yfel was mildly horrified to see his most persistent antagonist: Unsýfre, sitting in the corner nursing an ale. A surprising development, seeing as how Unsýfre lived over on the far eastern side of Sudorcastel. The turnip would have passed at least three other drinking holes to arrive at this one. Yfel inhaled sharply and ordered a pint without delay, absconding to his own dark nook.
“I was hoping I’d run into you, Pig’s Arse,” Unsýfre belched, looming up so suddenly that Yfel had to admire the fat boy’s speed.
“I figured you’d enjoy plowing into the occasional pig’s bum,” Yfel countered before taking a long swig from his tankard.
“You trying to woo me, Foot-smell?”
“I’m in no mood for this level of stupidity, Unsýfre. If you’re going to hit me, bloody get on with it.”
The larger boy grabbed Yfel by the scruff and picked him up effortlessly. He drew back a meaty fist and squealed like a stuck boar. His wrist jerked backward in an unnatural fashion and each of his fingers snapped like twigs. Tears welled in his beady eyes and he stumbled about the tavern, madly brandishing his disfigured hand at random patrons, most recoiling in disgust. Yfel scanned the room for his defender, spotting a cloaked and hooded figure approaching at speed. A gloved hand grasped Yfel’s arm tightly and he was lead away from the scene and into the night.
The pair stopped under a large ash tree, Yfel breathing heavily, his escort not puffed in the slightest. The stranger bowed and pointed to its covered head. Yfel, eventually took the hint and pulled the hood back, revealing a face he did not expect. A shapely cheek and glinting, green eyes had been concealed within.“Female?” blurted Yfel.
“You didn’t guess, dimwit?” replied the girl playfully, smoothing out her rust-colored hair. She reached into her cloak and produced some brightly colored berries. She had eaten nearly all of them before she thought to offer Yfel any. The boy just shook his head, mesmerised by his companion.
“Y-You really helped me out of a t-tight spot, back there. Thank you,” he rambled. “I’m Yfel, in case you’re interested.”
“It was just a bit of fun, Yfel. You may call me: Gôdlêas, if you want to be all polite about things.”
“Right. So… I’d best be heading home, Gôdlêas.”
“To what or whom? Mother? Wife? A favourite sheep?”
“Fair swing. I guess… no one,” Yfel replied sadly.
“By the Gods and The Great Ascension, you’d best come with me, then. Can’t have you moping all over the place, can we?” enthused Gôdlêas.
Gôdlêas motioned for Yfel to follow her down the piss-scented alley and toward the cellar of a house that looked extremely inhabited. Gôdlêas undid the padlock with the deft tap of a finger and tossed it aside. Yfel looked around for witnesses before deciding to follow the comely girl down the dark stairs; young men so often lured by a maid’s attention. Gôdlêas lit every candle in the room simultaneously, with the flick of her wrist. She fossicked around as though she were a welcome guest, studying the contents of various shelved flasks, jars, and oddments.
“You’re a… witch?” quizzed Yfel, unable to sustain eye contact.
“I’m a Mage, thank you. I’ve been studying for most of my life. Nothing was handed to me by happy chance."
“Sorry. I meant no offense.”
Gôdlêas brought her face close to Yfel’s; her berry-scented breath on his lips. She winked, then kissed him. Warmth spread across his chest and radiated through his abdomen.
“I’m not so delicate,” she retorted, slapping Yfel’s hindquarters, hard.
Gôdlêas - surveying the room carefully - suddenly erupted in gleeful noises. She skipped over to a low, stone plinth and retrieved a small box. Yfel pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers and squeezed his eyes shut; when he opened them, Gôdlêas had disappeared up the stairs.
THE GLASS-EYE IN YOUR STEW
Gôdlêas pulled Yfel up onto an empty cart, then boosted him onto the roof of the house. She followed, with all the agility that Yfel lacked, and then some. The girl ran across the top of the structure and bounded over to the next. Yfel followed after her as best he could, jumping awkwardly over gaps, occasionally dangling precariously and requiring rescue. His heart pumped faster every time the young Mage touched him; she was the distraction he sorely needed.
“Come on, Dimwit! This is the best part!” called Gôdlêas.
Yfel negotiated his way over loose planks, cracked tiles, and worn thatching. He climbed an old wooden ladder to a parapet atop a tower, where Gôdlêas awaited him.
“You can see the whole city from up here. It’s where I come to dream about the future.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” gasped Yfel.
“I feel like the Queen of the whole place and this here: is my throne.”
“I can see that,” extolled Yfel.
“Come now. You’re just complimenting a pretty girl to gain favor.”
“No, I mean it. You have… presence.”
“Presence? I have ambition. No one is more ambitious than one who comes from nothing.”
“I took you for-”
“-the product of a moneyed upbringing? You see nothing, Yfel. Powerlessness is a terrible thing. It makes others feel entitled.”
“Entitled to what?”
“To take advantage,” remarked Gôdlêas, resting her head on Yfel’s shoulder.
A perfect sword-slash of glowing red lit the early morning horizon. The smell of fresh-baked bread made Yfel’s stomach growl. Fishmongers unloaded carts of seafood from Icehearth, drunkards threw up their ale and villains melted back into the shadows. Yfel looked over at Gôdlêas and sheepishly edged closer. She turned and scowled at him, one eye wrenched shut. Yfel - intoxicated by the moment - leaned in to kiss her anyway. He saw, for a moment at least, a better version of himself: one that kissed the girl, given the opportunity. She evaded him in a cat-like fashion, then reached out and pulled him close, biting his neck like a wild animal.
“See,” Gôdlêas exclaimed, “You like me because I’m unpredictable. I’m the glass-eye in your stew!” she said, slapping Yfel’s crimson cheek. Then he collapsed in a heap.
Yfel slowly opened his eyes and an image of his mother’s pallid face appeared to him. He shook his head, suddenly feeling giddy and sick. His cheek felt inflamed and sticky where Gôdlêas had struck it. He was crumpled on the floor and unable to stand, just yet. He scanned his surroundings; the room was large, with a high ceiling and sparse furnishings. There was a hole in the roof and Yfel could see clear through to the stars. Stars. Night had fallen; he’d been out for some time.
“Dreaming of mama?” mocked Gôdlêas, spinning around and cavorting like a child.
Yfel tried to move but his limbs were heavy as stone.
“What is all this, Gôdlêas?”
“Your grief… it makes you delicious. The energy release of your sick spirit: it’s powerful magick,” she oozed.
“What do you know of my grief?”
“I’ve been monitoring you… Ensuring that you were the right one.”
“The right one for what? Untie me, you lunatic!”
“For Him .”
Gôdlêas sauntered over to a stone altar and lit something in a bowl that began to smoke; it reminded Yfel of his mother’s cremation and his chest started to ache. Gôdlêas then turned to a circle, drawn on the floor with chalk. There were symbols and words written in the old tongue within; the kind that lead to nothing good.
“You helped me steal the incense last night: a fragrant offering, once owned by one of The All-God Gylgramathon’s lackey’s,” droned Gôdlêas, turning her head and spitting after.
She dropped her cloak to the floor and pulled off the rest of her clothing.
“Oh good! Not only am I complicit in thievery but I am also now a heretic.”
“Yfel galan Sê dêofol m dêofles, Nêat Hwæt Bêag−gifa, æfnan ðon!” Gôdlêas recited, awaiting a response that never came.
She pulled a blade from the clothing pile and dragged it across her chest. Blood snaked its way toward her feet and she swayed back and forth as though hypnotised.
“Yfel galan Sê dêofol m dêofles, Nêat Hwæt Bêag−gifa, æfnan ðon!”
Yfel struggled, but he was still incapacitated. “If this is a game, you must end it! Are you not afraid of what you may conjure?”
“The summoner has nothing to fear. But the offering? The offering should be overcome.”
“You deceitful cow!” cried Yfel.
“Yfel galan Sê dêofol m dêofles, Nêat Hwæt Bêag−gifa, æfnan ðon!”
The sound of violent creaking punctuated the girl’s incantations. Yfel stopped breathing as the building shuddered and the floor began to buckle. Gôdlêas jumped back, away from the circle as it disappeared in an eruption of splintered wood. The heavy aroma of brimstone filled the room and Yfel vomited convulsively. The stone altar cracked in two and raspy whispers from unseen sources, slowly grew to a crescendo. Horns; then a head resembling a goat’s, set with red eyes and ringed ears. The beast rose to its full stature, very nearly touching the rafters. The creature opened its mouth and emitted a mournful sound, like the lowing of prey, and it chilled Yfel to his core. Gôdlêas knelt before the goat-shaped demon, weeping and wailing and digging at her bloody flesh. The being barely acknowledged her, instead turning its attention to the boy on the ground.
“Sê dômweorðung êow?” it bellowed.
“Sê dômweorðung êow?”
“P-Please… I don’t know what you’re saying,” sobbed Yfel.
“Who calls The Usurper, The Great Profanity, The Defiler of the All-God’s Children?”
Gôdlêas opened her mouth to speak but no words came. Yfel’s mother’s final words echoed through his head: ‘Your name is a gift,’ she had said. ‘It can save you, if you let it.”
The great, horned beast extended it’s black, fur-covered arms and bowed mockingly. It then set upon Gôdlêas: tearing into her with its cruel, yellow teeth as she screeched in agony.
WHO ARE YOU?
The herbalist glowered at Yfel, squinting his eyes and stroking his greying beard, before retrieving the ingredients he’d requested. The boy whipped back his black cloak, producing an immaculate leather coin purse.
“Here’s a little extra,” Yfel stated, placing several silver coins on the wooden counter. “Maybe you can buy yourself some new clothes; yours are ghastly.”
“Right you are,” replied the older man without blinking. “Who are you?”
“Yfel. Yfel Bannan. Don’t worry, you’ve never heard of me. I’m new on the magickal stage. But I’m sure I’ll make a few waves.”
“I have an impressive patron.”
“Yfel Bannan? Is that right?”
“Maybe you have heard of me?”
“Well, no. It’s just… meaning no offense: you… gave yourself this name?”
“My mother named me, of course. What of it?” countered Yfel with growing impatience.
“It means… if I’m not mistaken at least… it means: I summon thee, in the old tongue,” the herbalist said, his voice growing cooler. “Your mother might have had dark aspirations where you’re concerned. I must admit: I tasted a vile bitterness, when you entered.”
“In my book, summoning is not something that good Mages do. Not if they can avoid it. If you have taken your name to heart, you may leave!” babbled the shopkeeper, throwing Yfel’s coins back at him.
“No. I no longer have need of childish rites like summoning.”
The old man fell to his knees as the building shook and the dancing shadows took solid form. The Usurper, The Great Profanity, The Defiler of the All-God’s Children, licked its lips.