A Bard’s Tale

This week, instead of an excerpt, I’m sharing my short story, “A Bard’s Tale,” from the Dragon Tempest anthology.

This short story connects to my Wind Rider Chronicles series, following one of the adventures of Broguean the Bard from Ancient Voices.  This is the first time it has been released outside of the anthology.  More of my related short stories can be found in The Dragon Tempest anthology, and The Magical Muse anthology.

Enjoy!


The sun was making its journey toward evening as Broguean the Bard entered the small town of Westfalle.  Its familiar sights and sounds brought some bounce back into his weary step, and he rubbed his stiff, cold hands together vigorously in anticipation.  Lorne, the local tavern keeper, was well known for making a fine brew, even if his manner was…to say the least…a bit gruff.   Armed with his lute, pipe, and a litany of songs and tales, Broguean was looking forward to a spending a boisterous evening quenching his legendary thirst.  His spirits were bright when he finally saw the signboard for the tavern swaying gently in the wind, blazoned with an image of an old wooden mug.  Broguean grinned knowingly.  It had been some time since his travels had brought him to Westfalle.  It almost felt like coming home.

Before he reached the threshold, the heavy wooden tavern door creaked open and a man came flying out as if someone had scooped him up and tossed him like a bucket of dirty dishwater.  Quickly following was a wooden cup, split and chipped along the rim, and the resounding slam of the door.  The cup knocked the man in the head and he uttered a pained expletive in response.

Broguean gave a raspy chuckle as he helped the dazed man to his feet.  “You know you’ve had a satisfying night of carousing when Lorne gives you the old heave-ho.  But I must know, what in glory did you do to get booted before the sun has even set?”  Perhaps there’s a good story here to add to my collection, he thought.

The man clung to Broguean’s arm to steady himself.  His watery eyes lacked focus, and Broguean wasn’t sure, but from the state of the man’s clothes and hair, it was quite possible he’d still been there from the night before.  The man puffed up his reddened cheeks, blowing out a gust of pungent air as his mind slowly tried to form a coherent response.

“Hey now, keep that to yourself,” Broguean said turning his head away.  “If I’m going to succumb to the effects of Lorne’s brew tonight, I’d prefer to do so by actually drinking it.”

“Alas, it was one of the bar maids,” the man whispered loudly with widened eyes.  “A new one—never seen her here before today.  Beautiful vision of a girl as I have ever seen, with soft brown hair and eyes like the sea…” he trailed off as his thoughts became lost in memory.  Broguean jostled him impatiently, still hoping for a good story. “And?”

The man looked about with a mixture of alarm and guilt, whispering even louder.  “Turns out she’s Lorne’s daughter.”  Broguean stifled an amused laugh.

“Aye friend, it is always wise to steer clear of any tavern keeper’s daughter, but especially Lorne’s.  Off you go now before he sees you’re still here—you’re lucky he only threw that mug after you.  Can you make it home on your own?”  The man nodded and stumbled his way down the cobbled street, humming loudly to himself.

With a grin, Broguean picked up the broken cup still lying on the ground and cheerfully swung open the tavern door.  The place was still mostly empty, but Broguean knew that would soon change.  Lorne was standing at the bar to the left, forcefully washing and drying a stack of dirty mugs.  Wild white hair framed an angular face, with a strong jaw, bulbous nose, and thick, unruly eyebrows that were shaped into a frown.   Lorne was obviously in a sore mood, but Broguean didn’t mind.  It was all part of his charm.  Helping him wash mugs was a young woman with pasty blue eyes and limp brown hair, half pulled back into a slightly stained head covering that had begun to fray at the edges.  This must be the daughter who had caused all the commotion.  She had the same bulbous nose and untamed eyebrows as her father.  Oh well, Broguean thought to himself, if I get tossed out tonight, at least it won’t be on the same offense.

The shelf next to Lorne was lined with a row of old broken mugs, only good for assaulting disgraced patrons.   Broguean slid the broken cup in his hand onto the counter along with enough money to pay for his first drink.  If the night went as well as he hoped, it would be the only drink he’d pay for.

“Mind yourself, or that old cup will find your head next,” Lorne said crossly.

“Oh, come now,” Broguean mocked a hurt tone. “You know me well enough.”

“Aye, that’s the point.”

“Honest to the Ancients, I’ll bring you no trouble tonight,” he said sincerely.

Broguean took a quiet table in the corner where he could scout the room as it gradually began to fill with people, some more amusing to watch than others.  There were those who came for serious drinking, with no interest in making merry while they did it.  Sad and boring, thought Broguean.  Some came to drink with their friends or lovers, comfortable and familiar, while others were there to seek new ones somewhat more exciting. The gamblers were the ones to watch, because one never knew what to expect.  Big winners tended to be generous to both bards and bar maids that’s more like it, but big losers were prone to violent outbursts, particularly if they had been cheated entertaining…from a distance.  Then there were the travelers, like himself.   A mixed bag of characters—warriors, merchants, nobles, monks, and rogues, most seeking companionship, even if only with their mug of brew.  Broguean played for them all.  He quickly downed his first drink and signaled for another.  Pulling out his lute, he began to strum a common melody, just to warm up the room before deciding on a song suitable for the present crowd.

But before he had gotten very far, a familiar face came through the door; a monk named Sefton who Broguean knew from his own region.  His unexpected presence brought bitter-sweet memories to mind—they’d once been brothers of the same order, until… Broguean closed off his thoughts with the finality of a prison cell door clanging shut.  That was all in the past now.  Broguean had given up that life, though not his faith in the Ancients, or the kinship he had shared with some of his brethren.  He took a long draught from his fresh mug of ale, finding comfort in the soothing warmth of its effects.  Despite all that had happened, he brightened at the thought of sharing a drink with Sefton and perhaps some tales from home.  However, Sefton avoided his gaze and took a seat on the opposite side of the room.

“Well, how do you like that—not so much as a wave or a nod,” Broguean mumbled to himself in an offended tone.  Sefton was usually a jovial man, but today his expression seemed weary and agitated.  Broguean rarely bought drinks for himself, let alone others, but perhaps this was an occasion to make an exception.  Once again, he raised his empty glass to signal that he wanted more and waited.

The tavern door swung open again and Broguean suddenly understood Sefton’s mood…he was being followed by an unsavory looking man in a gray cloak.  The man’s face lacked expression, but his left hand sported a black ring, and a black serrated dagger hung from his belt.  No doubt he was from the nefarious Order of the Shadow, a group of men who claimed to be monks, but who in truth worshipped the darkness and the evil that governs it.  Dealings with such men rarely ended well.  They were ruthless, brutal, and relentless in their pursuits.  Beyond the notice of the general population, a silent battle was ever taking place.  For hundreds of years, the dark order had attempted to destroy or bury humanity’s most powerful spiritual tomes and relics.  Monks such as Sefton had dedicated their lives to reclaiming them, usually at great personal peril.

So much for frivolity and maidens, and his promise to Lorne.   Broguean had turned away from the monastic life, but he had not forgotten his oaths.  Helping Sefton in his fight against the dark order was one he was glad to fulfill.

One of the bar maids came over to refill his mug.

“Best water it down a bit this time,” he said with a disappointed sigh.  “I’m going to need my wits about me.  Oh, and give my deepest apologies to Lorne.  I really tried,” he said with a boyish grin.

He cleared his throat and struck an upbeat tune, walking out into the middle of the room.  One of his many perfected and practiced songs would not do—this one would have to be improvised for the moment.

“Let the night grow dark and cold as a cavern,
while we gather here in the warmth of Lorne’s tavern…”

Lorne looked up and gave him a warning glare.  Undaunted, Broguean continued.

“Our daily labors are finally at an end,
there’s no better time to sit with a friend…
‘Tis a fine time for a drink!”

Several of the men who’d already had a few too many cheered in response and raised their cups.  The man in the gray cloak remained expressionless, his cold eyes still taking in Sefton’s every move.

Broguean moved near to a table of men who had been trying to best each other with tales of glory all evening.

“Quarreling warriors, so honor bound,
glorious tales of their exploits resound.
Red blood sprayed on their tunics fine,
oh wait, ‘tis not blood, but only wine!
‘Tis a fine time for a drink…and a fight!”

One of the warriors chuckled, while another turned red and looked offended.  Again, Lorne glared at Broguean, who quickly took a swig from his mug and danced over to the next table.

“Spring is here and it’s time for love,
with a bit of help from the Ancients above.
The merchant’s chasing the girl in red,
but she’s got her eye on the noble instead!
‘Tis a fine time for a drink…and a fight, and for love!”

The merchant seemed disappointed, but the surprised noble glanced up at the girl in red who smiled and winked at him.  The man in the gray cloak relaxed his focus on Sefton, who seemed to be rooted in his seat, as the energy of the room picked up and all eyes were drawn to Broguean’s antics.

“Take a chance and roll the dice,
gambling’s such a treacherous vice.
If you dare to play, have plenty of pluck,
buy the bard a drink to change your luck!
‘Tis a fine time for a drink…and a fight, and for love, and for luck!”

There was laughter all around and several drinks were left on Broguean’s table—even the serious drinkers turned a weak smile.  All but the man in the gray cloak, who sat stone-faced as ever, and Sefton, whose grim expression persisted.  Don’t worry, my friend, it won’t be long now.  You well know what to do…and so do I.

Broguean merrily made his way over to the man in the gray cloak, pretending to be oblivious of his intentions.  The man’s dark, soulless eyes sent a chill straight to Broguean’s bones, but he dared not do anything that would betray his feelings.  He smiled and danced about, seemingly without a care.  No doubt everyone in the room thought him a drunken fool—it would not be the first time.  His reputation had been well crafted over the years.  Little did they know, he now played a game far more treacherous than any that required dice.  Sefton’s life, and perhaps his own, were hanging by the stings of his lute.

“A weary traveler seeks rest from the road,
who surely has tales that he’d like to unload.
Stories of beasts or of men on the brink,
if you can add to my song I will buy you a drink…”

All eyes were on the stranger as Broguean strummed an expectant refrain.  Others were calling for him to meet the bard’s challenge and come up with a verse.  Finally released from his stalker’s constant gaze, Sefton moved swiftly from his seat over to the bar.

“Come now,” Broguean chided, purposely moving to block the man’s view of Sefton. “One line in exchange for the finest brew on the western shore.  Surely you can give us just one line…it doesn’t even have to rhyme,” Broguean smirked and tapped his foot to the music. Despite encouragement from the crowd, the man said nothing, his lips pressed tersely together in a thin immovable line.  Beneath his placid exterior he was seething.  Best not push him too far, or I’ll end up with that black dagger in my belly…probably laced with poison, too.

“No then?  Oh well…‘tis still a fine time for a drink…and a fight, and for love, and for luck, and a song!” The room cheered as his finished out the melody.  Now for the big finish.

Broguean took a deep breath and gulped down several large mouthfuls of ale before picking up his instrument again.  He meandered over to the bar, saying nothing to Sefton, but giving him a knowing glance.  With a sigh and a grimace he hoped didn’t show, he set down an empty mug in front of Lorne’s daughter and gazed directly into her eyes.  Only for love of the Ancients…

“Oh, I met a beautiful maiden, fair and noble to enjoy,
with lovely blue eyes, large and good,
and hair silky brown beneath her hood.
Her cheek shines alight, like a lantern by night,
radiant in her chamber.

“She has a lovely neck to embrace,
with arms, shoulders soft as lace,
and fingers fair to clasp.
A damsel so fair and fine, would the Ancients she were mine…”

Lorne’s daughter blushed deep crimson.  An angry snarl came from across the bar, quickly followed by a shock of wild white hair and the strongest pair of hands Broguean had ever known.  Before he quite knew what had happened, he had been tossed out of the tavern onto the cobbled street.  As the door slammed shut with a bang, a cracked wooden mug came flying directly at his head.  With a raised arm he deflected the blow, then picked himself up off the ground and attempted to gather his dignity.  That’s not nearly so fun when I’m sober, he mused.  Now to see if it was all worthwhile.

Broguean picked up the broken mug, and smiled.  Good old Lorne. I knew he’d come through.  Tucked inside was an object wrapped in heavy cloth.  He quickly peeked inside the wrappings, and what he saw took his breath away.  Sefton, my good man, how in glory did you get hold of this?  It was a curved piece of silver, highly ornamented, bearing the crest of Varol, the most venerated hero in all of history.  This had once been fitted to the front of a famous staff, a highly powerful relic that had been carried by Varol’s descendants for generations.  Its loss to the ages had been bitterly mourned ever since. Broguean had seen many images of the staff in old tomes, and on paintings and mosaics.  He had no idea how much power it might still hold, but the staff’s ability to decimate the dark armies was legendary.  Tarnished and time-battered though it was, this was an amazing treasure to reclaim.  He now understood why both Sefton and the man in the gray cloak wanted it so badly.

Broguean quickly wrapped up the relic and tucked it away safe under his shirt.  He set the broken cup on the tavern threshold and gave a respectful bow before making his way down the cobbled street, humming loudly to himself.  His step was still weary, but his spirits were bright as ever.  There was an abbey one town over that would be glad to keep this treasure safe until it could be moved to its proper home.  Isn’t it the merriest jest in the world that old Gray-cloak is still sitting there watching Sefton drink away the night?  All the while, his prize is slipping away under a glowing crescent moon and a sky full of radiant stars.  Hey, there’s the makings of a good song in that!  Speaking of radiant, I sure hope Lorne doesn’t actually think that I wanted his daughter!  He really does have the best brew around…and after tonight, Sefton owes me a few.

.

 


 

The Magical Muse 72THE MAGICAL MUSE

A Collection of Fantasy Stories

Stories of fantasy ranging from dark, to light and inspiring, bring life to this anthology.  The creatures featured throughout, both good and evil, display the devastating or wonderful personalities they were given by the authors who created them for your enjoyment.

Featuring My Short Story: “The Hounds of Alazoth”

Mythological hounds are a foreshadowing of doom for one man seeking refuge from their deadly chase. Allison D. Reid brings a tale of adventure as seen through the eyes of the hounds and their mysterious master, born from the darkness of hell.

Amazon     BN     Smashwords     Createspace

 

The Dragon TempestTHE DRAGON TEMPEST

Tales of Fantasy and Adventure

The Dragon Tempest offers a collection of short stories in a variety of fantasy genres, including dark, light, adventure, and epic. Creatures from all worlds abound: dragons, angels, centaurs, witches, gods and goddesses, and those lurking below the water’s surface. Whether you’re moved by tales of battle and bloodshed, suspense, humor, or enlightenment, The Dragon Tempest will leave you craving more from each author. Such a diversity of great fantasy tales to enjoy will leave no room for disappointment.

Featuring My Short Story: “A Bard’s Tale”

A rogue bard seeks rest from the road at a favorite tavern. Seeking a night of merriment and free ale, he finds instead an unexpected danger…and an old friend. Can a tune and a little cunning save them both?

Featuring My Other Short Story: “Birth of the Necromancer”

Alazoth and his hounds strike terror into the hearts of men. Passed down through the generations is a chilling myth about the origins of his son. Who has this child of evil grown up to be?

Amazon     BN     Smashwords     Createspace

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2 thoughts on “A Bard’s Tale

  1. David Wiley says:

    Wow, this was a great short story and I can see why it was included in that collection. I really enjoyed the chance to revisit your world, even for such a brief stay as this. I love how you weave your tales, masterful as any bard. The twist at the end, also, was well-done. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Like

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