THE INN OF THE SEVEN BLESSINGS
BY- MATTHEW HUG
PART 1 (ONE)
The thief raffalon was dormant afar the noonday heat behind some bracken a brief distance from the wood when the noise of the battle awakened him. He rolled above onto his stomach, quietly painting his knife in case of need. Then he lay still and tried to see through the interlayer branches.
Figures scuffled, voice spoken indistinctly, the syllables both sibilant and guttural. A muffled cry, as of a man with a hand over his mouth, was followed by the sharp crack of hardwood meeting a human cranium.
Raffalon had no meaning of offering assistance. The voices he obtains heard were who of the vandaayo, whose frontier was not outlying away. Vandaayo left their earth only for ritual purposes, and then constantly in groups of six, and never without their hooks and nets or cudgels. Their seasonal festivals centered on the spending of manflesh, and if raffalon had attempted to meddle in the harvesting now taking place on the several side of the thicket, the only consequence would have been to add a bonus to the share men’s larder.
He witted until the poor captive had been trussed slung and carried away, then waited a little longer the vandaayo might assume that where they found one in a forest they might find another. Only when birds and small beasts resuming their interrupted business did he rise and creep toward the road.
He found it empty for the possessions of the unfortunate traveler who was now being marched east into vandaayo land. He examined the scattered goods: a scuffed leather satchel, a water bottle, a staff whose wood was palm-polished smooth at its upper end. With small expectation, he squatted and sorted through the satchel’s contents, finding only a shirt of indifferent quality, a fire starting kit inferior to his own, and a carved oblong of wood about the size of his hand. He studied the carving. They formed a frieze of human and animal fingures connecting to each other in manners that some would have called obscene, but whice to raffalon’s sophisticated eye were merely anatomically unlikely. In a lozenge at the center at the center of the display was a deeply incised ideogram that the thief found difficult to keep in focus.
That difficulty involving raffalon’s mouth to widen in joy. The objet had magical properties. It would certainly command some value in the bazaar at harbor thayes, less than a day’s march in the heading he was headed. Thaumaturgies came thick on the ground there. He matures the item over, to see what if anything was on the other flank. As he did so any faintly shifted inside.
A box, he thought. Better. He rotated the thing and examined it from several angles. But found no seams or hinges or apparent means of opening it. Even better a puzzle box. The day was improving. For raffalon it had begun with a flight into the forest the cold dan with only two copper coins in his wallet a half loaf of stale bread in his tucker bag.
There had been a disagreement with a farmer as to the ultimate fate of a chicken the thief had found in a flimsy barnyard coop. Now it was mid afternoon, and though the chicken had remained in its pen, the bread had been eaten as he marched. He still had the coins and had acquired a box that was valuable in its own right and might contain who knew what?
The satchel could also be necessary. He slung its strap over his shoulder after cast away the shirt, which was too great and smelled of unwashed frame. He uncorked the bottle and sniffed its contents, hoping for wine or attract but being disappointed to find only water. Still, he tucked it into the derm bag, and after a moment, obvious not to take the staff as well, even though there were standing slopes ahead, the land rising prior the road descended into the river valley of Thayes-he was better with a dagger if he had time to draw it.
As he walked on, he studied the box and noticed a worn spot on one corner. He pushed it. Nothing happened. He rubbed it, again without result. He tried sliding it, this way and that. He heard a tiny click from within. A silver of wood moved aside, revealing a pin-sized hole beneath.
Raffalon had no fork, but he had the knife and a whole wood made of wood. He whittled a twig down to the correct size, inserted it into the cave and pushed. A plug of wood on the contrary side of the box popped out. When the thief applied pressure here and there, suddenly the carved side of the box slide sideways a small space and revealed itself to be the top of the bridegroom that moved on a hidden hinge.
Inside was a lining of plush sanguine cloth, with a hollowed position in the middle in which rested an engraved wooden figurine the size of his thumb. It had the likeness of a small, rotund personage, bald and probably, ale, with head inclined indulgently and mouth formed into an indulgent grin. Raffalon took the print out, the better to peruse it.
When his fingertips wacky the smooth wood, a faint tingling received along the digits, into his palm and through his arm, growing stronger as it advance. Alarmed, he instinctively sought to fling the thing away from him but found that his fingers and arm refused to obey him. Meanwhile, the tingling sensation, now grown into a full-body tremor, reached its crescendo. For several moments, the thief stood, vibrating, in the middle of the forest road. His eyes rolled up into his head and his breathing stopped, his knees locked, and it seemed as if a strong wind passed his skull from left to right.
Abruptly, the sensations ended and he had control of his body again except when he tried once more to throw the carving from him. His forearm obeyed him, however his hand did not. The treacherous calamity closed tightly around the sleek wood and all of raffalon’s considerable will would not reason it to open.
Meanwhile, he heard a voice: we had better mouse. When the vandaayo are haunting it does not do to lollygag.
Without such hope, the thief spun around. But there was no one there. The words had formed in his mind, without the involvement of his ears. His had one opened and he addressed the object nestled comfortably in his palm. “What are you?”
It is a tall story, said the voice that spoke in a position where he was accustomed to hear only his own. And I lack the force to tell it.
Raffalon unanimous with the sentiments about lollygagging. He set off then in the direction of port thayes, his gaze indiscriminate left and right as far up the forest way as he could see. But he had caught only two or three steps when his legs stopped, and he found herself turning around and returning the measure he’d come.
The other way, said the voice. We have to rescue fulfering. In Raffalon’s heart, an image present: a tall lanky man in leather weed. With a long – jawed face and eyes that seemed fixed on some faraway vista. The thief shook his head to drive the unwanted image away – rescuing mooncalves was not on his itinerary but he struggled without success to regain control of his lower limbs.
The voice in his head uttered, you waste energy that you will requirement when we hold up to the vandaayo. Another fetish blossomed on his inner screen: of half a time hunch- shouldered vandaayo warriors, their heads unfurnished, their ears and teeth equally sharp, their skins mottled in nonentity and dark green. They jogged toward a forest trail, two of them carrying a tall, netted bundle slung within a pole. He did not try dispelling the vision but examined it with some interest. He knew no one who had an unobscured view of the vandaayo: invariably, those who saw them clearly and up close as opposed to a brief glimpse at a distance before the perceiver wisely turned tail and sped away saw very little thereafter, except presumably the butche’s slab set up next to the communal cauldron.
Raffalon knew what everyone knew; that they were a species created by Oleverion the Epitome, an overweening thaumaturge of a bygone age who had meant the part-men to be a torment to his enemies. Unfortunately, the sorcerer had misjudged some element of the formative process, and his had been the first human flesh his creations had tasted.
Strenuous and periodic efforts by the surrounding communities had managed to imprison the anthropophagi to the wild valley that had been Olverion’s state. But all attempts to usher the deep-chasmed vale and eliminate the monsters once and down had ended in bloody tatters; the thaumaturge had not stined in instilling his creatures with a talent for warfare and an unalloyed genious for ambush.