A Tail Indeed!


Just a short preface, this is the first chapter, or at least the major shape of the first chapter from the story idea I was playing around with in the post https://beautifulimposter.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/a-tale-perhaps/ As always, any feedback, comments or hate mail will be greatly appreciated.  Without further ado, here is the story:

There are many worlds that have been, that are, or that will be all drifting through the infinite.  Some our like our world, some completely alien but whether the differences are subtle or wondrous and strange one thing seems to remain constant.  No matter what the nature of the people, the culture, the technology or even the species all of the beings in all of the worlds tell stories to each other.  They tell them to remember, or to forget, to entertain or enlighten, for a thousand different reasons.  Another peculiarity is that in all these worlds separated by space, time, language, ideals, or experience a great many stories share a great deal in common with one another.  In the end life unites us all and we all laugh and love, grow old, die, fight, struggle to be accepted, dream, weep, or fear the dark.

This is one such story, a story about growing up, about learning who you are and how we all want to find our place in a life that can be both hard, cruel and almost incomprehensible.  Not a new tale by any means, but a good one for all that it has been told before in as many tongues and as many ways as there are stars in the sky.  With all that said, let us begin…

*****

Once, long ago, on a world very much like ours used to be in the past, in a small village called Merseinne, in the Duchy of Tamarliane a son was born to an innkeeper.  Not an event that would seem worth a tale if it were not for the nature of this particular boy and how that nature lead him to find his fortune despite of it.

It was mid-afternoon on a clear autumn day and all of the shutters had been opened in the common room of the village inn to let the cool, apple scented air in.  A few of the locals had come in for a midday sup and drink but other than these few the room was empty save for the innkeeper standing behind the bar anxiously cleaning the bar top and glasses over and over again.  Every few moments he would glance towards the doorway leading up to the family quarters, give a worried little frown and go back to furiously scrubbing.  It had been hours since his wife, her sister and the midwife had driven him from the upstairs apartments although it really had not taken much to do so as he had no desire to be involved in the mysterious and decidedly female events transpiring above.  He loved his wife dearly but ever since she had told him with a little contented smile that he was going to be a father he had been both in awe and slight terror of  her and the thing she was doing that he could never really be a part of, only sort of observe.  Of course, he would never have actually put it like that.  The innkeeper was a sober, practical man and while he new his business and had some wisdom he wasn’t given to such introspection.  Now, however all he could do was think and wonder and worry about the events unfolding upstairs as his wife struggled to bring their child into the world.

As the minutes ticked by he paced back and forth behind the bar, picking things up, putting them down again, glancing about nervously, occasionally snapping irritably at the serving girls for really no good reason at all.  The sun was touching the distant horizon when the silence that had been pouring down from upstairs was torn apart by the scream of his wife, long, sharp, and full of pain, finally ending in ragged kind of tearing sob.  He sprinted to the doorway leading upstairs, threw it wide with a crash and tore up the stairs, a small strangled sob escaping his own lips as he tried to cover the distance between where he was and where his wife was as fast as he could.

The stairs opened into a small parlor on the far side of which was the doorway leading to the room he and his wife shared.  Sitting at the small table was his wife’s sister and one glance at her pale face with the wide lost looking eyes sent a stabbing pain through his chest.  He started across the room, staring straight ahead looking only at the doorway before him.  His sister-in-law stood and tried to hold him back, mumbling something but he pushed her to the side, a bit more roughly than he had intended which added just a touch of guilt to the fear and ache wracking his body and mind.  At last he stood at the door but could go not go in.  He stood, hand stretched out halfway to the latch but the icy hand squeezing his heart would allow it to go no further.  He just stood there, trembling all over, breath coming in ragged gasps, eyes screwed shut tight, caught between wanting to be by his wife’s side and not wanting to  know…to know if…

The door opened slowly and the midwife stood in front of him with her careworn, seamed face set in an expression of sorrow and sympathy.  “I am sorry Tomas, but she is gone.”  Her voice was soft, full of the compassion  that only telling so many loved ones the most horrible news can bring but it was also firm and final, brooking no argument or pleading.  She placed one of her long, brown hands on his arm and at that touch he fell apart.  A wrenching sob broke free of his writhing lips, pulling up from deep in the core of him and taking all of him with it.  He stumbled forward and would have collapsed if she had not stepped forward just then, wrapping her arms around his shaking frame and holding him as he wept.  She was a small woman but at that moment she was holding up the whole world, the only stable point when everything seemed to be crashing down.  She murmured softly soothing nothings and let him have his grief for as long as she could, but she knew more than most that life does indeed go on whether we will it or not.

“We did manage to save the babe.  You need to see to your son now Tomas.”  Her tone was still gentle but insistent, making the innkeeper look her in the eye trying to comprehend anything more than the word “son”.

There was a rustling of skirts from behind them and a sharp voice broke the general stillness of the room.  “You can’t possibly mean to show him that…that thing Maeglyn?!?”  Tomas’ sister-in-law stood just behind him, livid with indignation and horror.  “He has just lost his wife and you want him to remember that abomination as the last thing she gave to him?!?  Gods above I wish I could forget it!”

“Whether he is an abomination or not, he is Tomas’, not yours nor mine.  Hard choices may have to be made Donelle but they are not yours to make.”  Maeglyn, the midwife stood firm with a hard glint in her eye as she stared down the other woman.

“Son?” Tomas muttered, the word almost like a riddle that his grief stricken mind had to solve.  He stood there only barely aware of his surroundings, rocking on his feet a little.  “Son…son…I have a son…”

“No good will come of him seeing it.  It would have been a kindness just to have told him it was stillborn and then drowned it.  It is wrong Maeglyn, it should not be and only sorrow will come of letting it live.  If you will not do what is right and decent than I shall!”  Donelle moved to pass the midwife, eyes wild and face flushed but Maeglyn grabbed her by the wrist, stopping her short in a grip made strong by a lifetime of long labor,

“You shall do no such thing Donelle Caster or it will be you who is the abomination.  There has already been some sorrow today as there was yesterday and will be tomorrow and there is no use in your adding to it by raising your hand out of place.”  She was calm and firm but even she, deep down felt doubt at what she was doing.  She had midwifed for more than thirty years and had seen babes hale and sickly, straight or twisted but nothing like what was sleeping now in the other room.  She wasn’t sure if what she was doing might not break poor Tomas or send him over the edge into madness but she did know that it would not be her to take away the one thing he had left to him.

“My son…”  A light was flickering in Tomas’ mind, a spar to cling to, something that needed him.  Slowly it was dawning on him that he was a father and the weight and wonder of that was pulling the pieces back together.  The grief was still there, still sharp and sickening but it receded just enough to let him see clearly and know that he needed to act.  As long as he had purpose, Tomas could work though anything.  “Maeglyn, show me my son now.”

The two women paused in their struggles as his deep voice sounded clear with only a hint of a break.  With a last hard look at Donelle Maeglyn nodded once, smoothed down her skirts, took a deep breath to steady herself.  “Wait here Tomas and I will bring him to you.”  She turned quietly back into the bedroom, closing the door behind her, a mercy for which Tomas almost sighed with relief.  For the moment he was holding himself together but he knew he was not yet ready to see his wife as she was now.

“Please do not do this Tomas.”  Donelle took one of his big hands into both of her own.  “There is something wrong…unnatural about the baby.  It was all I could do not to fall down screaming when I saw it and I would spare you that horror.  We could just say that both mother and child died, no one need know different and perhaps it had been better so.  If Maeglyn will not do it than I will and we can put this grief behind us.”

Tomas stood, staring at the closed door, his sister-in-laws words breaking over him like waves over the shore.

“I am begging you Tomas, for the love you bore my sister, let the babe go.  It is evil and best gone from this world.”  Donelle tugged and twisted at his hand as she pleaded with him.

“Donelle, because you are my wife’s sister I will forgive you once for speaking such things because I know you do so out of grief and love for her and I but I will bear no more.  For good or ill my sweet girl brought this child into the world, gave her last breath for his first and I will not have that last gift simply thrown away.  I am a simple man Donelle and I may not see all ends but I do see that my wife gave me a son.  Whether he is evil or no will have to be seen but he will not be harmed by your hands or any other’s until he has been given a chance to  prove himself one way or the other.  In the meantime I will do my best to love this boy and care for him, to see him as right as I may in this world.  He is my own flesh and the last thing I have of Siri, he is my son and I will hear no more on it.”

“Your son!”  Donelle’s face twisted in the wake of his calm but steadfast words.  “You speak of what you do not know.  If you can love that…that thing after even one glance  than you may yourself have a touch of what it has in spades.  Take just one look at it and then talk of love and sons…I’d wager you will be the first to snatch its life away with your own hands once you see…”  Donelle found herself interrupted as the bedroom door opened, faltering in her tirade and falling silent.  Maeglyn stepped into the room craddling a small bundle in her arms.  Softly she closed the door behind her and stepped towards Tomas, her face unreadable.   She held out her arms gently towards him and just the faintest trace of a smile graced her lips as she spoke.

“Here, Tomas Orlan, is your son.”

For a moment Tomas just stood there, hand at his sides opening and closing.  Nothing in all his life held more fear than that small creature in Maeglyn’s arms.  Despite all of what had been said though it was not fear of what he would find in the swaddling blanket.  Without knowing exactly why Tomas knew, without a doubt that he would love that child completely, whatever faults in appearance or being that nature saw fit to give.  It was fear that he would not be worthy of the boy, not give him all he would need to make his way in this world and hold his head high.  He was afraid of what kind of father he would be.  He stood, near trembling, thinking to himself “Oh Siri, how can you leave me with this?  Whatever will your two boys do without you?”  Finally, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, he held out his arms to receive his son.

He felt Maeglyn place the little thing gently into his arms, felt it stir just a little beneath the soft blanket.  “Say anything else about your son Tomas, say he’s a stout lad.  Gave a few great cries when he came out just to give his lungs a good try then settled down right quick.  Never seen a child new to this world fuss less than this little man.”  She spoke softly and there was a strange look on her  face as she gazed down on the gently wriggling bundle.  Off to the side Donelle stood, fists clenched and jaw working, staring at the baby in Tomas’ arms as if it might explode.

“Let it be on your heads, the both of you” she spat and fled the room as if all the whips of hell were at her back.

Tomas gently lifted the corner of the blanket, unwinding it slowly until the child lay bare in his arms and he looked for the first time upon his son.  He was small even for a newborn, his belly, thighs and upper arms round and fat and pink.  The flesh, however, of his calves and lower arms grew gradually darker and darker in shade until both the hands and feet were black, as if they had been dipped in ink, but other than their color they were smooth and well formed with ten little fingers and ten little toes.  This, however, was only slightly peculiar for there could be absolutely no doubt that atop that little body, perfect in its every detail was quite clearly the head of a fox.  Fine fur of orange and white and black covered it entirely from the narrow little snout to the tiny ears that stood up from either side of his head.  Tomas could do nothing but stare as the little body started to wriggle more, arms and legs flailing, looking for the warmth that had been taken away.  Tomas took in every detail, his sober brown eyes not missing even the tiniest twitch of a single whisker.  The babe stretched and yawned, rolling half over in his arms so that in addition to all else it was also quite clear that he had a bushy black tipped tail as well.  Tomas reached out then with one big, calloused hand and lay it over his boy’s chest, feeling the rise and fall of his breath, the rapid patter of his heart.  Very slowly he caressed his child, touching arms and legs and little furry face.  As his hand moved the baby reached out one tiny hand and as is the way of babies found his father’s thick forefinger and grabbed it, squeezing so very, very tightly.

Maeglyn watched all of this in silence, the same way she had watched this scene unfold with so many other new fathers.  She did not know what place this child may have in a world where he would always be so strange but she did know without a doubt that wherever he did find himself he would always be loved.

“She gave him a name before she passed.”

Tomas didn’t look up for even an instant.  “Oh, and what did she call him?”

“Renard, Siri called him Renard.”

A slow smile spread almost shyly across the innkeeper’s face.  “Well little Renard, I think we find ourselves in quite the predicament but I think we both will be a match for it.  What say you my son?”  And with that he bent forward his head and kissed his son softly on the forehead.

*****

Time does not stop no matter how much we may wish it too.  Tomas did not know how long he stood drinking in the wonder of his little boy but at last Maeglyn gently took him back into her arms.

“He’ll need feeding soon and I shall look to that.  I don’t think seeking a wet nurse would be wise but I shall think of something.  Why don’t you go back down and see to the inn, the evening custom must be picking up and we can’t have you neglecting your patrons what with this little one to care for now.  I shall get him fixed up nicely and then I will come back to take care of poor Siri.”

Tomas was still transfixed on the babe, touching him still in Maeglyn’s arms but at her last words the smile fled his face and he looked up at her with eyes suddenly sad again, windows opened up into such a deep well of hurt and loss.

“No Mag, I will do it.  The girls are downstairs and know their business well enough to get by.  I just hired the Fortienne boy to help behind the bar in the evenings and he could use the experience.  When you do go down tell him to tap two kegs and tell Emellie to take the bread out of the ovens and give the stew a stir.  I shall see to Siri myself.”

Moving the baby onto one arm Maeglyn reached out and gave Tomas’ shoulder a squeeze.  There were deep wells of strength in this quiet, simple man that few could guess at and she pondered briefly what state the world would be in without men such as him in it.  “Alright Tomas, all will be done as you ask.  Just know that I will be here if you need me.”  Then she turned and walked to the door leading downstairs, leaving him all alone in the quickly darkening room.

He took a deep breath, turned and walked to his bedroom door, pausing for one last instant with his hand on the latch before pushing it open.  The room was brightly lit, the women had closed the heavy shutters and lit several lamps for the birthing.  The room stank of sweat and blood and other animal smells.  At the foot of what had been their bed a pile of bloody sheets had been gathered beside several basins of water.  Tomas let his gaze linger on these details, on the pattern in the rug, on th carvings in the dark wood of the bed rail, his eyes creeping along and clinging to anything to slow that inevitable moment.  At last however he finally looked upon the body of his wife.  Maeglyn must have straightened things up some because Siri was laying flat on her back and had been covered with a clean sheet from head to foot.  A strangled, shuddering moan escaped his lips at the sight and for one moment he nearly swooned, rocking on his feet as the world spun around again.  It was several moments before he could marshal his limbs to move again but once he had he crossed the room and stood at the head of the bed, pulling the sheet back from the face of his wife.

She was still so damned beautiful, at least that is what Tomas thought.  For him all light, beauty, song, love and laughter were born in the face of his wife.  She looked peaceful at least and he reached out to brush a few whisps of her mousy brown hair back from her forehead.  Another dull throb of ache clenched his heart as he remembered all of the times before when he had done just that, laying in bed with her as she drifted off to sleep.  Silent tears ran down his cheeks as he slowly drew the sheet all the way back.  The shift she was wearing, her favorite with the scalloped trim and the little embroidery of lilacs at the hem, was clinging to her body from the dried sweat, with smears of blood about the lower part.  Very gently he lifted her till she was sitting and took the shift off, laying her back down with a careful tenderness.  She had often laughingly called him a big ox, but for a man his size Tomas could be surprisingly delicate in his movements and no more so now.  He found a clean cloth and went into the small bathroom for the wash pitcher and coming back to the bedside he knelt and began to wash Siri’s body.  His movements were slow, deliberate as he took the time to remember all of her, round cheeks, tiny pert nose, the curve of her neck and shoulders every last inch of her.  As he worked he remembered, remembered the first time he saw her on the village green with the sun behind her and bright green ribbons in her hair and how his young fool’s heart let her deep inside in that moment and never let her out again.  He remember courting her, getting fuddled with ale at the fair and stumbling about in the fields, dancing under the stars until they both fell down laughing; remembered the moment when he knew that she was the only woman he ever wanted for the rest of his life.  It all came back, every moment, seeing her at work in the inn kitchen, even the little details of how the sweat ran down the back of her neck as she cooked in the heat from the ovens.  He remembered her chiding him for his seriousness and how she could make him laugh until his sides hurt and how at night she could take all of his worries from the day and sooth them away with one touch of her cool hand on his brow.  He took all these things as the cloth gently wiped away the grime and blood on her pale skin, took them in and put them in a tiny gold box in his heart.

When he finally finished he took all the soiled bedclothes from the room and came back with one of the two sheets she had laid carefully into her cedar chest.  He hadn’t liked her making them, but in a world where death sadly came far too soon and unexpectedly to far too many it was the practical thing to do.  He remembered watching her sew the little flowers around he edge of what would be her winding sheet and talking about how when they were old and grey they would still be such a fine couple laid out in these.  At the time she had said it jokingly and they both thought they would grow old together.  He took the end of the sheet and bound it around her feet in the folds almost every adult had learned at some sad time and began to wrap it tightly around her body.  With each turning another memory went into the box until at last, when only her head was left he saw her again, laying beside him on her back the night before, belly big as a harvest moon with his hand on it feeling the baby kick.  He asked her then “Siri, do you think I am a good man?”  because that is the kind of thing men think about at times like those, to which she replied “yes my love, you know I think you are the very best”.

He paused then, looking down at her face trying so hard to see clearly through the tears still puring from his eyes, trying with an almost feverish intensity to remember every line around her mouth, the little crows feet around her eyes that had not been there when they had met but that he loved anyway, to absorb all of it because these were the memories that would now have to last him a lifetime.  Kneeling one last time then he kissed her forehead, eyelids, cheeks and last her lips, tasting the salt of his own tears on her skin.  He stood then and covered her face with the last end of the sheet, putting the last of her way in the box in his heart and he walked from the room.

*****

The common room was almost has empty now as when he had left hours before, the few short hours in the evening when business peaked were over.  It was a farm village and so most of the regulars came for a good meal, a few pints, a song or two and then were off for home and bed.  The few left sitting at the scrubbed trestle tables were those who had been travelling and needed the shelter of the inn for the night.  Tomas stepped behind the bar and spoke briefly with the new boy, getting a rough idea of the night’s trade before stepping though the doorway leading into the long, low kitchen.  In the middle of the room was a long, high table of old oak and it was at this he found Maeglyn with his infant son on her shoulder.  Tired in a way he had never been before Tomas walked to them and gently took Renard from Maeglyn, cradling the small body to him.

“It is done.  We will have to wait till morning though to bring her to temple and have her buried.”  Even his voice sounded hoarse and weary.  “The lad and I will have to sleep in one of the guest rooms tonight but I am sure we will manage.”

“He has done well with me, only fussed a bit when he got too hungry to bear it.  I let him suck on a clean rag soaked in goat’s milk and he seemed to do well enough on that.”  She paused a moment then, unsure if she should say what she wanted to, then plunged on ahead.  “I took the liberty of showing your son to the household, the girls and the bar lad.  I may have been wrong to do so, but it would have been too hard to hide it from them and at least the girls to you are like family and I thought they should see the master’s son.  Emellie was polite and didn’t say anything but you could see the disgust in her eyes, still I don’t think you have anything to worry about from her, she’s a good girl in her way and wouldn’t cause trouble for you even if she didn’t take to him.  Annya the sweet thing didn’t bat an eyelash, just cooed and chucked like a mother hen with her chicks.  I think she was quite smitten with the lad.  Walder, your new boy kind of gave a strange smile and just said, ‘he has a fox’s head mistress Maeglyn’ to which I replied that yes he did indeed and left it at that.  Ever since I brought him into this world I have thought he might be a bit slow but you know your own house best to let him handle the money.”  Maeglyn spoke all of this softly, still looking at her young charge head to one side.  “You have done a great thing Tomas Orlan, taking him into your heart so when a great many would not have.”

“It was the only thing I could do really, whether it is great or otherwise is yet to be seen.  He will not have an easy life being as he is and I may have done him a cruelty in letting him live for all that he will have to face but I hope he will have a good one or at least as good as these two hands can provide.”

Suddenly from the inn yard there was the growing sounds of a commotion, the stamping of feet and raised voices.  The clamor came to a head and there was a loud pounding at the door of the inn.  “Tomas Orlan, step forth for we must speak with thee!”  The loud abrasive voice of Deacon TuPhail echoed through the inn even muffled by the thick door.  Tomas’ face set in grim lines as he passed his son back to Maeglyn.

“Keep Renard in here for me Mag.  I shall see to this and be back presently.”  There was a knot of trepidation growing in his gut but behind that there was also the slow, smolder of  his temper rising as Tomas could guess what this would be about.  Maeglyn took back the babe, cooing softly with a look of worry on her face.

“Do you think there’ll be trouble Tomas?”

“No, there’ll be no trouble I’m sure, just some straightening out to do.”  He tried to sound as confident as he could whilst praying he was right and strode from the kitchen into the common room.  He walked quickly around to the few guests still at their tables, assuring them all was well, finishing with a rough looking pair in dark travelling clothes before passing by the fireplace, picking up a stout bit of kindling and heading for the door.  He called one of the girls over before going out “Annya, bar the door tight behind me and don’t open it for anyone other than me.”  The young girl’s face was pale and frightened but she nodded to show she understood.  “Good girl, now don’t worry, I’ll be back in a bit.”  With that he patted her on the head and opened the door, closing it quickly behind him.

About half of the village was standing in the inn yard, some just curious as to what the commotion was but most grim faced and muttering.  They were spread out in a semi-circle with the light of the inn’s lamps casting flickering orange and yellow shadows making the whole scene that much more sinister.  In the midst of the pack Deacon TuPhail stood clad in his austere black coat and trousers, the features of his long, narrow face set in a firm expression of righteousness.

Tomas thumped one end of his stave deliberately and firmly on the ground in front of him, both hands casually resting on the butt of it.  He was not a man known for violence, but he was a big lad and in his youth had taken a few prizes at the fairs for wrestling as well as being known to hand out a good drubbing to those as had too much ale for their own good as more than a few in the crowd could attest to so this display was not entirely lost on those in the mob who had been thinking of getting rough.

“Good to see you Deacon although I can’t say as I expected you to come calling so late.  You must have heard both the joy and the sorrow that has befallen my house today and have doubtless come to minister to both as a good shepherd should.”  His tone was light and bantering but nothing in the set of his burly frame or flinty glance mirrored the casual joviality of his words.

“To minister indeed is why we have come, to guide a wayward brother who has strayed off the path.  I grieve for your loss my son but I grieve even more after having been told that you are harboring an imp of  The Darkness, in fact have embraced it to your bosom in mis-guided sense of mercy, paternal duty and an attempt to comfort your loss.  You must reconsider this course as folly.  Hand over the child so that it may be cleansed of its taint, purified in flame and thus find rest.”  The Deacon’d voice rang with fervor and conviction and those around him grumbled and shook their fists.

“I see, so that’s the way of it then.”  Tomas’ words were now steel as he cast his gaze over the crowd and no small few found that they could not meet it, including Donelle who was hiding somewhat behind the Deacon.  “I recommend you all go back home now and leave off this foolishness.  My wife has dies and I am weary and heart sore from it and am in no mood to deal with the likes of you lot.  I wish to go back inside to my infant son and try to find what little comfort I may in this day.  I am supposing that all this talk of imps and cleansing come from your hearing of my son’s appearance from one who had no right to tell it.”  At this he gave Donelle another hard stare which made her fidget and look anywhere but at him.  “Well I am here to set you all straight upon the matter right now.  No matter his looks, he is my son and any who wish to harm even a hair of his head will have to go through me to do it, d’you hear?”  Tomas took a step forward to emphasize the point, taking up his stave and bringing it down across his palm with a loud crack causing some in the crowd to step back.

” ‘Do not let the people suffer the unclean, the half formed and the misbegotten’, those are the words writ in the Book of the Risen and Ascendant. It is not for you to stand in the way of divine law.  This thing you call your son is a disease that must be cut out of the body of the faithful.  If you stand in the path of those who act in righteousness than you shall be judged the same as he and fall just as swiftly before the sword of holy wrath!”  The Deacon had put a bit more backbone back into those who had faltered and the group again advances a little, menacingly.

Tomas held his ground but he knew if it came to it that he had no hope of holding them all off.  He glanced from side to side warily, gripping his club across his body, tense and expectant.  “My son had done no harm and nor have I.  If you fulfill your purpose you will have done not but murder a good man and butcher an innocent babe.  I have lived in this village my whole life doing no harm to any man, helping those who needed it, letting others partake of my prosperity when it has been there to give, followed both the laws of the Gods and man, done all in my power to live upright and within The Light and if this has done naught to allow my son and I to live free and in peace here then so be it.  I alone cannot stop you but know this, the Risen and Ascendant help me there will be fewer of you leaving than came here if you try to pass me with a mind toward harming me or mine!”

The crowd faltered once more, Tomas’ words filling them with doubt in the rightness of their purpose in being there.  Many of the gawpers who had come only for a show were already quietly shuffling backwards and leaving with even some of the most ardent unsure but there were still more than enough fired by their own fears of the strange and unknown as well as the Deacon’s words to cause a great deal of trouble.

At that moment there was the sound of the bolts on the inn door being thrown back and the door opening.  Stepping out from it and striding one to either side of Tomas were the two rough looking men he had spoken with last before coming outside.  He had given them no more thought at the time but now they stopped beside him, casting their cloaks aside to reveal the livery of the Duchy.  Relief flooded through him at the sight even though they would still be outnumbered.

“You stand not alone good innkeeper, I am captain Bothiel and I will stand with you” said the taller of the pair, a well muscled blond haired main with a strong, sharp jaw.  Looking out onto the crowd with a vaguely dangerous smile on his face he spoke again “any who have come here to lay hands on this man or any in his household who to the best of my knowledge have broken no laws and are in good standing in the eyes of my liege know that they are themselves violating the law of the land and that myself and my companion here would have to take steps to prevent this.”  As he spoke his hands cam to rest on pistol butt and sword hilt that stuck up above his thick baldric with his companion doing likewise.  At this the fire went entirely out of the mob.  None of them were armed and even with their numbers none of them would be long for this world if they laid hands on the Duke’s men.

“You have no authority over spiritual matters captain and thus have no part in this captain.  The demon child must be destroyed!  Stand aside and let those who know better than thee the true nature of The Darkness act as must be!”  Despite the fact that his supporters were all quietly slipping away the Deacon held his ground, flecks of froth flying from his lips.

“We have all the authority to clap you in the stocks right now for breach of the peace preacher.  I strongly suggest you go back to your temple unless you wish to feel the weight of my displeasure.”  The Duke’s man stepped forward suddenly, making the Deacon flinch.  He cast his eyes about him furtively and found himself suddenly all alone.  He fixed Tomas with one final glare and hissed “you have not heard the last of this Tomas Orlan!  You will live to rue the day you defied the Gods and the agent of their will in this world!”  Turning swiftly then on his heel the Deacon stalked off into the night.

Tomas turned to his benefactor, extending his hand. “I cannot thank you enough for coming to my aid, without your intervention I fear it would have gone ill for me and I am indebted to you sir.”

Captain Bothiel clasped the proffered hand in a firm grip, shaking it as he said “nonsense goodman, it is my companion Valmount and I who are at the service of the Duke and all those under his protection.  I would rather have a man such as yourself than any ten of those rabble who would seek to kill a babe, be the child indeed the demon seed they say.  I will stand fast by a father defending his seed any day you care to name rather than fall in on the side of some impotent cleric.”  the captain did then give a sly grin and a wink as he went on “however, if you insist on showing your gratitude I don’t think we could possibly refuse a couple of deep cups of your fine wine.  Let us go back inside and we can toast both the memory of  your departed wife and the health of your little changeling in comfort.  I must confess a strong desire to see the boy”

Tomas grinned a little sickly at this, but took both men back inside.  As soon as he stepped across the threshold both Emellie and Annya rushed to him and embraced him tightly and he had to push them away gently with assurances that all was well before he could go any further.  Looking across the room he called to  Walder “a round of  the 1312 Tollier for the room lad” to which those still seated around the common room let out a cry of delight, for it was a good vintage.  He then guided the two soldiers to a table and sat down with them, taking the three cups that were quickly brought out and setting them down in front of the captain, his man and himself.  Once all was settled he called out once more “Maeglyn, please if you would bring me Renard, these men most likely saved mine and his life tonight and they wish to see him.”

From where she had been standing in the doorway to the kitchen Maeglyn gave Tomas a questioning look but at his insistent motion came over to the table with the baby on her shoulder.  She handed him to Tomas with a whispered “I hope you know what you are doing” which was followed quickly by his equally hushed reply of “so do I” as he took his son in his arms.  Almost holding his breath he twitched the fold of blanket that had been covering Renard’s face and showed his son as proudly as could be to the captain.

The captain slowly swallowed his mouthful of wine, looked very carefully at the strange child before him and said “a comely lad no doubt about it, I know many a sportsman who would love to make his acquaintance” and with that he gave a great laugh, clapping Tomas on the shoulder.  For the first time his companion too spoke, remarking “if more men wore their natures as bold as he, our job would be a site easier wouldn’t it Cap’n?”

“Indeed it would Valmount, indeed it would” the captain chuckled again, looking at Tomas and winking.  “Seriously though, I do think he seems to be a fine lad, and I will drink to his health” and raising his glass he called “to Renard, may he always be bright eyed and brushy tailed”  There was a chorus of agreeing shouts and laughter at this and the evening was passed with much good humor, which was a much needed relief for those of the house to be able to forget the grief that had also found them that day.

It was into the wee hours and the common room had emptied, leaving Bothiel and Tomas sitting and talking together quietly as men tend to do after a few cups and with a good smoke to hand.  Valmount was snoring in his chair, head on the table and Maeglyn was asleep on one of the benches along the side of the room, little Renard cradled in her lap.  “You are a rich man Tomas Orlan” the captain said as he drew on his pipe, looking about at the neat, tidy inn and thinking on the folk that this man had drawn about him.  “There are far too few the likes of you in the Duchy and we are all better off for having you.  Take for instance this business with your son.  I know a good many men who would not have shown even half so well in taking a boy like that to their hearts as you have done.  I foresee a good deal of trouble to come of it for both him and yourself knowing this world as I do and the darker side of men’s nature.  Know this though, that I am taking my post in this part of the Duchy and will be here from time to time making sure the peace is kept, which was why my man and I were here in the first place.  You will always have my part in any quarrel you face my good innkeep, you have my word on it.”

Tomas was much moved to hear these words and bowed his head to the captain in thanks.  “I have been somewhat blessed in my life, it’s true and I shall count your friendship as one of those blessings.  I know that by keeping him, I may be dooming the boy to a life of hardship and cruelty at the hands of those who will only ever see his face and not the man wearing it but I could do no other.  I must believe that my Siri gave her life for his for some purpose, for some good.”  At the thought of his wife another pain sprang up in him, making him flinch.

“Hearing you speak of her tonight, she sounds like a remarkable woman.  Should we all find ourselves lucky, poor sinful creatures we men are to find such grace in our lives even for a moment.  To Sirienne Orlan,  loved wife and mother”  Two cups chinked in the near darkness and both men drained them to the dregs.  “Well Tomas, I must be to bed for me and this lout” here giving Valmount a dig with his elbow “must be off early. Good night to you and I look forward to the next time I may enjoy your hospitality.”  So saying, he straightened himself up, not without some degree of difficulty and made his way upstairs to the guest rooms.  Tomas sat for a moment more, then got up and began putting things in order for the night.

*****

Finally, after all that had occurred during that long eventful day, the inn was quiet.  All the guests were in their beds, the doors and shutters all locked and barred, the great fires in the common room and kitchen oven banked and Tomas was in one of the smaller guest rooms with his son.  He had brought the crib he had made down from his and Siri’s bedroom and had laid little Renard in it, covered him with a blanket and was now watching his boy sleep.  Renard lay on his belly, shifting slightly in his sleep in the restless way of babies.  Tomas lay his hand on the babe’s back, patting him gently then moving his hand to run through the soft fur of the boy’s strange head, then caressing his cheek.

“Oh my son, what a day it has been.  I cannot say that I did not wish it were different but I will say that it brought you to me and for that I am thankful.  I shall have you and you shall have me and neither of us shall want for anything.”  He bent low and laid gentle kisses upon his son’s brow then stood, tip-toed to the narrow bed across the room, undressed and laid down.  As soon as he touched the mattress he felt any strength that remained to him drain away and wave after wave of sleep stole over him as he lay there in the dark.  Just before he finally succumbed and fell asleep he murmured “Siri, he will be a fine lad, you wait and see my love.”  And then the innkeeper slept.

So that is how it all begins.  This has already been revised somewhat from the first draft I wrote out longhand as I was typing it up in here, but I am sure it could use a little more polish so if anyone out there feels like they have a suggestion I am completely open to hearing them.  This is how most of the chapters will work, with each one sort of encapsulating a period of time in the boy Renard’s life with the idea that each chapter could almost stand on its own as a short story in addition to being read as one continuous narrative.  I really hope that I can keep this up and finish this tale because I have come to love the characters already, even though at the moment I only know Tomas and what will be the character of Renard very well.  Enjoy, and please, let me know what you think.

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3 Responses to “A Tail Indeed!”

  1. blackwatertown Says:

    Very grand story. I like it so far.
    The portentous introduction reminds me of the opening of the Twilight Zone series in days gone by (before your time probably).
    I noticed a couple of things in paragraph 4 of the story proper.
    The innkeeper/father thinks about the giving birth process, he could only “kind of observe” – that kind of language seems inconsistent with the mood and tone and style of the rest of the story. Maybe just say “observe” without the “kind of”?
    And I wondered about the mention of minutes going by. Going by the rest of the picture painted of the time and place I wonder would they really think in terms of minutes – few clocks – would they commonly think in minutes? Not sure, maybe they would. Just made me wonder.
    Looking forward to how the story will evolve.

    • I never really thought about the time. I think I may have to revise that to something less specific, perhaps moments. Thank you for the response and expressing your interest. I hope I can keep this going myself, I have a few ideas for the following chapters, but nothing cohesive yet. My plan is to proceed relating the life of Renard with each chapter covering a specific time in his life and right now I my mind is jumping around in time a bit so I have the shells of ideas for his youth as well as some for his adolescence and adulthood so I need to focus in and run with one of those. This may mean that I post chapters on here not in the order in which they will be read in the book (if there is one), so be prepared if things get a bit confusing. I am always looking for new ideas and welcome any comments as always. Cheers.

  2. Should you continue with the encapsulated chapters, you could always publish a few individually in magazines. That way, when shopping the completed work to publishers, you can point to the potential audience(s) whose interest has no doubt been piqued by what has already seen print.
    I must admit, I’m a bit stymied by the evolution I’m seeing in your prose, but then the last time I would have read a story by you would have been high school, maybe. Clearly, you’ve been developing a style when no one was looking.
    All you need is a willing proofreader. I give discounts for family, you know. 😉

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