Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Stoor's Prophecy - Chapter One - Part 1

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Here's a draft version of about three quarters of the first chapter of The Stoor's Prophecy, my-work-in-progress humorous fantasy project. This part introduces three of the main characters: Rufus of Farcliffe, a man with a more distinguished past than his current circumstances would imply, Shirley son of Hogan, an elf from the northern forests who's having to cope with anti-fae prejudice, and Barwick of Balmar, who was born in The Three Kingdoms, but faces problems of xenophobia just because he's a dwarf. (don't worry, I think you'll find it a little funnier than it looks like here.)
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Barwick picked the crumbs from his beard.

"That's the last of the bread," said the elf sitting opposite, "So I hope we're going to be there soon."

Barwick looked at the particularly large bread crumb between his fingers; he considered his options for a moment, then popped it into his mouth and began to chew. He did it casually, and even faked a cough as his hand went to his mouth. There was no need for him to do that really: bad manners were almost expected of him; that's the way everyone assumed a dwarf would behave, but Barwick had lived much of his life amongst mortal men, and had decided long ago that if there was to be any chance whatsoever of him ever being treated by them as their equal, then his own demeanor had to at least appear to be superior to theirs...

The elf was still rooting through his haversack. "I told you we should have bought elven bread," he said. "It's thinner so it takes up less space; it's lighter so it isn't such a burden to carry and it lasts much longer before it starts to get mouldy. Oh, and don't even get me started about its superior nutritional value."

"What you're failing to point out though Shirley," the man sitting a little further away on the dwarf's other side said to the elf, "is that it's six times as expensive as ordinary bread, not to mention, and this is a major point that really should be mentioned: it tastes like shit."

The elf let out a disgruntled "humph!" then turned his head away muttering in what seemed like a somewhat effeminate, affronted fashion, He fastened up the haversack then lifted it from where it sat between his legs and threw it behind him in disgust.

From Barwick's position where he sat on the ground, he was facing the elf, and seated quite close, so the removal of the haversack presented the dwarf with a view he didn't really want. He could see right up into Shirley's tunic, revealing more of the elf's green tights than Barwick would have liked. The tights were particularly snug where they clung to the elf's crotch so that it looked for all the world as though he was concealing his own personal haversack up there, and to Barwick's single good eye, it even appeared that he'd been keeping a couple of small baps and a finger roll in reserve.

"Anyway," continued the man as he stood and scanned his surroundings, "I think we're almost there. We're certainly in the Curzak lands now. All we've seen in the fields for the last twenty or so miles have been horses, and horses are all the Curzaks keep; they live on horses."

Barwick rose to his feet and used his one eye to scan the horizon, or at least as close to the horizon as his diminutive height would allow.

"The land grows higher in the direction we're walking," he said "I thought you said that Jyppo stood on the river, Rufus. Wouldn't that mean we should be travelling downhill?"

"Yes Barwick," the man, Rufus replied, "We're travelling uphill now into 'the thighs of the giant,' the low hills that flank the river. If you look far to the west there, you'll see two higher rounder hills. Those are the giant's buttocks. the river runs down from there, and down the Gussett valley between the thighs"

The elf's heavily made up eyes widened as each sentence left Rufus' lips, until eventually he said: "Hold on a moment! Giant buttocks? Thighs? GUSSET? This all sounds a little bit dodgy!"

"It isn't," Rufus assured him, "It's quite common among the races of men for geographical features to be named after something they resemble, and from downriver in the Gussett valley, the hills look just like the thighs and the rump of a giant."

"Gusset valley though? Come on, really?"

"A couple of hundred years ago," Rufus explained, "A map maker called GUSSETT was recording the nearby terrain and discovered that the Kurzaks had no name for the valley, so he took advantage of that and named it after himself on all the maps he drew. It's been called 'The Gussett Valley' ever since."

"So the river we're heading for is The River Gussett then?" inquired Barwick.

"No," his companion answered, "The river is known by it's Kurzak name. Generations ago, in olden times, it was their only source of drinking water, so its name is The Yorewyne"

"Urine?" asked Shirley, "Now I've heard it all."

"Not Urine, Yorewyne as in 'Yore' and 'Wine' - I admit it does sound a little like Urine, and from what I remember, the water does have a distinctive bouquet not dissimilar to the smell of piss."

"So let me get this straight: We're travelling over the thighs to where the urine runs down the gusset from the giant's buttocks. Is that what you're telling us?" asked the elf, grinning.

"No elf," answered Rufus, "I'm trying to tell you that we'll reach the Yorewyne in a couple of hours, then if we turn east, and follow the river's flow downstream, we'll be in Jyppo by nightfall."

"So we won't get to eat again until this evening then?" said Barwick. "What about lunch?"

"You've only just eaten your breakfast, dwarf," the elf reprimanded him, "Surely your stomach hasn't started complaining again already."

"Well when we reach the river," explained Rufus, "if you like, we can take a rest, and catch a couple of fishes for our lunch."

"And how are we going to do that?" asked Shirley.

"Think about it," said Rufus, "Barwick is a dwarf. He's bound to have a fishing rod in his backpack."

"That's gnomes," said Barwick quietly.

"What?" asked Rufus.

"That's gnomes," repeated Barwick, "It's gnomes that have the fishing rods." He was clearly offended, "I'm a dwarf. I carry nothing save my trusty axe and my battle hammer."

"That's just typical of the prejudice of you men," Shirley said to Rufus. Barwick found it strange that whenever the elf referred to 'men' in that tone of voice, it seemed like he was talking about the gender rather than the species. "You have to apply bloody stereotypes to everyone who's different from you, don't you; and considering how often it is that you all do it, you'd think you'd be practiced enough to get the bloody stereotypes right."

"My apologies Barwick," said Rufus, "I do you a disservice. You're right of course, but I know very few dwarves and even less gnomes, and I forgot for a moment which customs applied to which people. I had no intention of stereotyping you at all."

"Incidentally though Barwick," asked Shirley, as they all picked up their haversacks to continue their journey, "You're carrying your hammer, and your axe is there, tucked into your belt, so what exactly are you carrying in your pack that makes it clank about so much as you walk."

Barwick paused for a short while as he looked down toward his feet a little awkwardly, before staring his companions defiantly in the eyes and saying: "All right. It's a shovel and a pick and a walking stick. But I'm a fucking dwarf, so what did you expect?"

~o~O~o~

The companions walked eastward along the north bank of the Yorewyne for a few hours before the natural track underfoot changed to a proper bridal path spread with sand and gravel; then as the miles went by, it widened into a real road with a genuine, bona fide, proper, artificial surface, which confirmed that they were nearly out of the wilderness and almost amongst civilized society. A little time later the new road veered away from the river a little, but continued to follow it, though somewhat further up the bank. Other signs of civilization began to appear, mostly farrier's shops and blacksmith's forges. Soon other buildings including a few houses appeared as they made their way into the town of Jyppo.

"So you know this town well then Rufus." It was a statement from Barwick, but was meant as a question. The man had already demonstrated he was familiar with this place, but the dwarf wondered exactly how familiar.

"I knew it well back in my youth," Rufus replied, "I was very much involved in jousting tourneys, and chariot racing. I was even in the junior national jousting team for the eastern kingdom as a lad."

He paused and smiled as if he expected some kind of praise or admiration, but Barwick wasn't even sure what jousting was. He felt compelled to respond in some way though. "Great?" he offered through a forced but well intentioned grin, then seeing Rufus' disappointed look, he added a speculative: "Well done you?"

Rufus' face dropped even further. "Anyway," he continued, "most of the big equestrian sporting fixtures are held here. The hippodrome in the centre of town is the foremost stadium in the three kingdoms, so I've been here a lot. At least on this side of the river, anyway."

"This side of the river?" Shirley enquired, "Why only this side of the river?"

"This is the decent side, the quality side. The shady part of town is on the southern side of the river. I never went there. Never wanted to., never dared to."

Both the elf and the dwarf, looked over the river to the opposite bank. There were buildings there but mostly dilapidated and battered ones. There seemed to be a kind of shadow, a sort of ominous 'greyness' about the town on that side of the water.

"And where, dare I ask," Shirley dared to ask, "are we supposed to be meeting that wizard tomorrow?"

Rufus grinned an embarrassed grin as he avoided answering the elf's question. He couldn't help his eyes giving him away though, as he glanced involuntarily at the river to his right.

"Oh that's just bloody great," said the elf.

"Don't worry about it," Rufus assured him, "We don't need to cross the river just yet. Tonight we can stay on this side. There's a really good inn that I remember, near the hippodrome. 'The Winners Enclosure' it's called."

They walked on as the road curved away from the river now, and wound it's way amongst buildings, that seemed to grow larger as the party walked onward.

Barwick looked around. There were a number of inns here, all of a decent quality, and each of them had a name that was clearly related in one way or another to horses. He asked Rufus about it.

"That's the way with all the inns in Jyppo. They all refer to one of the aspects of a horse-centric society, so look over there: there's 'The Blacksmiths Arms', a couple of blocks back we passed 'The Happy Stablemaid' and if I remember correctly, just around the corner up this way is 'The Proud Stallion'."

"So what's the name of the inn where we meet the wizard then?" asked Shirley the elf.

"You have to realise," said Rufus, "that on the other side of the river, trade is less sophisticated, a little more basic, and the inn names reflect that."

"What's it called Rufus?" the elf demanded.

"It is in the public stabling district," Rufus said.

"What's its bloody name?"

"It's called The Shitshovel and Pitchfork," Rufus finally revealed.

"Sounds delightful," was the elf's response as he slowly shook his head.

Barwick noticed there were various shops amongst the inns and smithies now. Many of them were just selling saddles and tack, but there were quite a few that actually catered for the inhabitants of the town rather than just the horses. Most of the clothing stores did seem to concentrate on riding breeches and boots, but there were a few food shops too, and Barwick was beginning to get very hungry indeed.

They'd just passed the third butchers shop he'd seen and he'd noticed that none of them seemed to have the usual chickens or rabbits hanging outside. In fact all the joints of meat he saw in the butchers' shops seemed to come from much larger animals. He hadn't even seen any sheep or goats, let alone cattle in the surrounding countryside, and as Barwick looked at a particularly large haunch of meat hanging in the latest butcher's window, he wondered what kind of animal it might have come from and thought about mentioning it to Rufus, then he remembered what Rufus had said about the Curzaks 'living on horses' and suddenly realisation dawned and he decided not to bother.

Rufus led them around a corner and the immense white stone structure of the hippodrome loomed before them, on the other side of a large town square. They eventually arrived outside a pleasant looking inn. "This is the place," announced Rufus, "I've spent many a decent night here."

Shirley nudged Barwick and nodded toward a sign by the door. Barwick looked at it and then asked Rufus: "So what about that sign?"

"What sign?" enquired Rufus.

"That sign! There, by the door!" the other two shouted almost in unison.

Rufus looked a little puzzled as he glanced toward the inn door, then glanced back at Barwick and Shirley. "It says 'Welcome One and All'," he said, "What about it?"

"Not that sign," said Shirley, "the other sign, on the other side of the door."

Rufus turned around again; on the opposite side of the door to the 'welcome' sign was another that was headed 'Door Policy'. He studied it:


DOOR POLICY

(i) No elves, pixies, piscies, leprechauns, brownies, fairies, faeries
(ii) No gnomes, dwarves, halflings (hobbits, fallohides, harfoots OR stoors)
(iii) No giants, goblins, ogres, orcs, uruks, trollocks
(iv) No trolls(stone, wood, cave or any other variety)
(v) No griffins, gryphons, dragons, wyverns
(vi) No cavewights, balrogs, viles, ur-viles
(vii) No vampires, zombies or other undead
(viii) No dogs or demon-hounds (except for guide dogs and guide demon-hounds)
(werewolves, wargs and direwolves should be tied up outside.)

ON MATCH DAYS DEFINITELY NO AWAY SUPPORTERS

The management thank you in anticipation of your kind cooperation


"I think you'll find that excludes two thirds of our party from entering your favourite inn then Rufus," Shirley said, pointing out the obvious.

"Perhaps we can find somewhere else?" suggested Barwick hopefully. "Hey!" he called to a passing old man, "Are there any inns around here that will allow dwarves and elves inside?"

"Oy durn't think so," replied the local, "not on north side o' river any roads. If yer cross bridge over to t'other side, most of th'inns there'll be all royt 'bout it. Most of the rough 'uns'll let anybody in, save gnomes. No bugger'll serve gnomes. but we dernt gerra lorra gnomes in these parts, any roads."

"I'm not bloody surprised you dernt, I mean don't," said Shirley, "Thanks for your help then old man. Goodbye now." He ushered the old chap on his way and then turned to Rufus. "Look, we could disguise ourselves. You must have a hat I can cover my ears with, and a spare pair of those hideous trousers you wear, that you can lend me to put over my tights. We can give shorty here a haircut, oh, and a shave because that bloody beard is a dead giveaway, then providing he shuts up and stays sitting, they may not even realise he's a dwarf."

"I'm not having a shave," protested Barwick, "My beard's a part of who I am, so it is!"

"That's all very well, Shirley," Rufus replied, "We might very well be able to cover up the fact that Barwick is a dwarf, and we could try disguising you with one of my hats and a pair of my pants, but you'll still look like an elf."

"How so?" enquired Shirley.

"Well it's the make-up, isn't it? The eyeshadow is a big giveaway that you're fae. It's usually only women who wear it in the three kingdoms, and even in the north, only elves wear it that heavily; not only that, but you're wearing lipstick aren't you?"

"Just a touch," replied Shirley, "There's nothing wrong with it. It's what we elves do. I thought I'd applied it very subtly to be honest."

"It marks you as an elf though," Rufus pointed out, "Barwick having his beard shaved off is one thing, but you'll have to wash your make up off too: all of it."

The elf thought for a moment about the prospect of going 'natural' before sighing and pulling a small hand mirror from a pocket in his tunic. He looked at his image in the mirror from a couple of different angles, then sighed again, shrugged and put his mirror away. He refastened his pocket securely and smoothed down his tunic. "Come on then," he said, "let's see if we can find that bridge. Looks like we're drinking on the rough side of the river tonight.

~o~O~o~


Shirley was bored.

He and Rufus were sitting at a table in the bar of The Shitshovel and Pitchfork. Rufus insisted that they would eat and drink later. He said that he needed to brief them first, but still had some paperwork to do. Barwick had decided before they'd arrived that he'd prefer to spend the night in a stable rather than in a real bed, so had taken advantage of this free time to go outside and seek out suitable places for him to bed down.

"Can't I just have a half?" he asked Rufus.

"No!" replied Rufus, "and shut up, I'm trying to concentrate."

"Surely a half won't affect my faculties. I'm not going to get pissed on a half."

Rufus put down his pen. "Just a small one then," he said, "But listen. The local beer tastes crap and will give you the runs. Even some of the locals can't stomach it. Have the imported stuff, but I'd advise bottled, not draught."

"Why not draught?"

Rufus lowered his voice to a whisper and beckoned Shirley closer. "Because they're well known in these parts for watering their ale."

"Well surely," Shirley pointed out, "If you want me to stay sober, watered down beer doesn't seem like such a bad thing."

"They dilute it with water from the Yorewyne though," said Rufus, "So it probably ends up a little stronger: perhaps it has less alcohol, but it has more of something else that seems to be present in the water around here."

"More of what?" asked Shirley.

"I've no idea," said Rufus, "But I know you end up with a hangover that doesn't just make you feel like you're dying, it makes you hope you are. A few people have even been known to slit their own throats the morning after a good night out. I'd stick to the bottles if I were you."

Shirley went to the bar. Rufus returned to his paperwork.

The wizard had sent instructions in the form of a letter. He hadn't wanted knowledge of their plans to fall into the wrong hands, but knowing that Rufus had been classically educated, he'd written the letter in Toshishish, an ancient and obscure language that hadn't been spoken or even written outside of academic establishments for over a thousand years. What the wizard hadn't been aware of though, was that though Rufus' education had been the best available in what was then the Eastern Kingdom; that was over forty years ago, and even then, he hadn't been the most attentive of students.

He'd worked out the main gist of the letter, of course; they wouldn't have got this far if he hadn't, but there were still bits in the middle that he still hadn't translated properly. The problem was, that even though the wizard knew Toshishish, the dialect he'd used was a long way from the classical form that Rufus had tried to learn as a lad.

Shirley drank from the bottle of North Country dark ale he held in his hand. He was hoping that Rufus wouldn't notice it was a large bottle; well they didn't do half pint ones, and he had been advised to avoid the draught beer, so what choice did he have. Well, he supposed that he could have just drunk half of it, but it was against his principles to ever leave a beer half finished.

"Right then," said Rufus, putting his pen down, "I'm ready. Nip outside and find Barwick will you, it's time for your briefing."

Shirley drained his bottle of beer, and placed the empty bottle on the table, Rufus' eyes settled on it, and the elf thought better of it, picking it up and placing it on the bar, at the far end, so that it looked that bit smaller from a distance and so that the label was well out of Rufus' reading range. He went outside to find the dwarf.

Rufus picked up his translated letter and decided to give it a quick read through, before the other two returned. He read:


Greetings Rufus of Farcliffe,

At our last meeting, I instructed you to seek out others to join our alliance in opposition to our enemy. I trust that by now you have gathered many allies who are willing to aid us in our quest.

I would prefer this force to be made up mainly of individuals who share our cause and our concerms, though mercenaries are also acceptable if you can guarantee they will be reliable, trustworthy individuals, men of honour, soldiers who are trained and well disciplined, though keep it foremost in your mind that our financial resources are somewhat limited.

It seems that after spending months idle on the western side of the border, HIS armies are becoming restless. There is talk of new generals who are motivating them into action by use of fear and dread.

There have been many more mysterious deaths in the South Kingdom, mainly among would be suitors to the crown princess. As you can imagine, she is somewhat annoyed at this. I am sure that our enemy is behind these murders, though as yet I have no idea who his agents in the south might be.

It has also come to my attention that others under HIS command are searching for the whereabouts of our talented halfling friend; his life is in grave danger and my most pressing task now, is to find sanctuary for this young stoor and his companions.

Our enemy is aware of our cause and is bound to move against us sooner rather than later; I would advise you to be wary of anyone and everyone you come into contact with, since even the most seemingly well meaning of them may be an agent of our enemy.

HE knows that the fulfilment of our small friend's prophecy will be fatal to him. By now he will have examined every possibility available to him to avoid the prophecy coming to pass. The most direct way would of course be to dispose of the princess. He may do this by force of arms, or by subterfuge. Either way, we must provide her with what protection we can to ensure that she survives and thus that the prophecy is fulfilled.

I intend to send you and your force to the South Kingdom as protection for the crown princess, and to that aim I request that you and your chosen officers meet with me in the town of Jyppo in the Kurzak lands to discuss our actions.

I believe you are familiar with the geography of Jyppo. There's an Inn located in the public stabling district known as 'The Shitshovel and Pitchfork' We will meet there at noon on the day after the next new moon.



When he looked up from the letter. Shirley and Barwick had not only both re-entered the bar, but they'd also got another beer in. They returned to the table and Barwick said "Here you go Rufus, I got you one." he attempted to pass the beer but as he put it on the table, he upset the bottle and it fell over. The contents rushed out of the bottle neck and poured all over Rufus' translated letter. The beer merged with the ink to produce a piece of paper with an even, lilac tint, but certainly with no legible writing at all.

Rufus wasn't sure he could remember most of the letter's content, but he certainly didn't have time to translate it all again. Barwick had quickly rescued the original, picking it up from the table, just as the beer had begun to spread across toward its edge. He glanced at it.

"Oh, this is Toshishish isn't it?" he asked. "Yes it is. I read Toshishish like a native Tosh. I have done for years. This isn't what you've spent so long translating is it Rufus? You needn't have bothered."

"Yes," said Rufus, "It isn't classical Toshishish though. It's some obscure dialect. It wasn't so much translating it as deciphering the dialect and identifying the obscure linguistic components. Not an easy job you know?"

"Oh I know it isn't classical Toshishish," said Barwick, "it's Westhill dialect. Do you want me to read it? I'll have to read it in it's dialect form though."

He didn't wait for Rufus to answer. He sat at the table with his beer in one hand and the letter in the other. He looked over the letter while the other two returned to their seats. He took a swig from the neck of his beer bottle, then he began:


Yo! Rufus of Farcliffe.

Last time we put our heads together, I told you we needed more muscle.

I hope you've got your firm together by now to give us a decent bit of backup.

It's best if you get guys who think like we do, but paid heavies are fine if they're cool, decent dudes: hard bastards who can take orders. Make sure they don't cost an arm and a leg though.

HIS mob have been sitting around on their arses for ages now, but it looks like some new boss has put the wind up them and they're getting tooled up as we speak.

There are fellas dropping like flies down south and it looks like everybody who looks like he's close to getting a bit of princess tail, gets himself snuffed which is really pissing her off. It's a fair bet HE's pulling the strings, but I'm buggered if I know who he's got doing the deed for him.

It looks like there's some of his sneaky gits poking around trying to find the little guy too. His number could be up if I don't  find him somewhere for him and his mates to keep their heads down.

The bad guys are onto us so watch your backs. Make sure you check out any shifty prats you come across, because even if they look harmless, the twats could just be trying to wangle themselves into your good books.

The big bastard knows full well that this prophecy is going to drop him right in the shit, so he'll be looking for ways to fix things for himself. Quickest way would be for him to bump off the princess, so he might have his boys come at her in force, or he may just sneak someone in to do her in quietly. Whatever, we have to provide some insurance to keep her alive, or the whole prophecy could go tits up.

I'm going to send your lads south to look after the princess, so you and your main men need to get your arses over to Jyppo for a meet to sort things out.

I think you know your way round Jyppo. There's a boozer near the public stables, called The Shitshovel and Pitchfork, so make sure you all get your arses over there to see me at lunchtime on the first of next month.



Barwick handed the letter back to Rufus and smiled. Shirley patted the dwarf on the shoulder and said "Hey, I'm impressed."

Barwick looked toward Rufus for appreciation and Rufus just nodded and said "Yes, I think you just about got the gist of it there."