Our good friend +matt jackson of Chubby Monster Games has been inspiring everyone to write - just eight minutes a day - to develop their writing skills. And how could we refuse? So I took a few minutes last week to write a little, and this turned into 45 minutes spent beginning (probably yet another) unfinished novel. So, for your reading enjoyment, a bit called MOURNPAW:
There was smoke. And screaming. But he hadn't seen in years. In all that time there was only darkness and his own thoughts. Sometimes, something moved past him; a momentary fluttering of shadow and weight that pressed against him like an anvil on the chest before moving on to torment some other luckless soul...
"Mournpaw, you can come out now." Roonlune lifted the course sackcloth and the bear winced at the sudden light. A full day hidden in the back of a wagon left little to do but sleep and struggle for air, and Mournpaw inhaled gratefully while his eyes adjusted.
I-I was dreaming." The bear still struggled to form human speech, and the small, dark man pulling at the tarp probably met him more than halfway when it came to communication. "How long?"
Roonlune sheltered his eyes against the sun, an unconscious sign that he couldn't understand his friend.
"How long was I asleep?" Mournpaw said more slowly.
Roonlune nodded. "We've been going since the inn at Kinsburg, but I don't know how long you slept." And then, smiling, "even your snoring couldn't drown out the winds today!"
Mournpaw threw an empty sack at the man and loosed a guttural cry that passed for laughter. It was a fine moment between friends.
A brief moment.
Roonlune produced a short length of rope and nodded to his friend apologetically, and the bear stooped to receive his yoke, playing the part they had both settled on, by necessity, shortly after they had started travelling together. I wouldn't do to have an animal, even a well-trained one, going unfettered in the streets, even during the Merchant's Fair at Rockbridge, where a common black bear would surely be among the less exotic animals on display.
"Sorry," Roonlune said, "all part of the show, right?"
The bear nodded and took stock of his surroundings. They had come in through one of the back gates; a squalid little quarter serving the poorer merchants and smugglers willing to bribe their way into the city, and doubtless manned by guards who made pains to be stationed there for that very purpose. They might have easily entered with the richer caravans, but risked attracting the wrong sort of attention and had long since decided it was easier to be overlooked.
And, in fact, they weren't here for the fair at all, and their lack of trade goods might attract suspicion. A merchant with a bear? Just a bear? As if there was any real money in the pennies people threw to watch a beast dance. These things were usually enticements for vendors selling spices and other luxury goods, of which they had none, and it was better to bribe a guard and avoid such questions.
At least it wasn't a fishing town, Mournpaw thought. He was still getting used to being a bear. The new body, difficulty in forming human speech, and, especially, the heightened senses. Day-old fish would have been too much, although it sometimes made him hungry; a fact that both saddened and worried him. Would the last of his humanity slip away until he found himself pawing at salmon like a beast?
It hadn't happened yet, and he thanked the gods for it. But he had been betrayed before. It was practically all he knew.
Except for Roonlune.
The young man looked up at him, perhaps guessing his thoughts or simply impatient to get moving. Roonlune had dark features like the easterners who invaded these lands centuries before, bringing their language and customs to the island and forming a new culture from the joining of two peoples. His magic was local, however, and decidedly rural, lacking any of the diabolism of the invaders. It was as simple and wholesome as the man himself, and so far, this one had not betrayed him.
But Roonlune was looking beyond him at the horses, who by now were restless at the smell of a bear upwind. It made Mournpaw feel like less of a man and strangely self-conscious at his nakedness. He stepped back and let his friend lead them to the stable master, a disheveled and slightly obese man who eyed Roonlune greedily as if to decide how much coin he carried. Mournpaw knew his type all too well; city folk who thought themselves wise because they had some money and were still alive.
"This your bear?" he asked, never quite taking his eyes off what he supposed to be the smaller man's purse.
"He's mine," Roonlune answered, a bit too nervously.
"Well mind yourself with it," the fat man said, looking truly uneasy for the first time. "I've heard tell of those things getting loose and killing their masters. I don't fancy dying today."
"I'll mind the bear," Roonlune answered crossly, "you just see to the horses. We - I'll - be here for a day."
Mournpaw watched his friend step back, open his hand, and speak some mumbled phrase. A pale blue light flickered above his palm and vanished, leaving a silver coin in its place.
The stable master was more relieved than anything. A bear on a rope was one thing, an ensorcelled beast quite another. "Aye, but I'll be needing another one of those. There's a war on, and feed prices are up."
Roonlune sighed and fished another coin from what the fat man had guessed to be his purse. This subterfuge was getting expensive, Mournpaw thought. He hoped they were right to come here.
They watched the man waddle away with the animals, and for all his repugnance, he was clearly good with them.
"This wasn't a mistake, friend," Roonlune said as if guessing the bear's thoughts. "There are people here who can help us." He fumbled through his pockets and produced a yellowed and carefully refolded note, taking care that he wasn't noticed. It's words were as cryptic as ever:
Go to the Fair at Rockbridge
and find the juggler. He rides with
imported wine from Kurn.
"Your friend speaks in riddles," Mournpaw said. "I hope you know what he means." Even in his guttural speech, he sounded doubtful.
"Come on, we'll find an inn and get started tomorrow." Roonlune led his friend through a street already thronged with revelers and merchants waiting for the Fair. The two of them were, thankfully, less interesting than the prostitutes who worked the crowds and doubtless sought careless marks for their thieving pimps. And leading a bear on a rope made the small man less approachable by anyone looking for easy money.
Mournpaw didn't relish another night tied to a stake out back, but he was tired despite sleeping in the wagon and hopeful that things would go as planned for once. It would be a first in many weeks of wrong turns and unexpected emergencies, and this thought made him doubly tired.
It didn't take them long to find a place, although the innkeeper was reluctant to shelter an animal. It took more coin that usual to secure lodgings, and Mournpaw would still have to sleep in the back.
"If I had it any other way, friend," Roonlune began, but fell silent when the bear gave him an understanding look. The rope was specially tied so it could easily be removed. And who would volunteer to inspect it anyway? If trouble came, Mournpaw could free himself and at least have a chance at freedom. This made them both feel better. "Sleep well," he said at last. Maybe tomorrow things will start looking up for us."
There may (or may not) be more of his coming, but it was fun to simply write without having to think about dice, mechanics, and game balance, although we like that too! Anyway, it was a fun bit...