Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Wanderer (I guess I'm posting crappy short fiction now?)

I reread A Wizard of Earthsea recently and was inspired to write a bad, extremely derivative short story. This doesn't really have anything to do RPGs, although the setting may be rather like Carolingia, I guess. Yes, I know it's also the name of a GLOG class I wrote. No, I don't care. Wanderers are cool.

The Wanderer

The wanderer came into the village out of the high moors one bright day late in the summer. She was tall and stern, carrying a long staff of pale aspen that matched her height. Her hooded cloak of green wool was plain and functional, but it was pinned with a fine bronze brooch. She went to the household of a yeoman in the village, who gave her bread and stew and a spot by the hearth for the night, as is the custom. When those gathered asked her for her name, where she came from, and to where she went, she merely shrugged and smiled, eyes glittering with laughter. That night, as repayment for his hospitality, although none was expected, she went to his son, who had fallen from a tall tree on to his head a week ago and had not since woken up. She laid a hand upon his forehead, spoke a single word in a language that none who heard it could understand, and tapped her staff gently on the ground. The boy settled imperceptibly in his cot and began to breathe deeper. Come morning she was gone and the boy was awake, full of life.
Some days later the wanderer appeared in a larger town some distance from the village, and it was the day of a festival, when the coming of fall was celebrated. The people were gathered in the square of the town, singing songs of veneration and dancing dances of joy. When the wanderer came to the square she joined her voices to all the others. Those near her remarked upon both the strength and gentleness of her song, and the way she knew every song of the festival as if by heart. After the singing and the dancing was done, all the folk of the town gathered close to eat of the bounty of the harvest; to drink good cider, ale, and mead; and to hear the young bard of the town sing the great lay that was sung for this festival: the Lay of WindbĂ©atan. Although young and fresh from her apprenticeship the chanter was very skilled, and it was a pleasure to hear her recite the ancient poesy in her lively and inimitable style. 
After several hours she was done and the townsfolk were preparing to disperse for the night, but the wanderer stepped forwards before the crowd and began to chant. She sang, slow and solemn and beautiful, a tale of an ancient queen of this land, and the eldest amongst the crowd recalled that the old chanter of the town had sung this tale before he had died decades ago, leaving the town with no chanter for some years. The grace and glory of the wanderer’s epic surpassed even that of the young chanter’s, and the town listened as if spellbound for some hours. After she finished, the people slowly began to depart to their sleep, quiet and drowsy in happiness. The young chanter came to the wanderer and offered the hospitality of her home, which was gratefully accepted. The whole of the next day the wanderer spent teaching the chanter the poem she had sung that the chanter might sing it every equinox. The night she spent again in the home of the chanter, and departed ere the cocks crowed.
Not more than a month after the equinox, the greatest city of the land was invested by raiders hailing from a far-off country. They built works of war about the walls of the city, set their ships in the river to ensure none could escape by that avenue, and despoiled the countryside with fire and rapine. As the siege grew tighter and fiercer, the woman appeared in the market square of the city, though none knew how she had slipped through the leaguer of the raiders or how she had entered the city unseen by its watchful guardians. There she sat in the street, staff across her knees, closed her eyes, and began to chant slowly in a strange language. As tales had already spread across the land of a woman possessed of great lore and magic, she remained there unmoving and unmolested for seven days as the siege grew ever closer and more hardly contested. On the seventh day the raiders had finally fought their way atop the walls of the city, and yet as their first man began to descend into the city a blinding sheet of white fire suddenly shot up atop the walls. This great light began to expand, slowly but inexorably, forcing the invaders off the walls, then itself dropping down to the ground below. The wall of flame, which somehow did not scorch the ground upon which it stood, broke its circle and began to stretch out in a vast line, spreading across the river and a wide front on each side. The raiders fled from it in terror, and their ships were forced down the river. They were corralled by this terrible magic to their ships and forced from the land in a rout. As the final ship left the country, the wanderer slumped over on her side in the square of the city and knew no more.
The wanderer was taken into the household of the king himself, and gently nursed back to health. The king himself took great interest in her well-being, often conversing with her on the mysteries of the world at her bedside once she was well enough to talk. Within a fortnight she was largely recovered from her great effort and made clear her intentions to depart soon. The king besought her to stay at his court and join his service as a mage, offering riches and honor and all that she could wish for. At this she merely shook her head sadly and took her leave. As she left the palace, there was a great horde of the wealthiest and most powerful in the country gathered before the gates, all pleading with her to perform some task and offering inestimable reward. She ignored them all and strode forth, out of the city. 
The wanderer walked for weeks, going all the way to the farthest and most remote part of the country. She paid her way in small deeds of healing and service, exchanged for the simplest of hospitality, and finally arrived at the poorest village in all the land. As she walked the rutted mud pit that passed for its main way, she beheld a bandaged and pitiful figure lying in the dirt begging for scraps: a leper. The wanderer went into the nearby woods and did not return for a week, until she had gathered great store of herbs, including many with commonplace medical usages and many thought to be useless. When she returned, she went to the leper with no superstition or fear and took him to the stream, anointing him with water, and set piles of herbs around him. She set the herbs alight, their fragrant smoke spiraling off into the heavens, and began to sing a low, slow song. Each day for a month she would return to the leper and perform this ritual, or one similar but with different herb and song, or a with a different liquid to touch his brow. Finally, on the 27th day, as her song drew to a close, the leper’s bandages split to reveal a healed man below. Without further ado, the wanderer set off into the wilds, never to be seen again.

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