Saturday, 1 July 2017

WHERE MORTALS FEAR TO TREAD...



The stranger rode through the gates of the city with a determined frown upon his scarred but not unhandsome features.  His ebony steed trotting proudly under him, his hand resting easily upon the ornately fashioned hilt of the sword which hung by his side, he slowly made his way into the heart of the sprawling township.  He had travelled long and far, but his quest would soon be over he told himself.  Thank the gods!

Directing his mount down the narrow, uneven streets of the crowded market place, his dark, smouldering eyes, like fiery embers, stared hard at each trader, obviously in search of someone.  Those that noticed his piercing stare shuddered and quickly averted their eyes, pretending unconvincingly that they were unaware of the stranger's gaze.  "Pity the man he's looking for" they thought, each one relieved it wasn't them.

The stranger, for his part, as if ignorant of the eyes which fixed on his back as he passed, wound his horse through the swarming populace, until, eventually, his attention was arrested by an elderly, cadaverous individual, who stood stooped over a stall with a variety of menacing-looking instruments displayed upon it.  Congealed blood crusted the instruments, and also stained the stall-holder's threadbare habiliments, and when the stranger noticed this, not for the first time since he had begun his mission, he trembled inwardly.

He dismounted and approached the man, who, regarding the stranger with interest, drew back the flap of the tent behind the stall, entered, and beckoned him to follow. The stranger cautiously obliged and stepped inside.  He scrutinized the gloomy interior at great length and then studied the stall-holder nervously.

"Are you Korath?" he at last demanded from the man, who, compared to the stranger, seemed almost like a dwarf, though in truth he was of no mean stature. Sensing hesitation in his voice, the stall-holder allowed a contemptuous sneer to flicker across his vulture-like features.  "And what if I am?" he enquired softly, unintimidated by the other's height.  His sepulchural tone sent an icy chill of fear down the stranger's spine.  "I seek a man named Korath" said the stranger edgily, "and from the description I was given, or rather, extracted......"  Here he faltered, as if from somewhere far away, a long-suppressed, unpleasant memory had suddenly resurfaced in his mind's eye.  Recovering quickly from his momentary pause, however, he went on "......from a whelp now dead, you appear to be he whom I seek!"

As he spoke, a black servant, easily equal to the stranger's great height and almost twice as broad, entered the tent bearing the various strange implements that had been exhibited outside and set them to rest upon a rough-hewn, bloodstained wooden table.  The stall-holder edged his way closer to the bench, trying to conceal his furtive manner with a casual air, but the stranger, with a sudden look of fear and anger, swept the man's legs from under him with a powerful kick.  "Your actions betray your identity!" he thundered.  "I was a fool to come here!"  "Do you truly believe you had a choice in the matter?" the stall-holder cackled, picking himself up from the floor.

The stranger, puzzled by the man's words, momentarily stood undecided in his actions.  The stall-holder, taking advantage of this weakness, shouted a command in a strange tongue to his ebony servant, who instantly moved towards the stranger in an attempt to subdue him.  However, the stranger, now galvanized into frenzied activity, drew his mighty sword from his side and beheaded the servant with one fierce, swift stroke. The bloodied torso tottered for a moment, and then, like a marionette whose strings had been suddenly severed, fell to the ground, a lifeless husk.

Unnoticed by the stranger, however, the stall-holder had meanwhile crept around behind him, withdrawing something from under one of the folds in his robe as he did so.  There was a sudden flash of movement as a vicious bludgeon cleaved through the air towards the stranger's unprotected head.  The next moment, consciousness was racing abruptly away from him, to be replaced by the fearful, terrifying clutch of an all-enveloping, icy darkness.

******

When the stranger came to, he found himself reclining on several cushions of a luxurious purple velvet, which, though oddly at variance with the other rather spartan trappings, were spread of the floor of the tent.   For a moment he wondered where he was, and then, remembering, a look of dread flashed through his eyes, but disappeared when he realized he was alive and unhurt.  The emaciated visage of the stall-holder appeared before him, nodding benignly.  "Is it done?" the stranger asked, incredulously.  "It is done!" replied the man called Korath.

The stranger rose to his feet and removed six gleaming gold coins from a well-worn leather pouch hanging from his belt and tossed them onto the table.  "One for your services, the other five to replace your slave" he said, nodding in the direction of the corpse, which still lay undisturbed where it had fallen.  "A thousand pardons for my disrespectful behaviour earlier" begged the stranger. "Some demon must have possessed my senses.  I... I just lost my head".  "As did my servant" said Korath, good-naturedly.

"I trust you won't reveal my cowardice to anyone" continued the stranger, nervously toying with his cloak in an attempt to cover his embarrassment.  "I swear by Krell, old one, that it was totally unlike me. Usually I'm quite stout-hearted.  A curse on my head if I'm lying to you!"  "Never fear" soothed Korath with a twinkle in his eye.  "Even the bravest of men fear a visit to... the tooth-extractor!"

He chortled inwardly to himself as he handed the stranger his recently removed molar and watched him depart.

6 comments:

Colin Jones said...

That story was spoiled by the casual, almost jokey murder of the servant.

Kid said...

For feck's sake, CJ - it's a jokey story about a guy's trip to the dentist, intended as a parody of Robert E. Howard type tales. People get murdered all the time in THEM.

Colin Jones said...

OK, I withdraw my complaint. Your story was a masterpiece, Kid :)

Kid said...

Ah, but where did I say that it was MY story, CJ?

John Pitt said...

Come on, Kid, own up, was it one of yours?
Anyway, it was a brilliant story!
I was completely unexpecting the ending, which made me chuckle out loud!

Kid said...

Oh, you should know by now, JP, that I'm far too modest and humble to to blow my own trumpet. Why, I'm famous for being modest and humble, as anybody who knows me will tell you. I will agree with you though, that it's a brilliant story (he said, modestly).

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