“Lend me your ears!” cried Dillon, the bard. A couple of patrons reluctantly turned their heads towards him, most continued to dice or drink. Tough crowd. Still, it was to be expected in the Broken Spoke up in Mudfoot; a tavern notorious for shady happenings and shadier folk. After travelling in the south for so long, Dillon found it strange to see a bar so full of different races. Never would you find a jaegir, a ‘gnilo, a man and a horlock sharing a table on the far side of the Drowned Peak Sea. But regardless of shape, shade and stature, their imrels were all just as good to him, and he had tales for them all. If they didn’t start throwing furniture at him that was.

Of course, coin wasn’t the only reason Dillon had ended up in this backwater settlement wedged between the mosquito infested bogs and tangled old woods of Ythinar’s northern wilds. But he’d need to earn something if he was to accomplish his true goal. And that meant doing what he did best. Regaling drunkards with tales, songs, jokes and lies… He’d have to tread carefully here. He weighed up the glowering, downtrodden and irritable expressions, and thought he’d try for something a bit darker. Something to stir their blood and breathe some life into them.

“Tonight I bring the tale of Barak and the folding of the flame.” he paused, and when no one seemed to object and no missiles were launched, he began using nothing but his lyrical voice and ability for dramatic pauses. 

“Barak was a blacksmith’s son with little interest in his father’s work. While his father hammered away, not too far from here in the village of Hungerblade, Barak would shirk his duties and slink off, until the ring of the hammer was drowned beneath the babble of brooks and whisper of trees. He was a good son, but carefree, irresponsible and most of all, mischievous.

“This all changed the day Barak turned fifteen. He returned home in the evening to find his father dead and the forge pillaged.”

Dillon paused to sweep the bar with a dramatic gaze and strum a minor chord on his lute, ominously. A few more heads looked up.

“Once Barak had buried his father and was done weeping, he planned his revenge. He learned the names of the villains—a gang from a neighbouring town. By night, he began to secretly stoke the fires of his father’s forge again, crafting a sword from the scraps of metal the thieves had deemed worthless. Scraps he would use to avenge his father.

“That first night and many more he toiled away, never happy with the blade. He’d finish it, melt it back down and begin again, each time making the metal stronger with his improved skill. His jaw was tight, his expression grim. The flames dancing in his eyes as he imagined killing his father’s murderers over and over. Each blast of the bellows making the flames roar in his mind.”

Almost all the patrons were listening now, even the landlord. It was just the dicing tables at the back that continued to ignore him. They were always the last to join. Dillon took advantage and signalled the landlord for a drink, which he hoped would be free now that they were all so rapt.

“Barak studied the fire, that he might improve his craft; he sought ways to trap its power within the metal itself, to imbue it with heat. It became his obsession, his companion, his… friend. While he slept, the forge’s flames danced through his dreams. When he stared into the shifting white embers, he fancied he caught glimpses of a face; thought he heard the whisper of words… He imagined it was the Celestial, Flair, deity of fire, worshiped by those at the temple. He believed she was guiding his hand.”

Dillon cast a handful of fine dust into the nearby fire making the flames flair green, and took satisfaction in a few gasps as those nearest to the hearth shuffled their stools away.

“On the day Barak turned seventeen, he finished the sword. It was a masterwork. Somehow, he had not only managed to surpass the work of his father, but that of any other smith. His sword glowed with the promise of flame woven within it. It was a part of him, an extension of his arm, and the flame a mirror to his soul.

“He set out and found the gang drunk in a tavern. They were fifteen in number and laughed at the brazen youth. He told them who he was and why he had come. This only increased their mirth, and when they saw his handsome sword, they decided to take it. Barak was surrounded. He may have become a master smith, but he was no fighter. He had not expected so many men and had been so fuelled by rage that he had not thought any further than this. A punch to the back of his head sent him sprawling and his sword clattered to the ground. The villains tormented him. Their leader, an oafish, unwashed man, picked up the sword and examined it. Through teary eyes Barak saw the man was wearing his father’s mail. The leader laughed and then stabbed Barak in the chest as though he were nothing but a dog.”

The Broken Spoke was quiet now, only the crackling flame could be heard. Dillon did his best to not meet the eyes of any of the ‘oafish, unwashed’ men present who could quite easily fit the profile of the tale’s antagonists…”Barak was mortally wounded, but he did not feel the life go out of him. On the contrary, he felt the folded flame flow from the blade and fill his wound, flood his heart. When he stood, a fire burned in his eyes. The leader took a step back, dropped the blade and attempted to flee. As he passed the hearth, Barak made a jerking motion with his hand and the flames licked out like a flail and consumed him. The men watched in horror as the hair and skin melted from their leader like a tallow candle. His shrieks reverberated off the walls. Barak looked at his wound. He was bleeding. He was dying. And yet he had never felt so alive. He looked back at the hearth and saw the Celestial’s face, smiling. He smiled back. He clapped his hands with the sound of a smith’s hammer and the whole tavern erupted in flame.”The tavern was still, Dillon paused and then clapped his hands. A few people jumped, and then murmured approvingly. It was as much as he could have hoped for. The landlord brought over a beer and did not ask for money. Once Dillon had drunk up, he’d pass around the tables with his yellow hat. That was enough for tonight, tomorrow he’d return. The man he was looking for was not present, and another tale—his own this time—was still very much in the telling.

*originally sent in Newsletter 21/7/22, sign up to avoid missing out on future instalments!*