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    The Knot
    Posted on Sat, May 07, 2011 by LordCeb
    ragr writes "Sometimes you choose a career. Sometimes the career chooses you. 

    The night had turned sour. And it had all started so well. The only concern Ryel had was getting back into the smithy without drawing attention. But now a knot of fear was lodged deep in his stomach. Ryel had had cause to be scared before; he had been bullied and threatened by other, older children. He had been alarmed by some of the stories told to him by adults, usually after they had visited taverns, about what the bargefolk did to landsmen; children that they stole in the night and sold to a nameless horror on the other side of the lake.

    But this was real fear; a physical sickness that froze him solid into the small alley between the warehouses. The night was bitterly cold as well; something Ryel hadn’t noticed as he peered through the windows of the lakeside hostelry to gain a few precious glances of Roza. A frost had begun to assert itself on the rough cobbles of the street and a vicious snapping wind, called “Telchur’s Breath” by some, swept across the lake, biting hard at Ryel’s exposed face.  When he had walked to the tavern he hadn’t known Roza. If truth be told he didn’t know her now but he did know her name. He had summoned up the courage to ask a tall man exiting the tavern as to the name of the fair maid with the red curls. The man had smiled, more of a leer than a smile in Ryel’s opinion, and told Ryel her name. He had added with some degree of pleasure “you’ll need more than her name to get to know her though, feller”. Ryel wasn’t too sure what the man meant but he suspected that it was a joke at his expense. The man had then staggered off into the night, wrapping his cloak tightly about him and chuckling unpleasantly. Ryel had stared through the tavern windows, avoiding any contact with patrons going in or coming out, making himself small and unremarkable; a talent he had long possessed, and always found highly useful. He gazed wonderingly at Roza for a good while, marveling at her ability to dance between the tables with grace and to dodge aside lithely at any grasping hand that came too close.  And she always smiled; Ryel would give anything for her to direct that smile his way.  He dared not enter the inn for fear of being spotted by one of Turne’s customers or friends, as few as they were.  Ryel reluctantly walked away when Roza climbed to the upper floor of the inn and did not reappear.

    Turne was a decent master, for all his bluster and threats, but he would not think well of Ryel for sneaking out at night and roaming the streets of the town. Turne was a “decent” man and the streets at night were not a place for such men. While Ryel could not picture life as a blacksmith it was preferable to a life as a gutter snipe; those unfortunates that sat wrapped in rags, hand outstretched outside taverns pleading for a day’s food scraps. Those folk scared Ryel.  It was not actually them that scared him in truth, more the thought that, had fortune not intervened, he could have been one of them. Or dead; as some of them ended up, floating in the lake by the docks or in a quiet corner of the street unnoticed for days. He owed Turne a debt for not allowing that to befall him, at the very least. For this reason alone Ryel decided to move cautiously through the streets, away from the docks and back to the forge, avoiding any contact with the occasional passers-by who may well be customers of the smith.

    It was the plume of breath from a small opening to his right, maybe thirty paces ahead, that gave him cause to plunge into the cover afforded by the alley to his left.  Only, once he had darted into it, he realised it was no alley, merely a short walkway to a building off the side-street he had been sneaking along; the walkway led 10 paces to a heavy looking door, leaving him trapped unless he wanted to climb to the rooftops which, though he had always had a natural aptitude for such feats, was not something that he wanted to attempt on a moonlit night.
    He crouched down and made himself as small as possible; the alley was darker than the street which gave him an advantage over anyone looking his way from there. The stream of vapour he had seen earlier had gone now and he began to question whether he had in fact seen anything. But, it then reappeared and he realized someone was hidden in the alley up ahead and they were peering out from time to time in order to look down the street. Who would be out on a night like this lurking in the frozen shadows?  Was it a robber waiting for a victim to wander into his trap? If so it would be a long, cold and unprofitable night given the amount of people abroad. It could be a lookout, watching for constables while his partners stole from the warehouses.  That was the likeliest.  His best option was to wait things out and then head off when the burglary was done. He could always run back down the street now, head towards the docks and go home another way but, what if the lookout had a crossbow or something? He could dodge back and forth as he ran.  Would that do any good? He decided to wait and stay hidden no matter what happened. He fretted a little about being caught by Turne but there was nothing that could be done.  He felt guilty that he was betraying the smith’s faith in him. But, surely Turne would be in a deep sleep now. He worked hard and was always exhausted at day’s end. Ryel would not be missed. He hoped.

    He heard some tuneless singing coming from the direction of the docks and realized that someone was approaching. He couldn’t run that way now but if the singer passed by it could be all the distraction he required. He would run when the stranger got between his alley and the hidden man’s.  The man approaching was singing a song he had heard earlier in the inn where Roza lived.  Half the inn was singing it then and the words seemed to be about warm welcomes in a bed.  The man was struggling with both the tune and the words and, as he approached, he staggered from side to side. For every two steps he took forwards he took one sideways and Ryel wondered whether the man would make it to wherever he called home that night. The man was short and fat and wore some fairly fancy, colourful clothes that were far from suitable for this night. He didn’t seem too bothered by the cold, however. As he got level with Ryel’s alley the man belched loudly and wetly and turned towards the alley, crouching over as if in pain. Ryel retreated deeper into the alley realizing that any second now he would be seen by the drunkard. The man suddenly recovered, however, and straightened up, depositing a mouthful of something on the street before resuming his ever more tuneless song. He staggered out of Ryel’s sight towards the other alley. Ryell moved as quickly as he dared to the alley’s mouth, trying to avoid making too much noise, although he figured the man’s singing would cover most of that. He peered cautiously out of the alley towards the retreating figure of the singing man. He was a few paces away from the other watcher. Ryel decided this was the moment to run. But something made him stay where he was. Something here was not right. Was the fat man about to be robbed? Shouldn’t Ryel shout a warning? He hesitated, caught between a desire to help and the danger of getting found out by the hidden figure.  Too late in any case, he realized.

    An arm had shot out from the alley and grabbed the singing, fat man by the neck.  The singing stopped in a strangled yelp and the fat man was dragged off his feet partially into the alley, landing with a thump on the stony pathway. There was a garbled noise of protest which Ryel assumed was from the fat man and then his prostrate from was dragged further into the alley so that only his feet remained visible to Ryel. He knew he should run now but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the events unfolding in front of him. He leaned further out into the street knowing that the fat man’s assailant would be unable to see him now. He heard several quick hissing noises and noticed that the fat man’s feet were twitching in a violent fashion and that he had stopped his protesting. The movement of the man’s feet gradually calmed and then he was pulled deeper into the alley so that nothing could be seen of him. Then, a plume of breath from the alley and Ryel could see the dark outline of a broad figure as it looked up and down the street. Ryel stayed perfectly still and moments passed as he wondered whether the hulking character had seen him. The figure then retreated to the alley and Ryel considered his options. He considered running again but couldn’t be sure that his legs had the strength. His whole body was shaking from the violence he had witnessed and he decided to wait things out. How long? Would the man take a long time to remove the fat man’s valuables or would he rush for fear of being discovered? Ryel waited. And waited. The cold began to creep into his bones but he warmed himself by thinking of Roza. He resolved to never undertake this night-time excursion again. He promised the stars above and any gods who could hear his thoughts. He would miss Roza, though. But he didn’t want to die.  How long had it been? He peered out into the street again where all was silent. He waited twenty heartbeats and could see no plume of hot breath hitting winter’s gift. It was time.

        “Too soon, boy.”  The voice stopped Ryel in his tracks.  The voice was quiet, almost a whisper, but it carried a menace the like of which he had never heard before.  In his past he had been shouted at and had abuse hurled at him in a vicious snarling tone but nothing that contained the sheer threat of those hushed tones.  His mind was screaming one word at him. Run! Run! But his legs would not, could not obey. They were stone.  Encased in ice.
        “If you walk from this hiding place now, my companion will see you, and you will die too,” the voice promised. Ryel knew that turning to face the owner of the voice would mean death.  He didn’t know how he knew this but it seemed obvious.
         “What is your name, boy?” The voice requested.
         “R…R...Ryel,” he answered, stammering through fear.
         “How do you come to be in this alley?”
         “I was g…g…going home when I…I…saw your breath.”
    The voice uttered a rough note that Ryel took for amusement.
         “Not my breath, my young friend,” the voice informed him. “So, you thought to spy did you?”
         “, sir,” Ryel denied. “Please, sir, I just want to get home to the smithy. I’ve seen nothing,” he added hopefully.
         “You saw the man, though, didn’t you?” The voice asked challengingly.
    Ryell was unsure whether to deny everything in the hope that the man would trust him to say nothing or whether to admit having been witness to the event.  He decided to avoid playing games and opt for the truth.
         “Yes. Is he…..”
         “Dead?” the voice finished. “Quite. Although I doubt many will shed a tear.”
         “Was he a bad man?” Ryel asked. “Did he do bad things?”
         “I have no idea as to that, Ryel,” the voice responded coolly.  “I DO know for certain that he had other people do bad things for him, though.”

    Ryel didn’t know how he knew this either, but he could tell the man was smiling when he said that. He wanted to get away from the owner of that voice but something was compelling him to ask more questions, drawing him into a world that held nothing but darkness and fear.

         “Why did he have to die? Couldn’t you have talked to him about things?”
         “My young friend; by the time death stalks you, the talking is over. And so is your life.”
         “Please don’t kill me,” Ryel pleaded.
         “I’m not here to kill you, Ryel,” the voice responded.  “I’m here to save you. The fact that my companion didn’t realise you were here tells me a lot about you, Ryel. Not many could remain unnoticed by that man.  But you did.  You have potential, Ryel. That’ll need close observation and an experienced hand will need to guide you but you have promise.  Stay with your smith and learn the trade. Apply yourself, because we all need a story.  Work discreetly on those other talents of yours and one day I’ll come and offer you a job.  If you want it, that is.”
         “I’m not sure,” Ryel said, somewhat confused by the turn of events.
         “We never are,” the voice replied.  “Sometimes life just chooses things for you.  Perhaps it’s the gods or perhaps not. Stay here until you have counted 100 heartbeats 100 times and then go home. Do not look into the alley.”
        “I won’t. I promise,” Ryel said. He was beginning to breathe a little easier now and it felt like his legs might begin to work again soon.
        “Thank you,” he said, to an alley that he knew he was now alone in.


        Ryel silently opened the smithy door and crept inside.  His legs had returned to normal only now that he was safe home. Or was it home? What had the man said about a job? Right now Ryel would settle for being a blacksmith. He never wanted to be exposed to anything like tonight’s events again. He felt sick. But, underneath that sickness there was something else. Ryel didn’t have a word for it but the closest he did have was excitement. It was the same feeling he had when he slipped from the smithy earlier.

        Turne’s heavy breathing from the next room betrayed his deep slumber. Ryel moved to his empty pallet, pulled aside his heavy woollen blanket and removed the piled straw that he had used to try and disguise his absence. He pulled the blanket over his head and body and replayed the night over and over until he fell into a deep, disturbed sleep."
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    Re: The Knot (Score: 1)
    by Mystic-Scholar on Sat, May 07, 2011
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    And so, my halfling friend, you've created yet another thief/assassin for Greyhawk's low dens. ;)

    It could use a little work on sentence structure and paragraphing, but, all in all, nicely, done Ragr. You've 'spun a good yarn.' 

    Looking forward to seeing and reading more of your work.

    Re: The Knot (Score: 1)
    by SirXaris on Sat, May 07, 2011
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    Very nice, Ragr. :)

    I'm eagerly looking forward to Ryel's future development.  Will he become a willing apprentice to an evil master or will he learn the skills, but listen to his conscience and reject the evil purposes to which his master would turn him?


    Re: The Knot (Score: 1)
    by Mystic-Scholar on Sat, May 07, 2011
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    Fear can easily lead one into "evil" ways. Mwahahahahaha!  ;)


    Re: The Knot (Score: 1)
    by Ragr on Mon, May 09, 2011
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    Thanks Mystic and Sir Xaris for the kind words.

    This story has been banging around for a fair while and I just never had time to commit it to the page until now. I hope to find the time to continue the tale.

    Re: The Knot (Score: 1)
    by Argon on Sat, June 18, 2011
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    I really enjoyed this story the character has good depth. He may or may not take up another career that remains to be seen. I look further to his further development good submission.

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