Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the next instalment of this wonderful story from Ulf Berht. The saga is entitled
Background music by Smartsound
Chapter 2 – Uprooted
“I have come to think that you, Merlin, are either the Devil or, at the very least, one of his henchmen. You have caused me to be sent to this benighted land, a place that is neither Heaven nor Hell. Death is everywhere, yet no one dies. The bones of men, stripped of all mortal flesh, frequent the dark tunnels beneath many villages and hamlets. Grotesque amalgams of human and beast patrol the woodlands and seek to wage war upon us. Of late, hordes of ill-mannered ruffians chop down great swaths of forest and construct entire villages dominated by stone castles. And still you stalk me and seek my aid. Yet, if I grant it, you will no doubt wreak additional insults upon me.
Merlin, what transgression have I performed to warrant this?”
“Ulf, you could not be more wrong. We have both been wronged by a third party and I sorely need your trust. Without you, I would still be entombed in a great slab of granite, unable to move or communicate. For me, it has been centuries of desperate loneliness, with only the faintest hope of escape. That hope was the jewel that Ninianne gave you. In the darkness, I could see a single point of light a vast distance away. It would grow infinitesimally brighter if I focused on it. Ninianne had some purpose in mind when she bound the gem to me, a purpose that was thwarted when you were transported away. I learned over time how to strengthen that slender thread and eventually managed to pull myself out of that dark trap.”
“I trust you not, Wizard. Your words, I believe, are only to trick me into becoming entangled with your schemes. I have no intention of giving you aid beyond a slap on the rump of a departing horse.”
“”Ulf, while it is true I would ask for your aid, is it not true that you are also in need?”
“Accepting aid from you would, no doubt, eventually incur a cost greater than any amount of gold could repay. So leave me be.”
“Ulf, answer me true and I will be gone. Are your clothes not worn thin? Is your landlord not threatening eviction? And even here in this public house, do you not drink alone? I know that rumors abound and gossip mongers whisper that you are the cause of this plague of outlanders. Before you there were none, and now there are many. You and I are both maligned by events not of your doing.”
Ulf Berht stared down at a tepid mug of ale. Even in the dim and smoky tavern, he could not help but see the suspicious and hostile looks they were getting. He stood up and quickly left, hoping to get away from Merlin and the truths he told.
The goodwill he had received when he first arrived had recently evaporated. Outlanders cavorted in town, often engaging in private duels, disturbing the peace of this quiet hamlet. Chickens, sheep, and cows were often slaughtered with impunity and the game, once abundant out of town, grew scarce. He had repeatedly professed his innocence in these deeds, but to no avail. He was Outlander.
He wandered aimlessly for a few hours, trying to ignore the spectacular but intimidating view of a shattered moon swirling across the night sky.
Every night when I see this, I can never forget that I know not where I am, thought Ulf. Cowering in my room has not brought any joy. My forge is cold and all my tools have been confiscated by bailiffs. Can listening to Merlin make things any worse?
When he finally made his way home, it was no surprise to see Merlin on his front steps, calmly smoking a long-stemmed clay pipe. “We must leave here,” Merlin said.
“To where? For what purpose? Why should I accompany you?”
“It is obvious to many that someone or something is forming an army,” said Merlin. “War has swept this land before, and in all wars you must pick a side. Swords and magic, metals and alchemy will rule in this upheaval. You are an outlander here and suspicion of you will only grow into hate. You will never find peace here.”
“Nor do I think I will find it with you. “But there is truth in what you say. We are to voyage away from here, to an outlander town then?”
“Yes, to Kingsport, and from there by boat to the mainland. To Ardoris eventually for it is a city more worldly than this village. A master craftsman like you will quickly find employment. The mainland is not that far from here and with fair winds we may even be able to travel there directly. Sea voyages have their dangers, but not as many as overland these days,” said Merlin.