The Traveler's Tale
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by Teel James Glenn
Description: Blurb: When Korvan Orm decided to live among the Pyrrans he was not prepared for the hatred so many felt for his people, the Travelers. He wasn't prepared to fall in love, either. When two thugs try to beat the Gypsy out of him, he is saved by the timely arrival of Avorra, Princess of the Realm. Suddenly, he's smitten with feelings he has no right to feel in a society that considers him an outcast, feelings that could get him killed. The visiting Prince Gregor of Vasulia has no love for the upstart Traveler but he does have plans for an alliance between his Royal House and the House of Pyrran. Can Korvan find a way to court the intriguing Princess and avoid the Prince's black arts? Or is this Traveler's tale going have a lonely ending? Excerpt: The only problem was that the clazbear and the dogs were between me, the trapped girl and the weapons. The hounds had less sense than I did. The brindle troublemaker charged in to snap at the forelegs of the predator. The clazbear swatted at him with a paw that was bigger than my head and just barely missed the dog's back. The second hound then raced in to nip at the hind legs of the monster. The clazbear spun to smash him down with a massive claw. The dog squealed once and was quiet. While the clazbear was occupied with the remaining dog, I threw myself forward in a desperate attempt to reach the bow and the Princess. I had to run up the angle of the ravine's side to get past the clazbear in the narrow space. The earth was soft and, as I ran up it, I abruptly realized I was barely an arm's length from the snarling brown beast. The earth began to crumble beneath my feet.
eBook Publisher: Eternal Press/Damnation Books LLC/Eternal Press, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: June 2010
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [96 KB]
Reading time: 58-81 min.
The Vasulians were pressing at the northern border of Pyrran, the Council of Nobles were reluctant to increase the conscriptions to fight in Ardulia (not a popular war), the economy was in the privies and I was broke again. That's why I was working in the Pyrran royal stables as a shoveler. It was considered honest work, even among my people, the Travelers, and, contrary to what the rest of the world thought, we have a real sense of pride in doing a job well once we undertake it.
I'd exhausted my options within my own people--which is to say, had crossed a council elder and knew I would never progress to head herder or any position of real responsibility so I ventured into the world of the 'city folk' to make my fortune.
So far, it had been going slowly.
I needed to eat and, even though King Graydon had granted my race full citizenship, we were still enjoined from serving in the army or navy and that's where the jobs were in the lousy economy.
That is how I ended up shoveling dung for the nobles in the royal stables.
It had seemed like a good idea, until the two thugs caught me alone early that morning, cleaning the place up before the suns rose for the first hunt of the season. Now it was ranking very low on my list of good ideas.
* * * *
A Stable State
"I don't have any use for Gypsies myself," the blonde Pyrran lad said with a cold laugh, "except maybe for target practice."
"Naw, Midan," his friend said, "seems the Crown found another good use for one of them damn Darkhairs."
My name is Korvan Orm and I am what the rest of the world calls a Varnian Gypsy, or, insultingly, "Darkhair". We call ourselves, simply, the Travelers. I was backed against the wall of the barn while the two stablehands, armed with cudgels, advanced on me with a look in their eyes that I had seen before: pure racial hate.
"Linden," Midan said, "I am a loyal Pyrran but I swear I can't see the sense the King has in letting scum like this have even a job shoveling horse droppings. I lost a brother fighting in Ardulia to keep Pyrran pure and then they let this sort walk the streets with full citizen rights."
The two men were big and broad with faces that might have been handsome had they not been twisted with an almost bestial rage. Their blue eyes were fixed on me with very clear, vicious intent. They were dressed in rustic leather jerkins that were stained with tobacco and ale. A few stains just might have been blood picked up after their night at the tavern. On their arms they wore the sleeve markers of the "Pure Pyrran" cult that was sweeping the country because of the bad state of things.
"Gentlemen," I said with the best, non-threatening smile I could muster, "surely you have me confused with someone else. I am from Shinaria."
The two thugs exchanged a startled look at that, not because my statement was credible but for exactly the opposite. Shinarians were blonder and paler then my new playmates. Like most of my race, I am dark, tall and lean (well, young Travelers are lean--it's amazing what pear-shaped fellows so many of the elders become with us young bloods doing all the work).
Midan, who seemed to be the lead buck, shook his head and smiled an ugly smile. "You think we are as stupid as a Gypsy, huh?"
I reached up and snatched off my spectacles so the two rough cases could see my eyes clearly. I wore dark glasses to hide my eyes, pleading the light blight that had been sweeping the flatlands, a sickness that makes the eyes hurt in the day and weakens the sinews.
The two men stared, truly stunned for a moment, never expecting to see what they did, for, unlike most of my people, I have bright green eyes--proof, the old ones say, that I have the blood of the old kings coursing through my veins.
I think it more likely one of my mother's ancestors slipped over the border to Vasulia and made the beast with two backs with some minor noble.
"He's got Vasulian eyes," Linden said. He looked at his friend for guidance and I could practically see the wheels turning in his head like a gristmill. A very slow gristmill.
While they tried to figure out how a Traveler might have a "human" pair of eyes, I took advantage of the moment and dodged right toward the tack room door.
"Get him!" Midan called and jogged after me, swinging the knotted stick at me like it was the torch of freedom. The two men were farm laborers, squat and strong, but nowhere as fast as a willowy Traveler running for his life. My mother used to say I was born to run and that was good, because I had the disposition to cause people to chase me.
So far in life, she had been proven correct.
I sprinted at top speed, darting through the tack room door, headed for the door out to the training yard. I would have made it if my right foot hadn't become entangled in a carriage harness that was draped across the floor to be re-hung after I had cleaned it.
I tried to shake my foot free but it was hopelessly fouled and I tumbled forward on my face. My arms went out to push me up, but it was too late; the two racists were on me and began to pummel me with their clubs. They didn't seem very experienced at this sort of beating; they got in each other's way a lot and, in the confines of the cluttered room, their swings were short, robbing them of power.
Not that it didn't hurt like blazes--it did. But I was able to squirm and block with my arms and shoulders to protect my head. In the squirming I managed to pull my foot loose of the tack and rolled into the legs of one of the thugs. This toppled him and he screamed like a little girl when he flew over me and his partner whacked him on the back with an errant strike.
"Watch it, Linden, you idiot!" Midan called as he hit the ground.
I popped up to my feet and reassessed my plan to head out the door. The two were now between me and the outside door, so I darted back into the interior of the stable. The rest of the stable staff were not due in for a half hour--as the new guy I was trying to prove my worth by coming in before dawn--so I knew I'd find no help. But that was usual for a Traveler; we had never been able to rely on any other peoples in our nomadic trek across the seven kingdoms.
What I needed was a weapon, or the thugs would kill me.
The stabled animals were all awake now. They were snorting and shuffling to show their displeasure at being awakened by the noise of my beating. There were unicorns and bicorn thoroughbred mounts, a couple of the crossbreed hunters and one massive charger that was some noble's warhorse.
I considered grabbing one of the mounts and riding out, but I knew if I were caught my fate would be death for horse-thievery. I was better off to take my chances with the hooligans who were after me.
And I wasn't going to let them chase me from a good job in hard times.
I spotted one of the 'crack' whips coiled on the wall. It was six feet long and used not for its impact but for its ability to make a sharp report when it was snapped correctly. We used them to whip-in the hounds when on hunts or sometimes to move a large heard of spooked horses. I had been using whips as a herder since I was a child. I knew it might excite the stabled animals more than was safe, but it could be the thing to make the two thugs change their minds about an easy mark.
I had the whip out and was standing in the center of the room when the two stablehands got themselves untangled in the tack room.
"Leave now," I said as they came through the door, "or I will skin you like a caught rabbit!"
The two stood a few feet apart from each other, pausing to reassess me. I could see they were rethinking a straightforward attack but had not given up the idea of pulling my head off completely. I decided to hurry their thoughts toward home.
The whip was a good one; fine Kodar hide woven tightly over a solid core that translated my wrist snap into a contained tornado of power as the whip rolled out from my hand. The tip sliced through the air with enough speed and power that it cracked a hole in the night and exploded like a peel of thunder a foot from Midan's left ear. It made him jump back two feet.
"I'll take off your ears first," I promised, "and then your noses if you don't leave now."
Linden (not the brightest torch in the room) grunted a challenge. "You can't do that!" he said.
I snapped my wrist underhand and flicked the leather tongue of the whip so that it just gently touched the goon in the groin. There was no thunderclap since the whip made contact, but his scream of shock and pain was almost as loud.
"Yes, I can," I said. "And more if you don't leave now."
Linden wasn't listening to me at that point, doubled over and holding his crotch with both hands. He whimpered like a wounded dog. He was really over-reacting; I had just slit the leather pants, and he would have little more than a light welt by morning. Unfortunately he'd still be able to breed (at least in dim light or if the woman was really drunk).
Midan was not listening to me, either, and charged forward, swinging his cudgel and yelling his drunken version of a battle cry. The battle cry changed to a squeal when I snapped the whip into the pit of his upturned arm.
He dropped his club but came on at a full run to shoulder into me. We both went tumbling in a heap with him ending up on top. His face was mottled purple with rage and he was all but foaming at the mouth. He had one knee on my chest and was leaning against one of the walls to keep me pinned. The animals were snorting and whinnying in near panic as we scuffled on the floor in front of the stalls.
"I'm gonna cut those freak eyes out of your head," Midan hissed. He drew a knife from a scabbard on his belt and reached for my face. I got one hand up to hold the wrist but the gleaming blade hovered only half a foot from my face.
He leaned in hard with all his weight, but, in order to hold me down, he couldn't lean far enough to get the blade to my face. I couldn't get my right hand from underneath me, so we were at an impasse.
In the background I could still hear Linden moaning.
"Get over here, you idiot!" Midan called to him. "Help me skin this Gypsy!"
I was finished if Linden got his mind out of his groin and came to help the thug on my chest. Midan and I both knew it. He knew he had only to keep me pinned until Linden came to help. I knew I had to push free before then or I would lose the good looks that had gotten me in so much trouble with fathers of Traveler girls--even my life!
I strained and squirmed to get my pinned arm free. I heard scuffling footsteps coming toward me. I thought it was all done for me when I heard the most musical and magical voice saying the most beautiful phrase I had ever heard: "Stop where you are, all of you, and drop that knife this instant!"
Midan turned his head to see the source of the voice which allowed me to upend him and crawl backwards way from him.
"I said do not move!" the voice said again.
I stopped then and, with the two Pyrrans, looked toward the door to see who had spoken. All three of us gasped as one. There, standing in the doorway, was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.
"You have been commanded by the Princess of the Realm," she said in that musical tone that was like a thousand birds singing. "You will listen."
Yes, I thought, to anything you say.