| 01 The Legend of the Ancient Town
The legend says that foreigners came to the land many centuries before the kingdom of Aglanthol was founded. They came to the land by ship and they came from a far away land. The foreigners built a town far on the northern coast. They built a seaport because more ships were supposed to sail to the newly discovered continent. The first immigrants, however, were killed by the plague shortly after their arrival. And, strangely, no more foreigners came to the land. It was speculated that the plague had killed the foreigners in their homeland as well.
At that time only a few native tribes and clans settled on the continent. They passed on the story of the foreigners and over time the story turned into a legend.
Kenneth was one of the natives who encountered the foreigners. He was a somewhat solitary man. He was twenty-six years of age and he had not yet married. And no one believed that he ever would. Kenneth spent his time in his hut or on his cornfield. Now and then he went hunting or fishing in the river Isenbel. He joined the rest of the tribe only on rare occasions, for instance when a feast was held. Kenneth was not a nuisance and he was not a bother and that was why the tribe let him be.
One warm summer day, Kenneth decided to go hunting again. He went by foot like he always did. He was used to long distance walks. Kenneth walked north that day.
Kenneth’s tribe lived near the river Isenbel that ran from west to east. The water of the river made the land fertile. It flourished and the crops were good. The silos were always filled in autumn and the people were able to outlive the winter, although those were long and rich in snow.
Farther north, the ground was dry. The river Isenbel did not touch this part of the country. Only small creeks held water and they ran dry during the hot summer months. Plenty of rain was falling in autumn. But the air was already cold at that time of the year. The creeks turned into violent streams for two or three weeks and the soaked ground froze quickly. And then heavy snow was falling. No tribes had settled in this area and only few hunters had ever explored the region.
Kenneth had wandered farther north than any man had done before him. A couple of years ago, Kenneth had already crossed the dry area where only scant vegetation was to be found. He had walked for three days from morning to night. He had wanted to find out where the land ended. On the fourth day of his journey, the vegetation had changed. It was more profuse. Kenneth had wandered on and one day later he had reached a large wood. Kenneth had started to explore it. He had found a multitude of creeks that were filled with water even in summer. Kenneth had found plenty of wild fruits. The wood was rich with game and deer. However, Kenneth had decided to keep his discovery a secret. He considered the wood his property. From that time on, Kenneth had explored it every summer. He brought dried stripes of meat to his hut, but he arranged that nobody noticed. He knew he was selfish and he felt guilty a bit. He decided to tell the tribe of the wood in case a bad time came upon them.
Summer had come again. Kenneth wandered north. This year he would cross the wood. He wanted to find out what was on the other side. He still had not found out where the land ended.
Kenneth made a camp when he arrived in the wood. Then he stocked up his storages. The following day he walked farther north. He walked for three days and then he reached the edge of the wood. Kenneth encountered a steppe-like area. He crossed it and then he reached the sea. It was vast and stretched to the horizon.
Kenneth had never seen the ocean. He stood on a cliff and looked out on the sea. The water was blue close to the shore. Farther away it had the colour of gray. The waves rolled at the shore. Kenneth stood and watched them. He listened to the sound of the sea. A chilly wind was blowing. It made Kenneth shiver. But he remained standing on the cliff. The sea fascinated him. After a while, Kenneth found that the sound of the sea was getting louder. He saw that the waves rolled farther on the shore. Kenneth watched with fear what was going on.
He stayed near the sea for a couple of days and slowly got familiar with the tides. He was unsure, however, why the water behaved like it did. But the tide impressed him greatly. His fear vanished and he decided to go down to the shore. He waited until the water had retreated. The ground was rocky. Kenneth walked along. He saw shells and strange looking animals, but he found nothing that he wanted to keep.
Kenneth moved down the shore and then he caught sight of something that shook him deeply. Kenneth caught sight of a ship. The ship had anchored in a bay where the waters were less deep and less wild. Kenneth hid behind a rock and watched the ship. He had his own boat that he now and then steered down the river Isenbel. So Kenneth figured out quickly that the vessel was a very big boat.
So far, Kenneth had not met any people in the north of the land. He had never heard of a tribe living far north. He had never heard of ship as large as the one he saw in front of him. Kenneth kept watching. And then he saw them. A group of men appeared on the shore. They walked to the ship. The men had fair hair and pale skin. Apart from that, they looked very similar to the men of his tribe. The men were dressed in green tunics and blue trousers. They entered the ship and a short while later left it again, carrying wooden boxes. Kenneth followed the men furtively. They had built a camp in a safe distance from the sea. Kenneth figured the men had only recently arrived in their vessel. He hid again and watched the crowd from his hiding-place. He counted about one hundred men. They all looked very much alike. But Kenneth was too far away to hear their voices and he did not dare to move closer.
Kenneth watched them for a fortnight until he found out what the strangers had in mind. They started to build houses. These houses were not like the huts Kenneth knew. The stranger’s houses were made of stone. Kenneth also watched them hunting. Like he himself, they used bow and arrows. But one man had a weapon that was far more effective. Kenneth had no name for the unknown weapon. But he knew that the weapon, a crossbow, was dangerous. That was when Kenneth decided to inform his tribe. The strangers were a threat. Kenneth hurried back. He walked all day and part of the night. He had to warn his tribe before the strangers would find them.
Nobody believed him at first. But Kenneth insisted and probably his fear showed in his eyes. A group of men finally travelled north with him. Kenneth led them to the foreigners. The men returned a fortnight later. The chief of the tribe summoned a meeting with the neighbour tribes. A larger group of men wandered north again. With them travelled the greatest shaman of the tribes. The strangers meanwhile had built a small town. Kenneth and his fellowmen watched the intruders fearfully. More of them meanwhile carried the unknown weapon. The weapon was powerful and the natives knew that they would never win a battle. They had no doubts that the foreigners had come to war and conquer the land. The shaman was asked to find a solution.
The man spent the whole night awake and chanting. He announced the solution at sunrise. The rats from the swamp of Gudón would bring it about. The men stood in fear at the shaman’s announcement.
A man finally dared to ask how they should catch the rats and bring them to the stranger’s town as the rats brought disease and death to everybody who touched them. To stop the rats from leaving the swamp, the tribes deposited their farming refuse and the corpses of dead animals there. This usually worked out well. The rats only left the swamp once or twice in a century or so and when this happened the tribes immediately fled the area.
The shaman explained his divine inspiration to his fellowmen. They would attract the rats with litter and half-rotten animals. They would then catch the rats and take them to the stranger’s town. The rats would bring death upon the foreigners. The shaman was sure that not a single man would survive. The shaman’s fellowmen, however, did not applaud. They gazed at the man fearfully. The shaman finally said what they all were thinking. Two volunteers would catch the rats. The shaman waited for a while, but none of the men volunteered. The group travelled back.
The shaman met with his fellow-shamans and the chiefs of the tribes. They determined that a bow and arrow contest would decide on the volunteers. The contest was held on the day when the moon turned full. All not yet married men were obliged to take part. The two men who did worst would take the rats to the foreigners. This heroic deed would outweigh their failure in the contest. The contest started in the morning. When night fell, the volunteers were found. The two men gave in to their fate. It was made clear to them that immediate death would be their lot and their family members would be banned from the tribe in case they rejected their mission.
The two unfortunate men went off to the swamp the following day. The shaman followed them and watched them from a safe distance. His sight was like the sight of an eagle. He reported later that the men had caught nine big and fat rats. The men wandered north with the plague in a bag. The shaman followed them again at a safe distance. He reported later that the two men had sneaked into the stranger’s town where they had opened the bag with rats. The starving rats gorged on everything they encountered. The foreigners shot the animals. However, it was too late already. The men fell all sick and within a few days died. The two native heroes died in the wood as well.
The native tribes did not travel north for many years. Even Kenneth refrained from it. Ten years passed before a group of men wandered north again. They found the remains of about one hundred men in the town and they found two skeletons in the wood. Rain and snow had often fallen. The shaman was sure the disease was gone. The tribes, however, declared the stranger’s town taboo. The houses fell into ruin. The ship had already sunk.
The tribes feared that more ships would come to their land. Therefore, a group of men regularly wandered the wood and watched out from the cliffs. But no more foreigners came to their land. After two or three decades, the natives gave up their constant guard.
The incident remained a mystery to the natives. But whoever asked any questions regarding the foreigners was instantly scolded by the shamans. The holy men declared the whole matter taboo and no one objected. Juck Murdock was the first to break the
02 The Legend of Murdock
The legend says that foreigners came to the land long before the kingdom of Aglanthol was founded. The strangers had crossed the ocean. Their ships had landed in the north of the land. The foreigners had built a town, a seaport, because more immigrants were supposed to come to the country. This, however, never did happen. The first settlers were killed by the plague soon after their arrival and no more foreigners came to the continent. No one knew why they stopped their endeavours. Some said that the plague had killed all of them, also those back in their homeland. The natives passed on the story from generation to generation. Many details went into oblivion and the tale turned into a legend that only few still believed in. Juck Murdock believed in every word.
Juck Murdock was a young boy when he first heard of the tale. The story fascinated him and he made up fanciful stories of what had happened to the foreigners and where they had come from. Juck’s parents were amused by the child’s imagination. They did not realize that the boy’s interest was an almost obsession and Juck was clever enough to hide his unhealthy fascination.
The kingdom of Aglanthol had flourished. The kings had augmented power and had expanded the size of the kingdom. Tribes and clans that did not subdue to Aglanthol’s power were driven out of the country. One of those tribes were the Bre who later called themselves Khalindash after their mighty wizard Khaalindaan had been defeated by the Aglanthol wizard Norlorn. The surviving Bre lived in the north of the continent where the climate was harsh and the crops were bad. The clan was not a threat to the Aglanthol kingdom. The clan also was no threat to Juck Murdock.
Juck Murdock grew up like many Aglanthol children did. He was taught at home because there was no school in his village. The north of Aglanthol lacked infrastructure. The roads were bad, the houses and farms were small, and only a few villages had established schools. Juck Murdock learned from his father what he needed to know to survive and make a living. This was farming in the first place.
At the age of seventeen, Juck Murdock had learned all he needed to know to run a farm properly. Juck was the third of seven children. His eldest brother would inherit the farm. This was Aglanthol law and no one questioned it. The second born child, a daughter, was married to a farmer at the age of sixteen. She had left her home two years ago. The second daughter would turn sixteen in a couple of weeks and would leave the farm very soon. She would marry a widowed farmer. Juck Murdock would leave at about the same time. His father had found a good match for him.
Juck’s father had run into a fruit vendor at the harvest fair. The woman had lost her husband due to an accident. She was not able to maintain the farm on her own. And, unfortunately, she had no sons. She had an only child, a sixteen year old daughter. Her other children had all died of the fever. The woman was desperately looking for a new husband. But she looked old and worn, compared to her daughter who stood next to her in the stall. The candidates were only interested in the girl. They were more interested, however, in gaining a farm at a cheap price. The woman was desperate. She would soon give in. If she was not able to sell herself, she would sell her daughter. The fair would end in two days. Juck’s father was determined to seize the opportunity. His son Juck was the perfect match for the girl.
Old Murdock had spoken to the girl. The girl was skilled and familiar with the work on a farm. And, moreover, she had a soft spot that Old Murdock planned to use for his advantage. The girl had mentioned casually that she liked fairy tales. The average Aglanthol man was sober and realistic. He did not believe in legends and tales. But Old Murdock knew his son was different. His son Juck had a soft spot for tales.
Juck had accompanied his father. Old Murdock introduced him to the widow and her daughter. He casually mentioned a folk tale, and then involved the widow in a conversation on the quality of fruits and vegetables. Like he had expected, his son and the girl continued talking about the folk tale. After some moments of awkwardness and embarrassment, they engaged in a lively conversation. At the end of the day, Old Murdock had made the deal. The widow and her daughter were intrigued by Juck. The marriage date was fixed and Old Murdock and the widow discussed the details. The farm was Aleeza’s dowry. Juck would bring his knowledge and farming skills into the marriage. The couple would take care of the widow until the day of her death.
Juck moved to the village of Fanmil three weeks later and married Aleeza. The celebration was held by the local holy man. The whole village was invited to the widow’s farm that - according to Aglanthol’s marriage laws - was Juck’s farm from that day on. The people feasted until night fell and until they had to return to their own farms in order to attend to the cattle. Juck’s family had also come. They left the following day, however. The widow moved into a small cottage close to the main house as it was custom in Aglanthol. Aleeza and Juck spent their first night alone in the farm house.
They slept in the main bedroom. It made them ultimately aware that they now were husband and wife. They both had heard rumours of the wedding night. Brought up on a farm, they had seen animals coupling. However, they did not know what to do exactly. Juck felt some physical sensations that were familiar to him. Yet he did not know what to do. Aleeza did neither speak nor move. So they lay still in the darkness until finally Juck told Aleeza a story in order to get over the tension and embarrassment. The girl was excited and listened eagerly. That was how they got closer. At the end of the week and after many hours of exchanging stories, Juck finally dared to wrap his arms around Aleeza. Then everything happened quite naturally. Aleeza was pregnant soon. Their first child was born at the end of the summer the following year.
From that day on, things changed a bit. The newborn child fascinated Aleeza more than Juck’s stories did. She listened less attentively and often fell asleep before Juck had finished his tale. And she often rejected Juck’s embrace. They had their moments, but those usually ended up with Aleeza getting pregnant. Three years passed. Aleeza had born three children and was pregnant with the fourth. Everybody was pleased with how things went: Aleeza, her mother, Juck’s parents, Fanmil’s holy man and all the village people. Juck, however, was not.
Juck worked on the farm from morning to night. His days were long and his work was tedious. Aleeza was occupied with the household and the children. Aleeza’s mother one day had started to spend her days, morning to night, in Juck’s house and with Aleeza. Juck felt he was an intruder and just another piece of cattle. This unhealthy feeling grew worse over time and it depressed him. Juck turned to his stories again in order to distract himself. However, he did not tell them to Aleeza and her mother. Juck kept them all secret like he had done in the past. His stories grew more fantastic and fanciful every day. Juck dreamed all day long while doing his work on the farm. Neither Aleeza nor her mother noticed. They were occupied with other things.
One day, the ancient town came to Juck’s mind. He rejoiced. The old legend was good for a bunch of new stories that he would make up and that would fill many of his tedious days. Juck was occupied for a month. Juck started believing in his made-up stories. They were all so realistic. He was sure that he had re-invented the truth.
In autumn, Aleeza and her mother decided to visit the harvest fair. They would be away for a week and they would take the children with them. Juck rejoiced. His mind came up with a plan. He would travel north and visit the ancient town. He just needed someone to see to the cattle.
Juck hurried over to his neighbour soon after Aleeza, her mother and the children had left the farm. He asked the man to see to his cattle. The man was suspicious and straight forward asked if Juck wanted to visit the only brothel in the north of the country. It was located in one of the larger villages, a three hours ride from Fanmil. Juck, grateful for this perfect excuse, confirmed his neighbour’s assumption. The man gave him a disdainful look, but inwardly regretted he was not able to accompany Juck. That was how Juck and his neighbour’s secret arrangements started. Whenever there was an occasion, one of the men left the farm and the other saw to the cattle. While Juck travelled north to find the ancient town, his neighbour in fact travelled to the village with the brothel. The man told Juck of his exciting experiences. Juck then gave his neighbour a conspiratorial smile and quickly made up some morally doubtful stories. Their arrangement lasted for almost four years until, unfortunately, Juck’s neighbour died of the syphilis.
Juck had become increasingly restless in those four years. He had opportunity to leave the farm only rarely when Aleeza and her mother went to a fair, a wedding or a funeral of a relative in a village far away from Fanmil. Aleeza also regretted that she could not leave more often. Aleeza had lost interest in Juck’s stories a long time ago. She had matured and she had become realistic. She found Juck was a daydreamer, a blockhead, and a bore. In fact, Aleeza enjoyed her mother’s company more than she enjoyed Juck’s. Aleeza, over the years, had become more and more like her mother. The two women nagged and whined all day long. Their look was bitter and their laughs were sarcastic and they had become considerably overweight. They stayed away from Juck and Juck was pleased they did.
If only he could leave more often and explore the north of the country. So far, Juck had not found the ancient town. However, he had found a sign carved in a stone. Juck assumed the sign was a road sign and indicated the way to the ancient town. He was sure that he had finally found a path. It was summer. The harvest fair was months away. If not unexpectedly some relative married or died, Aleeza and her mother would not leave in the near future. Juck was restless. He was excited and barely able to sleep. And one day, he just left the farm. That was the first time that Juck Murdock disappeared without a word.
Juck rode north until he found the stone with the sign. He rode in the indicated direction, carefully looking out for more signs. He finally found one that was identical with the first. It was also carved in a stone. Juck felt that he was close to his goal. He detected more signs that the early natives had carved in stone in order to find the way north to the sea.
Juck rode north until he reached the ocean. He dismounted and looked out on the sea. Juck felt satisfied. He had not yet found the town, but he felt he was close to it. He had to ride back, unfortunately, for he was running out of supplies. But he would come back soon with more provisions and more equipment.
Juck had been absent for a week. Aleeza, her mother, and the village people were mad at him. The son of a farmer had seen to the cattle. Juck paid the man a fair compensation. The holy man talked with Juck and scolded him. Juck told him he had visited the brothel. Juck confessed some made-up sins and the holy man forgave him. The villagers ignored Juck for a couple of weeks. A few men, however, furtively cast him envious looks. Aleeza and her mother scolded him, and then Aleeza moved into a single room. Juck was pleased. And so was Aleeza. She finally had what she wanted and she could even reproach Juck with it.
Aleeza was tired of the pregnancies and she was tired of feeling Juck close to her. In fact, she did not even mind he went to the brothel. That gave her the perfect excuse to never let her touch again. She would not leave him, however. A divorced woman had a bad reputation and would barely find a new husband. Life now was perfect for Aleeza. Juck had to see to her, their children, and her mother. And Aleeza was entirely in control of it. The villagers watched Juck. The man would not dare to make a wrong step. Juck, in Aleeza’s opinion, was not only a blockhead and a bore. He was also a coward.
Juck, however, was not. He had just not yet entirely caught up with the events. But reality slowly, gradually, dawned on him. He finally saw it all clearly. He saw through Aleeza. He understood her motives and goals. That was when Juck Murdock disappeared for the second time. From that day on, he travelled north regularly and he did not give a damn about what people said. The holy man had talked to him several times, but the man had finally given up. He cursed Juck Murdock instead.
Aleeza, her mother, and the children left after the holy man had spoken his curse. Aleeza and her mother had in vain tried to run the farm all by themselves. Aleeza’s mother had finally asked a farmer to come and take with him the cattle. The man pitied the women and he paid a fair price. Aleeza, her mother, and the children left Fanmil that very day. They travelled to a village farther north where a distant relative lived. The holy man of the village pitied them and looked for a place for them all. Two children were sent to a family who had no children of their own. Aleeza and the two younger children moved in with a widower twice the age of Aleeza. Aleeza’s mother was sent to an inn where she worked as a cook and a dishwasher.
Juck returned the day after Aleeza had left. A woman spat at him when he dismounted his horse. Juck did not care. His mind was occupied. He had found the old seaport. He had only come back to get more supplies and provisions. He did not think of Aleeza. He had other plans. Her fate did not matter to him. Juck planned to ultimately leave soon anyway. It was winter. But as soon as the road was passable again, he would leave for good.
The villagers, however, refused to trade with Juck. And so Juck started breaking into farm houses and stealing food and supplies. The villagers sent three big men to Juck’s house. The men came with weapons. They told him that he would be banned from the village if he broke into a house again. Juck, however, did not reply. He did not care. The time was near. The snowfalls had ended. He would leave the following day.
He just needed a few more supplies. Despite the villagers’ warning, Juck broke into the village store. A man caught him when he climbed out of the window. They struggled and fought. And then Juck cut the man’s throat. The man would not stop him. Juck had to leave and he would never return. Juck left the very night and rode north. The villagers banned him in absentia from the village and from the clan. No one saw Juck Murdock again and no one ever heard of him.
It is said that Juck Murdock found the ancient town and rebuilt the old seaport. Some say he even found the ancient ship and sailed off to the east. Others say he fell into the sea and the waves of the ocean took him with them.
Truth is Juck Murdock found the ancient town. But all he found were ruins. Juck Murdock in fact planned to rebuild the town and live there as a king in his own kingdom. His final journey, however, did not lead him back to the town. Juck Murdock’s horse bolted at the sight of a wild boar. Juck Murdock fell to the ground and broke his neck. He was instantly dead. Nobody found his body. Many centuries have passed and Juck Murdock’s body is long since decayed. And only a legend has remained.
03 Gwyn’s Silver Casket
The silver casket was passed on from generation to generation, from mother to daughter. It was passed on as a dowry since the day Kelim had given it to his bride as a wedding gift. The silver casket was a precious gift. Silver was a material that was as rare as gold in Aglanthol. The women hid the casket from their husbands. It was their insurance in case anything happened and the women were forced to live on their own: the early death of the husband perhaps, or his running off from his wife for whatever reason. Luckily, for many centuries fate had meant well with the women and none of them was forced to sell the silver casket. The silver casket was a precious gift. But the casket contained something that was far more precious, at least to those who saw its value. The casket contained a parchment. It was an ancient map.
Kelim had received the casket and the map from a Khalindash man in exchange for food. The starving man was close to death and so he readily gave away the most precious item he possessed. He told Kelim the parchment was more precious than the silver casket itself. While Kelim doubted his words, he nonetheless did not get rid of the parchment.
The outside of the parchment was covered with strange symbols and the inside showed a map. Kelim was not able to figure out the map. But the strange symbols fascinated him. Perhaps the Khalindash man was right and the parchment was precious. Perhaps it was even a magical item that a wizard or a wise man would pay a lot for. Kelim’s thoughts were quite correct, but Kelim did not act on them. He gave the casket to his bride instead. He told her of the mysterious words the Khalindash man had said to him. And therefore his bride also did not dare to give away the map. Instead, she passed it on to her eldest daughter as a dowry and she told her the mysterious story. Her daughter gave the casket to her own daughter. This woman carried on with the tradition and passed the casket on until Gwyn received it many centuries later from her mother the day before she married.
The casket and the parchment were old when Gwyn received them. They had already been old when Kelim’s bride received them as a gift. A man had put the parchment in the casket many centuries ago. He had found the map not far from the ancient town.
The ancient town had been built by foreigners who had come by ship to the continent in ancient times. The town was taboo for all the tribes that lived in the north of Aglanthol. The strangers had been killed by the plague, but the natives feared more ships would come and so men from the tribes wandered the woods for a few decades. They wandered up to the northern coast and watched out for ships. Igó was one of them.
He wandered north one summer. He did not dare to enter the forbidden town. But one day he moved as close as he could. He did not see a lot, however. The houses had already fallen into ruin and the ship had sunk many years ago. Igó gazed at the ruins. He hesitated to enter the town for he knew that the foreigners had been killed by the plague. Igó surrounded the town instead. He encountered a skeleton on his way, the remains of one of the intruders. Igó shied away from it. He stumbled and fell to the ground. He spotted an oil cloth beneath a bush when he tried to sit up. Igó knew that he was imprudent. But he could not resist. He reached out his hand and seized the oil cloth. A parchment was carefully wrapped up in it. Igó studied it closely. He figured out quickly that the parchment was a map that the foreigners had brought along. Igó realized the map’s value. He took the parchment with him and placed it in a silver casket that he had inherited from his father.
Igó did not show the map to anybody. He knew they would take it away from him. The tribe would destroy the parchment that had belonged to the hated intruders. Igó was sure, however, that some future day the map would yield a high price. So Igó kept it. He gave the silver casket and the parchment to his son when he was old and felt that he was close to death. His son gave the items to his own son. And thus the casket and the map were passed on from generation to generation. The descendants of Igó belonged to the Clan of Bre that was driven from Aglanthol territory in the days of Khaalindaan. The last owner of the items was a Khalindash man.
This man lost his way in a violent snow storm. He was close to death when Kelim found him. The Khalindash man had taken the silver casket with him for he never let alone the precious item. The starving man offered the casket to Kelim in exchange for food. And that’s how the silver casket and the ancient map came to Aglanthol. Kelim gave them to his bride as a wedding gift. And from that day on the items were passed on from generation to generation, from mother to her eldest daughter, until the day that Gwyn received them from her mother.
© 2012 Dolores Esteban
First published at GA Gay Authors - Gay Quality Fiction