My name is Coel, I am a bard. I make my living singing and selling songs.
At least that’s the way it should be, but of course things are rarely that simple, I am a wanted man. I would say I am innocent, but two men are dead by my hand and as much as I wish it that is the truth. These days I must supplement my income by any means necessary for those in my position do what they must do see another dawn.
Presently I live at the Stuck Pig Tavern, in Varlek. It’s not exactly the height of comfort but it does have the advantage the clientele don’t ask awkward questions and the Order of Witch-Hunters leave it alone. This is worth the leaky roof and dubious ale.
I’m what’s called a Bard Adept – so I have recently learned by music and the handful of other magical skills I have are just that – fuelled by magic. Possession of magic is illegal here so I have to be careful. The music side is reasonably easy to hide, the rest – not so easy. It’s all a bit new so I can’t really control it properly, it controls me, I suppose.
What is your greatest fear?
It used to be death – but when one walks with death it becomes less frightening. Now – I’d say losing my music. I could not live without the songs and tales in my soul.
What is your greatest extravagance?
My rebec. It’s a bit old now, but if she needs strings or polish she gets them. I’d rather go hungry than have an unplayable instrument. Music is my blessing, my curse and my soul.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Pride. It is easily lost and brings out the worst in a person.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d like to be able to be invisible – to walk around unseen. I’m learning that some adepts can. Shadowplay they call it, and some mages can fool the sight. I’ve called up shadows a couple of times but usually it doesn’t work unless I REALLY need it. To be truly able to vanish – that would be extremely useful.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I’m still alive!
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Despair. I have been there more than once. Because of my lust I caused the death of two men, the ruin of a woman and the shame of my own kin. I’ve been hungry and cold, I’ve been terrified out of my wits, and I have been seriously wounded but nothing is like the pain of knowing one has nothing left to live for and knowing it was all by one’s own hand.
I have made some amends for what I have done but my debt is far from paid.
What is your greatest regret?
How long do you have? As I said I killed a man, it was an accident. He was my lover’s husband and he found us together. In the light of day I say it was self-defence, but in the darkness of my nightmares I know it wasn’t. I don’t regret killing him, but I regret getting caught in the situation I did. Another man hanged for my crime and I stood by and watched him die. That is the murder I truly regret. That poor man was an elf, and elves have no rights. Would it have made a difference if I’d confessed? Maybe. But I was too much a coward for that.
How would you like to die?
I spend a lot of time and energy not dying. So far it’s working but luck is a fickle mistress.
If I get a choice I’d say old, rich and famous. At the rate I am going it’s likely to be young, broke and infamous.
Title Tales of Erana: Just One Mistake
Author A. L. Butcher
Coel, the bard, thinks his life has taken a turn for the worst, but he hasn’t met the Thiefmaster yet. An ill-conceived notion of earning more money to pay off his debt and escape a dark past leaves the minstrel in a situation he can’t escape and with a deadly bargain. Will he survive his mistake? Who is this mysterious patron?
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The candle spluttered in the attic as the wind curled about the badly thatched roof. Glowglobes were currently beyond Coel’s means so in the small flickering circle of meagre light Coel assessed his night’s takings. The tavern wench had gone to her own bed or someone else’s and in many ways he was glad; any undue attention would be unwelcome in the circumstances. Coel had got away with the theft, at least he could hear no hue and cry from below or boots on the stairs. With luck the fellow would either not miss the trinket or simply not recall his movements that evening. There had been no mistake, not this time.
Darkness oozed lazily in the remainder of the room, nosing into corners, under furniture and behind Coel, unseen, part of it detached. “That was quite a performance, bard. You have some talent, and not just your music. Although your judgement is flawed, it never wise to steal from a thief,” the voice was smooth, like liquid velvet and very sure of itself.
Coel’s hand moved towards the dagger nestling in his belt; it would not be the first time he had been called on to defend himself, although that was how he had ended up in this mess he thought bitterly. Just one mistake, then another and now, it would seem, another.
“I do not know of what you speak! I am not a thief.” His brain caught up and he continued, “How did you get into my room? The door was locked. I’m not a bloody fool.” Coel could hear his own heart pounding. There was something about this man which frightened him. He felt like a mouse beneath the gaze of a cat. Perhaps the hangman’s noose would have been the better option.
The slate-grey cloak swirled around boots of ebony leather and the cowled figure chuckled. “That lock was barely a moment’s work. I must have a word with the owner of this place about his security. I have yet to find a door in Erana which will not yield to me. You may as well remove your hand from that blade, or would you bet your life you are swifter than the Thiefmaster? I doubt it, boy, I doubt it. Believe me when I say you would be dead before that knife left its scabbard. It would be a pity to waste such talent, would it not?”
Coel removed his hand from the dagger, his sense telling him that continuing to draw it would be a terminal decision. Instead, he placed he placed his hand on the table and the voice breathed into his ear, Coel shivered, he had not heard the man move.
“I thought not. Sensible lad, if a lying one. This too can be a skill which can save your life, if it is used correctly and with assurance,” Darius told him.
This menacing shape was right behind him and Coel began to turn, opening his mouth to protest, and found a gloved hand on his jaw, firm but not unduly painful. “Curious are we not? This may sometimes serve you well. As for other occasions, it is wise to accept things as they are, this is one such occasion… Coel.”
The bard caught his breath, how did this man know his name? The sweat began to pool in his back, making his shirt stick unpleasantly to his skin. Had this man been hired to kill him? Had his mistake finally caught him up? Yet as Coel’s brain frantically grasped at any hope and his fingers tried to overrule his brain and reach for the dagger he realised the man had said he was a thief. A robbery, that was not so bad. It would not be the first time.
“This is not a merely social call; you are honoured for the Master of Thieves does not always test a potential recruit’s skills for himself.”
British-born Alexandra Butcher (a/k/a A. L. Butcher) is an avid reader and creator of worlds, a poet, and a dreamer, a lover of science, natural history, history, and monkeys. Her prose has been described as ‘dark and gritty’ and her poetry as evocative. She writes with a sure and sometimes erotic sensibility of things that might have been, never were, but could be.
Alex is the author of the Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles, and the Tales of Erana lyrical fantasy series, She also has several short stories in the fantasy, fantasy romance genres with occasional forays into gothic style horror. With a background in politics, classical studies, ancient history and myth, her affinities bring an eclectic and unique flavour in her work, mixing reality and dream in alchemical proportions that bring her characters and worlds to life.
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