A Cursed Eight Short story
Accipiter G. Goshawk
Sometimes side characters need their own story.
And sometimes, villains do too…
“…and then the smith turned to the barman and answered: “Why, a goat!””
Laughter rang out around the square as the jester delivered the punchline; the metal clinking of coins pouring into a tin cup echoed against the stone walls of the city of Nosdok and slowly people began to disperse.
“Well, that was a pretty good day, wouldn’t you say, Fiddlesticks?” said the street performer as he counted the coins in his small cup. The small imp chittered on his shoulders and cooed slightly as he eyed the small mountain of silver. Nimbly, it shot out its hand and grasped at the single gold coin that rested at the bottom of the cup. It purred lovingly as it nestled the piece close to its chest.
“You know that you’ll have to give that back. We can’t afford to be sentimental, Fiddle. Times are tough and the gods don’t give food away for free.”
His voice was light but there was a small undercurrent of desperation. Something was brewing to the west; everyone had heard the rumours. There was talk of war, or possibly a monster from the Beyond. The few travellers that had returned from the small mountain range adjacent to the great forest had seemed thoroughly spooked and had talked of lights on the mountain. The temples had all closed and priests were said to have been seen creeping through the city after nightfall.
What Laurent Rold knew, was that this had caused merchants to raise the price of their wares; it was becoming increasingly difficult for one such as himself to make an honest living entertaining. Of course, the local thieves’ guild had contacted a few times to see if he was interested in more… “profitable” work.
However, he had declined. He was a jester; all he wanted from life was to make people smile.
“Come along Fiddlesticks; let’s see what Mother Temperance has cooked up for us today.”
He wove his way through the maze-like streets of Nosdok, the imp swinging on his shoulder, still clutching the gold piece. He avoided the shortest route to Temperance’s Parlour and instead chose the more trafficked streets; it wouldn’t do to wind up dead in an alley over a few coins now, would it?
He soon reached the dingy door to the drab little inn that was his current place of residence. He carefully smoothed his long black hair to the side and removed his mask before entering; Mother Temperance didn’t wholly approve of his chosen profession, so he did his best not to remind her of it.
“There you are Laurent! I thought you’d gone and left us!” roared the fat old dwarf woman from behind the bar.
“Nope, still here mama. Don’t worry; if I ever get enough money to skip town, you’ll be the first to know.”
“I sure hope so luv! That tab of yours isn’t going to pay itself. And I’d hate to have to come after you with my battle axe.”
She pointed to an old rusty weapon hanging on the wall behind her, a relic from her adventuring days.
“Don’t worry mama; all you’d need to scare me into coughing up the money owed is a spoonful of your onion and cabbage soup!”
A muffled roar of laughter echoed around the tavern; the other patrons were familiar with Temperance’s less popular dish and they avoided it like the plague.
“Why you…! I should toss you out on to the street to starve for that remark, Laurent Rold!”
The dwarven woman glared threateningly at the jester, but couldn’t keep it up for long and soon joined in with the rest of the laughter.
She gestured over to a table and Laurent gratefully flopped down, resting his tired feet.
“You’ll be happy to know,” said Temperance placing a steaming bowl and a mug of ale in front of him, “that today I made ham and potato stew. Eat up, you’re all skin and bones, you poor thing.”
“Thank you mama,” said Laurent gratefully. He fished inside his pouch, pulled out ten silver pieces and stuck out his hand towards her.
“Here, payment for the last few nights…I’ll get you the rest, I promise.”
She quickly glanced around and wrapped his outstretched hand in her own, forcing his fingers over the coins.
“You keep it son,” she whispered, winking. “You need it more than I do.”
“No buts Laurent. I’m an old lady and business is still good. Luckily, everyone in this piss-hole of a city is either a drunk or on their way to becoming one. Don’t worry about me.”
She turned to leave, but then remembered something.
“Dear, be careful when you go out tonight. Grujak was stinking up the place earlier; he asked for you.”
“Ah…,” Laurent answered, a small sliver of fear streaking along his back.
“What did you do to get mixed up with his lot? Please tell me you aren’t up to anything dishonest.”
“No mama, I swear. I told him I wasn’t interested…but he seems to think that me and Fiddle would make a good thieving team.”
The imp peered at him quizzically.
“Oh dear…well, you did the right thing. Still, watch your back. That orc is a nasty piece of work.”
He nodded and tried to give her his best confident smile.
“Don’t worry mama, Fiddle will take care of me.”
She sighed and ruffled his hair. Then she left to tend to her other customers, leaving Laurent slightly shaken.
That night, he carefully crept out of the Parlour, making sure to keep to the shadows.
He’d almost made it to Aurora’s Square, when a hand shot out of the shadows, dragging him into a side alley.
“Well, well,” came a low menacing growl, “if it isn’t funny-man Rold. Been trying to avoid me, Rold?”
Laurent stared fearfully into the face of the one-eyed orc. Grujak’s perpetual grin glinted in the shadows, along with the knives of his murderous followers.
“Me? Never! I’d never avoid you Grujak; one would have to go very far to find someone with your magnetic personality.”
A few of the orc’s band sniggered and the jester cursed his fat mouth.
“Still think you’re funny,” rumbled the grey skinned criminal. “Well Rold, my patience just ran out. I’ll give you one last chance to join my crew; enter my organization, use your little pet and you’ll be richer than you’ve ever dreamed. Refuse…,” he let the word hang in the air for a moment.
A bead of sweat ran down Laurent’s face.
“He’s a member of the thieves’ guild. He’s sworn an oath not to kill…I can still get out of this. He’ll rough me up, but I’ll still be honest.”
“N-no, thank you Grujak. I’ve made up my mind. I won’t work for you and neither will Fiddlesticks.”
Grujak’s grin grew wider.
“…ahm, thanks for the offer, but no?” the jester finished lamely.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” purred the orc, pulling Laurent into a fierce hug.
The wicked shiv entered the small man’s back thirty times, but he only felt the first.
He crumpled to the ground, moaning as his blood poured away into the gutter. Grujak’s crew quickly moved forward, scooped up the now-frantic Fiddlesticks and stuffed him into a bag.
“At least your pet will be useful to us, funny –man,” said the orc, wiping blood of his blade.
“The vow…,” gasped Laurent, “the thieves’ guild…”
“Don’t work for them anymore. Haven’t you heard? Zarr’s gone; all the gods have left Syrros. Enjoy the afterlife, funny-man.”
He turned to leave, but stopped as Laurent forced one last rattling phrase from his mouth.
“He-hey Grujak: what do you call a man with thirty holes in his back?”
The orc paused and looked at the dying man.
“A really bad judge of character.”
The orc’s grin grew wider and he left the small alley, leaving only his laughter behind him.
As Laurent died, the laughter carried and echoed far beyond the plane of Syrros, all the way to a forgotten dimension, where something noticed.-
The story continues in the Fool’s Death: Part II…