If you have read any of my work before, you know what this story is. It is, like many of my others, a dark fairytale, rewritten to be broader and quite a bit more twisted than its original version. However, this one is very different from the rest of my tales.
There are several tales I have been interested in writing over the years, but some of them were just not complex enough to develop properly to stand alone, and others simply had been rewritten to their deaths by everyone else on the planet. So, I thought, why not combine them?
This particular story follows several fairytale characters that have their paths crossed by some most unfortunate circumstances. Their individual tales intertwine and become a bigger story that I crafted myself. All of their original stories have either happened already, are happening throughout the course of the story, or will happen after the story is over. I placed them all in a world of dark, horrific fantasy and turned them loose to see how they'd react to one another.
One more thing: I normally tell what fairytale I'm twisting, but this time, I'm not going to. Half the fun will be figuring out who I'm portraying. Some are fairly obvious; others are not. But you won't have to dig into the more obscure passages of Grimm to find them. The characters may not be the main protagonists of the original tales, but the stories they are involved in are well-known. …well, one is a bit obscure, but that will come later.
Also, this is my first attempt at writing books in a series. Five books. One down, and counting!
Enjoy! And do be sure to let me know your thoughts!
Have you ever felt that it could be possible to die before you'd stopped breathing? Have you thought you'd grasped everything in your hand – everything you'd ever wanted – only to have that hand ripped off and made as carrion for the birds as your treasures were lost to the wind? We – I, as well as those with me – were all like that in some way. Each of us waved a sorrowful goodbye to happiness – some of us, even before happiness had the chance to begin. It wasn't just me. I understand that now.
Everyone's life is a story. From the day of birth 'til death, each day poses new misfortunes and pending dreams. In this world of darkness, very few have their 'happy endings' and fewer still have even any aspiration of one. When my companions and I are gone, dead in the earth or scattered over the sea, they'll remember us like we were just stories. But that's not all that we are. We are people; of different sorts, but people all the same. We've had lives. We've had choices. And somewhere, at some time, there was at least one person who loved us.
There were reasons for the things that we did, and they might not have all been right – concerning the actions as well as their reasons – but we're only human, at our core.
I just wanted you to know. Please try not to forget…
- Crookedly scrawled words of a note found cast by the wayside
Author Unknown; Date Unknown
The Mark of Thorn
Book of Scars
The night in Port Nigel was dark and dreary. It had started early on in the day with a simple drizzle of rain that continued on steadily until it had drenched everything sufficiently in its cold blanket. The drops softened the dirt between the cobblestones that made the streets, even managing to raise the water level by a few inches. Productive work was stunted for most parties, and so the few dozen citizens who dwelled in this rotting town that was plagued constantly by rain kept to their houses and beneath their stoops. Once night had fallen, most had retired early. Even so, not all were locked within their homes.
The Black Crow was a decaying tavern just off the small dock that the village had the audacity to call a port. No one could vouch for the pub being terribly upstanding, but it was all a sailor had for a drink of ale and a salty wench or two. Despite its earlier hours of fair-spirited drinking and noisy brawls on this night, the place was quiet now. Many of the rambunctious and unclean drinkers had lost consciousness on the floor or outside on the stoop. Some still managed to grunt unintelligibly as they stumbled about in the rain. In Port Nigel, all things were as they should be. This night was like any other – regular and predictable – save for one thing that could be seen by any eye that wished to look. If they had wished to look.
A man, a stranger in this town as if that was uncommon, moved toward the tavern slowly. No one had noticed from which direction he had come when he entered into the settlement, and no one was bothered to care or give him a curious gaze at all. In this world, it was suitable to tend only to one's own business.
Of all the places the man in the dripping rags could have gone, of all the doors he could have knocked on, he chose The Black Crow. Why did he seek out a tavern? Did he even know the answer to that himself? Perhaps not, but soon his boots, heavy with mud, had led him down the slope of the bank and up the wooden steps.
A pair of men hung over the railing outside the tavern, one vomiting profusely, the other still swigging drunkenly from a bottle. They did not see the man; he did not see them. With little trouble, even in the dark, the stranger moved up the steps, pushed through the damp doors, and moved carefully inside.
The place smelled of rain and rot, hidden in shadow by night and day alike. On any one of the log rafters above, Diego could see patches of moss growing in the corners and hairline splits in the old timber. A bothersome drip tapped regularly at the brim of his wide hat, but he didn't imagine there was any place in the tavern he wouldn't be assaulted by the drops. He continued to sit at the bar, seeing the periodic glimmer of the drops that fell from his hat's brim. Diego sipped his brandy in silence.
The ship had drifted into port a bit later than he'd hoped, and Diego now found himself here, at The Black Crow. He'd been here before, and he knew better than to render himself insensible with drink in a place like this, lest he wake up with an aching head and an empty purse. There were certainly finer places in the world, just as there were worse ones. Since those worse places were likely infested with all sorts of monsters and ghosts – those that struck the heel only before crushing the head – Diego was content to be here in this place. He flicked a stray drop of water from his transparent whiskers. This was adventure, no? With any luck, he'd soon be having a very different exploit in the bed of a lovely friend up the road. Surely she'd not forgotten him, even though it had been a bit since he'd passed through. But he would worry over those things when they came closer. For the moment: Cheers.
He sat there now, drinking, pondering over the name of this establishment and wondering what sort of crow was not black. He was still sitting there when the stranger walked in.
The footsteps were slow and deliberate, and because Diego was not one to always keep to his own business, as the way of the world insisted, he lent a curious green eye.
The man was young; couldn't have been over twenty years, in fact. His clothes may have been fine once, but now they were torn and dirty, as if they were his only garments and he had been wearing them for many months. Pale scruff grew on his face, short and unattended – perhaps many weeks worth of growth that simply refused to extend further. The hair on his head was fair and long, twisted at the ends with natural curl. It was soaked with rain. Diego, however, like anyone else who might look upon the young man, did not see any of those things before he noticed the scars.
On every visible part of the young man's body, there were markings – short and long; thin and wide. The pale lines were on his tanned face, on his neck, on his hands. Across the man's eyes was a dirty bandage. Diego realized then that the slow footsteps were purposeful. This man was blind, though he carried no stick.
The stranger walked with his feet stretching out before him, searching for obstacles in his path. Though slow, he did not look especially awkward, moving past a fallen chair easily as if he had eyes to see it. The beefy man behind the bar looked up, watching the stranger approach, just as Diego did. The scarred one continued on until he'd reached the damp counter, placing his hands atop it and sliding a stool beneath himself with one foot. He sat. His audience remained silent. The water dripped.
If the young man was waiting for the tender to address him, it seemed he would wait on forever in vain. There was a pause, but eventually he relieved the silence himself.
"A drink," the scarred man said quietly. "Just…anything you might have to give me."
"Ye have coin, my ragged friend?" the barkeep asked in a deep, snorting voice.
From his place three stools down, Diego continued to watch the exchange with great interest, even though the few conscious others had gone back to their own business. The young man found the pocket of his coat quickly and easily. He removed, apparently, all that was inside – three pieces – and cast them upon the table. The barkeep looked at the pieces with distaste that the young stranger could not see.
"Two mites and a clam shell won't do ye no good et this counter," the large tender warned. "If yer looking fer a drink without coin then yer better off back et yer mother's teat! But if yer looking for thet penny there might be a few gents outside who might give a tip fer a favor!"
The man laughed, a lifeless, hacking sound. The youth sat silent and still as if he had not just been insulted, and Diego had to admit that he was fascinated. All those scars… Surely this man had seen some great catastrophe that was a story worth telling. Since it was in Diego's character to instantly respect a man with such a tale to tell, he saw fit to make himself helpful.
"On me, monsieur," Diego said, interrupting the tender's laughter with his purring voice. "A drink for the man."
This seemed to displease the bulky man behind the warped counter, but he turned to fetch the drink as Diego dropped his money on the table. The young stranger turned slightly to the sound of the coins hitting the bar.
"Much appreciated," he said shortly, turning away again to face forward.
His voice had a soft quality, unhardened by the world. The flow of it was musical and well-spoken. So why did the man's body speak differently? Why did it promise that he had seen much too much before his eyes had been plucked from him?
"A drink for the pain?" Diego inquired conversationally, freeing himself from the obstinate drip that saturated his hat by moving two stools down and planting himself beside the scarred youth.
"Of the inner kind," the young man admitted. "And the cold."
The man received his drink and gulped it all straight down as quickly as he could, wincing through the taste and the burn. After a few moments, the drink did its job, and he was warmed.
"I'm afraid I don't have much to offer you as regards to repayment…"
"Please, I will not expect any sort of payment," Diego cut him off quickly. "Call it a friendly gesture from one fellow to another. Though, I wonder if you might satisfy a curiosity of mine?"
The fair-haired man did not respond to this right away – or in fact, at all. Diego shrugged his thin shoulders, even though the man did not see the expression of carelessness.
"It's a natural flaw of mine to be so inquisitive, my friend," Diego said, excusing himself of his tactlessness.
To this, the scarred man responded.
"What is it you wish to know?"
Diego's shining eyes roved once again across the man's face. The scars there were old, straight and clean, though they did not appear to be precisely placed, as if by a tormentor's blade perhaps. The curious one considered a moment. He would ask about those imperfections, but there was another matter that proved to be most interesting. The scarred man in ragged clothes had such a plain way of speaking that he must have been educated before becoming so filthy and destitute. Also, being blind, he must have been able to use his other senses extremely well to get about in places that weren't familiar to him – or even to be alive, for that matter. But how clever was he?
"I wonder, mon ami, if you have yet to find me out."
There was a moment's pause, but it was only a matter of seconds before the young man spoke.
"You are foreign, and a demi-human, sir. Of the animal kind, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to find that you were very much like a feline."
Diego smiled, revealing a row of small, sharp teeth beneath his furry lips. The question was answered well, for in this world, there were not only full-flesh humans walking about. At some point in time that no one could exactly mark, men began to hold different appearances. It was believed that by some great sorcerer's magic, the demi-humans were created – part man and part beast. They could walk, speak, and function as well as a normal man, but since full-flesh humans were still a more dominant race, a number of men did not wish to accept demi-humans in any form, and there was much prejudice against them.
The scarred man's knowledge and their continued conversation proved that he held no grudges against Diego's kind. The young man had guessed properly. Diego was a fine example of a feline demi-human.
If the young man had not been blind, he would have seen that his new friend was not quite an enlarged housecat in a coat, pants, and impressive boots, but that he was very much like a man. His facial features appeared somewhat human except his nose, which was moist and animal-like. His eyes were large and green with slit pupils running down their centers. Two small, pointed ears shown through holes in his hat on either side. Dark brown hair of a soft quality grew outward from his nose and all across his face, but whether it covered the rest of his body was unknown, for clothing enveloped the rest of his form. His hands were shaped with five fingers each, and were gloved, and the only uncommon thing about his body was a lengthy tail that hung down from the back of his coat.
"You are as clever as I imagined," the demi-human said.
"It was not quite difficult to discover," the blind man said with little emotion. "Your voice has a certain quality – a slight growl in some of the sounds you make. There was a drip on your hat that I could hear, and every so often I would hear a rustling sound, which I assumed was you flicking your ear to keep the water out of it. What's more, I heard your tail slapping against the legs of the stool."
Diego chuckled, a sound which produced a slight purr in the back of his throat.
"You are certainly an adaptable man, to be sure, my friend. Why, with such a horrible circumstance having befallen you, I am surprised at your capabilities."
The subject of the scars had been addressed, though no question was directly asked, but if the man was as intelligent as Diego gave him credit for, he would certainly know what the feline was prodding at.
"Forgive me, but that subject is not one to be opened."
Without warning or a prelude to his departure, the young man stood straight up from the stool. He turned his face a tick toward the spot where Diego sat.
"Thank you for the drink and your kindness," he said, "but I don't wish to be a burden to anyone's eyes or pocket for very long."
Diego nodded, perhaps for his own benefit of recognition.
"Do at least give me a name," the demi-human requested, "so that I might recognize you if we meet again."
There was hesitation, as if it would be folly to reveal his identity, but in the end, he seemed to decide it would be ungracious to deny his simple title from one who had shown him consideration.
"Gabriel," he said. "And I shall call you…?"
"Diego," the feline said with a slight bow of his head.
"May we meet again then," Gabriel said, and with that, he turned and walked out of the place as if he'd done so one thousand times and never once thought it a great task. Had his one trip inside allowed him to memorize the path precisely? Impressive. Most impressive.
As a precaution, Diego felt for his purse, finding himself satisfied that it was still there and that Gabriel had been as genuine as he'd suspected. One could never be too careful, but it was somehow reassuring to Diego to find that there were still decent people in this dreadful world. He counted himself among them, though he had to admit he did cross over the line at times. It was, however, only for the greater good, and he held firmly to that belief.
For the moment, he dismissed the scars and the story he'd not received, and settled his mind back on the surprise visit he was going to make on his friend, Mademoiselle Adelade. Oh, she would complain to him at first, reminding him how he promised he wouldn't be gone so long, but in the end she would not turn him away. He could be warm and snug and out of this rain. Now that he thought of it, why was he lingering here at all? Not when there was a warm bed and a buxom female awaiting him?
Gulping down the last of his brandy, Diego rose from his seat. Minding his ropelike tail, he stepped free of the stool and walked at once to the door. Tonight would be comfortable. Tomorrow, he would move on to whatever awaited him.
The spinning of a coin made little noise until its turn was up, dropping then to rattle against the wooden table. Eventually, it came to a stop, just as it had done many times before. The man who owned the coin stared out intently from beneath his hat, his face hidden in shadow. He watched the demi-human feline finish off his drink and rise, moving to exit. The creaking door of The Black Crow swung open and closed once again behind the demi-human before the man beneath the hat cracked his knuckles loudly with a clenching of his fist. He retrieved his coin and dropped it back into his pocket, after which he stood from his chair, his heavy boots clomping against the plank floor.
The time was at hand. He was ready.
He had taken no drink tonight to cloud his mind. There was a job to be done, and he was willing. Just behind the demi-human fellow who he knew to be named Diego, the tall man exited into the rain.