Division 47: Tales of the Demon Skald
Copy write Joann Sears 2020
Rhys sat in his favourite armchair. He had finally managed to get hold of one of Tony's books. He read the title on the front cover before opening the book. It was the first in a series containing short stories. Rhys was on vacation and was looking forward to just having time to sit and learn a little about his partner through his writings. He opened the book on the first page. The preface was just a brief summary of the author. Rhys skipped it. He worked with Tony Marlowe and didn't really need a recap of his also skipped the Introduction knowing from experience that they were generally pretty dull. Finally he reached page seven and the opening story
The man had arrived in the town and had been living quietly for several weeks before a chance remark brought him to my notice. I soon learned he called himself Connor Less. The first time I observed him I noted he was of abnormal height and his complexion was extremely pale. I had already heard people saying that he had the Sunbane. This could be true. I have heard of such an affliction. It is said that its sufferers cannot tolerate the brightness of the day and are doomed to live always in the shadows. But now I have seen him for myself. I am not so sure this is the reason he shies away from showing himself during the daylight hours. He reminds me much of an adversary I have never met, but whose description is well known to many within my Guild. I believe he is in fact Slade Wilson, a well known and dangerous Soul Sucker. I must tread carefully for if Conner Less is Slade Wilson. he is an opponent more deadly than any I have dealt with before.
It is not long before I hear people gossiping, it seems that Conner Less is a merchant of considerable wealth and is lodging with one of the town's most reputable Citizens. I surmise that if he is truly afflicted with the Sunbane he would sleep during the day which means he must have servants to protect him. I bide my time and watch the domicile, wherein he resides. I have gained much information from my observations. Tonight as the sun went down I took up a position to again watch him. But as I crouch in the shadows below the high wall that surrounds his house I see someone creep furtively from an alley across the street and approach the house. I drew my dagger and shrank further back into the dark recesses of the wall but then I relaxed. It was a woman of the town - her name is Cresida Pineflower and I have often seen her in the market place then as she passed by my hiding place I caught her scent but something was not right. For mixed with the fresh aroma of Jasmine, I smelt fear and sorrow. A sudden shaft of moonlight illuminated her face and I saw the darkening bruise that marred her womanly cheek. She knocked on the back gate and was admitted by a liveried attendant. I softly followed them through the open gate keeping close to the dark wall. I saw the servant lead her inside. Cautiously looking around to ensure I wasn't seen I scooted from my hiding place to listen below an open casement. The woman was crying but overlaying her sobs was a soothing male voice. I could not make out any words as his tone was low. I took a risk and raised my head above the sill. I saw Cresida sitting on a rug, The man Less, sat beside her caressing the back of her neck.
"Cresida if you leave him you know you will always have a place with me but what of your daughter? What of your sons? What will become of them?"
"He will not harm them he never has, he has never raised his hand once to them."
"No he has you for that," Strangely I felt that Connor Less had made a point. There had long been talk around the town of Cresida's Pineflower's handfasted. His drunken rages were legendary. Many men had been on the receiving end of that villain's fists. Not me of course as a rule I avoided frequenting the taverns, in the lower part of the town. It was not considered proper for Guildsmen to indulge in the imbibing of liquors. My senses returned to the tableau within the room. The woman's sobs were beginning to subside. Slowly she pulled herself from her comforter's embrace.
"Connor I cannot leave my children - I cannot leave him."
"But the blows?" she blew her nose on a delicate lace handkerchief then inhaling against her still heaving breast replied.
"Some men gamble, others drink or need to strike out. There is no joy in life without an equal leven of sorrow. That's what my mother used to say to me. Besides, I am not the only woman in town to sport a bruise now and again. Leila YellowTree's man once hit her so hard he broke the bone in her arm. Yet when he died she sat beside his cairn for three days taking neither food nor water. The pain doesn't extinguish the love Connor. I don't believe anything can."
"I understand," he said. "You love him not me. This is saddening but it is the way of love no mortal can rule it. But please always remember if you change your mind or if you just need a safe haven? My door will never be closed to you."
"Connor you are the best friend I have ever had." I saw her smile and for the first time it struck me jut how pretty she actually was? She rose to leave and I saw her cheek. I contained my gasp of astonishment. It was smooth and pink. The ugly bruise that had disfigured it was gone. I heard the inner door open and quickly ducked below the casement then slid rapidly back into the darkness beneath the high walls that encircled the garden. The moment the coast was clear I ran back to my own house. I needed to rest. To sleep as the next day I would have to be at my peak. When the sun rose I had to face a powerful opponent. On the morrow I would tackle Conner Less AKA Slade Wilson.
I am in deep trouble! Somehow Slade Wilson knew I was spying on him? He led his men to my hostel and took me as I slept. Bound and gagged he had his men carry me back to the very same house and room I had watched, earlier in the evening. I struggled against my bonds but they were secure.
I wanted to spit my hatred at him but the gag stifled my anger. I tensed as I felt him slide his fingers around my head to untie the loathsome gag but as he did so I felt my anger and hatred begin to fade. A strange calmness began to pervade my thoughts and as he released the cloth I found I had no words to shout at him. He nodded soundlessly to his servants and they left the room. For a while we regarded each other silently then I said.
"You are Slade Wilson the Soul Sucker?"
"A rather ugly term," he replied mildly.
"I am of the Silver Skald Guild and sworn to destroy all of your kind."
Slade Wilson leaned back in the chair he had taken and shrugged.
"If I was sensible I would kill you now to protect myself? Do you not wonder why I haven't?" A small part of me was already considering this.
"Actually I am waiting for you to get on with it. I can only suppose you like to toy with your victims before finally despatching them to the dark lands?"
"Would it surprise you to know I have never killed anyone and I'm not about to start now?" Slade's voice was low and yet it held no menace. I found myself actually believing him. But a large part of me feared the man. "So what are you going to do? Drain my of my spirit? Rob me of my soul and turn me into a mindless slave?"
"Is that what you think I do? Certainly I do take emotion as sustenance I need too. But were I to take all your feelings at once, you would be left as an empty shell unable to survive as anything more than emotionless beggar."
He leaned in and in a quiet voice continued. "It would kill you yet you would still live. You would be alive but it would still be death. You could not pass to the lands beyond nor could you be re-born. You would just exist forever unable to feel anything but your own loss. Eventually you would be forced to seek out others to feed upon. Draining them to fulfill your own needs and desires. He leaned back again.
"Of course draining someone in such a manner is foolish most of my kind know this. We only take a little. That which won't be missed leaving us the opportunity to feed again and again." I stared at him in shock as he added "Why eat the chicken when I can just take its eggs?"
I regarded him somewhat skeptical but he only smiled. "I only take those feelings that harm. Pain - fear - despair,"
"And tainted love?" I half mocked "Is that what you take from Cresida Pineflower? Tainted love?"
"Only the taint! Never the love!"
"Why not take her love surely that would be the most flavoursome?"
I saw his face darken and turn stern. He drew closer to me and I sensed anger.
"I have never taken love and I never will! If I were to drain Cresida of her love? She would be empty of all feeling for her husband except those of fear and resentment."
"She could leave him, take her children and set herself up in another town!"
"Not everyone is as strong and capable as you," he suddenly sneered as if belittling these traits. "Suppose she did leave him? How would she support herself? How would she feed her children or would you have me drain her of her love for them also? I assure you her love for them is strong and pure. It would be a nectar I could live off for years." He scowled at me then snapped "But I won't!"
"No you cultivate her like a garden sowing seeds of sorrow within her to feast upon!"
"I did not plant those seeds, I only eat their loathsome berries. Why do you think the Medicine Man welcomed me into his home? He knows my kind of old and the good we do." Slade rose and came close to me once more I searched his face but could see no malice written there. His eyes held no guilt or anger. The only thing I smelt was my own fear which he calmed by gently stroking his hands across my brow.
"Let me take away your fear and anger? Look at me through eyes of reason without hate. Can you truly call me evil?" I had no words to answer him.
He let me go soon after but with a word of caution. He knew me now not just my name but also my Aura. "If you approach me again I will not be so kind?" he warned as he showed me out of his gate.
I heard a week or so later that the Merchant known as Connor Less had left the town the day after our encounter. I shivered and resolved never again to seek out any of his kind.
Rhys closed the book and laid it on his coffee table. The story had surprised him. It hadn't been anything like he'd expected. Tony's story had a quiet gentleness to it that belied his reputation as a Master of the Macabre. Rhys went to make himself a coffee before continuing onto the next tale in the series