This short story is an entry into the Free Kingdom Lore Contest. The contest is sponsored by Jon Warren. The judges will be three monarch candidates from the Free Kingdom competition: NiHZ, Seele, and Jon Warren. An official list of the lore contest entries will be frequently updated on the Lore Contest thread
My heart and guts tumble a little in anticipation and turmoil as I look down the rocky hill towards the growing settlement they say is going to be called Port Royale.
There’s grit and sand blowing over me and inland towards the what used to be my Kingdom, or what goes for a Kingdom according to Waerd ways.
There’s a ship down there at the wharf, one of many, being unloaded of the last goods apparently brought from Hrothi lands; ores and timber not seen in these parts, all for the continued construction of buildings and the new docks.
The noise of sea-worthy men shouting, the squawking of gulls, the sound of the sea crashing against the rocks at the nearby headland is something completely unfamiliar to me. I find it frightening and amazing.
But tomorrow that ship will be reloaded with fresh supplies and I am to be part of that cargo. The voyage will be an expedition led by a man called Captain Will Cockerham, a man of questionable reputation and dubious pastimes, if the stories I’ve been told are true. He is to seek new horizons and it will be my escape. I know where they want to go and that knowledge in itself is a squirming snake in my belly that drags my balls back up inside me as it moves around.
The sun is bright, as it always is in our desert lands, and my hair keeps blowing into my face. I can’t sit here any longer. I must get down there, find the man and pay him up front, as I’ve been instructed.
I shouldn’t be here and my kin are seeking me out as I do my best to find the public house where the Captain is staying. The locals look at me with intense distrust or sideways glances. We Waerd are used to that when we are away from home and in the world but I have not had time to work a disguise that would help me blend in. My skin, hair and clothes reveal me for what I am...someone who knows more about death and killing than most men.
That’s how I became king, for what it’s worth. I killed the old king because it was deserved and because the Al'tifali priests sought me out and supported me to re-balance Her scales. They prayed and prayed on it, telling me to wait for a sign but when I saw opportunity I struck. I took the crowns but I was not a leader of the people and I shirked that responsibility. Waerd do not need kings. We just need time and space to know when to strike or plant or rest.
I betrayed The Set and dishonoured The Familiar because I wouldn’t follow rules.
The one good thing I did as king was to allow Vigorish D’Artagnan, who is now a Duke I am told, to establish his port city on this watery edge of our desert lands. My people hate me for that, for dealing our lands away to a foreigner more than you would ever know but I know we need to look outwards if we are to reach true balance, the one that leans in Our favour. I suppose that makes me the worst follower of the Two Fold Queen.
So here I am, honouring the old tribal ways by running and letting those who want the crowns chase me and kill me...if they can.
I know some of the Neran language and they deal with Us Waerd but not without concern and distrust. The first few pubs I search are squalid, dismal dens, poorly made and simply full of drunk and scowling pissheads. The women, although disadvantaged and used badly have sharper eyes and are always looking out for eachother.
I manage to speak to one who, once she’s finished cleaning the liquid puke of the bar, seems very interested in me.
“I’ve heard about your type young sir. Is it true what they say?” she says with a glint in her eye while seeming to measure the distance between my wrist and my middle finger.
“I’m looking for a Mr. Cockerham...Captain Cockerham. Do you know where I can find him?” I say in my stunted Neranese.
She quickly drops my hand and points down the street. The light has gone out of her blue eyes.
“Go on, get out. I don’t want dead men here. He’s at the Queens Pickle like always. So go. It’s too bad you work with his kind because I could have had some fun for once. Piss off!”
Hazy, violent eyes from all around the room turn towards me.
Not wanting to make any more of a scene I leave and search out The Queens Pickle. I prefer to be invisible and this sort of thing is not good.
I head out downhill along the uneven and darkening street and I start to feel more at ease. I stick to the shadows and move like one as well. I quickly find the pub, a newer and larger establishment and once inside I find the man. He’s easy to spot because he’s surrounded by an aura-like space of empty tables and chairs. It seems no one wants to be anywhere near him.
We speak, I pay and that’s it. We are to leave tomorrow not long after dawn to seek Erishé lands and whatever treasures, goods or secrets they may have.
My job is to be intermediary, to smooth and grease negotiations, to translate and pass on to Cockerham all the information about the Erishé that I can.
And although they are our long- distant kin and we have not had contact in generations, We the Waerd know from our tales and songs, to tread carefully in the nests of the blackest of scorpions.
I don’t know what will happen. I’ve never travelled over waters before.
But if I can survive the night, I’ll be free.