by A.F. Ashes
Story of a scarred man and a strange day. Perhaps a first chapter
Tsold Olduln walked briskly over the grass-covered hills. He was heading for Tolsoi, a large town and closest to his secluded home. Upon his back were the furs of mink, badgers, skunks, and one bear. All of it was strapped to a wooden shell that he always wore into town. He couldn't stand having his back exposed to all those people. It was one reason why he refused to live in Tolsoi or any populated area.
His back was heavily scarred by an abusive father with a horsewhip. It hadn't taken much to set him off although usually all it took was for his father to be drunk. Tsold's mother had killed his father with a hatchet when he was fifteen. She had been hanged a week later. Tsold still had the hatchet.
Now that he was grown it was mostly paranoia the made him cover his back since it was a rare man that would attack him. He had become a large man. Not tall, but wide and muscular, with a large healthy belly and arms as thick as his thighs.
And the only thing covering his massive body was a loincloth, which was another reason he stayed away from Tolsoi. The people there didn't appreciate him walking around practically naked, but he enjoyed its freedom and spent most his time that way. He'd much rather go naked but certain parts needed protection.
There was yet another reason he stayed out of the town, and that had to do with the fact that he was an angry drunk. Tsold really liked to drink, but had been barred from all but the seediest saloons.
Tsold enjoyed the warmth of the sun on his dark skin while he hummed a jaunty song and stomped his feet to an imagined beat. Then he began to think about women. It would be nice to have a wife and he was not an ugly man. The few women he had courted had called him cute, with his chubby cheeks, small round nose, and large brown eyes. The problem was that sooner or later he'd get drunk and then mean. Things would fall apart quickly after that. He cursed his father for teaching him such vile behavior. At the same time he picked up his pace, looking forward to getting his hands on something to drink.
Tolsoi came into view with the sun halfway up the eastern sky. Sounds of chickens, horses, goats, and dogs floated towards him, while herds of red deer grazed about. The town was sprawled over the hills in a disorganized mess and Tsold could already smell the stench of it all.
He stopped as he drew closer and dressed himself in deerskin trousers and a shirt. After removing the fur from his shell he put it back on. Then he ran his hand through his short black hair, trying to comb it into some sort of order. It didn't work since he had cut it himself and not very evenly.
A little later he was passing the stalls and houses on the outskirts of the town. The smell of it washed over him, clogging his nose and mouth with the stink. He tried to ignore it as he made his way to his first stop, which was the trading post where he unloaded his furs and got the supplies he needed. They consisted of five casks of ale, a short handled shovel, some lengths of leather, and a handful of coins.
His second stop was to visit the one person who actually liked him. Her name was Axuma. She had been a friend of his since his parents died, mainly because she wouldn't let him drink around her. She had learned that soon after meeting him.
Tsold arrived at her small house and knocked on the door with his head since his arms were full. Axuma answered quickly, her small form appearing as the door opened. Tsold greeted her with his big smile as she looked at him with a critical eye and a crooked grin.
He entered her cozy home and set his load in the corner. Then he turned and caught Axuma up in his huge arms. "How are you doing little lady?"
"As well as can be expected." She answered in her childlike voice. Tsold set her back down and sat his bulk in a backless chair at the small table. Axuma straighten her dress and went the fireplace to dish out the stew she'd been making. "You seem to be doing well."
"You know me. As long as I'm fed all's well."
Axuma laughed as she handed him a bowl. "Such a simple way to think for such an unusual man. Does nothing change about you?"
Tsold finished off his stew and handed the bowl back to Axuma. "Not if I can help it. Though I am looking to make a change to my home. Is your boss still mad at me?"
She refilled his bowl and gave it back to him. "You mean from when you busted three of his tables and threw up on his wife. Of course not." Her voice was full of sarcasm.
"That was nearly a half year ago. I've paid him back and I'm sure his wife has cleaned up by now. Plus I only want to learn how to make my own ale." Tsold whined.
"It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't the third time you made a mess of his saloon. Also, do you really think it's a good idea for you to have a brewery?"
"Come on Axuma, don't give me that. It gets lonely out there. Just ask him if he'll help. Tell him it'll keep me away from his place." He gave her his cutest, begging look. "It'll help me stay out of trouble while I'm in town."
"Ha! I doubt that." Still she considered it. Then she changed the subject. "How many times have I told you to let me cut your hair. Look at that mess. Did you even use a mirror?"
Tsold sighed, wondering why he had ever considered having a wife. "I don't have a mirror."
Axuma was already sharpening a knife and telling him to stay still. Tsold seriously consider running, but knew it was pointless. Then she was behind him and getting to work.
An hour later they left her home. Tsold scratched at his head. She had practically shaved him bald, leaving only about a fingers width of hair. Of course she had said it was his fault. Which it was, since he had gone to visit her. Still she didn't have to be so rough. He was almost sure she had clipped his ear.
He followed her through the town like a beaten dog as she led the way to her work. They had to step around animal dung and garbage as they made their way through the streets and alleys. When they arrived at the large inn and saloon Axuma had him wait outside and entered through the back door.
A little later he heard raised voices as an argument erupted. Tsold didn't worry. Axuma usually got what she wanted.
He wasn't disappointed as she came out and waved him in. The rest of that day he spent trying to memorize how to make ale. Then he bought what he would need and said good-bye to Axuma. He always hated doing it. She was the only person he looked forward to seeing since he had seen his mother hanging from a rope.
Once he was a ways out of town he removed his cloths and took off his shell. He piled his supplies on the shell and then used it as a sled to be pulled behind him.
A few miles further on the sun was halfway below the horizon so he stopped and built a small fire. Then he cracked open a cask of ale and began the journey to drunkenness.
A small black man riding a large black dog interrupted him during his trek. They appeared out of the darkness while Tsold was halfway to his goal. He watched them approach as if in a dream, smiling stupidly as the dog laid down on the far side of the fire while the man spoke to him in an unfamiliar language.
Tsold just stared at them as the man got off the dog using only his arms. He was still speaking as he placed his legs in front of him and leaned back on his hands. Tsold didn't understand one word the man said.
Then finally, "Do you understand me now?" Tsold nodded. "Good. I know thirteen languages, I was hoping you'd speak one of them."
Tsold took a long drink of ale as it dawned on him that the man was real. Then he offered him a drink and asked, "Where'd you come from Shorty?"
The man took the cask, "Here, there, everywhere. The name isn't Shorty by the way. It's Zeadric Estole Dar Mandread. What are you called? Fat Drunk?"
Tsold laughed at the jab. The man was lucky he wasn't drunk enough to get angry. "I have been called that before but my name is actually Tsold Olduln."
Zeadric broke out laughing. Through his chuckles he managed to say, "In the language of the Tersians that is close to meaning drunken ass."
Tsold's jaw dropped as he took back the cask. "You're kidding right?"
The small man shook his head, still chuckling. "The Tersian words for drunken ass are sole allden. Quite a coincidence huh."
"Well the Tersians can kiss my sole allden." Tsold was starting to get grumpy. The man comes uninvited, drinks his ale, and then calls him names. He took another drink as he pouted.
Zeadric noticed. "Don't feel bad. It's a totally different language of a destroyed nation. Very few people even speak it anymore."
"Yeah, but I like my name. It was the only good thing my father ever gave me. Now every time I hear it I'm going to think of what you just said." He took another drink.
Zeadric shrugged as if it didn't matter. "Don't worry about it. At the pace you're drinking you probably won't remember anyway." A hopeful expression came to Tsold's face as Zeadric leaned forward with a serious look on his face. "Could I buy one of those casks off ya? I'll pay twice what you did. I could use a little forgetfulness myself."
Tsold considered the request. He wasn't sure if he wanted to part with it since it had to last until he could brew his own. So to stall he said, "Let's see the money first."
The little man produced the evidence and spoke in a sarcastic voice. "What are you afraid of? That I'll take it and run." He slapped his useless leg.
Tsold took the money and passed a cask to the man. "How'd you lose the use of your legs?"
Zeadric was already drinking his ale. "Evil spirits took them from me while I was still in the womb. At least that's what I was told. But now I have four legs thanks to Lobo here." He patted the dog's head.
Both fell silent and watched the fire after that. Tsold decided he liked the little guy. He was rude, inconsiderate, and a smart ass, all good traits in Tsold's mind.
So he did the man a favor by telling him of his behavior when intoxicated. Zeadric wasn't concerned about it. He just said that Lobo would protect him. After that they spoke little and drank a lot.
Tsold awoke to the familiar discomfort of a hangover along with a lot of pain in his right arm. He sat up slowly cursing the bright afternoon sun and looked down to see his arm bloodied, with multiple bite marks along his forearm.
It took him awhile to figure out what had happened. First he saw the small black man sprawled out by the fire and tried to remember where he'd come from. Then he looked back at his arm, remembering the dog.
Angrily he went to Zeadric, hauled him off the ground, and almost dropped him as pain shot up his injured arm. The little man woke up and squinted through puffy eyes at his assailant.
"What are you doing!" He demanded.
"Where's your mutt? He attacked me last night." Tsold showed him his wounded arm.
"That's impossible. Lobo doesn't attack unless I tell him to. You must of tried to assault me."
Tsold drew him close and snarled, "If I attacked you, you'd be dead little man!"
Zeadric looked around in exasperation before regaining his composure. "How about this? Let me look at your arm and when Lobo gets back you can work it out with him."
Tsold took a couple deep breaths, remembering that his head ached and set the man down. Then he flopped down on the ground and thrust his arm out. As Zeadric probed his arm he whined, "How am I supposed to talk to a dog?"
"I think it might be partially broken. Do you have an extra loin cloth or something?"
Tsold nodded and went to his shell to get the strips of leather he'd traded for.
As he returned Zeadric said, "I was kidding about Lobo. But I promise you he wouldn't attack you unless you threatened one of us." Then he surprised Tsold by saying, "Those are some nasty scars you have."
Tsold looked away remembering his back was exposed. He shrugged his large shoulders and asked, "Where is your mutt anyway?"
"Off hunting probably. He'll be back soon enough."
"Good, cause I'm not going to carry you."
"Carry me where?"
"To my place. Since your dog maimed me I think you owe me something."
"Maimed you! This will be healed in two weeks." He was busy binding Tsold's arm in a sling.
"I got a lot of work to do. I've got to check and reset my traps and skin whatever I've caught. That takes two hands. And I was going to build myself a brewery so I can make my own drink. Where are you going that's so important?"
"Actually I hadn't decided yet." He thought on it as they ate. When Lobo returned he had made his decision.
During their walk Zeadric explained why he was traveling. He figured that since he'd never be strong physically he'd gain as much knowledge as he could. His travels had taken him to many different places and introduced him to the people that lived there. He tried to explain some of it to Tsold but he had never been anywhere and found it hard to comprehend. He listened anyway, enjoying the company.
They walked casually as Tsold's stout legs kept pace with Lobo while Zeadric bobbed up and down on his back.
They reached Tsold's place as evening approached and Zeadric was surprised by what he saw. It was located on a slowly declining hill at the edge of a thick forest. The house was small but well kept with a small, neat garden growing around the well. Which made him wonder if Tsold had a wife. Then when he didn't see anyone a thought came to him followed by a sudden feeling of terror. Lobo sensed his fear and gave a deep growl.
Tsold looked over. "What's wrong?"
Zeadric gave him a long look before asking, "You're not one of those queer men are you?" Tsold looked at him in confusion. "You know. One of those men who lust after other men."
Tsold just shook his head and walked on. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Zeadric took that as a no and followed cautiously down to the house. He found the inside as neat and clean as the outside. Tsold set up a bed of furs in the corner then took Zeadric on a tour of the surrounding land.
Forty days passed as Tsold's arm healed and Zeadric remained longer than he'd expected. He enjoyed doing the physical labor that Tsold threw his way or he found for himself. The big man didn't even seem to notice that he was disabled and many times he found himself having to invent ways to get things done. He also took interest in brewing ale as he experimented with different flavoring. He used Tsold as his test subject since he'd drink anything alcoholic.
For Tsold it was like finding a long lost brother. They talked, traded insults, and argued while still remaining friends. He even had the little man wearing only his undergarments on the hotter days. Which exposed his thin, scarred legs. They were so badly damaged that he probably couldn't use them even if they did work.
Neither spoke of their scars. They worked away the days and drank away the nights. After a few more fights with Lobo Tsold even began to learn when it was time to stop drinking.
Finally the day came when Tsold had to return to Tolsoi for supplies and Zeadric decided it was time to move on. He asked Tsold to join him but the fearful look the offer got said no. The walk back to town was a quiet one.
When they came into sight of Tolsoi they stopped in surprise. All that was left of the town was a few buildings on the outskirts and herds of untended deer. The rest of the town seemed to have been swallowed up by a lake. From their vantage point the lake shined like a crystal in the afternoon sun.
Neither knew what to say as they continued on at a quicker pace. Tsold could only stare at it as he worried about Axuma. Zeadric took a more curious approach to the sight. He had seen a lot of eerie things but this was a new one to him.
As they drew near a couple of the deer came up to them as if seeking comfort. Zeadric patted the flank of one as Lobo sniffed at it. Zeadric felt it shivering with fear as Lobo growled. Tsold ignored them as he hurried to the nearest building and looked inside to find it deserted.
They checked a couple of other buildings before approaching the lake, which wasn't a lake at all but a hard substance that was frozen in waves upon the surface. Tears rolled down Tsold's chubby cheeks as he knelt on the edge of what had been his lifetime home.
He was reaching out to touch the light blue stuff when Lobo gave a sudden bark that caused him to jump. He was about to bark back when Zeadric pointed and exclaimed, "Look! There's someone out there."
And there was. Just a barely visible black spot sprawled out at the very center of the lake. Tsold called out to the person but got no response. Then not knowing what else to do he tentatively stepped out onto the lake. It was slow going since the surface was uneven and slick. Even Lobo had trouble as his claws clicked and scraped across the lake with Zeadric clinging to his back.
When they finally reached the person they found it was a boy in his early teens. He was unconscious with his arm trapped in the lake at the shoulder. The two men saw blood pooling around the arm as if it was being slowly cut off.
Tsold kneeled next to the boy and shook him gently as Zeadric dismounted Lobo and looked to his arm. The boy awoke with a start, jerked upward and yanked on his trapped arm. He let out a long moan as he settled back down. Then in a cracked voice he called out for his father.
Before they could ask what had happened the boy screamed horribly. A sickening crack came from his arm and he was suddenly free of the lake with blood spurting from the stump of his arm. Then he passed out.
The two were trying to stop the bleeding when the lake just disintegrated. Then all four were falling through a blue mist, then through a field of blazing colors that singed their clothes and skin, until finally they crashed through a wall of silver into another fire plane and blue mist to wind up in a large circular crater surrounded by the perfectly preserved buildings of Tolsoi.