An experiment with the amnesia opening trope.
| The missive hung nailed to the stone wall, its edges cracked with age, its skin yellowing. The words were faded but still legible. Beside this was the open doorway, once barred by iron. Now it was agape and ruinous with rust and decay. Moss had grown over the stones like a carpet, and small weeds sprouted here and there in the spaces between.
"To begin again." It read. "Is not so hard once you have taken a few steps. The feeling of loss subsides with a stride. Your old name and ways will fade. Maybe, you realize, they were not so grand as you thought. The miser is a fool, and the nostalgic his consort. A man with nothing will learn his true priorities. Go forth and regain a better state than before."
He read the words over several more times, searching for an extra line, some clause to opt out. But, like the walls behind him, it was plain and absolute. He had been reduced to nothing. For clothing he was bare, save for a tattered cloth wrapped loosely about his waist. Dirt marked his flesh, and his scalp crusted with dust.
Memories of his past were foggy, and guilt touched their ghosts. He was forgetting his family, his friends, his identity. He felt like a traitor, but that too was slipping away, and past was becoming nonexistent.
He stepped through the cell door and into a hallway beaming with sunlight. There the ceiling was gone, and no walls met him in either direction. He could see the ocean around his little prison, could hear now the crashing waves and the endless breeze.
The island was like a spearpoint jutting up from the water. It lacked beaches, instead boasting sheer obsidian walls which gleamed from eons of polish. The horizon beyond was a tangle of blue above and below, and all about him were the remains of some fortification, chipped sandstone and broken walls. Grass had overtaken the earth, and wildflowers bloomed, resplendent.
He roamed around the little place, inklings of hunger beginning to awaken in his gut, as he caught the scent of bread and smoke. As he scrabbled his way over a mound of rubble, which once may have been a watchtower, he noticed land a short span from the cell he had awoken within. There he saw palms and beaches, a little port town, and smoke rising from chimneys.
The hunger grew, and he knew how to swim.
The water did not fight him, and the shore came easy. He crawled out of the foam and rose up on the dirty sand, the scent of fish and smoke now strong and tantalizing. Feet bare he walked through shards of shells, which cut and scraped, and the sea's salt stung.
His little prison with its back turned now to him stood lonely out on the waters, the gulls nesting high on the torn battlements, their squawking sounding over the crash of waves. They flew and dove and scuffled about the beach picking at dregs.
He made his way over the sand and to the embankment. Cresting this he saw green. The port town dug into the countryside, wheat-filled plains stretched beyond the grass, roads woven in here and there. Far beyond these was a range of mountains; high and snowcapped, they held over them a trapped line of clouds.
Once in the village the pleasant aromas he had smelled concentrated. No longer was the scent of fish appetizing, and the smoke brought a sting to his eyes. Still though, he hungered, and so he shambled about the earthen streets, head bobbing and turning this way and that. He was absorbed in the scenery, the foreign wonder, as though he had never before been among others. Aimless, he wandered and drew the eyes of the fisherfolk. Gawking and not approaching, some asked what he was about, there in rags amongst them. This they did with a sort of ornery humor to them, a certain wry expression about their salted faces.
Then one of the seamen, a broad aged man squat and sturdy as a barrel stopped before his path. The man rested his thick beaten hands on his sides, a smile shifting the white forest of his beard. He stood like some jolly statue, there with his stained deerskin clothes and boots.
"Another one, is it?" He said, leaning forward and getting a closer look at the newcomer. "Anderson. Loden Anderson. And ya have no name."
The man made to agree, but the words caught in his throat, and he managed only a breathy exhalation.
The man Loden turned about then and waved one of his massive hands. "Come on. I'll fix ya up with somethin' ta wear. Might not get down about yer knees. Not stretched out the way ye're, I'm not. But, it ought ta fit around ya just fine."
Loden's hut was a squat round thing like the man. Its roof spotted here and there with holes, letting the white light of the sun poke through. Inside was a dirt floor covered mostly by rugs. There was a rack along one edge of the wall. It was made of pine branches bound together by a pliable bark. Tied onto this were a dozen fish hanging by cords. Their bellies split, the innards were in little pails about the rack.
A sizeable woman was stirring up coals under a pot, which was suspended on a grate over a ring of stones in the center of the hut. She then took a bucket of water and emptied it into the pot, sending steam up along the main support to disappear outside. She looked at the two men, giving Loden a toothless smile. About her wide shoulders was draped the pelt of a bear, a shaggy black thing which covered her ample rump but only just clasped around her ponderous front. She stopped her fiddling and moved up to Loden. She stood nearly a foot over him, and when she embraced him, his broad face was lost in her bosom.
Pulling back out Loden motioned at the woman, "My wife, Frid." To her then. "This here is one uh the tower fellas. Same as the other uns. Not a lick o memry to 'em."
She went to the fish and took the meat and began to rub in a spice she had.
Loden waddled over the rugs and to a basket at the foot of their bed. Inside were his clothes. He took out a pair of rough hempen pants and shirt of similar kind. Both boasted a light odor of seafare. He handed them to the man.
"Short, aye, but uh they ought ta set ya right."
The man clutched the scratchy garments. Fine silks they may as well have been. "I . . ." He began, straining to remember his voice. ". . . can't pay you back."
Loden wiped his nose with the back of his hand, cleared his throat, and went to the heavy wooden door to spit. "Here." He said, and the man came. "Ya see 'em woods up 'ere below ta hills?"
He had seen it before, but now the man gave it a closer look. From where he was at now, he could see the way the narrow road wound through the fields and to the tree line. There at the forest edge he noticed the path had grown up a bit. People were not traveling that far. He nodded, forgetting his voice again.
"Tower 'ere what ya come from is magic we all ken. Now and 'en a fella, or gal ya know, comes 'shore from 'em stones. Blank as a clear sky, but 'ey all 'ave one thing alike. Good fighters. Best ya ever seen. Maybe ya's all knights, and a dragon or wizard put a curse to ya. All I know is it's been 'is way since time before 'memberin'. Always 'bout the time the woods go an get ornery, ya folk show up and pass by."
The man gave Loden a puzzled look and studied the road with unease.
"Eh," the thick old man went on, "we 'ear stories o 'em what gone before ya. Road leads all the way to the King's Land. 'ey all go and become lords after some noble deed or what have ya." He stepped back through the door. "Anyway, 'ere's food 'bout ta be done. Let's eat a bite, why don't we?"
The fish was pleasant, though the man couldn't say for sure if he'd ever eaten the stuff before. Loden and his wife sat cross-legged near the pot, and he near them. They ate quietly, the crackling, licking flames under the pot the only source of sound.
When they were finished, Loden took him outside and led him into the village. The onlookers were less teasing than before but whether from recognition or from clothes he could not say.
They came to a longhouse. Stone were its walls, and its roof was covered in thick sloped slate. Its entirety was painted white, and the stones of it were carved with runes and glyphs, every one. There were tall windows about it with frost etchings of forests and oceans, man and beast upon the panes. The doors to the front, which faced the sea, were made of black iron and rested on staggering hinges. They seamed together at the center, perfectly flush. Embossed on the metal were more murals, these of ships at sea and of a lone lighthouse on a cape. Above these were heavy rings holding a ship's wheel on either door. Loden lumbered up to the doors, grasped an iron wheel, and thundered the iron.
People were watching from the streets and out their windows. Some had come closer as if to join the two's little party.
One came all the way. "When Ulfi and Bor told me there was a man going about in his skivvies and that Old Man Loden led him away, I knew what it was." The stranger was a man with dirty wheat hair and a film of crust in his red beard. He was sharply carved and scarred upon the arms, but when he spoke he did it well and with a full set of teeth. Had he been cleaner and better dressed, he could be mistaken for an official, as he held a prominent air.
"Ya were a just an ankle biter las' time we had one o 'em come from the island." Loden said, only half turning and still holding one hand on the knocker.
The man who had approached patted the stranger's shoulder. "What do you call yourself?"
"Doesn't 'member his name, Bjorn."
"What if he doesn't have one? What if they never were born, just made up on that island."
"Could be. Let's ask 'en. You ever little?"
"I have a past." The stranger said.
"Do you remember it?" Bjorn asked.
"No, I don't."
"Loden, do they ever remember?"
"Not as I recall, no."
The doors swung open then, and the three men went inside together.
Colossal cedar cross beams upheld the slate roof, supported by stone pillars as thick as three men abreast. A cobbled hearth laid dormant at one wall, ash marking the stones within and about. There were fishing spears and nets hanging from the walls, and mounted also were trophies of marlins, sharks, walruses, a variety of smaller, though more alien in appearance, fish and crab, and there was a single bear head, brown and monstrous in size. On the far end were five steps leading to a raised platform, on which sat a stone seat draped in furs sewn together from myriad creatures; one arm sported a wolf's skull for a hand rest and the other one a small boar's.
By the door was an old man, and he pushed the heavy iron shut behind the visitors. On his head sat a coronet made of copper green with patina, which did little to hide his bald, spotted skin. He wore a cloak of some white fur clasped at the shoulder with pins resembling fish bones. His face was naturally sour, but his eyes were sharp and aware, and he glanced over the stranger a moment before waving them all forward. "Come, sit." He said and made his way down the long room. His stride was swift and smooth, his cloak coming almost to a ripple, and the age of his face was hidden by that gait.
The old man sat among the drapings of the stone seat, and the three other men rested on wooden stools which had been stacked behind a pillar.
"Do you thirst?" The old one asked.
The three shook their heads.
"So," he went on, "this is the stranger?" He sucked his teeth and in turn made a wet whistling sound. "They always come out modest." He stood then and bowed. "Sir, this is a simple place, and we have little to arm you with. But, those from the island have ever been able to move forward with little and less."
"What is that place?" The stranger asked. "Where I came from. What was it?"
"First," the elder replied, "why are you both here? Loden, your hospitality was enough, and, Bjorn, what is your reason for inviting yourself in with our guest?"
Bjorn did not hesitate. "My father once dredged up a suit of mail, unyielding steel which has not rusted. I mean to offer this for his pilgrimage. He is of a size."
The old man nodded. "Loden, you may leave. Your welcome will not be forgotten, I am sure."
Loden patted the stranger's shoulder as he stood. He left, a smile creasing that broad face.
"As to your island, that, that was an outpost. Time was long ago a great empire from across the sea, the Giants of Yur, settled on these shores and slew the pygmies, our ancestors, and made thralls of them. They were a mighty race and boasted fell and ancient magics. Eldritch in nature, it tainted their blood, and they dwindled, complacent with their subjects. We though were a fertile people, and from amongst us rose heroes. Libras the Wise, Staag Iron Fist, and the first true king of our people, Norgos Atermonte, who stood a head taller than any other pygmy. There were many others also from that age, heroes and villains, and countless children's stories remain. Stories, and our race. The War of Yur lasted three hundred years, which boded well for us. The heroes who are remembered and our line of kings appeared at the tail end, but there are surely forgotten ones. Your island once was much larger and could house many giants, and our shores were home to endless piers. Now all that remains is the shell of a prison meant for our people. It had been considered a cursed place, until you and yours began appearing."
"You see, though the giants are long dead, their magic lingers. Weak as it is now from time to time a man such as you and I is gifted to wield it, but these sorcerers are invariably corrupted by the old magic, and the poison of it spreads. During these times cities fall to madness. Men and beasts corrupt and monsters take their place. Each time this happens, one of yours will appear. Someone from another plane. They take the mantle of savior and are etched in tales."
The stranger looked to Bjorn, brows furrowed, and Bjorn nodded. The stranger said then, "I don't understand. Not a bit. Your stories are wild, but that aside, I wonder why. Why am I here? Why that place?"
The old man threw up his hands. "No one knows. It's always been this way. I would love to give reason to it, explain it better. To you and the last one, and the one before that." He stood then and walked behind the little throne. "This will have to do instead." He came back around, dragging a chest banded with iron. There were brass latches on its front, and the elder popped these and opened the chest with a screech. He motioned the stranger over.
Inside was an assortment of protective wear. The stranger rummaged through it, finding pieces here and there which might fit.
"I'm not sure I've ever worn armor before."
"Wait," Bjorn moved to them, "I meant to gift my father's mail."
"It is good you are willing to contribute. You will wear that armor and go with the islander."
Bjorn shifted but said not a word, stunned. His mouth opened as if to start but nothing came.
"What makes you so certain I'm willing to go on this dangerous journey?" The islander dropped a dry leather glove back into the chest.
"Nothing, I suppose, other than precedent. The ones before were much like you. I suppose going forward is the only way to find answers. We are a fishing village. It is all we do."
"What of these ones that came before? You are still alive and have seen a few. What became of them?"
"Did they fall in battle or return to their own realm? That is what you're asking. As, if they were still alive, why would you be summoned?" He removed the coronet then and rubbed at his skin. Flakes fell where the band had been, revealing an imprint of lighter skin. "I do not know." He said, returning the meager crown to its fleshy groove. "Perhaps they died valiantly, though no story of such came here, or maybe they are old as am I."
The stranger studied the elder. "Were you born in this village?"
"I am not from the island. That is what you are asking." The elder looked to Bjorn. "My name is Skald. My father was Skjor and my mother Ina. I journeyed with an islander, the first I had seen. I was youthful then, eager. She was beautiful and fierce. Strength unlike that of a pygmy woman. I fell in love, but she rose in court, and I was sent home with honors and titles. I did not realize until later that the crown was not rewarding me but keeping my lowly bloodline from mingling. The journey now would be too much, spry as I may seem, and I have responsibilities here."
The islander bent into the chest again, reaching in and dropping on the floor what he deemed usable. Bjorn had stood at some point and was pacing behind the two, fingers buried in his beard.
"I will go. Nothing holds me here, and I am curious, if nothing else." A pause. "Well, there is nothing else." He looked at the old man. "What was her name?"
"You will need to come up with one for yourself. Hers is Elmae. It is what I called her, and she took to it."
Bjorn's footsteps echoed down the hall, and he departed.
"Is he refusing?" The islander asked.
"I do not think so. He's not the sort to wear a coward's mantle. It would haunt him. No, I think he is going for that armor. Maybe a farewell to the wife." Skald raised his palms. "We will see. For now, gather up what you'll be taking. I have a place for you to sleep the night. Soon rest may become a luxury."