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Part 3 - The Road of TrialsEdit
Chapter I - In which we find out what happened after the last chapterEdit
Sound. Somewhere, there was sound. He opened his eyes, and quickly closed them again. They were dry, and hurt. His arms hurt too, and his hands. And his fingers. His mouth was dry. He needed water. And food. His chest was hurting most of all.
Not his legs, though. His legs were fine.
A smell. A good smell. He tried to open his eyes again. Again, he immediately closed them. He then tried to get up, pushing the sheets away. The sheets were ragged. And sticky.
He jumped out of the bed.
"Woah, woah. Calm down, luv. You will wake the babies babies puppies birdies up," said a man's voice to his right. He opened the eyes again. This time it took.
He was in a small, cramped, dirty room. There were no windows. It was dark, but a single line of light entered through the half-open door. On the broken side-table near the bed, there was a spent candle. And another. And another.
"How long have you been taking care of me?" Herrol asked. His benefactor was a man in dishevelled clothes. He looked like a beggar. A particularly poor one. Over his grey torn shirt, he wore a mantle full of holes. Herrol noted he wore no trousers over his underwear. His hair was even more unkempt, including his thin pencil moustache.
"Long enough, long enough, long enough, long enough, long enough, long enough. Long enough? Long enough. No," said the strange man. He then offered Herrol the tray of food he held in has hands. He pulled his hands up to accept. The man threw the tray on his chest, "Have fun! Food is good. I like it. Sometimes. No. Yes. Yes."
Herrol thanked him, but made no movement to take the food from the ground. He noticed that the man's eyes moved wildly in their sockets, focusing on nothing for long. The man smiled, then made an angry face, then smiled, then closed his eyes and started sobbing for about three seconds, before smiling again.
"I...should be going now...Where's Mathias? The talking sword," not sure if the man understood, Herrol added, "Swordy talk-talky."
"Don't talk down to me. I'm not stupid. Am I? Yes I am. Talk down. Talk down. WAIT! Yes. Yes. Yes. The blade is in the chest. It talks too much. Talks down to me. Me? Fishy fishy. Want a fish? Fishes fly. Fishes fly fly fly, fly fly fly fly fly. Pants. They seem green to me. But they aren't! Yes. No. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes," the man pointed to a chest in the room's wall farthest from the bed.
Herrol opened the chest, it was unlocked.
"Ah. Finally! Wait," the sword hesitated a little before continuing, "You didn't kill the villain in a riveting duel to the death? Have you paid attention to anything I said? Conflict, conflict, conflict. The three Cs. Diplomatic solutions won't sell any books. How come he didn't kill you anyway, before he put me in the chest he said he would drive a dagger through your heart. Among other less sane things."
The man stopped muttering to himself and looked at the sword, "Did I? Oh yes! Silly head. Silly head. Isn't what it used to be. No. No. No. Yes. Wait a bit while I go get my dagger. I'll be back! I'll be back! I'll be black! Black is the new black. Grey. No. Yes," he said, while moving out of the little room.
"Okay, now we just wait for him to come back and we should have our duel. Don't worry, like I said, I'm magickal."
Chapter II - In which our heroes move on to the next challengeEdit
"We really should be working toward having a duel one of these days," said the sword as they strolled through the desert streets of the Free City, "Duels are entertaining. And they also make a point about individuality, personal strength, and personal will. In fact, a duel is a great climax for many varied plots and subplots. For instance, every good murder-mystery ends with a duel, either physical or of wits between the investigator and the criminal. Every romantic comedy worth the paper it's printed on ends in a non-lethal duel between the contestants for the lady's love. And don't get me started on adventure stories like yours."
The ruins of what was left of the Great Raid were more than enough proof of the grandeur of what once was Humba. The statues were indeed beautiful, crafted of the finest marble, unadorned by paints, jewels or glass. Only the white marble in its simple beauty. Great marble columns completed the visage of the glory that lied dead in this place.
"I understand that you are afraid of the potentially deadly conflict with these secondary villains - because secondary villains they are, we are still to find a villain that deserves to be called that - but you need to understand that, as a protagonist, you are practically guaranteed to succeed in your every endeavour. Remember the boar? Sure, you nearly got killed, but circumstances conspired to save your life and put you here, in tiptop shape."
The white-hot summer sun beat down on them, punishing Herrol as he sweated and travelled out of Humba, away from the maniac. Even the sword felt itself heat up under the scorching sun, and wished the man that took it out of the rock had a scabbard. But rather than address that, it continued talking about other things.
"Not only that but the long time you spent in a coma can be taken as symbolic of your near-death and rebirth, leading to a new life of possibilities, just like your encounter with the armour-plated guy back in the city. I'm not sure if the fact that the man that saved your life and took care of you was an enemy that wanted to kill you and take me was important, but the point is that this experience should be repeated one more time, since these sort of things tend to happen in threes."
The ruins of the city were in pretty bad shape, beaten down by the elements all these years, and had grass growing all over the rich palaces and temples of old. The statues of the Old Gods were slowly decaying, pieces had fallen off. It was a vision of faded glory and decadence. And the ruins were vast, it would take some time until they left.
"Anyway, what it all means is that you can't fail. We have established that this is comedy, and not tragedy. You cannot fail. I mean, I could be wrong, and maybe this story is far less traditional than I expect, and you'll in fact get killed real soon, but I don't think so. I think it's a given that you'll survive at least until you resolve the main plot. It may take a heroic death to do so, but I think there's no doubt that it will be a happy ending."
"Look, I'm not an adventurer. I'm a peasant," Herrol said, slightly angry, "The boar thing was pretty hard, and you said it was the easiest one. I'm not sure if I'm cut up for this."
"Ah! Self doubt! We must be in part two. I wonder how we should resolve this particular subplot? A mentor would be really good, because they could give you not only the courage, but also the sword-training you'll need have your revenge on the armour-plate guy. Then again, maybe what we need is an ascetic journey...nah, we need to keep the action going. At any rate you should temporarily abandon your quest. Maybe try to go back to peasant life and realize that your adventures have changed you so much that you no longer can survive in the mundane world. Also..."
"AAARGH!" Herrol bellowed and threw the sword away. Far away. He then tripped on marble rock, half-into the ground. After getting up and cleaning up, he started walking in the opposite direction.
Chapter III - In which Herrol tries goes back to the peasant life and realizes that his adventures have changed him so much that he no longer can survive in the mundane world Edit
Herrol managed to get a ride with a cart of tourists returning to the city, after their time in Humba. The cart creaked, and the tourists talked, showing each other pictures they took from the statues with their magickal light-capturing-boxes. Herrol sat at the back of the cart, as far away as possible from them, looking at the road as they travelled over it. After a day of travel, they were back to the city. Herrol said goodbye and went to Richman's estate, hoping to be taken back by his old lord.
Richman hesitated for a full five seconds, passing his hands through his beard, but at his son's request, he accepted Herrol back into the fold. The son hugged him, as an old friend, despite the peasant heritage, and the old lord, glad to have such a faithful servant back, ordered Herrol to be whipped until the next morning.
After being reacquainted with the whipper, and being informed to the huge debt he owed his lord and the local temple for all this time without services, Herrol smiled, happy to return to the proud life of the peasant. He would toil in the fields from the sunny morning to the pitch-black night. Every Tuesday and Thursday, he was called to his master's home, to take a break from field-work, and serve him and his son as personal housemaid and foot-masseuse.
He smiled in the holidays, when he had to attend five-hour services at various temples, and work for the local priests, helping them prepare the rituals, and giving away some of his food and money as mandatory tithe. He smiled when the city's mayor tax collector took his home's furniture, since he didn't have the money to pay the taxes owed. He smiled when his lord's collector did the same.
He smiled when he worked non-stop for three days during the harvest, and gave nine tenths of it to his lord and the temples. He smiled when an old friend invited him to his house, as an unpaid waiter in his all-night party. He smiled when he had to wake up with the sun, five in the morning. He smiled when he was beat up by thugs, that stole all the furniture that the collectors hadn't taken. He smiled when he had to make new furniture himself.
He smiled when his master had him whipped for taking a break from field work to make the new furniture. He smiled when he was whipped for cutting the tree he used to make the furniture from the estate's woods. He smiled when his new furniture was confiscated by his master and sold. He smiled when he didn't get any share of the profits. He smiled when his fields were destroyed by heavy rains. He smiled as he had to till them, and plant the seeds all over again.
It was when he woke up the next day and saw that birds had revolved the land and were eating the seeds that he remembered he didn't really like the peasant life.
He wished he was killing giant boars.
Chapter IV - In which the third recurrent villain appears Edit
A knock on the door. Herrol managed to pull himself from the bed he had been for the last three days (only interrupted by regular beatings) and go all the way over there. What happens next is predictable, but...
"Excuse me, Mr. Herrol?" said a man with bright red hair, that fell in cascades over his shoulders, and one half of his face. His eyes were also red, like his long moustache, that, in turn, cascaded over his red lips. He wore a white long-sleeved, well tailored shirt, and a skirt with a complicated pattern on it.
"I am not interested in lifelong savings or paper-money. Thank you. Bye," the owner of the house said, closing the door.
The man put his hand to the door, stopping it from closing, and pushed Herrol away with his right foot. Herrol fell to the floor-less ground of his house. He had to sell the wooden floorboards to pay the taxes.
"Where's the sword?" the man said, inviting himself in and closing the door behind, "Come on, tell me already, I want to get on with the killing."
"If you're going to kill me anyway, then it takes away my incentive to tell you where the sword is, don't you agree?" Herrol said, still on the ground.
The man hesitated for some moments, thinking, "Agreed," Herrol smiled. Things were looking up!
"Killing time!" The man yelled, taking out two daggers from what Herrol hoped were hidden thigh-scabbards under the kilt.
Herrol managed to roll away as the man jumped on him with the daggers. He managed to get up and away from the man as he slashed on his general direction. When the killer threw his weapons at him, Herrol managed to sidestep the flying blades. But he tripped over the pile of hay he slept in, and hit one of the walls, face-first. The wall cracked, and fell with him. Saved by his house's cheap building materials, Herrol got up and ran away, screaming for help, as Sir Sandío Mattador grabbed his daggers back, and ran after him. His neighbours, annoyed at the racket, yelled at him to shut up, and his lord's guards waited until he did something to make it legal to grab him and give him a beating.
Sir Sandío Mattador was fast, but oxen were expensive, and thus Herrol's legs had been trained by years pulling the heavy plough. And he was running for his life. Eventually, though, he tripped on some chicken, and rolled in the mud. Before he could get up, Sir Mattador had closed the distance.
"Now you can't escape! Give me the sword!" He ordered the lowly peasant.
"I don't have the sword! ...And weren't you going to kill me sword or no sword?"
"Oh, yes. That is, in fact, a good point. Of course. KILL!" As the killer rose his blades, preparing for a last thrust, Herrol gave up trying to flee. His peasant life wasn't worth the trouble. Then he heard a familiar voice.
And instinctively grabbed a long metal object that was hurled in his direction.
"Ah, finally! Nice to see you're finally having that duel! I hope I'm not too late. Or too soon. I told him to only hurl me at you when it seemed you were close to losing the battle. More suspenseful that way. Man, you'd be surprised how hard it was to convince a group of tourists that I wasn't an attraction and have them bring me over here to...oh, at last!" the sword said, as Herrol, just as instinctively, slashed it wildly around, managing cut off one of his assailant's hands.
The killer howled in pain, as the orange-glowing blade sheared his skin. Herrol kept swinging it around, as Sir Mattador decided to keep his other hand and run for it.
"Aww, too bad. Daggers akimbo is a pretty interesting fighting style. I hope he finds something just as entertaining to do next time we meet him," Herrol kicked the hand away, "At least we got our duel. Pretty quick, though. And we have to work on your rapier wit. Just hope it was interesting enough before I got here. And you should probably clean me up later to keep me nice and shiny," the blood-soaked sword said, "But let's go. Now that your self-doubt was presumably cured, we need to find you a mentor."
Chapter V - In which Herrol meets The Immortal One Edit
After travelling for a few days, our heroes reached the far-away shack of The Immortal One. It was run-down and dilapidated. It didn't seem as if anyone lived there for hundreds of years. It stood atop a small elevation, with few trees around, and an almost completely overgrown dirt path was the only link between the shack and the rest of the kingdom.
"Mathias, are you sure he still lives here?" asked Herrol, eyeing the shack with disappointment. From what the sword said, he expected something more...powerful.
"Oh, don't worry. She's still here. She just...doesn't like people very much. Comes with being a hermit, I guess. But me and her go a long way. She's trustworthy," the sword said, in a low voice. Then it raised its voice, and called into the house, "Immy! Immy! It's me! I want to introduce you to someone!"
There was noise in the shack. First, a low, sharp cry. Either surprise or annoyance. Then, steps. Heavy steps on wood, the stone, then wood again. Then, from behind the door, locks being undone. One, two, three, four, five, six. Then the handle turned, and the door creaked open.
"I can't fucking believe this!" said the person under the doorway. The Immortal One was tall, very tall, (his)her limbs were impossibly long, (his)her face was flat, long, and thin. The upper teeth of the mouth naturally protruded beyond the thick yellow lips, and the ears were tall, rooted in the forehead. The eyes had no pupils, and no iris. Or maybe they were all iris. The point is that they were purple, and shimmering. And that (S)he was extremely angry.
"You don't visit, you don't call, you don't write, you don't even politely but coldly respond to my holiday postcards, and now, after a thousand years, you suddenly come by door!? ...Bringing someone!?" said The Immortal One, in a voice composed of what seemed all sounds in the universe, united in one, in harmony and grace. It was naturally beautiful, even the basest words seemed to be the songs of the Gods.
"Herrol, this is The Immortal One, son-daughter of Johann One, brother-sister of everybody's favourite swordslinger, The Gerald One," said the sword, "She trained since the beginning of Time in various arts and crafts, including but not limited to swordsmanship. And if everything goes right, she'll be your mentor. Immy, this is Herrol. He's virtually retarded, but he's a good man."
The Immortal One was taken aback, and examined Herrol closely, inclining (his)her tall and thin body in his direction, and wildly rotating (his)her ears "This one has the essence of Fate about him. He is destined to accomplish great things that will be talked about aeons in the future. Even when I become once again one with the universe, he shall still be known far and wide. His name shall be equal to that of Jbamdugar, and his prowess shall be compared to Mbuweh! His virility shall be sung in the farthest reaches of the earths and the seas, and all creatures of the universe shall sing his name in unison when he ascends to the Hall of the Greats! ...But yes, as you say, virtually retarded," (S)he adopted once again a more normal posture, "What the hell, get inside, you two. I'll serve you bugs or whatever it is people consume these days."
Chapter VI - In which Herrol has tea with The Immortal OneEdit
"So, you prefer to be called 'Mr. One' or 'Miss One'?" Herrol asked at the table, as they drank tea. It wasn't that good of a tea, and Herrol suspected that when The Immortal One said (S)he was going to the kitchen grab the tea, (S)he actually left the house through the back door and picked up whatever plants were available.
"I don't give a flying fuck about what mortals call me. He, She, It, Comrade, Pal, Your Magnificence, Elemental Dragon of Light...whatever. If you are asking if you should consider me male or female, then I must tell you that these terms are meaningless in relation to me, since I cannot copulate or reproduce. In fact, in many aspects I hold both feminine and masculine essence in the same vessel, along with some essences that humans don't have. At any rate, words are so annoying. They keep changing and changing and I have to spend some time every decade or so tapping into the collective unconscious of your species for current trends. Sometimes I wish you could communicate by vibrating the very fabric of existence too. Not to mention, your species' collective unconscious is frankly disgusting. "
Herrol looked at his cup, and then looked at his side, to the chair where the sword was on, leaning against the back. It was a nice chair. While the house was dirty on the outside, it was pretty spacious and not nearly as dilapidated on the inside.
"So, The, are you a God, a demigod...what are you?" asked Herrol, inquisitively, trying to buy time. Any time not drinking the tea was a time worth fighting for.
"Well, in a sense, I was created by the Gods, but in other senses, I existed before them. My mother-father was friends with Jiuna, the Mistress of Feathers. Though I was never born, so she is only my mother-father in the most abstract of senses. You could say that, while he never gave birth to me, I became into the universe already linked by blood with she-he. Of course I wouldn't hope a human to grasp the concept. Especially not you," S(he) said, and drank the tea. The cup was never brought to (his)her lips, but Herrol somehow knew the tea had been drunk. And the cup was empty.
The sword chimed in the conversation, "Uh, Immy, the metaphysical talks are nice and all, but our reasons for coming here are very pragmatic. I need you teach the boy some things. Anything at all on handling a sword would be nice, and general adventuring lessons are in order."
"Is the boy your progeny?" asked the tall being, "You wish him to follow in your footsteps?"
"Oh no. I couldn't have...progeny. I've been a sword stuck into a stone these last thousand years. Got into some mess involving Infernusius."
"A sword? Oh, yes, yes. I did notice something different about you. Yes. You're distinctly different from what I recall. How's Infernusius? Still with the high treason and grand theft?"
"Dead, I think. But before that he put my soul into this sword and put me into a stone so that I would take this fine boy here into kinghood now, a thousand years into the future. We're trying to have a proper adventure here, but clearly he's not fit for the travails involved. Can you believe he doesn't even have chain-mail?" the sword was clearly uncomfortable.
"Ah. That Infernusius. Always liked to control Fate, Time, and ALL the Elements of Magick, that one. One of the most interesting of your kind. Only surpassed by this platypus I saw this other day that...oh, forget it. Reminiscences won't do me much good. In honour for our friendship, and to aid this boy in his Destiny, I'll be glad to train him into a proper adventurer. Let's finish the tea up and plan our training schedule."
At this, the tea disappeared from Herrol's cup, and he somehow knew he had drunk it, but couldn't see how. He felt ill, and ran for the bathroom.
Chapter VII - In which Herrol begins his training under The Immortal OneEdit
Herrol was awakened five in the morning the next day, by a loud siren that came from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. He proceeded to slowly get up from his cot, and grab the training attire The Immortal One left for him. The room he was given was pretty small, but Herrol was accustomed with cramped, insalubrious spaces from his peasant life. Dressed and ready to go, he went to the backyard of the shack, meet with his mentor.
He was there, carrying two thick and long wooden sticks. He handed Herrol one, and kept one in his own hand.
"Good morning, Herrol. We shall start your training with the thing you lack the most. While you certainly have survival skills and the will to adventure, you have no idea what to do with the sword. Well, the best way to learn is through practice. We'll do some mock fights with these wooden apparatus for a few weeks. Don't worry, I'll do my best not to destroy your fragile mortal body. I assure you that only rarely does that happen with my students," The Immortal One said, jovially.
Then it started. And ended. A very small time passed between these two events, and at the end, Herrol was lying on the floor, his stick having been thrown very far away.
"Oh, sorry. Here," The Immortal One made the stick fly back to (his)her hand and gave it back to Herrol, who was getting up, "Try to pay attention to what I'm doing. Pick up some moves. And remember, the sword is a stabbing and slashing tool. You can do both."
"Yeah, and try to say witty things to distract your opponent," said the sword, that was in the ground nearby, watching, "It always worked for me, and was always a good addition to the stories' fight scenes."
The Immortal One chuckled, "You still with that? I figured you'd have given up," seeing the confusion on Herrol's face (S)he added, "My friend there always wanted to become a protagonist in a good adventure book. He spent more time learning writing tricks than he did adventuring. He liked telling me his stories, and convinced me to write down and publish some of them. They never did much success."
"Well, not this time. I had a thousand years to ponder. I've been running all sorts of scenarios in my head - er...head-like appendage - while in that stone. Believe me, this time it will work. This is one of the reasons I wanted to have Herrol to train under you, Immy. You know the tropes, you know the ropes. You have experience. And you aren't a sword, so you can actually teach him in a practical way."
The Immortal One shrugged, and attacked Herrol. Reflexively, he blocked with his stick, holding it with both hands. His feet dug a bit in the ground, but he managed to hold. Then one of the long limbs went around his defence and hit the side of his abdomen with force. And he fell to the ground again.
"Good. Your reflexes are decent. And you're learning fast. You should work on your not-falling-to-the-ground-everytime-an-opponent-strikes-at-you-with-force though. Come on. Only five or six more hours and we can get to the back-breaking pointless menial labour part of the training."
Chapter VIII - In which the Secret Council of Conspirators convene (again)Edit
Meanwhile, in the secret hideout of the conspirators:
"...be king, I'm going to cut taxes, lest people become angered at my usurpation. That's an important thing that every usurper should learn. For your help, I'll make you my advisor for security matters. And maybe I'll let her be the royal magician."
"Apologize me, pardner, but Ah ain't knowledged in the matters of security. Whah, jest yesterday there were them Killson brothers goin' and shootin' all over the place. Did Ah even try to arrest them? Nope. Just went and shot'em dead, like any good cowboy'll tell you is best. Yet Ah tell ya, I ain't done no statitiscs, but Ah swear on mah dear mother's grave crime's been done for good this time Ah've been Sheriff."
Suddenly, a gust of mighty wind blew through the meeting place, and a new darkened figured was standing a few metres away.
"You fool! The hired dogs you set out for the peasant have failed!" the female's voice yelled in anger, a long, white finger, pointed at another of the shadows.
"What? This is ridiculous? We have established in our last meeting he had abandoned the sword and went back to his village. Sir Sandío Mattador might be not exactly right on the head, but he is entirely capable of killing a famished, unarmed peasant. Believe me, it wouldn't be the first one. In fact, now I wonder if it was such a good idea let him go free. Especially now that he knows where I live..."
"I don't care about your poor decision-making abilities," she made a pause for dramatic effect, "future king. What I do care about is that the peasant is training at this moment under The Immortal One!"
The other two voices replied in unison, "T-the Immortal One!?"
"Yes! He is a being even more powerful than even I can hope to ever be, existing since the beginning of time. Or space. I'm not actually sure which one was it. The point, you fools, is that his training may make even the peasant a powerful adversary!"
"Ah'm aware of who Mr. One is, ma'am. Don't take me for no ignorant farmhand. Still, you and me both know that He would never go and help no mortal in whatever it is that the peasant expects to do."
"The training is help enough! Don't you see? Every second is precious! If The Immortal wants to, he can will it so that years and years of training are finished in a few weeks!"
"I am aware of that, but what do you suggest? A direct attack on The Immortal One's home? MWAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHHAAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAH!!! Er...umm...anyway, that is ridiculous. She could kill us all with the tip of one finger. And she wouldn't even need to touch us."
"Do you honestly think I do not know that? I understand more of the nature of matter and wield more power over reality than your tiny monkey brain can even begin to faintly comprehend! And yet, I would not dare stand against The Immortal One. What I propose now is what was proposed before. We need to act personally on this matter. By all means, send your dogs again at the peasant, but meanwhile, let us get our hands dirty. All in favour?"
After a few moments of hesitation, the two men raised their hands.
"Good. Now let's make our secret plans."
Chapter IX - In which the long and mostly boring training is finally complete Edit
The stick hit the left side of his face, and Herrol fell to the ground again. He quickly got up, and adopted a duelling stance.
"Stop," The Immortal one said, and dropped the stick, "You are ready."
"I don't feel ready. Have never managed to touch you," Herrol said, rhythmically moving his body weight from one foot to the other, eagerly waiting for the next round.
"Fine. One last time," The Immortal One said, making the stick hover and grabbing it.
Less than a second later (S)he lashed at Herrol, who managed to jump away. (S)he slashed three more times in wide horizontal arcs, aiming for the legs, but his(her) opponent managed to avoid them all.
"You know, maybe I am getting better," he said, jumping a particularly low slash at his legs.
"It is like I said," (S)he said, thrusting repeatedly at Herrol's chest, forcing him to crouch and move away, "You are ready to face mortal opponents, you just can't hope to defeat me."
"Oh, you shouldn't say that, Immy. Now the boy will probably defeat you, proving once and for all there's nothing more you can teach him. Believe me, that's a chance no decent writer would let escape."
"Look, I hate to break it to you, but reality does not follow the rules for good chronicle-writing," The Immortal One said, gracefully avoiding Herrol's thrusts, "Now, I admit that destiny has a way to craft interesting narratives, but to believe that you can predict what those narratives will turn out to be..."
"Yeah, of course. There's always exceptions. But that's what they are: exceptions. This might even be one. But they aren't taken without reason. The basic building blocks of a plot are already there, just waiting for someone to commit into reality. No one's going to change them just for the sake of changing them, when following the rules will bring a better, more powerful result."
The Immortal One tried a few strikes at Herrol's head, he counter-attacked, crouching and aiming at her(his) legs. "There you go again. Fate is not a conscious entity. The Gods may sometimes intervene in mortal affairs, but more often than not things are resolved by actual, observable physical laws. And it is a simple physical law that I am a being of great power, and I can't be defeated by anyone who isn't a God. Is the boy a God? I don't think so."
"Maybe not a God," said the sword, "but Herrol is the protagonist. Physical laws will be bent so he succeeds. His quest is the main plot, and the main plot must be resolved, one way or the other. In the most symbolic and/or emotional way possible. That's basic. And it's observable. As an example, he will win this last duel, in a symbolic victory, indicating his mortal will is superior to any supernatural guidance. Not only that, but maybe it will also serve to make the reader regard Herrol as a hero worthy of the name. To make all those who read and hear the story understand this is a turning point for his character," the sword pointed out, firmly.
"This is ridiculous!" The Immortal One said. And to Herrol: "The training is over. I'll finish this now."
With that, The Immortal One prepared for wide-arc strike to Herrol's left side. The preparation took less than a second, but the energy in that movement made the wind rush around all the backyard. When the attack came, the wind strengthened, uprooting nearby trees. But then The Immortal One's arm came to a sudden stop.
"Oh," (S)he said.
Herrol's right arm was holding the stick in front of him, to defend himself. And the stick was touching the wrist of (his)her sword-arm. Herrol's other arm was in front of his bunched-up face, in fear. The Immortal One dropped the stick. (S)he then straightened (her)his posture.
"Like I said, Herrol, you are ready," The Immortal One said, matter-of-factly
The Immortal One then went back into the shack.
Chapter X - In which Herrol put his new skills to the test Edit
"...worry about our financial situation. I mean, sure, you'll be king, but kings can't just tax whatever when they need money. Unless you want dashing dastardly rogues stealing from your tax collectors, giving to the poor, and having their way with your daughters and/or nieces," said the sword.
"I know. And I agree. But I don't feel product placement is the answer in this case," Herrol pointed out.
"Look, every adventurer worth his Fate does that. And it won't take much. For instance, while defending with the BlockBarrierTM you can point it out to no one in particular how awesome it is. Or pretend you're talking to me and say me something about the many built-in functions of the BlockBarrierTM."
"Look, I understand, as you do, that the BlockBarrierTM is the fruit of aeons of magickal research in the famous school of magick of Halah-Halahil. Everyone knows the BlockBarrierTM combines latest developments in rune writing with the worldwide respected Halahi traditions of magickal woodcraft. But my point is that trying to sell such marvellous products like the BlockBarrierTM during my adventures feels like a waste of time for little profit."
"And not only that, but the BlockBarrierTM's innovative triangular design and smaller size solves many problems found in the leading competitors. Still, the BlockBarrierTM can be easily handled with no prior experience, due to its intuitive operations and a set of detailed instructions chiselled on its back."
"But the main reason I chose the BlockBarrierTM over other shields in the market is that I feel safe while holding it by its comfortable armband-handhold. I can say with certainty that the BlockBarrierTM will NOT slip from my grip like the leading competitors," Herrol pointed out, "But I wonder, how much would a shield so good cost in today's market? A lot, certainly."
"No, Herrol. I think you'll be surprised to learn that the BlockBarrierTM is available in every market around the kingdom by the low, low price of..." the sword trailed off. Clapping? There was a sound just like clapping coming from somewhere. But not quite clapping...
Sir Madder Függer appeared from behind a tree. His chainmail-enclosed palms were hitting each other repeatedly, "Your little advertising was much appreciated. I think we were not introduced last time," he said, taking his sword from his scabbard, "My name is Lord Madder Jünger Fridah Kuller Hauser Hausa Fligg Fungg Jäns Feud der Függer, known as the Black Wolf of Lionassbourg. I am accomplished swordman, trained for my entire thirty years of life. I was given the best breeding, and am using the best weapons, the best armour that wealth and influence can buy. You are a peasant."
A long moment of silence followed. Both men stared at one another's eyes, firmly. A gush wind blew leaves from the ground, and all around them. The sun was high in the sky, it was close to midday. Both held their swords high. Herrol strengthened the grip on his, and grabbed the shield.
"In case it wasn't clear. The point is that your month of training will do you no good," Sir Madder Függer explained. And forcefully added, "Give me the sword."
Another moment of silence followed. This time much shorter.
"My name is Herrol. That's the only name mum and dad gave me before they died. Of diarrhoea, "He paused for a second, and quickly added, "Which is not the point! The point is that I have less names than you but mine means more and sounds better. Okay. Uh...we shall now fight to win back my honour! I mean...I will fight for my honour. You'll fight for...whatever it is you fight for. The point is, we will fight!"
"Excuse me! Excuse me, may I say something too?" asked the sword. Both men nodded, "Okay. That wasn't exactly the wittiest thing I've ever heard. But it's a start. We should train that particular skill. Maybe we could make a phrasebook for you to use in situations like these, I dunno. At least you're trying. Now win this duel as payback for last time."
Herrol thanked the sword, and yelled as he charged toward Sir Madder Függer. When he got close to his opponent, the sword that was held over his head was brought down with full force. A loud sound was heard on impact. Metal on metal.
Függer held his arm above his head, defending the strike with his armguard, "My turn."
He slashed horizontally with his sword. A desperate Herrol managed to twist around and put the shield in front of the strike in time. The shield broke.
"Fuck!" Herrol exclaimed and ran away, "I thought she said the shield was magickal!? I thought you said you were magickal!?"
"And I am! But you do realize that swords aren't known for their ability in penetrating plate? That's why actual knights use maces in those situations. I, being magickal, could probably dent it after a few more localized strikes, but you should've aimed at the chainmail. Don't worry. You're learning. Anyway, let's run back to the city. The BlockBarrierTM is known worldwide for its generous refund policies."
Chapter XI - In which Herrol seeks refuge and refund Edit
Shortly after he reached the great city, Herrol's attention was captured to a poster on the nearby wall. In it there was a drawing of himself. By all accounts a very good and artistic drawing. Most sources agree that it was commissioned by DuMal directly from Hal Kalley, the great pop artist of the new generation. It wasn't very photorrealistic, but it was generally agreed in the art community that photorrealism wasn't really art, and was a pointless exercise since the invention of magickal light-capturing boxes.
Anyway, the point is that it was a wanted poster. Herrol was wanted for many crimes such as murder, joyriding, vagrancy, robbery, unlawful appropriation of public goods, vandalism, sodomy, witchcraft, practice of astrology, fortune-telling, assault, manslaughter, corruption of minors, atheism, poison-making, drug trafficking, drug-making, prostitution, identity theft, fraud, tax evasion, theft, midwifery without license, making fun of the king, teleportation without license, treason, paganism, high-treason, non-compliance with zoning laws, grand-theft, assault on officer of the law, flag-burning, destruction of public property, conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to theft, conspiracy to assault, gangbanging, illegal street racing, gambling, holding mass without license, organizing rooster fights, gardening without license, international espionage, sabotage, flying without license, genocide, torture, cheating on sports, libel, acting without license, defamation, murder of public officials, destruction of private property, trespassing, smuggling, declaring a war of aggression, owning weapon without license, making crops fail, giving birth to demon childs, bearing weapon without license, bearing armour without license, bearing shield without license, bearing magick runes without license, practising magick without license, inscribing the forbidden runes and glyphs, inscribing the forbidden runes and glyphs in public property, blasphemy, heresy, apostasy, preaching without license, vigilantism, and bestialism. Among others.
Five minutes later, when he had finished reading the poster. Herrol's face went white. He held the sword close to his body, and looked around. There were no guards around. It was evening, time of the change of guard. He started walking to the store for his refund, looking wildly around. He started walking faster. He suspiciously watched the crowds around him for signs of people watching him. Many were looking at the suspicious man suspiciously walking fast while looking around suspiciously with wide eyes.
He ran. After some time, he got to the Jorgen & Hinkel's Adventurer's Apparel. The door opened, and the manager appeared at the door.
"Quick, get in!" she said, pulling him in, and quickly closing the door behind.
"Oh, thank you a lot Ms. Jorgen, about the shield..." said Herrol, trying to look through the window outside. The manager closed the window sharply, with a loud clap of wood.
"Stop that. We can't have the Guard know you are here. I assume you're being framed for crimes you didn't commit," she gave Herrol a small piece of parchment, and motioned him to follow her deeper into the store.
"Look, the shield broke with a single sword slash, I don't think it will do much against giants and dragons," he said. Then he paused, looked at the parchment, and asked, "What's this?"
"One of the benefits of the guild is legal council in case of set-ups. You won't believe how prevalent this problem is among adventurers. The store also has a secret passage out of the city, I'm leading you there," she explained.
"Yeah, but first I want a refund on the shield, or at least another one," Herrol looked at the parchment again, "But since the lawyer is in the city, shouldn't the passage lead me there instead of out of the city?"
"Well, that's a problem that we need more money to solve. The guild doesn't have much of a budget. By the way..." she said, turning around and stopping, "got any money adventuring?"
Herrol hesitated, "Oh, no. No, no. Not yet at least. I just killed a giant boar. And then trained under The Immortal One. But the shield..."
"Ah! The Immortal One? That's some pretty important person you got to train you!" she exclaimed, walking again. Herrol followed, "Maybe you'll bring a little bit more profit than most adventurers! Do remember to bring your earnings here for evaluation. Tell me, can you do any math? Say, do you know how much fifty percent of something is actually worth?"
"Ah, no. But I...the shield..." Herrol tried again.
"Eh, math is overrated. Here, we got to the passage. You should be careful and only enter the city through the other side of the passage from now on. The chancellor is sending out the guard for you. Remember to close the door on your way out. Happy adventuring!" she said, with a smile.
Chapter XII - In which Herrol finds out his next task and smiles Edit
They travelled for two whole days. It rained during the first. But by the next morning, the sun was strong, shining on the sky. Herrol made a mental note to buy a coat to protect against those occasional showers. The sword made a mental note to have Herrol buy a coat because coats are awesome accessories. They both paid attention to the surroundings, making sure they weren't being followed through the woods.
The sword suggested that they next go the old fortress of Havar-Kunumeria, where ages ago the Gods held ground against the demonic hordes that came through the Northeastern pass. Now it was manned by the Sun Peoples, as they held unending sentry over the pass. It was a pretty isolated place, a fair distance from the city, and the quest would take some time. Maybe this whole thing would be over by the time they were finished.
By the sunset of the second day, they reached the end of the woods, where the trees had been cut down to not hinder the archers of the fortress. And at the distance, atop a hill, stood the fortress of Havar-Kunumeria. The sun was setting behind its tall walls and towers, painted by the Gods themselves in bright white, with green for the roofs and walkways.
They moved through the plains that surrounded the great fortress, to a small gate in its eastern wall. Covered in the foreboding shadows, they approached the gate, big enough for only four or five men to walk side by side, at most.
"Who goes there?" a surprisingly ethereal and non-threatening voice asked.
Herrol opened his mouth, but the sword, who had no need to do that, beat him to the answer, "He's a great adventurer doing the sacred rite of kingmaking. The Gods probably told you he was coming along. If not, tell them to ask the shade of Infernisius Gevil. With a 'G'. You probably heard of him. Big-time wizard."
"Ah, yes. We were expecting you, child of the dust. I shall unlock the gate, and direct you to your task, as is my duty," the Sun-Person said, as a loud clank was heard and the heavy iron gate creaked open.
Herrol followed the bright silhouette of the Sun-Person, attempting not to look directly at its blindness-inducing body. Instead he walked around looking up. After five trips and falls, they reached the place of their quest: the stables. The stables of the fortress were gigantic, all painted in the colours of the fortress, white and green. It probably was much shinier and splendorous in the morning, but at sunset, it certainly didn't look bad.
The door of the stables was opened, and the a horrific smell came gushing out, along with the sounds of thousands of horses. Inside, it was pandemonium, with horses stray everywhere. And horseshit. Horseshit on the walls. Horseshit on the floor. Horseshit on the horses. Their whines seemed to increase in volume with every passing second.
"The divine horses of the Gods require more care than we, the Sun Peoples, are able to give. Your task is to clean and organize this stable."
Hearing this, Herrol smiled, as the horses played, throwing horseshit at one another with their hooves.
Chapter XIII - In which the smile is put into context Edit
And now, dear reader, we shall make a trip deep into Herrol's mind, and have a look of what he thought at that very moment.
He started by the beginning, which is a relief to the chronological-minded among us: Before he could even talk, when he was six, his kind lord gave him an elaborate toy stable for him to play-clean. The boy spent entire days and sleepless nights, playing, and his father would be there with him and teach everything he knew about stable-cleaning. The boy loved to clean the toy stable with his father.
He remembered how his father recognized the talent in him, and encouraged him always. He remembered when all the neighbours would stand around and marvel at his great stable-cleaning abilities. The other kids envied him, but their parents would bring gifts to him and his father, saying, "this boy is the greatest stable-cleaner I've ever seen!"
When he was seven, Herrol was brought to the city to participate in a great tournament of slave-cleaning for minors. Boys and girls aged five to twelve came from all over the kingdom and competed among themselves to gain the prize of "stable-cleaning prodigy of the land".
Herrol aced his category with ease, no seven-year-old was capable of cleaning a stable as well as Herrol. The crowd cheered as the farm boy cleaned a seventeen by twenty-four category IX in less than one hour. Under Herrol's touch, the horses automatically stood idly, quietly, calmly. Horses that would joyfully eat lesser hands. As they did, many times to Herrol's competitors.
His father hugged him when he was given the trophy, Herrol remembered well.
That night, evil men came to the inn where they stayed. They came for the golden trophy. His dad tried to fight them off, and he did, bravely. But they were many, and they were strong. The boy awoke from his slumber, and cried. One of the man said, "So this is the boy who people say is the next Steeble Klein? Hmph! A peasant like him could never compare to the skill and grace of the great Klein! I bet I could easily defeat him."
The boy stopped sobbing. The only thing he was ever proud of, the thing that made his dad proud of him, was his capability for stable-cleaning. He would not be insulted. He challenged the men to a round of stable-cleaning. They laughed. "Fine! Let's go to the nearby underground stable-cleaning venue. But we shall play by the rules of the street: To the Death!"
The underground stable-cleaning venue was a dirty, smelly place, full of dirty, smelly men. They yelled loudly, trying to bet all their money on one of the contestants in this match. Most scoffed at Herrol and bet on the ruffian that tried to steal the trophy. There was no referee. No judge. This was rules-free stable-cleaning. To the Death!
Herrol cleaned as he never cleaned before. The man was larger, more experienced, stronger. But he didn't have Herrol's talent. His horses kicked while he tried to push them in their pens. Herrol's horses went to the pens by their own accord, while he focused on scrubbing them, and shovelling the horseshit in the buckets. The gamblers were stupefied. Those who still had money left bet it all on the boy. Those who didn't, cried, as they knew they were ruined.
Herrol was sweating. He never cleaned a stable quite so filthy, and this time there was no intermission for water. This was a trial of resistance. He looked at his father's bloodied, anxious face. He looked at the other man. Clearly, he had more experience. Somehow, using his spit and his piss he managed to make a fluid that better removed the horseshit from the small crevices on the wooden walls. Crevices that Herrol took ages scrubbing, tiring. He was just a boy, how could he manage to...
"Herrol!" his father bellowed at him, "You can do it Herrol! I believe in you!"
That shook Herrol out of his stupor. And he cleaned. He tied the scrubs to his knees and forearms, and scrubbed while carrying the buckets of horseshit to the shitpile. He scrubbed the horses until they shone like the sun. He fixed the pens using only his bare hands.
The other man fell, dead from fatigue and intra-orbital infection. The crowd cheered. His father hugged him. Less than an year later, he died.
Wiping a tear from his eye, Herrol remembered when he was fourteen, and brought to his lord's stables to work. He did the work of an year in a week, and his master's horses were the fastest and the strongest in the whole region while Herrol worked in the stables.
When he was eighteen, Herrol went to the city, to participate in the Royal Stable-Clean-athon. Four hundred contestants from the whole world came to clean the gigantic royal stables, to be rated by critics on speed, quality of service, grace, skill and technique.
Herrol was easily the top winner, scoring the maximum grade in all areas. He cleaned while others fell down, exhausted. He reached the tiniest crevices in the wood, he transformed horseshit into grade-A fertilizer, and he made flowers grow around the place, perfuming the stable with soft fragrances. Where he passed, filth disappeared. A few critics had fulminating heart-attacks, awestruck by the glory of Herrol's works.
People from around the kingdom came occasionally to Herrol's home, having wizards teleport him to their stables. Stables that all experts considered lost causes, that had even the ablest stable-cleaners stumped, gasping for air...all those stables were cleaned, and all their owners thanked Herrol on their knees.
But Herrol couldn't ask for payment. This was part of the code of the stable-cleaners. Those who asked for payment were hacks, who denigrated the profession. And so, he continued with his peasant life, and the talent of an immortal God in his hands. A talent that begged to be put to use. And in the stable of the Sun Peoples, it would be.
What other feats of superhuman power will Herrol have to accomplish? Only those who read the next part will find out!