The Law of Claw and Fang
by Daniel Olarnick
(Previous chapter's conclusion:)
"Oarsman, excuse me. I have to - go - you know what I mean, don't you," pleaded the scribe.
The skeletal being turned around from his oarsman's command seat, his whip frozen in motion, as he had been read to beat his skeletal crew into their rowing motions.
"I'll have another coin for you, for your troubles," said the scribe, who appeared slightly bent over in obvious discomfort.
"Disgraceful," mumbled the shrouded oarsman. "Go," he shouted.
The scribe ran, with urgency, up to the top of the hallow, ducking behind a boulder, as he disappeared from the troll's view.
"Damn puny human," grumbled Utre, as he began to follow the scribe . the mongrel dog leaped out of the boat and growled deeply, as if to block the troll from following by its sheer force of will.
The sky grew dark and then brightness filled the entrance to the cavern where without warning, a lightning bolt appeared, to some it would look like a closed fist, and then the fist's middle finger of lightning appeared, as torrential rain fell upon the assemblage of scribes who still were gathered in the valley.
The scribe hurried down to the ferryboat where the son of Charon the Ferryman of Hades awaited.
"Took you long enough, scribe," said Utre.
"I was contemplating on how to give aid and succor," said the scribe, as a smile crossed his face reflecting on the running students and teachers, as the skies opened, drenching them through their very robes. The crystal named The Fickle Finger of Fate resonated within his ditty bag, its raison d'etre accomplished.
"Oarsman, your extra coin, as promised," said the scribe, as he climbed onto the ferry to begin the quest.
The Oarsman caught the coin that the scribe tossed into the air, and chanted his pronouncement, "Give Aid and Succor."
"I am the Stone of the Omniscient Voice. I am nameless, but at one time, I was called - I have forgotten, it has been too long - however, I am now free from the confines of the Cave of Forgetfulness - from that accursed Scribal Priesthood. Our tale continues."
The nameless scribe noted that the son of Charon, famed Oarsman of the Dead, was a cruel taskmaster. He inscribed how the oarsman's whip flashed over the skeletal crew of rowers, scarring their very bones, as they pulled frantically at their rowing poles, moving the Vessel of the Dead towards a portal that glowed with intense heat, as embers glow in the darkness, a portal that lead to the outside world of Volante.
"Row, you accursed sons of the disgraced," chortled the son of Charon. "Get this stench of living beings off my vessel. Row, damn you, or once again you'll be constricted to my vessel." And row harder they did, faster and faster, pain etched upon their skeletal visage.
"Tell me, son of Charon, do you have a name that I may inscribe in my crystal, or shall you always be content to be called the son of Charon?" questioned the scribe, a look of innocence stamped upon his face.
The son of Charon beamed with honor. "Yes. Shall I be called --" a flash of inspiration entering its mind, "
"And so I will inscribe it for you, Mantell, son of Charon."
"Make you friends with the Oarsman son of?" questioned Utre of the scribe, in a whispering tone, so as not to be overheard.
"He has been named. My duty is fulfilled," elucidated the nameless scribe, a sigh escaping his body, as he continued to inscribe on his still spinning crystal with a fine diamond stylus.
"Time of waste, human who is puny. The Law of Claw and Fang must be obeyed. That should you inscribe."
The Vessel of the Dead, now named Xylem by the scribe, carried the living safely through dark emerald green waters. It glided through boiling, teeming liquids that separated the land of the living from the sanctuary of the scribal priesthood, a syzygy that divided the lands by its waters, which carried the dead to their deserved resting place, and the living to the commencement of the Quest for the Relic.
For three days they sailed within the cave, eating the stored food and water that had been prepared for their journey, as the vessel followed the portal's beam, pulling them swiftly to their destination.
Mantell pointed his bony hand, extended his index finger towards the gleaming world of Volante. He bowed his head as the scribe and mongrel left the boat.
The scribe turned, as if to cast a spell of protection and praise for Mantell, and his crew, for their seamanship. He reached into his pouch of gems, sprinkled crystal dust into the air - the words had barely left his mouth, ".Oarsmen roam but long for home." - a gust of wind carried the dust into Mantell's eye sockets, temporarily blinding him. It had been the moment that Utre had been waiting for. He raced ahead, grasping the skeletal life form by his neck, lifting him upon his muscular shoulders, his huge arms flexed, pulling Mantell's body in opposite directions. A sickening, crackling sound came from beneath the cloak that covered the Oarsman of the Dead's body.
The scribe screamed aloud, "No!" His protest went unheard, as Mantell's screams of agony and treachery echoed throughout the inner confines of the Sea of the Dead's port.
Utre reached down, removed the oarsman's pouch of coins from beneath his robes, held it over head, daring the rest of the oarsmen to come to the aid of their splintered and broken ferryman's body.
Utre grunted a victory snarl and strode off the boat with a victorious strut to his stride.
"Now, scribe, attest you to my victory. The Coins of the Dead now belong to my tribe, my people. As it was written, was it not?"
"Yes, Utre. It shall be inscribed. You have obeyed the law of Claw and Fang. You hold the Purse of the Dead in your taloned hands. I shall inscribe it. Your legend secured."
"Doomed him, you did, when you gave him his name. I obeyed the legend," smirked the troll. "The Funds of the Dead our ours."
A water priest watched Utre toss aside the body of Mantell.
Shrieking with horror, he ran into his portside temple. The scribe entered the temple, bowed to the trembling priest, and passed a stone of ahimsa to him. "Here, when we leave, and the sun is about to set, place this stone of ahimsa within the bones of Mantell, and he will be made whole. My companion apologizes for his behavior, but he follows the law of Claw and Fang."
The water priest nodded his ascent.
"What shall I tell Mantell upon his restoration?"
"Tell him the scribe who is nameless apologizes."
"What deed did you do, human who is puny?" asked Utre, bitterness in his voice, as he spit three times upon the scribe.
"I granted Mantell a spell of ahimsa," said the scribe, wiping the foul gold-green sputum off the top of his head.
"Uh-him-sah?" demanded Utre, as the very pronunciation by the troll demanded an explanation.
"One should refrain from harming any living being -" said the scribe.
Utre began to convulse with laughter, pounding the ground, tears of scorn came rushing from his eyes.
"Not so. The Law of Claw and Fang rules," then he grabbed his testicles, made an obscene gesture towards the scribe, laughing aloud, "Uh-him-sah for foolish humans who are puny."
The mongrel began to bark, and nip at the heels of the troll. The troll swung its arms at the dog, which seemed to easily avoid the swipe of Utre.
"Tell beast I will eat him last, should you fail."
The scribe did not answer Utre, but gathered up the mongrel in his arms, stroked his head, and began a trek towards the western edge of the desert, towards the first step on the Quest for the Relic, towards a town called Vashmak.
Art by Dan Mills
|| The Quest Begins!
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