An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

The Mayor of Kervale Carvesh

Gregor Corbit came stumbling through the shattered doorway with his eyes bulging and one arm covering his mouth and nose. Falling to his knees, the mayor of Kervale promptly and violently emptied the contents of his stomach. Carvesh could hardly blame him. He had been inside the house. The moment he had set his eyes on the gruesome scene, he knew those terrible images would haunt him for the rest of his days. He only wished that there was some way that he could wash it away, to un-see the mutilated remains of Dane’s family.

A moment later, Quelana followed. She managed to keep herself composed, but the colour had drained noticeably from her cheeks. For a moment, her green eyes seemed unable to focus—as though she was looking far off into the distance. There was a faint quiver to her lower lip.

“Holy ash and sacred flame,” Gregor muttered, still spitting globs of blackish bile. “What could possibly do such a horrible thing?”

“Something big,” replied Quelana. “And strong. Judging from the depth of the numerous lacerations, the attacker must have been extremely strong.“ Her voice was cold and detached, without even a hint of emotion or empathy. She could have just as easily been describing a painting she had once seen. She’s shutting down, Carvesh realized. She can’t let herself think of what she’s seen as actual people. It’s just too horrible.

“And you think that whatever did this is the same thing that attacked your man?” asked the Mayor. Carvesh had recounted the events of the previous night during their ride up to the farm. Practical and sensible as he was, Gregor had been no less skeptical than Quelana—at least until they had reached the farm itself.

“I do,” Carvesh replied

For several long, uncomfortable moments the mayor said nothing at all. He merely stared at the tall, blonde farmer before him, his grey eyes reflecting the quiet intelligence that was so often hidden behind his commonplace appearance. There was fear in those eyes too, a primal terror that mixed with uncertainty, anger and suspicion.

“Yet you managed to kill it?” he said at last. The obvious distrust in Gergor’s voice wrenched at Carvesh’s heart. Even after eight years of living among these people, they still saw him as the blonde-haired southerner. He knew that he would forever remain a foreigner and a stranger in the eyes of many locals, but he always hoped that he had moved beyond that with the Mayor himself. Perhaps that hope had been in vain.

“So it would seem,” he said softly.

“Strikes me as quite the feat, that. A simple farmer striking down a monster that could do…that.” The Mayor waved at the house, unwilling to give voice to the horrors hidden within.

“Perhaps the Nine were watching over me,” Carvesh replied. He recognized the mistake in those words even as they passed across his lips.

“And they weren’t watching out for Hendrick and Connie?” Gregor accused. “Or Ellie, Kip and Minnie?”

“You know that’s not what I mean!”

“Now that I think about it, I find that I know very little about you, Carvesh, least of all how you came to be a skilled enough swordsman to strike down this beast you’re telling us about.” There was anger in his voice, but the sort of anger that was powerfully overshadowed my a much greater fear. Gregor Corbit may have been talking to Carvesh, but in his mind he was still looking upon the slaughtered remains of an entire family.

Almost and entire family, the farmer reminded himself. Dane is still with us, thank the Nine and the Light.

“I’ve had training,” he said, in response to the Mayor’s indirect questioning. “A long time ago, in another life.”

“What other life? That’s the real question, isn’t it, Carvesh? It’s clear that you’ve been running from something. People’ve known that since you arrived here. We’ve just been courteous enough not to ask. Every man’s entitled to his own past. Now I’m wondering if that might not have been a mistake. What past’ve you been running from man? Did you bring this evil here?”

“No!” Carvesh cried, though suddenly he was not so certain. There were people throughout the Realm who would not hesitate to hunt him down if they knew he was here. Could any of them have done this, summoning the creature out of the darkness and setting it after him? Could she have done it? What if he really was the cause of all this? What if Hendrick, Connie and the children were dead because of him? The very thought made his stomach turn heavy, like a ball of lead that threatened to erupt up through his throat.

“Then what?” Gregor pressed.

“I… I can’t say.”

“Why not?”

“It’s too dangerous. If people knew I was here…”

“This is ridiculous!” Gregor yelled. “An entire family is dead—a family that everyone believed to be your friends—and you’re clinging to your own selfish secrets. By the Nine, Carvesh it’s not as though you’re…” As he trailed off, the Mayor’s eyes went wide. Carvesh could almost see the horrible understanding blooming in the other man’s mind. It was the name. He had always wanted to change it, but Anya would have no part of that. Her people had strange beliefs about names and she always insisted that changing his own would be like placing a curse on their entire family. Still, he had always feared that his name, as common as it was, would be their undoing. Now, his fears were coming true.

Gregor Corbit had guessed who he was, or more importantly, who he had been.

“Don’t say a word,” Carvesh interjected before the Mayor could speak. He allowed his voice to take on the dangerous tone of command that he had been taught as a boy. He had not spoken in such a way for many, long years and his own words sounded strange and unfamiliar in his ear.

“You’re…”

“I am the same man you’ve known all these eight years. No more.”

“But…”

“Not a word, Gregor. There are other types of monsters in this world, and I will not risk the safety of my wife and children to a slip of your tongue. We will talk of this later, you have my promise.”

Again, the Mayor said nothing; and again he stared, this time in utter bewilderment at a man that should not have been standing before him—that should not have been standing anywhere within thousands of miles. Then, very slowly, understanding seemed to wash over him, an understanding not just of what he had divined, but also of its far-reaching consequences. He began to nod, hesitantly at first, but then with a stronger assurance that eased Carvesh’s own mind.

“Yes. Of course. Not a word. But I will hold you to your promise. We need to speak about this at some length I think.”

“Thank you.”

“If you two gentlemen are finished,” said Quelana, “I think we have something much more important to discuss.” She looked to Carvesh, Flameborn eyes filled with her own unanswered questions. How much did she know? Had she followed the course of Gregor’s thoughts and come to the same, troubling conclusion? If so, she gave no hint of it. “I am not nearly as concerned with how you managed to kill this beast you speak of. I think the much more important question is this—could you do it again?”

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