An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

The Fisherman’s House Tiberius

The first thing Tiberius noticed about the fisherman’s house was the aroma of gutted fish. He could smell salt and a mixture of spices too—tarragon, dill and the sharpness of cilantro—but they did little to mask the stronger scent. It stood to reason, of course. Like so many in this part of the city, Pelor’s entire life was built on pulling the varied denizens of the Kharnine from their watery homes. When Tiberius had first met him, more than fifteen years ago, the fisherman had pulled the sage out of the cold, churning waters and into his small, single-man fishing boat.

Tiberius doubted that much had changed since then. Things rarely did in the Stilt District.

“I trust ye’ve been stayin’ off the Lady River.”

“As often as I’m able,” Tiberius assured him. “And always with a rope tied around my waist.”

“Good to hear!” The fisherman’s laugh was just as booming and full of mirth as Tiberius remembered. “Won’t do ye any good to be half drown again, now will it?”

“It’s an experience I could do without repeating.”

“I can imagine it be that. Can I help ye to a seat?”

“Thank you.” The fisherman took him by the arm and guided him across a small room to a simple chair. Its wood felt old and dry when he grasped its back for support as he lowered himself onto the velvet cushion. It felt good to sit. It was late, and weariness was already creeping through his bones.

“Can I fix ye a cup of tea?” asked Pelor.

“Thank you, but no. I would not sleep afterward.”

“Sound thinkin’. So what can I do for ye?”

Tiberius hesitated. He was not certain how to approach the subject. How much did Pelor know? Had Jayslen come to him directly? Or was the fisherman simply meant to play the roll of the ignorant messenger, delivering information without even knowing it? Tiberius had wrestled with these questions for the better part of the day, even as he helped Finnius with the final preparations for their journey to Ronnex. Unfortunately, he had not come up with any satisfying answers, As such, he had still not decided how to proceed when faced with the question that was now before him. There was no more time to think about it. He had to make a decision.

“I was told to come visit,” he said, choosing the path of caution.

“Were ye now? That’s a strange thing to be told. And who’d be tellin’ ye that, I wonder?”

“A mutual friend.”

Pelor grunted. “Sound like yer beatin’ at the waves with an answer like that.”

“Out of necessity, I’m afraid,” said Tiberius. “You know how our friend can be.”

“If ye talkin’ ‘bout who I think yer talkin’ ‘bout, then I can only imagine. I hardly know the lad, and ain’t spoken to him in a good many years. High brow folk don’t come vistin’ the Stilt District often.”

So Jayslen hasn’t been here. Could he have come under his assumed name? Unfortunately, Tiberius did not know what that name was. Could the Prince have forgotten to pass on that information? Before hearing the words hidden within the Whisper Glass, it would not have been surprising—Jayslen had often shown tendencies toward absentmindedness. But now, Tiberius found it difficult to believe that his pupil would have gone to all the trouble of setting up this meeting without providing a means for Tiberius to find whatever it was that had ben left for him. Unless—a sudden thought occurred to him.

“What about a young boy?” he asked, thinking about Fleet Paws. The boy had been the one to press the Whisper Glass into Tiberius’ hand. It made sense for him to be involved here too. “He might have given something to you to hold onto.”

“Ye mean the woodsman’s boy?”

“I’ve never met his father. But I believe the boy may have left something with you.”

“Aye,” Pelor responded hesitantly. “Said it be meant for someone specific.”

“But I’m guessing he didn’t tell you who.”

“Got that right. Strange boy, but his da’s a good man, so I agreed to do as he asked. Said I’d know the person when I met them. I’m assumin’ ye thinkin’ yer the one.”

“That is why I’m here.”

“Hmm. Well I’d be willin’ to trust ye, simply fer yer own sake.”

“But?”

“Boy asked me to only give this item to the person who could come up with a particular word.” A passphrase? Jayslen never said anything about a passphrase. It could be anything. “Take it from yer face that ye weren’t expectin’ that either.”

“No. I wasn’t. Did the boy leave you a clue?”

“Said I was supposed to tell ye midnight, whatever the bloody hells that means. Sounds too damned mysterious fer me.”

Midnight? It could mean anything. The moon? The stars? The bell tower at the Cathedral, which rung at that time every day? Or—suddenly Tiberius understood. Jayslen had called himself the Midnight—.

“Lamb,” Tiberius said quietly. “The passphrase is lamb, isn’t it?”

“So ye knew it after all?” the old sage could hear the smile in Pelor’s voice.

“So it would seem.”

“Well then, I’ll be fetchin’ the tinket fer ye straight away. Be back in just a moment.”

Tiberius listened as the fisherman walked across the room. His heavy footsteps reminded the sage of just how big and strong Pelor was—strong enough to pull him from the waters of the Kharnine with just a single hand. A door opened and closed and for a few moments, Tiberius was left alone with his thoughts. Not for the first time, he wondered what this mysterious item would be, and what it would tell him. Remember me, Jayslen had said, and it will guide you. It was so cryptic and mysterious that it seemed nothing at all like the man he remembered.

Jayslen had his secrets, of course. Everyone in the palace kept their share. It was a large part of what kept Navarius gainfully employed. But this was different. This was more than just a part of his life that he had kept hidden from the court. These secrets began with an entirely different life, and went far deeper. But just how deep? Tiberius had the feeling that this stretched well beyond what Jayslen had told him through the Whisper Glass. He suspected that whatever was happening—whatever secrets he was chasing—could shake the entire Realm to its very core.

If the Realm survives that long. Tiberius had not forgotten about the great danger that still threatened all of Relen’kar. The man called Kelven was still out there, wandering with the Auratorch on his wrist. Its power had bloomed within him, wild and dangerous. Where is he? What’s he doing? Is he somehow involved with this whole other life that Jayslen was living? There was no way to tell, at least not until they managed to find and talk to him directly.

Tiberius was still thinking about these things when he heard Pelor return.

“Here it be,” said the fisherman. “It’s not much, really. Just an old luck charm, I’d say. But here ye be anyhow.”

Tiberius extended his hand and accepted the item. It was small and light, a small curved object attached to a leather thong. It was smooth, like ivory, and tapered to a point. It felt like the fang of some carnivorous beast. A tooth? he wondered. Why would Jayslen leave a tooth? What significance could it possibly have?

“Yer lookin’ a might bit perplexed there,” said Pelor.

“Somewhat,” Tiberius admitted.

“Take it that’s not what ye were expectin’?”

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect.”

“It be a mean one to be sure. Would hate to see the rockcat it belong to.”

“Rockcat?” asked Tiberius. “How can you tell?”

The fisherman laughed. “I’d love to be able to tell ye that I can pin the critter by its tooth. A fish, maybe, but not cats. There be a small paintin’ on the surface though. Small and red and done in the style of the Lords, but there be no missing that it’s a rockcat.”

Heraldry? On a tooth? Suddenly, Tiberius remembered. Jayslen and Carvesh had both worn fangs like this as a boy. They had been gifts from Aurin Carwell. The Rockcat of Sharenden. He had been King Merek’s closest friend, and one of the few Lords who had supported him in his struggle to prevent Prince Carvesh’s exile. Perhaps more importantly, he had been like an uncle to the boys when they were young. Of course, Jayslen would trust him—probably more than anyone else in the Realm. 

With the Queen’s Council set to begin in just a matter of days, Lord Carwell would surely be travelling to the capital. He might have arrived already. Captain Avendor would be overseeing the arrival of all the Lords. Tiberius determined to discuss the matter with him as soon as possible. If the Lord of Sharenden knew even the smallest bit of information about Jayslen’s double life, it might help unravel some of the troubling questions surrounding the Prince—and his death.

“Thank you, Pelor,” he said.

“Ye’re  welcome,” replied the fisherman. As he spoke, Tiberius caught the sound of someone else entering the room. A wife? A child? Tiberius did not know if the fisherman was married or had any children, but this new presence did not seem like family. It did not even seem friendly. The footfalls were so soft they were almost silent, as if the newcomer did not want to be heard.

“Pelor, behind you!” Tiberius cried.

But it was too late. The last sound the fisherman ever made was a strangled, bloody cry. His body fell to the ground with a heavy thud, and he was forever silent.

“Whose there?” asked the sage, straining to listen for the murderer. He reached into one of the pockets of his robe, pulling out a small pellet. It was cool to the touch, but as he began to rub it between the tips of his fingers and thumb, it grew warmer and warmer. “What do you want?”

“That trinket,” hissed the stranger—a man, Tiberius thought, though he could not be certain. The voice was smooth, almost seductive, with just the faintest hint of a lisp. It was unfamiliar to the sage. “You understand its meaning. Tell me. Tell me what you know, and I may let you live.”

The stranger came one step closer.

“Stay back,” warned Tiberius.

“You don’t intimidate me, old man. We’re all alone. Just you and me. And don’t hope for help from your friend outside. If he’s not already dead, he will be very soon.” As if on queue, the sound of a struggle reached Tiberius’ ears.

Avendor!

“I’ll ask again,” said the stranger. He was inching forward, step by careful step. But he was not quiet enough, and when coupled with the sound of his voice, his movement gave him away. “Tell me the meaning of that tooth you hold. If you do, I might just let you live out whatever remaining days you have left. Otherwise, we’ll have to do this the hard—and far more painful—way. In the end, you’ll tell me what I want to know. They always do.”

The pellet was beyond warm now. It was hot—nearly hot enough to burn the skin from the tips of Tiberius’ fingers. While his connection to the Auratorch may had robbed him of his sight, it had not left him defenceless.

He hurled the pellet at the stranger. Taking a deep breath, he felt the flames leap to life and prepared himself for the pain.

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