Poisonroot - Chapter 14
Oooh! Some Victor backstory. This is the commercial side of his backstory; there are far more things I could talk about but he seemed to be feeling particularly negative in this bit, so I focused on the sale and distribution of his stories.
The cell was cold and dark. Trip huddled in the corner listening to something dripping onto the floor, every drop seeming to reverberate as loudly as possible. He sighed for what seemed like the fiftieth time in five minutes.
“Ain’t no use huffin’, boy.”
“It’s not like you’re concerned,” Trip muttered into his knees. He got up and started pacing again.
“Now what d’you mean by that?” Victor said from where he was lying on the cell’s only pallet. “Ain’t I in here, same as you?”
“I’m sure this is some misunderstanding, we’ll be let out soon. Then you’ll be… on your way home. Away.”
The old man swung his legs off the bed. “Well, what d’you expect? You got the coin to pay me for further?”
“I thought it wasn’t about the money!”
Victor gave a sarcastic little laugh and lay down on the bed again. “Ye’re naive, kid. I’ll give ye that.”
Trip stopped at the tiny grating that let in their meagre moonlight. Through it he could see the branches of the local One Tree from here, it gave him no solace. He peered closely at it but couldn’t see any signs of the corruption that had swept through Deep Round. Perhaps they were not too late.
The sack of evidence had, of course, been taken from them; Victor’s sword as well, and the short sword that Trip had been training with. The bristle-chinned sergeant who had processed them into the jail had sneered a bit at their clothes and Victor’s accent before leading them past jail cells full of the city’s worst scum, men battle drug addiction, murderers, men who beat their wives; arms had stretched out of each cell and, when Trip had looked into the darkness of the tiny rooms, eyes had looked out of each of them on the new arrivals with evil-looking glares. Victor, for his part, had seemed completely at ease with the situation and Trip had found himself creeping closer to the man as his stolid composure overcame the threat of his leaving.
That had been four hours ago. Night had fallen, unheralded by a meal or a visit from anyone who might explain what was going on.
“Were you really just going to leave?” Trip asked after a few minutes.
“Whether I was or wasn’t, makes no diff’rence now, lad,” the man replied without opening his eyes. “Cain’t, even if I wanted to.”
“But you were going to.”
“You don’ seem to unnerstand how this works. You paid me some money - no, not even money, you gave me a purty amulet you foun’ - worth a nice amoun’ though, to get to the High Father. ‘Ere we are. What’s so hard?”
“When you fought the Lamia of Bedulla you did it to win the hand of a fair maiden, Victor. You didn’t do it for money. What’s happened to you?”
“Let me tell you a story, boy.” Victor sat up again. “‘Bout forty years ago now I was travellin’ in Dorth. Y’know, those Dorthians are always singin’ and makin’ up stories. Anyway, this partic’lar night was to change a lot of things…”
City of Fyrr, Dorth.
40 years years earlier
“Victor, I’m not sure how we could have done it without you!”
The mayor, a man made huge by drink and too much rich food, clapped me on the back. I nodded, smiled, picked up my mead and drank it.
The almost sickly-sweet taste of it clung to my tongue but I forced it down. It was the look of the thing, right? And besides, I thought, I’ve damned well earned some time off.
“Can I get a beer after this?” I said to the well-endowed barmaid. She smiled and winked at me.
“Sure, my sweet, whatever you want. Just ask.”
“Victor my lad, I can see you’re busy relaxing this evening,” the mayor thundered, “And after defeating that beastly snake-woman who wouldn’t be exhausted? I’ll see you in the Town Hall tomorrow so we can discuss a reward!” So saying, his hand slapped down onto my back again, hard enough to make the pair of swords sheathed there rattle together.
“Mm, yes,” I mumbled, then picked up the mug of beer that had just arrived. “My thanks,” I said, raising it in toast.
I’m not sure how many mugs of their rank beer I swallowed. Enough that I probably wasn’t quite in perfect control of everything. Let’s just say that if the Lamia had chosen that moment to attack, it would have been a much closer-run thing.
I wasn’t even sure what time it was when the man sat next to me. He was tall, thin, younger than me, some sort of sheaf of papers and a pencil in his hands. He didn’t seem to be a local; he wasn’t dressed in cold-weather clothing for a start, but instead in a thin velvet jacket.
“So tell me,” he said, “What was it like in there?”
“In the den of the Lamia.”
“It was dark and damp; she’d been preying on the local villagers, carrying them off to the cave and then keeping them there as hosts for her children,” I said, hoping to scare him off quickly. “She would hang them up naked, impregnate them and then wait until the children exploded out of their bellies all at once, eating their way out.”
“Mmmhmm, that’s great,” the man said. He had a habit of sticking his tongue out as he jotted down some notes, pausing every now and then to put a lock of his brown hair back behind his ears. “And what happened there?”
I sighed. Enough was enough. “Look, it was a lamia. She wasn’t keeping the villagers, she was eating them. When I got there, she was asleep; I cut her head off and that was that.”
He stared at me, pencil in hand, then shook his head vigorously. “Oh no no, Victor, that won’t do! It simply isn’t interesting enough.”
“Look, who are you?”
“My name,” he said, placing the pad of paper down, “is Jaarlson Rekvidik. I’m a writer, of sorts.” He smiled indulgently. “I’ve decided that your adventures are far too interesting to be unheard by the populace, Victor. You have that certain something that I think I can work with.”
“What do you mean?”
“Here’s my idea. You tell me the stories. I’ll write them down; I might make one or two… small changes to improve the flow of the action. I’ll get them printed and distributed and you can just watch the money roll in!”
I put my mug down heavily onto the pitted bar top. “Where’s this money goin’ to come from, exactly?”
“When people hear how amazing you are, the offers of your help will come from all over the continent! You’ll be the most famous man in all five countries! I mean, surely you take a reward for what you do?”
“No,” I said, taking another sip of warm beer. “Helping people is its own reward. They often give me a night in the inn, food,” I said, indicating the mug, “keep me in beer. They don’t have much and my parents always taught me not to-“
“Oh, that’s so noble of you,” Rekvidik gushed, looking straight at me. “But I suspect that they wouldn’t offer you more than they could afford. I’m sure you can ask a little of them.”
“And I suppose you’ll be wanting payin’ for this?”
“Oh, no no no no. All I ask is your continued correspondence in the future, Victor.” He waved his hands around, the lace at the end of his sleeves whipping back and forward. I’ll give you my address; the postal service continues to suffer from government-induced setbacks but letters do get through eventually. I assume you are a lettered man?”
“I can read and write, yes.”
“Then it’s settled! Here, I’ve drawn up a contract; just a simple thing, you need to sign here and here…”
And the deal was settled.
It was to be another year and a half, and many letters to him, before I picked up and read the first of the stories. Victor the Victorious he called me. Victor and the Lamia of Bedulla by JR was a hit, everyone was reading it. In this version, the Lamia had been preying on the villagers for months; rather than a sad, lonely creature who needed putting down she was a violent, evil sadist. Every turn of a page horrified me even more. The woman I ‘saved’ in the cave, pulling her out of the birthing pit at the last moment, the one who later threw herself at me in a fit of passion, she didn’t even exist.
I sought Jaarlson out, of course. Never did find him; he wasn’t local, no-one knew him and he disappeared off into the night taking the contract with him.
I wrote several letters to him after that, mostly asking for his location. To my horror, the stories kept coming. By now I was being recognised in the streets; people were, indeed, asking for me by name and news of my adventures were obviously getting back to him through word of mouth. Even worse, they were growing in the telling. I’d kill a small drake that was eating cats and dogs; by the time the story came out it was Victor and the Dragon of Dunmarket or some such nonsense.
One thing he got right was the money. People started offering more. I refused at first. Then they pointed out that the stories had me accepting some of the money and doing good with it. I took some of it; every man’s got running costs, right? Before long I had more money than I knew what to do with, so I kept quiet. Bought land. Set up home in a little village far from anywhere, and I kept my head down.
Life was easier that way.
“…And there y’have it, boy. The whole story.”
Trip sat in the corner staring at the old man, who suddenly seemed to collapse in on himself. Victor lay down on the bed again.
“I hate it. I hate the people who crowd roun’ me, hate the stories; hate that people expect somethin’ of me. I retired to get away from it. Then you showed up with yer adventure. I’m tired an’ old.
Now leave me in peace.”
It was as if the supporting struts that held Trip’s life together had suddenly been knocked away with one swing of a sword. Within minutes the man’s breathing had slowed to an even rhythm and, as he slept, Trip stared with wide eyes out onto the moonlit courtyard, the One Tree looming over everything.
Sleep did not come that night.