DargonZine F4, Issue 3

Dreamer’s Holiday



This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Atros

The Grand Hall of the Keep of Dargon rivaled the local shrines and temples in augustness of stature, especially on this night, the eve of the opening of the Spice Market at the Dargon festival. The ivory white hall’s sumptuous furnishings had been commissioned by the somewhat frivolous and eccentric grandfather of the the current Duke. The high flanking windows were decorated with rose red and aquamarine tinted glass arranged in somewhat bizarre geometric patterns. Paintings of obscure artists dotted the alabaster white walls. Short flights of burnished wooden staircases were the only entrance onto the central dance floor on which was centered a great ebony clock marking the hours in hollow base tones.

 

This was the forth night since the beginning of the fairs that the hall was filled by a voluptuous company. But this night was special, second only to the opening of the fairs themselves in its festivities. While small clusters of nobles and merchants mingled on the edges of the hall discussing the fairs, elegant couples danced gracefully to the controlled harmonies of the performing orchestra. One such couple was Kite and Pecora. Youthful, aristocratic, handsome, recently engaged, and remarkable pleasant, they were favored and envied by all.

 

“Your friend Raffen doesn’t seem to be having a good time this evening,” Pecora observed indicating a lone man standing in one of the darker corners of the ivory white hall. A nearby coal brazier sent ruddy red light onto the man’s extremely white face causing an astonishing macabre effect of which Raffen was apparently unaware.

 

“He doesn’t fit in here for all his efforts. He was invited as entertainment only. The court wanted to hear of his travels in the south,” Kite responded somewhat worried.

 

“Other wealthy merchants are here,” Pecora suggested.

 

“Yes, but Raffen isn’t wealthy. He holds several commenda.” Noticing her look of noncomprehension Kite added “Agreements with southern merchants to act as their agent in the fairs. But he lacks any real property of his own. The payment for his services is relatively small. A brillant man but still a commoner.” Kite’s voice was wistful. He often regretted the social conditions of his society. “He realizes why he was invited. Perhaps he resents it,” he added somewhat gravely.

 

“He’s been alone most of the evening. Perhaps his novelity has worn off,” Pecora observed.

 

“I don’t know about that. I overheard Sir Ponte and Duralt’s younger brother discussing adopting the custom of wearing facial talc which Raffen picked up while in the south. I suspect that they want to share in Raffen’s attention.”

 

“Those two would try to capitalize on anything to get the ladies’ attention. But Raffen’s not exactly a lady’s man… Too introverted. I don’t think that he wears the talc to attract women, though it does cover his rough complexion well,” Pecora said.

 

“It wasn’t so long ago that Sir Ponte had designs on you,” Kite chided playfully.

 

“I knew that there was some reason for our engagement. I just hope getting rid of Ponte is worth the price,” Pecora responded with equal playfulness and kissed Kite.

 

“It’s Raffen’s brooding that chases everyone off,” Kite added after a moment. “He always has something on his mind, though he never admits what it is.”

 

“Yes, he always appears so contemplative…depressed. He doesn’t dance and often seems so distant.”

 

“Yes, but conversations with him are never dull. Maybe we should go over,” Kite suggested.

 

“I’d rather have you to myself…. There’s Pravo. Why don’t you introduce them. He’s also something of a misfit.”

 

“Good idea. Be back in a moment.” Kite smiled as he crossed the dance floor.

 

As Kite and Pravo approached, Raffen stood admiring an arresting oil painting detailing an immense cavern wherein cowled riders fly gray, corpse-like humanoids with large membranous wings from galleries and high ledges over a darkened, sluggish river flowing over uncountable cataracts into a distant chasm.

 

“Raffen, have you met Pravo, one of Dargon’s most distinguished scholars?” Kite asked. The gentleman looked distinctly uncomfortable.

 

“No, I’m sure that I would recall such a pleasurable experience.” Raffen replied driely.

 

“I’m sure that you will find that you have much in common. But I’m afraid that I will have to leave you to yourselves. If you will excuse me, duty calls,” The departing Kite explained gesturing toward Pecora who seemed to be signalling him.

 

“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, Raffen, since hearing of your travels to the south,” Pravo said with a bit of hesitation.

 

“Yes, it seems my adventures have sparked great interest in this court,” Raffen said with artificial warmness tainted with agitation.

 

“But my interests are different than most, I’ll warrant,” Pravo said looking about court, perhaps checking for eavesdroppers. “I am less concerned with brillant scenes and deeds of daring than with the cultures and religions which you encountered.”

 

“That is well because my meager collection of brave and daring deeds are to the point of exhaustion.” Both laughed. Raffen began to develop an interest in the man.

 

“You see, I am something of a scholar, perhaps you’ve encountered my works, ‘Legends and Myths of Thasodonia’ or ‘Northern Nights’?”

 

“You wrote ‘Legends and Myths’ !?!” Raffen said with some excitement. “I’ve read the work and liked it a great deal.”

 

“You needn’t flatter me, I have no great influence here,” Pravo said looking somewhat uncomfortable.

 

“No, I’m serious. Your rendition of the Tchai myth was the most complete that I’ve yet encountered.”

 

“Oh! Then you really have some interest in my field,” Pravo said looking pleased. “Perhaps you can be of some help.”

 

“Hopefully, how might I help you?” Raffen offered with a slightly sarcastic flourish.

 

“I’m compiling a collection of creation myths. Perhaps you could contribute something from the South,” Pravo asked hopefully.

 

“Oh…… I’m sorry but my business there was remarkably consuming. I had little time to really observe the people.”

 

“Unfortunate.” Pravo appeared disappointed. “I was hoping to uncover something unknown in this area,” Pravo said turning away, showing obvious signs of intent to depart.

 

“No wait. Let me think. I do remember one rather unusual tidbit. Have you ever heard the word ‘Squarg’?” Raffen asked with a smile.

 

“‘Squarg’?…. No, not that I recall,” Pravo replied somewhat confused, trying to determine if Raffen was joking. “It doesn’t seem to fit into the linguistics of any language with which I am familiar. What does it mean?”

 

“As all really good words, it stands for a concept which is difficult to express otherwise. Perhaps because it is not of truely human origin,” Raffen added solemnly.

 

“A nonhuman word? No wonder I did not recognize it. Interesting… Please attempt to define it as best you can,” Pravo requested somewhat reassured but still confused.

 

“The best method of defining it lies in the creation myth in which it originated.”

 

“Oh then, by all means tell it as best you can,” Pravo asked seeming very attentive.

 

“As the myth goes, the word was coined by the first sentient creature,” Raffen began then stopped.

 

“Oh, I see. Go on.”

 

“Soon after it was created, the sentience was guided by the All Creator to a point from which it could view the entirety of reality so that for the first time the Creator could share his handiwork with another capable of appreciating it.” There was a moments hesitation in Raffen’s speech followed by an encouraging gesture from Pravo. “The astonished creature looked upon the vastness of time, space, void, living, and nonliving. In response, the creature uttered what was probably the first word, though it is almost certain that this creature possessed no vocal abilities as we know them. And this first word, this first independent thought, was ‘Squarg’, or so that is the sound which man has given that word. It stands for many things. It symbolizes all the wonder and rapture inherent in a glimpse of the entirety of reality, but at one and the same time, it relates a certain feeling of pride and contempt, hubris against the Creator. As if one were to say ‘Is this the best that you could do?’ and ‘Beware God, I am Man. These realms are mine to do with as I please and I will do better.’ There are other nuances of course but these are even more difficult to define. All in all not a very complex creation myth. I hope you will forgive its brevity and lack of plot,” Raffen finished.

 

“No. No. It is fascinating and original. Unlike any that I’ve heard before. A major contribution for my book. How did you come by it? Some nonhuman work?” Pravo asked in apparent euphoria.

 

“Perhaps. I first read it in a book called The King in Yellow though I’ve seen it elsewhere since,” Raffen replied.

 

“The King in Yellow!?…hmph.. Yes, I’ve heard of the book, though I’ve never seen a copy. I’d almost attributed its existence as a myth itself what with the remarkable rumors that surround it.” Raffen nodded. “It is said that few survive a perusal with their sanity fully intact. It has been said to have been the doom of many great minds.”

 

“Yes, that is true,” Raffen affirmed, lost in thought.

 

“It was written by an artist, I believe,” Pravo offered.

 

“Yes… It has been and will be written by many artists individually,” Raffen replied, his voice trailing off in volume.

 

“Pardon, I didn’t quite hear that. It’s becoming dreadfully noisy in here. Perhaps we could step outside.” Pravo pointed toward the balcony.

 

“It is little better out there. But yes, let’s.” Both exited to the dark balacony which overlooked a street crowded with celebrating townspeople.

 

“About the origin of the book,” Pravo began.

 

“It was written by an artist/poet who was attempting to define and codify a system of creative motifs and symbols which are common to all cultures. Metaphors and images which transcend all cultures and all peoples. It is these primal truths which are said to drive men mad,” Raffen said in a serious tone.

 

“You seem quite sound and you’ve read the book.” Pravo attempted weak humor.

 

“I sometimes wonder…”

 

Stunned into silence for a moment, Pravo said finally “I am quite anxious to read the book myself, perhaps you have it at hand?”

 

“No. My copy is in a safe place very far away. Very far…” Again Raffen trailed off.

 

“That is unfortunate. Still, I will do my best to locate a copy here in Dargon.” Pravo seemed somewhat irritated and unsettled by Raffen’s tone.

 

“Any intellect with the ability and the desire to read the book will eventually locate it,” Raffen offered somewhat mysteriously.

 

The scholar chuckled weakly. “Then I have some hope… I think…” Very unsettled, Pravo looked deeply at Raffen who stared off across the festivities below.

 

A rather plain looking, middle-aged matron stepped out onto the balcony and expressed her desire to dance with Pravo before the musicians departed. Pravo could hardly refuse.

 

“I hope that we will get a chance to speak again,” Pravo said as they drifted apart, possibly relieved by the interruption.

 

“I am certain that we will,” Raffen replied, uncertain whether he was heard over the buzz of the company. Seeing that the ball was nearly at an end, Raffen decided to make his excuses and depart.

 

***

 

Atros felt no guilt for assuming Raffen Yeggent’s identity even though it had required slaying Raffen. The two had met along the road to Dargon and had remained traveling companions for several days. Atros had been wary of this relationship from the start, particularly since he wanted to severe his ties with the city of Magnus. It might prove difficult later if a witness existed who could attest to the specifics of his journey. But the somewhat lonely Raffen had forced himself on Atros and Atros hadn’t pressed the issue. Raffen had been a talkative sort describing in detail his background, recent travels, business matters, and future plans. Atros did his best to remain noncommital to Raffen’s occasionally probing questions but it grew to be strenuously difficult at times. Still, Atros felt so refreshed and contented by virtue on the continued use of the nepenthe that he had almost enjoyed the verbal fencing at times.

 

Atros had sensed almost immediately that Raffen wasn’t what one might call a highly scrupulous individual. Raffen’s main pursuit in life it seemed lay in acquiring wealth. His scruples, if they existed at all, didn’t seem to interfere. Hence, Atros wasn’t particularly surprised by the interest Raffen had shown in his collection of rare books. This wariness had cost Raffen his life and saved Atros his own. Raffen had sought to slay Atros in his sleep but hadn’t anticipated a prepared defense. Atros had made quick work of him, only later realizing the opportunity which Raffen had afforded him. Raffen had mentioned that he had never visited Dargon previously nor was anyone there capable of recognizing him. Atros immediately saw the potential profits in assuming Raffen’s business dealings at the fair but hadn’t anticipated being propelled into courtly life.

 

Had Atros known of the notoriety involved, he might have chosen to act otherwise. Atros knew that he could not maintain the disguise for long. The continued use of the drug, and the peaceful sleep it offered, had allowed him to lead an almost normal existence. His distinctive nervous twitching had ceased, but only for so long as his supply remained. Thus, he had let it be known that he would depart after the fairs though he anticipated settling in Dargon for some time. The facial talc was a convenient affectation to help reduce the possibility of being recognized latter. But still, he feared discovery because he knew he possessed many unconscious mannerisms which were difficult to conceal without concerted effort. He tried to make the best of the situation and enjoy a holiday at court, a privilege seldom enjoyed by many.

 

***

 

The street festival was still in full force when Atros left Dargon Keep on his way to the bordering house in which he was residing. He wound his way through the narrow, winding streets filled with indentured servant and aristocrat alike. Each receiving shares of revelry according to their temperament rather than their social standing. Here at least was a Dionysian revelry which contrasted sharply against the austere courtly celebration. Celebrants in grotesque animal masks and other more bizarre customing danced in wild revelry to the tune of frenzied music and raucous laughter. Body paints and large, fluttering banners lent colouring to the normally drab streets and alley ways. Prostitutes, both amateur and professional, fronged and cajoled the crowd. Cheap alcohol was the prevalent intoxicant though Atros observed other more questionable substances being huckstered in the darker corners of the street. Anything and everything could be had in abundance. It seemed that a delicious romp was being had by all.

 

Atros did not view the excessive crowding and noise as an annoyance. He enjoyed becoming one with the organism of the crowd; to allow himself to become lost in the fusion of opposing emotional forces of the gathering. For a time he could let the mood of the crowd become all, loosing his own worries, fears, and regrets. As any such gathering, with its loud noises, bright sights, and wild dancing, its surface was coloured by great gaiety and joy. These were things to be cherished and saved, hoarded for harder times: the soft glow of happy faces, the energy of youth, and the vitality of age. But Atros’ strong empathic ability soon penetrated this surface.

 

Beneath lay darker forces: tensions, deep emotional needs, and emptiness. These people had come to escape some emptiness which they could not fill in their day to day lives. They came to forget the mundane realities of their world for a time and indulge in their fantasies. But by doing so they brought these emptinesses with them. Atros sensed that few, if any, were really happy or content with their lives. All sought release from their confinements, to become more than themselves if just for a short interval. And to some measure they were successful. They achieved through strong drink, orgasmic dancing, casual flirtations, or narcotics what could not be won in mediocrity. Atros did not judge them for this; he knew himself to have much worse faults and difficulties. But he could not avoid feeling a certain unescapible sadness. This fused with the gaiety to create an overwhelming bitter-sweet atmosphere for Atros.

 

Atros was so involved with the mood of the crowd that he didn’t notice the prescence of his old acquaintance the alchemist until he was quite near.

 

“Gilman! Alive!” Atros’ shout was drowned out in the hubbub. He quickly darted into a nearby entry way which he found to be occupied by a young couple who obviously resented the intrusion.

 

In the safety of the darkness Atros began to mutter to himself, causing some concern in the two youths who soon left Atros to himself. “Gilman alive….impossible….I don’t make mistakes like that. He was certainly dead. The wound was fatal….No man lives after loosing that much blood.”

 

Atros glanced out the archway to see Gilman walking rapidly away apparently scanning the crowd. Atros’ hope that he had mistaken a similar man for Gilman quickly faded. It was the same bedraggled gray hair peppered with black; the same loping gate as well. Atros was certain that he’d seen Gilman wearing that course woolen frock before as well. Even the momentary glimpse of the man’s shoes confirmed that Gilman was alive and in Dargon.

 

Atros could think of only one explanation for the normally sedentary Gilman to come to Dargon. He must know or suspect that Atros was here. His prescence in the crowd was now easily explainable. How better to find a man in Dargon than to attend a festival with the better part of the city’s visitors and population in attendance? But had Gilman seen him? As Atros wiped his sweaty brow and his fingers came away covered with white talc, he realized that Gilman could not have recognized him. His fearful reaction had been foolish. Once more Atros glanced out but could not locate Gilman in the crowd. Atros mentally whipped himself for not following Gilman immediately as he strode out into the street to begin the search.

 

If Gilman were truely searching for him, why had he come alone? He must realize how outmatched he was. Atros would have anticipated two or three armed bodyguards accompanying Gilman at the very least. Nor had Atros believed that Gilman would go to such lengths to seek him out personally. Gilman just wasn’t the vengeful type or so Atros had believed. But Gilman was alone, which obviously meant something, though Atros didn’t know what that was. It suddenly occurred to him that perhaps following Gilman hadn’t been a wise idea. Perhaps Gilman had set himself up as bait to draw Atros into some sort of trap or ambush. Since it was unlikely that he could find him in any event, Atros gave up the search.

 

Atros walked home using an indirect route and checking often for followers, but there were none. As he walked he considered Gilman’s survival. Perhaps the apprentices had arrived much earlier than Atros had expected and somehow rescued the old man. This seemed unlikely though Atros spent a few moments worrying that he had been seen. Not that that really mattered now that the victim was alive. Besides, even if Gilman had received some sort of aid in time, he didn’t seem to be suffering from his wound. He appeared as whole and sound as any time Atros had seen him in the past. If anything he seemed more healthy. Atros considered further. He had read of alchemical preparations said to restore health to the nearly dead or to quicken the dead, but he had thought these well beyound the abilities of Gilman. Gilman might have obtained something of this sort during his career and his apprentices might have administered it to him. Atros had one further worry. It was said that one who imbibed a special preparation of the Philospher’s Stone, the secret ingredient and goal of the highest forms of alchemy, would enjoy a greatly extended life and would be very resistant to death by mishap. If Gilman had done this, not only had he thereby survived Atros’ previous attempt on his life, but he would also survive any getsequent. Invulnerable enemies came near to heading Atros’ list of undesirable possessions. One thing was for certain, all was not well.

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