Cryptic Chronicles

 

Patrick Welch

  Borkono waited in the dim shadows cast by the full moon perched nearly directly overhead. He ignored the streams of blood pouring down his massive arms, result of his recent savage battle with the Lithian guards. Not all the blood was his.

His huge hands, hands that could break a man's neck as easily as an egg, tightened around the hilt of his sword Gravefiller. His weapon had already earned its name a dozen times that evening. But there remained one more enemy to battle, one more soul to send to eternal damnation. Garanz had to be near, he was certain. After what he had just done to his guards, Garanz would have to face him. Honor-bound to face him.

"Come, coward," he whispered. "Show yourself. Earn your justified reward."

Borkono's challenge was almost immediately answered. He heard his enemy before he saw him, the snapping of twigs and the swish of dry leaves spoke of his presence. Then Garanz appeared, outlined by the moonlight, his armor gleaming even in the soft light as the evil warlord walked heavily and unafraid into the clearing. Borkono was a large man, but Garanz was larger still. He was nearly a half a foot taller, and his armor made him appear as massive as a warhorse. Garanz was carrying a mace and small shield, and he held them aloft as he yelled, "I know you're there, Borkono. You may have killed my men, but you face your master now!"

Borkono stepped forward until he was mere paces from Garanz. "Your evilness shall no longer plague this land," he replied, raising Gravefiller above his head.

 

"I said that? 'Your evilness shall no longer plague this land.'?"

I merely shrugged. "It was in the heat of the moment. I was there, you know."

Borkono took a sip of wine before replying. "I know. Still, it sounds a bit ...pretentious, doesn't it? And my sword; I have never given it a name."

I jotted a note on the parchment I was reading from. "Just a bit of poetic license if you will. Don't you like it?"

He scratched an armpit while he ruminated. "I don't recall Conan naming his weapon."

"Yes, but we have to give you an identity. If we are going to publish your exploits, you have to be distinctive." I paused. "You know, I've been thinking. Maybe we should change your name."

Borkono frowned. "What is wrong with my name?"

"Too many syllables. Conan and Elric have only two. Kull only one."

"Red Sonya has three."

"Two words, like Gray Mouser." I pushed back from our table in the Knight's Holiday Inn. "Think about it. Your's sounds something like, I don't know, a soft drink."

He slammed his fist on the table. "My name honors my family! Are you trying to say we can't publish my exploits because of my name? What ilk of chronicler are you? I knew I should have commissioned Howard."

"Howard has too many clients as it is," I said softly. "Besides, he's dead."

"Leiber."

"Same."

"Moorcock then. I am tired of being anonymous!"

I patted his hand, hoping to calm him. I couldn't afford to lose him as a client since he was the only one I had. But he didn't know that as I had told him I wrote under various aliases. "It was merely a suggestion. I'll take care of that quote for you. Let's continue."

 

"Your heart shall grace my mantle," Borkono said as he stepped forward to meet his sworn enemy.

"That's better," Borkono said with a nod.

"Thanks." I continued reading aloud as Borkono could not read for himself. A minor detail I never mentioned in his stories.

 

Borkono brought his sword down on Garanz's shield; the sound of metal on metal echoed throughout the forest and scattered the birds roosting in the trees. The force of his blow brought Garanz to his knees, but the evil master of Fahrquom forced Borkono back with his mace. The devil's first blow missed, but the second struck Borkono on his side, causing him to scream in agony. Garanz pressed the attack, driving Borkono farther from the clearing, with Borkono desperately parrying his mace.

Borkono's next blow again bounced harmlessly off Garanz's shield, but he managed to evade the warlord's counter-thrust. "Your men were no match for me. Neither are you," he said between gritted teeth.

"My mace has already bitten you once," Garanz responded. "I can smell your blood. I like the smell of your blood."

"Soon you shall smell nothing save your grave." Borkono lunged for him, but misfortune fell like a stone from the heavens. His foot caught on a protruding root and he fell forward, losing his grip on Gravefiller in the process.

Garanz laughed, a deep laugh born in the pits of Hell. "You are begging for your life? It is mine, now." And he swung his mace at his enemy's head.

Borkono partially blocked it with his left arm as he rolled desperately to the side. Pain rushed through him like an avalanche as he managed to reach his feet. Turning quickly, he saw Garanz was standing between him and Gravefiller. Yelling in rage and agony, he turned and fled into the forest.

 

"Fled? Do you really have to say that?"

"You ran like a cheap pair of panty hose."

"Hell, yes, I did. He was going to kill me."

"Okay, I'll change it to 'retreated.' Is that better?"

"I guess. It really didn't hurt that much, you know."

I grimaced. "I'm trying to make you heroic! I'm a writer; how much truth do you expect from me?"

"The truth should need no adornment."

It does in your case. "Let's go on."

 

Borkono staggered deeper into the trees. Without his sword, he was no match for the armored Garanz and they both knew it. I have to find a weapon, he thought. Perhaps I can circle around him and reclaim Gravefiller. He went to the left, hoping to get behind his foe.

"Are you trying to hide, Borkono?" he heard Garanz yell out. "I can smell you, you know. Your fear, your blood. Your impending death. You cannot hide from me."

Borkono heard him approaching and cursed; Garanz was coming straight toward him. The dark warlord was said to have magical powers, a rumor Borkono had dismissed as the fearful fantasies of the peasants or a fabrication inspired and propagated by Garanz himself. Now he wasn't so sure. It was as if the very roots of the trees were under some sinister command as he staggered in search of an escape. Thorns and thistles tore at him while the undergrowth tried to seize him as he forced his way deeper into the foreboding dark woods. There had to be a way out, he continued to tell himself, desperately trying to calm the fear growing within him like a rising river.

 

"A bit drawn out, isn't it? Melodramatic perhaps?"

"Readers expect excessive verbiage today. The thicker the book, the more value for their money."

"If you say so." He took another sip of wine. "Personally I wouldn't read it."

"You can't read. Would you prefer, 'He ran through the woods tripping willy-nilly as he fled for his life.'?"

"I see your point. Go on."

 

Borkono continued through the forest even as he heard Garanz getting ever closer. There were no large limbs lying on the ground he could use in defense, no way to circumvent his approaching death. He could almost hear the heavy breathing of his enemy when he broke into another clearing.

But it was more than that. There were several tombstones scattered about and a small crypt at the far end. I'm in a graveyard, he realized, a thought that only chilled him more. He staggered into the middle of the clearing when he heard Garanz speak again.

"So you've found my little shrine. I've placed most of my enemies here, you know. This is the ideal place for you to join your ancestors."

Borkono turned and saw the warlord standing at the edge of the graveyard. He looked around, desperately searching for loose rocks he might use, but this particular graveyard was well maintained. He stepped back as Garanz strode forward.

"Pick a place for your grave," Garanz said as he raised his mace. "There are plenty to choose from."

"You shall die here, not I," he said as he continued his slow retreat.

"Your words ring false, barbarian. You are nothing more than a bothersome gnat. One I shall be most delighted to crush."

 

"Why does he get all the good lines?" Borkono grumbled. He was now on his third glass of wine and quickly becoming drunk and tiresome.

"The villain has to be a worthy adversary. Besides, that's a direct quote."

"Bah. Next time, you shall write my speeches before the battle."

"If you wish. Quiet, now, we're almost done."

 

Borkono took another step back ...and almost fell as the ground nearly gave way beneath him. He looked down and realized he had nearly fallen through to the crypt hidden below. If I were any heavier, I would be dead now. And Garanz, he knew, weighed much more than he. "This gnat shall drink all of your blood tonight," Borkono said, stopping just a few feet from the weakened ground. "Come to me so that I may dine."

 

"That's not bad."

"You were consistent with your metaphors. For a change."

He nodded smugly and drank more wine as I continued.

 

"So the lamb stands ready to face the lion! Good; perhaps I shall slay you quickly. But then, I owe my men vengeance upon you. They shall enjoy your pain." Garanz leapt forward.

And the ground collapsed beneath him as he landed. He loosened a scream of rage and surprise, and tried desperately to stop himself from falling into the hidden chamber. He had fallen through up to his chest, and only his outstretched arms prevented him from dropping through completely. Borkono approached slowly, wary that the ground would give way more. Then he picked up the mace Garanz had dropped in his surprise and panic. He stood over the warlord and raised the weapon. "You wish to be king? In that case, now I crown you." And he brought the mace down with all his strength on the top of Garanz's helmet.

The evil overlord screamed, and continued screaming until his body crashed on the floor of the crypt. Borkono tossed the mace in after him, then slowly headed back through the graveyard. He had to retrieve Gravefiller, then return to the village. He wondered idly if the inns would still be open.

 

"My last dialogue; you have to change that."

"Agreed." I jotted a note on the papyrus.

He gnawed at a persistent hangnail. "Something else troubles me."

I looked at him with raised eyebrows. "Which is?"

"My defeat of Garanz. There was nothing ...heroic about it. It was just good fortune that I found that crypt and the ground was weak. I didn't do anything."

"True." I sat a moment in silent thought. "Okay, I think I have it. You knew the crypt was there. Before confronting Garanz, you went there and weakened the roof to the chamber. If you couldn't defeat him in armed battle, you would lure him to your trap. Take a bit of rewriting, of course, but no biggie."

Borkono scratched his greasy head. "I don't know. That just seems ...sneaky."

I patted him on the arm. "Winning with your brain is just as satisfying as winning with your brawn."

He made a moue. "Would Conan have done thus?"

"If he was smart enough." I rolled up the parchment and placed it in my satchel lying on the floor next to me. "I'll make the revisions and have it ready next week. Thursday, say? Same time, same place?"

He nodded, finished his wine with one swallow, stood and walked unsteadily from the tavern. Once he was gone, I sighed heavily. There were five other Borkono adventures in my satchel, but as yet no publisher had expressed any interest. And I was certain, despite all my efforts and enhancement of the truth, that this would be no different.

I took one last sip of wine. I need another client, I thought. Perhaps Conan would be interested.

 

 

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Author Bio

Patrick Welch received a B.A. and M.A. in English from Bowling Green State University. Proving the value of a liberal education, he has worked variously as a musician, dock worker, insurance salesman, full-time and substitute teacher, free-lance writer and assistant store manager.

He has published more than forty stories in e-zines and the small press. Currently, he also has two books available from Twilight Times Books, The Casebook of Doakes and Haig and The Thirteenth Magician.

Westchester Station (a fantasy novel) is available from Double Dragon Ebook. Other completed books include The Body Shop, Before/Beyond (an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories) and Brendell; Apprentice Thief.

Visit Patrick's web site.

 

Read other stories by Patrick Welch
Demon in a Box -- DF
Demon in a Box (light background)
Second Stage -- SF
Tiny Losses -- F
The Joining -- F

Check out his author interview.

 


 

 

 

 

"Cryptic Chronicles" Copyright © 2003 Patrick Welch. All rights reserved. Published by permission of the author.

 

This page last updated 01-26-03.

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