March 30th, 2003
Inspiration - By Koryne
The sound of her husband's furious scribbling made Clarissa put the
manuscript down. Her soft slippers whispered warmly across the room to
where her husband sat, frowning in thought. She stroked his hair fondly,
as if to remind herself that this was not a dream. She was married to
the great bard Valdezar. The storyteller who's words had captured her
soul since he had first started writing. The man who she had dreamed of
marrying for as long as she could remember. And to think, just a few
weeks ago she had been a lowly serving girl in Castle Medievia...
The wind and rain had swept the central courtyard of the City of
Medievia clean of its usual early evening bustle. The solitude suited my
mood, and the deepening darkness seemed to mirror my dark thoughts. Not for
the first time that day I found myself questioning the wisdom of my
uncharacteristically rash decision. As if to remind myself, I studied my
once fine cloak; the faded material and tattered hem clearly naming my
financial station. Pulling the flapping thing more tightly around me I
tried to protect my precious book from the rain. The castle loomed
suddenly before me, its lightless windows staring at me in silent accusation.
Quickening my pace, I made my way wetly up the staircase towards the
The guardhouse door creaked open, spilling a wedge of yellow light
across my path. I started at the sound and sudden illumination, like a
thief caught red-handed.
"Who goes there?" demanded a voice.
"It's Master Valdezar, the bard," I said, attempting a winning smile
that hung crookedly on my face. The guardsman thrust a lantern rudely in
my direction, and looked me up and down thoughtfully.
He nodded to himself and barked, "You're late."
I quickly tried to compose a grandiose apology along with a suitably
exciting excuse for my tardiness, but the guardsman was already herding
me across the drawbridge like a disobedient sheep. The man obviously had
no appreciation for the art of a bard. His intellect was probably
inversely proportional to the size of his muscles - which were considerably
over-developed. The brute had probably never even heard of me, so I
resolved to ignore the affront.
A page appeared and bade me follow him to the guest quarters where I
would await the Duke's pleasure. As we made our way through the gaping
maw of the castle doors toward the castle proper, I began to feel
somewhat ill at ease. The impregnable stone walls of the castle had me firmly
in their unrelenting grasp, and the thought turned my stomach to a ball
The echo of my boots on the black tiles seemed unusually loud, as if
the floor itself was shouting the arrival of an enemy. Two cleaning
ladies abruptly stopped their dusting, and frowned at me as I approached.
They seemed on the brink of leaping to action and viciously assaulting me
with their feather-dusters. Sweat began to bead on my forehead and a
cold trickle began to form between my shoulder blades. My underhandedness
seemed painted in my every move, and I would not have been surprised if
the page lead me straight to the dungeons.
I tried to suppress the panic rising in my gut and school my mind to
rationality. The mind of a bard, however, is not easily tamed. The more I
tried not to think of the true reason for my presence in the castle,
the worse my fanciful imaginings about dungeons, sharp objects and
feather-dusters. Considering the fact that I had not written a word in five
years, this sudden burst of imagination was somewhat ironic - under
other circumstances I might have even laughed.
Five years ago, I was considered more then a bard; I was a creator.
With pen and parchment I could raze a city and forge an empire, I could
bring legends to life and make true love blossom. Admittedly, my ability
to show people dreams they had not yet had, earned me a tidy sum of
Then one day, I had no stories left to tell.
My imagination had run dry and my wit turned dull. Even the simplest
story crumbled to dust under my quill after the first few lines.
Three days ago, I thought that fortune had finally begun to smile on me
again. I was in the market considering the value of fruits and
vegetables as opposed to wine, when a muffled cry made me turn. I felt no
desire to be seen on the front page of the morning paper as the 'innocent
citizen who stumbled onto a crime in progress and had unspeakable
atrocities visited upon his person', so I began to make haste in the opposite
My retreat was interrupted when a flustered young lady tackled me from
behind. She seemed suitably embarrassed, and once she caught her
breath, made an offhanded excuse about how I resembled her husband. Then she
threw a heavy cloak around me and fussed over it, rubbing off a stain
and adjusting it. At some point between tying a black ribbon in the
cloak's lapel and picking invisible lint off it, she inquired if I didn't
mind trying it on as it was a gift for her husband. She interrupted my
non-committal grunt by saying that it looked so lovely on me and that I
should keep it. She hurried off without another word.
I had barely collected my thoughts after that unsettling barrage, when
a skinny, shifty-eyed man drew me aside. Before I could tell him I was,
yet again, being confused with someone else, he slipped a small vial in
my pocket. He told me that I was going to kill Duke Pherrence and be
paid an astronomical sum of money. And then he, like the young lady,
presently disappeared without a trace.
The rhythmic clink of steel greaves on stone brought me back to the
present. Two knights rounded the corner in front of me, perfectly in step.
Both looked resplendent in plate-mail, which had been burnished until
it reflected even the faintest flickers of torch light. They moved with
a dangerous grace, seeming constantly on the brink of violent action.
They seemed to shimmer and glow with their own inner light, and this
marked them Guardians of the Golden Wyrm. As one, they turned stares as
cold as death towards me. Knowing eyes bored into my skull and I was
certain that the discovery of my deception was imminent. I barely prevented
myself from heaving a sigh of relief when their steps took them past me
and out of view.
As if of their own accord, my traitorous fingers stole towards the top
pocket of my cloak, tracing the outline of the glass vial stored there.
Its contents was a tasteless, odorless powder that could be sprinkled
on food or dissolved to do its foul deed. Some minutes later, I noticed
with horror that my fingers still traced this outline in my cloak
pocket. I quickly turned it to a patting motion, as if I were absent-mindedly
checking the security of some valuable or other. The page seemed to
be giving me sidelong looks, so I made a show of patting down my other
pockets and tried to look satisfied.
After taking the Dragon Staircase to the second floor, the castle took
on a deserted feel. The hallways were mottled with dust and dimly lit
by sparsely placed torches burning low in their sconces. The air was
musty from lack of ventilation, and the overall impression was somewhat
dungeon-like; just the thing to set my teeth on edge again.
Abruptly I bumped into the page, who I now realized had stopped before
a large wooden door. He caught his balance and gave me an indignant
look, which I answered with a sheepish smile.
"Your cloak sir?" said the page after pushing the door open.
"Oh, yes of course," I said absently, and shrugged it off my shoulders.
The page ushered me in and bade me sit down, all the while trying to
hold my dripping cloak as far from his body as humanly possible. The room
was spacious and elegantly decorated - befitting the station of the
Duke as the visiting noble of a powerful land. I moved over to the
fireplace and slumped into a chair which was obviously made for its aesthetic
appeal rather than comfort, and inspected my book for any water damage.
Satisfied that it was unharmed, I leafed through the pages, letting my
familiar words distract me from my task.
The door swung open, and I looked up expectantly. It was however, only
a serving girl bearing a crystal decanter of wine, and two wineglasses.
She gave me a broad smile and a curtsy after arranging decanter and
glasses on the table near me. Something about her gnawed at my mind for a
moment, but the thought was quickly lost in the blood-red depths of the
I hardly noticed the girl leave as I poured myself a glass with an
"To Inspiration," I said quietly, toasting myself. Without wasting time
to savor the flavor I tilted my head back and drained the glass. I
immediately poured and drank a second glass in a feeble attempt to calm my
The door opened again, and I looked up to see Duke Pherrence striding
into the room. His face seemed set in a grim mask, and his eyes seemed
to burn with the same intensity as the fire in the hearth. However,
something seemed out of sorts - his thinning hair was greasy and poorly
slicked back in an attempt to make his baldness seem less obvious. His
clothing was worn and looked like it had been slept in, and the absence of
a sword at his hip was noticeable.
"Stay seated," said the Duke in an icy tone as I was halfway to my
feet. The greeting that I had composed remained unsaid as I sank back down.
The chair I noted, was getting less comfortable with each passing
A smile bereft of humor twisted Duke Pherrence's face as he seated
himself. "Let me ask you a question, Bard," the Duke began. "What, aside
from that book, do you carry for me?"
I swallowed. "Only the book..."
The Duke looked at me askance, and snorted his disbelief. "Only a book
of stories?" he asked of me. "No powder, perhaps?"
I felt the hot flush of blood as my heart began to pound; it seemed as
if it were clawing its way up my throat. The vial in the pocket of my
cloak - the same cloak the page had taken away. I had sat around drinking
wine like a tavern drunk, and I had completely forgotten the vial! I
marveled at my own stupidity. "P-powder?" I stammered.
The Duke stood up and tapped a finger thoughtfully on his lips as he
paced the room. "I would assume it was meant for me?"
"Yes," I whined, realizing more lies would do me no good. "But... How
did you know?"
"Aah yes, the ever inquisitive mind of a storyteller," said the Duke
with an cold laugh. "My Kerstian Elites have been in the city for some
time, gathering information and making preparations. They pass messages
to me through a serving girl in the castle. They saw your little
exchange with the Veiled Society in the market."
"What?" I asked, shocked.
"I am in no mood for games bard," said the Duke, sounding deathly
serious. "Brown coat with a black ribbon - a freelance assassin looking for
"I am no assassin, I'm a bard!" I said, still in shock. "There was a
lady... in the market. She threw the cloak around me, and then the man
gave me slow-acting poison and..."
"Enough!" shouted the Duke, pounding his fist on the table in front of
me. "You say you are no assassin? Yet you were planning to accept gold
for my death were you not?"
"Gold," I muttered, knowing that was not the true reason. "And a
story." And how I needed that story, I reflected. It had been so long. Here
was the chance to feel the thrill of adventure. Surely after such an
experience I would be inspired to write about it as no-one else had!
"A story?" said the Duke disbelievingly. "For your story's sake I hope
your poison was slow acting enough."
I felt the icy uncoiling of dread inside me. I did not need the Duke's
intentional glance at the decanter of wine to guess what he was
alluding to. My vision swam and I felt bile rising in the back of my throat.
Each dull thud of my heart was spreading the poison through my veins and
edging me closer to death.
"I am not a cruel man," continued the Duke. "You came here for a story,
and you shall have that. Contrary to popular belief, I am a prisoner in
Castle Medievia. To what end, I still do not know, but that is
irrelevant at this time. You will use your gift at writing and your name to
make it common knowledge that I was held here against my will. You will
expose the mayor of Medievia for the tyrant he is, as will you expose his
collusion with the Veiled Society. And you can end the story with my
brilliant escape with the aid of the Elites."
I stood mute, and stone-still.
"You will write this story or I will see to it that every thread which
ties you to the fabric of society is picked apart. Your father is
living off a militia member's pension in Ruellia, and your younger sister
and her husband live in the Medievia suburbs. Their three children are
studying to be mages in Vanlarra. They say that the quill is mightier
than the sword, so pick up your quill and save your family from the
My mouth worked silently, words still escaping the grasp of my frantic
The door opened. The serving girl had returned bearing a tray of cakes
and offered them to the Duke. He plucked a sugar dusted cake between
two fingers and popped it into his mouth. My stomach heaved at the sweet
smell as the girl turned the tray in my direction. For some reason she
blinked rapidly and shook her head while offering the cakes.
In death my works would live on, I thought hollowly. And the hand of
death seemed to be crushing me in its inescapable grasp. One slip, one
oversight and my life was forfeit. The great bard dies trying to emulate
on of his own brave adventurers - how ironic.
"...leave the choice to you. I bid you good night."
I started, suddenly aware that the Duke was speaking. My gaze slipped
from his retreating back to the crystal decanter. I marveled at how such
a simple thing, a drink of wine, had shattered my entire life.
I left the castle in a daze, and stumbled out into the night. My mind
in turmoil, basic human instinct began to take charge; but I could not
fight the invisible enemy coursing through me. I didn't even spare a
thought for the precious book of my original writings, which I left
Morning found me a withered husk of a human being. I was filthy and
soaked to the bone after the nights downpour. I had found an old quill
somewhere, although I still lacked ink and paper. Although, with the face
of mortality looking straight at me, I wouldn't have been able to write
a word. Perhaps, I thought, I should stop tormenting myself and give
up - just lie down in an alleyway and die.
There seemed to be some commotion in the streets, as voices were raised
and people called to one another. The cacophony continued to rise until
it was no longer tolerable. I would not die face down in the mud among
shouting peasants. I ambled past a young scribe who was shouting the
news of the morning, and his words made me blink in confusion.
I grabbed the boy and pulled him towards me. "What did you say boy?"
" 's the Duke master," said the boy, visibly shaken after being
manhandled. "He's dead."
"Dead," I echoed. Dead! I thought wildly. I threw my head back and
roared with laughter. Death had claimed the wrong man!
Indeed I was to prove this, for I lived to see the day out. I was back
at my home when I remembered my lost book. It felt as though someone
had stolen a portion of my life - and the best part at that. I was living
on borrowed time and didn't even have my memories to console me.
A firm knock at the door made my heart skip a beat. Could it be one of
the Duke's henchmen come to finish the job? A guardsman, come to arrest
me for the Duke's murder? Surely neither of the two would knock, and a
sudden bout of nausea reminded me that I was dead anyway.
"Who is it?" I managed.
"A friend," a woman's voice replied. The voice tickled my memory as it
continued, "You must have a few questions."
I stood before the door, mulling the words over in my mind. I lifted
the latch, and pulled it open slowly...
I put my quill down and looked lovingly up at Clarissa.
"I think I'm not doing this story justice you know," I said. "I was
thinking that you would be the unsung hero whose amazing feats are
dramatically revealed right at the end."
She slapped me playfully as she said, "I thought I was the pretty
little serving girl who came to return your book and tell you I switched
your wine. And to tell you that that wasn't sugar on the cakes..."
I laughed as I said, "No, if I were writing it that way you would be
the vivacious super-heroine masquerading as a serving girl. Who also
attacks and basically robs assassins in the market."
"You're the creative genius Vald, not me. Where else was I going to get
that exact brown cloak with a black ribbon on short notice?" she
replied, with mock seriousness. "And I think the story's just fine. You said
yourself that the best writing comes from personal experience - and
you're telling the story as you saw it. Besides, I like sounding like your
sort-of behind the scenes guardian angel."
"You saved my life and made us a fortune, and I haven't even used your
name yet," I said, feeling ashamed.
"Nonsense," said Clarissa, "All I did was give you Inspiration."
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