Dear readers, tonight we reprint an intercepted missive containing what appears to be notes for an ancient play – a transcripted conversation between an interviewer, a master assassin, and her apprentice. Without further ado, we’ll also print the letter that accompanied the play.
Princess, I found this when going through the unfinished works of the famed playwright Horir ap Valuth and, knowing your interest in the stories of the past, thought of you. It purports to be a conversation between the playwright, the murderer Girton Club-Foot and his master, the assassin Merala Karn. It is probably little more than a mummers play but the parchment appears old and I know you have an interest in these people so I have copied it out for you. From what is said I think this takes place quite a bit earlier on in the life of Girton and Merela than in the other documents I have sent you.
Please do not tell your mother that you got this from me.
Rikkoneth, high scribe of Ceadoc. On the first day of Yearsbirth in the rule of Arakoneth III
~ ~ ~
Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?
G – I grew up a slave. Then my master…
M – Girton.
G – What? I was just saying that you –
M – Girton. Enough.
G – But the man is interested, Master, and I so rarely get to talk to anyone.
M – And why do you think that is?
G – What we do is secret.
Did you have any favourite memories? Any toy or somesuch that you remember?
G – Slaves do not have toys.
M – You are not a slave, Girton.
G – Yes, but I did not have toys. Oh! My master gave me a knife, would you like to see my knife?
I have seen knives before.
G – But not my knife! Look. When my master gave it to me it was rusty and now it is so sharp it can cut mount claws! My master showed me how to sharpen it, to remove the rust with sand and to rebind the handle. I used pig leather and I dyed it with the blue berries you find at the road edge in Yearslife and…
M – Enough of knives, Girton. I do not think Horir is interested in the possessions of those he sees as slaves, Girton.
G – But you said I am not a slave, Master.
The gods decree our place in life, boy, and as the gods are dead, our places are set what you are born into is what you are. Now, tell me of your lives so I may complete my research. I am a busy man.
G – Why do you lick your pen each time before you write?
M – forgive him, Blessed Horir, he is curious. It is often simpler just to answer him than argue about it.
Me, answer a slave?
M – Should you ever wish to finish your research.
Maybe I should simply beat him instead? If I left him useless you could sell him to the swillers as animal food.
G – In that case you would never finish your research.
Very well, I suppose we all must bear some unpleasantness in our lives. I lick my pen, child, so the ink flows better and I can write down what is said. So, tell me of your lives which is why you are here.
G – We ki…
M – We travel. From town to town, from farm to farm. As you know I am an accomplished jester and that is how we make our coin.
G – My master is Death’s Jester. That is the greatest form of jester and she is welcome at any fire for she tells the best stories and does the best dances.
M – Blessed Horir knows what I am, Girton, but that is right. I am a death’s jester and, as such, welcome anywhere. Girton is also learning the dances and is becoming quite accomplished himself.
G – And sometimes we ki…
She leans forward.
M – As jesters we are seen as one who takes no side. For this reason I often end up pause adjudicating in matters of justice. I am very passionate about justice. When I was young I learned all about justice and it is important to me that justice is done.
G – And to me.
M – Of course it is, Girton.
Life must be precarious in the Tired Lands for a woman and boy traveling alone. What do you imagine the future will bring?
M – All life is precarious.
G – I will marry a princess and become a king. That is what the future will bring.
M – Where do you get such ideas, Girton?
G – In the story of Harrilly and the Lost Mount. She starts as a slave and marries the prince.
I can see why the child is a jester. Those stories are from the times before the gods, boy.
M – Indeed they are. You will not become a king, Girton. The Tired Lands are hard and there are no great stories any more. Our land is barren and our gods are dead.
G – Except for Xus the Unseen.
M – The God of Death, yes. Well, there, that is our certainty and that is what we must accept. Death walks with us. Death is all we can rely on.
G – What about lunch?
M – What?
G – The man said if we spoke to him he would buy us our lunch. So we can rely on that too.
How did Death’s Jester end up taking on a crippled slave boy?
G – When I was a child I did not even know that girls grew up to be adults but from the first moment I met my master I knew she was generous and good.
M – You are still a child, Girton, and you have also had a very sheltered upbringing.
G – No I have not. Mostly we sleep in the open.
M – That is not what I meant. I meant…
G – I was raised in a slave pen in the sourlands and when they sold me my master paid five bits even though the man only wanted three and I am a cripple.
M – Girton!
G – What?
M – What do you know about that word?
Girton bows his head.
G – We do not use that word.
M – Why?
G – I am more than a twisted foot.
M – Exactly.
G – But they call me mage-bent in the markets, and they say I bring bad luck and they…
M – …are fools. Girton. They are fools.
G – I thought we were fools, Master.
M – We only appear as fools, Girton. Clothes can be changed, make-up can be washed away. If you are a fool within, and many are, then it is a much harder thing to rid yourself of. Is that not true, playwright?
Tell me, what is hardest about your life?
G – I am always hungry.
M – Well that is…
G – and cold.
M – When you are not complaining about being too hot.
G – Well…yes. And I do not like the tiny biting lizards that swarm near the water. And I do not like the maned lizards. I really do not like dogs, and some people are rude about my foot, I do not like that, and I do not like long journeys where I have to walk while my master rides and I do not like…
M – …very much at all.
G – Master?
M – You can be quiet now, Girton
Is there anything good about your life?
G – Oh yes! I like it when I get to ride Xus, our mount! It is like flying and he is the strongest and fastest mount that has ever lived.
Your mount is named for the God of death?
G – Yes! It is a joke, because we ride…
M – Girton! Enough talking. Pause I like it when we do the right thing. When we reset the scales of justice.
Tell us a little about your friends.
G – I had friends in the slave pens but I do not know what happened to them. I do not have friends now because..
M – We travel a lot, we rarely have time to form bonds with others.
Any romantic involvement?
G – Ugh, kissing.
M – Life is fleeting. I grab what pleasure I can where I can and oh! I have spilled your ink. I am so sorry.
M – let me get that for you.
No, leave it, such ink is expensive and must be handled correctly.
M – Please, it is no trouble. See, I have righted it and hardly any was lost. My apologies, Blessed Horir, please forgive me. If I had money then I would pay for the ink which was lost.
You mentioned a mount.
M – He is worth more than ink.
Well, we shall talk of this after my research is finished. What does the future hold for you?
G – It is a fool who plans when nothing is certain. My master says that.
M – Who knows what the future holds, eh? It is a flip of the coin, one side lands up we continue on. The other side lands up take a wrong turn, are beset by bandits and end up feeding the pigs.
Are you well, Blessed Horir? You appear to be sweating.
It is nothing, merely my collar is too tight. Can you share a secret with us, one which you have never told anyone else?
M – My secret, Blessed Horir, is that it is very easy to slip something into a bottle. As long as you have an excuse to touch it without it appearing suspicious.
G – My secret, Blessed Horir, is that my master is the greatest assassin who has ever lived.
~ ~ ~
(It should be noted, Princess, that the playwright Horir was well know for the foul way he treated his slaves and his death, in the middle years of the ap Mennix reign, was sudden and unexplained. – Rikkoneth.)
RJ Barker lives in Yorkshire in the UK with his wife, son, a very bitey cat and a collection of strange art, questionable taxidermy and noisy music.
Join us next week to meet a young woman touched by magic, in a world where that is punishable by death. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.