Phil Kaveny

The Fiction of Philip Kaveny

Scorpion’s Wergild by Phil Kaveny

Scorpion’s Wergild[1]

By Philip Kaveny (Copyright 2017)

alchemcrossbow

 

Scorpion’s Wergild is not for everybody.  Set in the New Middle Ages twelve hundred years after the Black Visitation.  It was said by some to foretell a new dawn was coming and with it a new tomorrow which would drive the night and darkness from the world.  However, the world was not that simple.  The night was not just ignorance and darkness, the night had its own song; the night was strong and feminine like the Egyptian goddess Nut who held up the sky with the beautiful vaulted arch of her nubile form.  Nut’s form was as beautiful as the nave of a cathedral, and somehow Alphonse had learned her song and paid his Wergild.

This is his story.

My name is Alphonse” I have no soul.”   Almost as if in a dream,          “She came to me as if driven by the wind.  She came to me last night in my monk’s cell.  Clara rent asunder in a single night of passion the fabric of score & ten years of scholarship. She made the scholars dance of realism around nominalism jest, by what she asked.”

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*****who is clara?

 

“She begged me to kill again.  She begged me do again the work I stopped when they found me bleeding and half dead on their steps and gave me sanctuary a score and ten year ago.  I used to kill men for treasure, now she bade me kill what can’t be killed.   I thought of the brave young men who I knew who had tried before to do her bidding.  Men, whose empty eye sockets, begged the noonday sun for mercy through shattered helms, for none dare bury them.

Then my heart turned bitter as I grasped that she paid them as she paid them me  the night before.  I spoke to her like ice, and asked, “who are you to send men into eternal blackness, what sort of Royal slut, are you?”

 

*****

 

 

She did not answer but she cut me.  I felt something hot, biting, and searing, and sharper than any razor against my cheek, and then I saw tiny drops of my blood against my white linen shirt.  Then my drops of Blood mixed with the salt ocean of her tears.

I blinked and she was gone; now I was alone with no place to go. Who was I, who am I, was I a scholar, am I a killer, the world has changed so much, my feet and legs take over, they remember what my mind does not.

Alphonse heard his own voice beating inside his brain in desperate rhythm, building  like a snare drum.

 

 

 

 

 ‘I must go find Carlo and my weapons; I must find Carlo and try to remember how I did my work.  I know I killed for money but just now I can’t remember how.  Is he still alive?  It has been so long, now half my life ago.  I have spent half my life with words and now words, memory fails me?  I must I must remember with my hands.  Would I even recognize Carlo, he is an old man now?  But, where would I find him after thirty years?  Would he be where here I last saw him on that terrible day, before the day I nearly died?  The day they nearly beat the life out of me.     But can I find the road back?  Is it best to die now and save myself from a death that is worse than death?  I am not ever sure where I might find him since I had so seldom been outside in all those years.  When we went out it was only for errands to the market, the market that was close by’.”

The streets had changed so much in a third of a century.  What had been vacant lots now contained prosperous shops, with glass windows and fine goods displayed.  Fashion had changed and changed again in thirty three years, fine ladies were going in and out of shops on cobblestone streets that used to be mud filled ruts, that none dared walk when last I passed.  They do not seem to notice me; it was almost as if I take up less space.

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Alphonse found Carlo at the same place they met last time.  It was the same place but nothing was the same.  Carlo’s place was on the edge of a walled city a third of a century ago, but the city had grown and rushed past him.  It grew and prospered under Duke Alvera’s reign. Alvera had grown to be called “The Just” even by his enemies.  His smallholding had grown to city statehood as it moved miles past what had been the old wall.

The wall was torn down and used for cobblestones to pave the new roads.  Cities did not need walls any more.  When Alphonse last saw Carlo, he was the owner of a dive that was a den for thieves; now he was the owner of a prosperous well-kept inn that mostly supplied lodging for retired officers who had decent pensions but no property.

Alphonse was struck by what he saw.  Carlo had not changed much since last, they spoke.  But now he now wore fine silk rather than a leather jerkin.  33 years had changed him little, his hair was white and his shoulders still wide and powerful and only a little stooped and from the look of his hands he was still capable of the deadly business, if he wished.  But did he wish it, he was more comfortable letting beautiful women kiss his poets flint chisels hands, and sometimes he would be stroking the insides of their silky thighs, when the husbands were pre-occupied with more serious and courtly matters.  He also did not wish it because he had made the only secret bargain he could to stay alive the day Alphonse was delivered to the Monastery.

He ran a very proper lodging house and always required three months’ rent in his advance for his small neat rooms and the large breakfast he provided.

“Brother Alphonse, are you lost?” Carlo laughed.  His laughter froze time and held the tides in check, then he continued, “Alphonse, but now they say Brother Alphonse and scholar.  You were the best we ever saw, best from the start, so good you could pick your work.  My god a killer’s killer, who only killed royalty.  Best of all you were always paid cash in advance. no dead man’s tab for you.  My, you were God’s righteous angel of death.’

Carlo continued, “Tall as you were you made yourself into haggard bent over old woman or a beautiful long limbed dancer.  You were almost a shape changer.”

Alphonse replied, “I didn’t change as much as it seemed.  It was more as if I changed in their minds; well I would sometimes change, at least a little, sometimes enough to make a guard want to kiss me, because he thought I was a beautiful courtesan and it was easier to fool him than kill him.’

Carlo the weapons maker’s laugh was like the ripe wine of late manhood.  “Did you like it when he kissed you?”

Carlo loved Alphonse because it was what he had paid for his services that bought him his retirement.  He paid by buying the Scorpion Crossbow.  “You were my last, my best customer; I thought for sure the Duke Alvera’s men would come for me when they got you after you missed that day.  Answer one question was it the weapon that failed you? Tell me what went wrong with it, I never made another.”

Alphonse’s mind flashed back to the gala in the Duke’s great ballroom thirty-three years before when he was twenty-three.

 

To Alphonse it was just another job, maybe his last job because he was paid so well.  He would just grease the wheels of history a bit.  He had done work so much harder than the job he was about to do.  It only involved getting within a couple paces of Duke Alvera.  Alphonse I didn’t even have to conceal the weapon on his person.  It all had all been taken care of.  The patron had paid the half in advance so that if Alphonse did not do the job he would hire another killer to hunt him down.  If he failed, then another until one of them got him it was that kind of work.

The money was such that Alphonse would never have to work again. He had an entire Dynasty behind him, how could he lose.  Then Alphonse slipped back in time, as Carlo handed him a small glass of yellow spirits.  He smiled and handed it back, “It has been to long only a little vinegar mixed with water and lemon juice and raisins.  No, the weapon did not fail me.  Something made me fail, something that was both so subtle, I could barely feel it and yet so much more than me.”

“Some things you cannot go back to,” Carlo replied.  But it was fair enough I built a nice business on what you paid me.  When you botched it that last time, I thought for certain I would die for making you that crossbow.  I was sure Alvera’s men would decorate the Four Corners of the city with my body parts’

That brought Alphonse back to his Scorpion, the hand crossbow that Carlo made to do the job.  It made him think of a scorpion with it tail drawn back to strike.  It was barely larger than his hand but its dart was so dense and heavy, mercury encased in iron that it could kill by shattering and splintering armor into a hundred tiny daggers, or even killing by shock impact if the armor did not shatter.

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“God I loved that weapon,” said Alphonse almost worshipfully.     Alphonse continued more to himself than anyone, “Carlo, you put yourself into making it beautiful, even the Crow’s foot opened to a stock. [2]

 

 

And yet when I got close enough to feel Alvera’s breath the bolt slipped out of the track and fell harmless to the floor and rolled across for an eternity.  But it was not the weapon’s fault, I should have been able to hold it even in my sleep.  I hoped to run in the confusion.  They say anyone can kill the king if he wishes to die himself, but I could kill a king and then get away.  But the guards caught me and held me before Lavers who held me in his gaze for sixty heartbeats.  He was weighing every decision in his life and I was more to him that I could understand. They did not kill me they only roughed me up very badly.  But, they left me able to function.  I only heard from Lavers once a dozen years later, after Lavers’ mistress had a baby daughter and died.  Clara his daughter was light in his life from the start, and his note one the finest parchment said with his personal royal seal said only, ‘You, assassin, are cursed live to and redeem my sin.’  Alvera’s’ reign was stable and prosperous and he died a few weeks ago, peacefully in bed.”

Carlo answered, “Funny how they never killed you, instead they publicly executed someone that they said was you and you went into

sanctuary.  Although it was reported that some saw one that looked

like you in the market.”

Alphonse reflected, “I violated the cardinal rule. He who strikes the King must kill the King.  I thought my time would never end in the monastery, my hands were quick and strong, but, I could read things in the sacred texts easily as I had read my target in my work .

 

 

I had to puzzle meaning from scraps and shards of paper.  It was a puzzle to many, but to me the meaning always seemed to stand out. Then I would explain and dispute to others and they would agree.”

 

 

“I know why you are here. I know what you are going to ask me

for,” Carlo said.

Alphonse looked at him woefully.  “I have lost that which I was, help me to remember what I was Carlo.  Do you remember what I was then? Though what good would it be against a soul eating monster.”

In a way, Carlo carried the memories Alphonse ran from when he was a monk and scholar.  He had a part of Alfonse in a sort of secret satchel. (Perhaps we construct ourselves from our friend’s memories when we forget who we are.)  “You were what you are now, the best at what you do. The best is the best, it knows the best way.  You translated the same way, right to the heart of the meaning whatever the cost.  It was kept quiet but your translations are causing the Church to pick sides and convene conferences since their power is based on what you are by your work questioning.  These questions will linger after you are gone

Carlo had two things for Alphonse.  One was a new Scorpion Crossbow more deadly than the first and, if that was possible, even more beautiful.  It was handheld and the stock was made of Ironwood so strong and heavy it would not float.  It had been polished with a hundred coats of resin and its crow’s foot cocking mechanism completely disappeared into the stock when not in use, making the surface completely smooth.  The bow itself was not much wider than a hand span of a large man and the draw less than half a foot.  The bow looked small and deadly like a scorpion with tail arched ready to strike, and it was made from steel forged from a meteor that had a strength and resiliency like nothing else made on the planet.  The dart that fit into the trough was encased in steel lead and with a core of mercury and would hit with hundreds of foot pounds of force on the blunt head of the dart as it crashed into the soul-eating beast.

Then Carlo spoke to Alphonse almost as if he was singing a lament, “You will be able to cross the River Styx because when you were a baby your mother held you by your heel and dipped all the rest you into the river.”

Alphonse interrupted, “Yes, and you know the rest of the story.  She died herself shortly afterwards and the gods in their brutal whimsy let me live to do what I do.”

Carlo continued to speak as he unrelentingly polished the blue-black stock of the scorpion crossbow, holding it up to the light until the sun seemed to shine through it.  He held the crossbow like he was saying goodbye to a friend and lover for the last time.  Then Carlo said,

“The Scorpion will do you no good where you are going without these words.”

Carlo handed Alphonse a pouch to wear on a leather thong around his neck and tied it for him.  The pouch was clearly from another age, a small thing that never should have survived the ravages of time.  More important than the pouch, was what it carried inside, perhaps since before time was measured.  As Carlo explained, “You probably thought things would go slower than this, but the world seems to have its own speed, and seems to be carrying us now whatever our wishes.

Alphonse delicately opened the pouch and found only a piece of parchment with strange writing upon it.  Alphonse said disdainfully, “What good are these words in this old pouch on this rotting parchment?  What sort of a weapon do you call this?”

Carlo said with great pity in his voice, “The words which you must sing will kill your soul and make the beast mortal so you may kill it.”

Alphonse cried out angrily, “Rubbish!  This is all rubbish about souls, what is a soul then?  Is it the perfect part of me that seeks its home when I die?  Is it that part of me that cannot be corrupted?

Carlos put a strong hand on Alphonse’s shoulder but it did no good.  Alphonse continued in a rage and cried out as if to the world, “But Carlo, I am corrupted.  I am beyond redemption.”

Then Carlo answered him in a deadly grave voice, “Your spiritual pride cries out you are unredeemable, like Judas in the Bible after he took the thirty pieces of silver.  You may be right.  But Clara is not unredeemable, and she is your destiny, what her father kept you and me alive for.”

Then Carlo did something to Alphonse nobody had ever done before and lived, he slapped him across the face twice very hard and Alphonse’s eyes teared up and his ears rung.  And Carlo said in an imperative voice, now do it!!!!!!!!

As Alphonse prepared himself to cross the river Styx he asked himself these questions: ‘Where had Clara gone since I hurt her and called her a slut?  Where did she go after I called her a royal slut and she cut me?  How has she made me do this thing, to try to kill the beast that cannot be killed?’

When she came to my monk’s cell I could have turned her away.

I could have turned her away.  Now the image of her and I together is constantly before me.

         Clara, Clara, Clara, the wind whispers her name.
********************

Alphonse’s trip to the river seemed to only take a few moments and yet the moments seemed an eternity, and Alphonse’s life seemed to be but a tiny ripple in the sea of eternity.  Then there was indeed a boatman with very boney arms and hands and an empty cowl for a face.  His boat was waiting for Alphonse at the river Styx with and the boatman, hand outstretched said, “Pay the toll unless you would rather swim across.”
And then boatman added, “And be quick about it, you’re not on a Carnival pleasure cruise.”  Alphonse reached inside his pouch and handed him a silver coin.  Then the boatman, held it, bit it and motioned with pole in hand, that he could come aboard.

There was a dog in the back of the boat.  His name was Cerberus, the hound of Hell who turned out not to have three heads to rip sinners to pieces, but rather was a large black lab that seemed to like everybody. His tail made a thumping sound as it wagged against the bottom of the boat.  It was said that theologians had speculated about the possibility that dogs might have souls and get into Heaven, but it turned out that if they did, they were like Cerberus, and would prefer to follow their owners into and live with them in Hell.
The boatman who was only a robe and empty cowl, some very bony arms and legs, said, “One-way or round-trip?”  Then the whole river bank filled with spectral laughter as the boatman continued with his little speech.  “A very few have gone both ways, maybe a couple of handfuls. Once, of course, there was this father bought his son a round trip passage.  What a pain he was, almost put me out of business.  He nearly wrecked the place with that damned harrowing the floor of hell and he took about a third of the inmates down there out with him.”

 

The boatman continued as he placed a bony hand on his non- existent chin,        “The guy had a former side kick named Judas, but no matter what he did Judas was not leaving, no he just sorts of sits around and bullshits with my boss Lucifer, who also, it turns out, worked for this guy’s father till he couldn’t take it anymore. But that’s another story.”
Alphonse crossed the river Styx.
The underworld glowed with its own luminescence.  It shone with a greenish pall.  Alphonse started to remember.  He remembered what he had done that had made him a master of the craft of death.
For a man to kill a god who will drag Clara into Hell he must lose his soul so that the beast will have nothing to take from him.  With no soul, death becomes the gift of peace into the sleep that passed all understanding.  He had no soul to take.
But one must be brave to chant the chant of the death song which kills your soul so that even the beast cannot take it.  That was the gift for which Alphonse’s mother had paid so dearly.  It never had been the water which had made him invulnerable.  Perhaps she knew he was part of something more than the moment.
Alphonse sang the song that was inside the box which Carlo had given him as he started on his decent.  The box held the signs; the signs it held were the sighs which were the words, Ella: Lillia: klapa, mallei, the words from the signs which turned Alphonse’s soul to dust.  Though he lived on in mortal form without his own vulnerable self, the beast now appeared in full material and mortal form in Hell.  It had nothing to take from Alphonse.

The beast dove to him as he had the others, teeth and blood and devastation and claw.  Free now, and mortal, the beast appeared as a great wolf and this time Alphonse’s eye did not tear as he reached into his cloak.  Alphonse held the beautiful scorpion crossbow in both his hand and lifted it up and pierced the beast’s now mortal heart, and watched the jet of secretly installed Greek fire cremate it.  The beast died in bliss released from all the weight of what he was.  A god had died, what new god would follow.
He had tricked Alphonse into giving him his greatest gift, the gift only Alphonse could give, the gift of death.  Now it was all so clear to him.  Now the beast made clear to him that the bride he really wanted was death.  He had tricked Alphonse into paying the bride price for it with his soul, but in all of it Clara would be free, though she would never see Alphonse as her savior.  She would only see the beast when she saw Alphonse; sometimes you pay that much for something.
Alphonse walked to Carlo’s inn.  His work now done, he wondered how he lived without a soul.  Carlo still saw Alphonse as a man, but one now hollow though his sacrifice.  Not much past a dark dream.
Carlo spelled it out to Alphonse, “If you see Clara now she won’t see you.  She will see the beast as if it comes to take her, and she will die.  The old gods have asked you to make the world run as it would.”
Clara had no further part, past marrying and living happily ever after, and Hell got a new custodian as it always does, but not a beast this time, a man named Alphonse who had no soul.

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[1] Wergild also known as man price, was a value placed on every being and piece of property, … The word wergild is composed of were, meaning “man”, and geld, meaning “payment or fee”, as in Danegeld … If he has only 1 hide and cannot pay the tribute, his wergild was 80 shillings and then 70 if he was landless yet free

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weregild

..

[2] missionarchery.com/16724/to-crank-or-not-to-crank/

Now we have two general accepted methods of cocking a crossbow. Using a rope cocking aid or a crank style cocking aid.

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This entry was posted on March 4, 2017 by in Fiction, Philip of Trier and tagged , , , , , , , .
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