Bard's Tale of Juju
‘O noble citizens of the Five Kingdoms! The peasants and the serfs too! And none can forget the chivalric knights, roaming the lands on quests of great importance and noble intent! Alas tonight we partake not in the grim news from the North, nor the treacherous rumours from the South…’ the Bard began with a lofty tone, his soft voice quenched the nervous murmur of musky barbarians and dusty travellers in colourful cloaks and furs of great sabre-toothed tigers. All across the inn there were candles flickering upon walls with tapestries of verdant hills and blue skies. On a far end the fireplace roared.
Some of the guests disregarded the bard without a care, turning their attention back to their half empty tankards. Some stared at him with awe, silent in anticipation. One bald man with a braided ginger beard took out a knife and poked his leather gloved hand, as if to test the sharpness of the tip before balancing it on his finger, with eyes sharp as a hawk about to catch a wild hare. The Bard continued:
‘…No, tonight there is a tale I wish to tell, a tale I know none of thou ears had been graced by, its epic grandeur, its sad scope; A story of a buffoon, an outright idiot in full plate armour of gold who claims it to be an impenetrable thing—yet it be riddled with holes from crossbow bolts. The “knight” whose very family name is “Justice”—perhaps you heard of his deeds as the Demon of Olbridge, or the Golden Menace, yet he struts around calling himself some “Hero”. The fabled Priest Slayer, the very same one!’
More eyes turned away from the windows, away from their tankards and from each other, focused on the Bard now, who had stopped speaking, as if to catch a breath.
‘Get to it!’ somebody screamed.
The Bard smiled, finished tuning his lute and recounted the latest tale, a tale he claimed no others have heard before, and it begun with the Golden Knight screaming:
'Fear not, fair Princess Aria-Serana, for I—Justin Justice—have come to smite this evil doer back to whatever realm of devils he thence came!' The knight’s voice carried across the verdant field. His full plate armour all of gold, engraved with symbols of eagles and lions, reflected the rays of the yellow midday sun. His face was covered and his voice muffled through the visor of his white-plumed helmet.
From the other side of the field the princess cried out in a low bass, the skin on her multiple chins rippled as she did. 'Alas, o brave knight, he is not a simple warlock! He is much worse!'
'I am not a warlock! I am the King's Accountant!' said the tall and skinny, balding man in brown burlap robes next to her.
The golden knight raised his great sword, long and black it discharged a strange darkness swallowing all light near it.
'It does not matter who you are!' Justin said, 'what matters are your actions, and your actions have thus far been gravely villainous!' he drew his blade close to himself and whispered to it, 'Now Idmordia, we shall fight this fight for Justice!'
'…murder them all…' the sword whispered back.
The Accountant cried: 'I'm trying to show the King how his people are starving, that his careless spending and borrowing is driving the Kingdom to—' but before he could finish, Justin swooped across to him and with a single slash split the man in two halves.
The knight’s bloody blade shivered in his hand, forced its way up slicing into the stomach of the Princess.
Justin hurried to take the sword out, but by then the damage was done. As the blade slid out, the Princess' insides spilled onto the ground, painting the grass bloody red.
'Juju! Please stop before you hurt the—' screamed an old man running towards the bloodbath.
It was Sir Rob, Justin's mentor and guide.
'O Juju! How shall we explain to the King, yond went and done killed the Princess?'
The golden knight walked towards Sir Rob, shaking the blood off his blade on the way, then with a heavy gauntlet patted him on the shoulder.
'To the King, I shall beg his pardon and say the Accountant forced my hand.'
But the great sword whispered: '…I want more…' and forced itself within the grasp of Justin's hand into the stomach of the old mentor.
'Curses!' cried the knight, 'by this deed my own honour shall certainly be undone!'
'Juju!' cried Sir Rob, 'Thee'd do well to rid of yond wretched blade!' coughing blood, he continued, 'tis a beshrew upon thine name, a curse upon thy honour… a shit stain upon… thy… breeches...' and Sir Rob's head dropped.
The knight found himself alone on the field at a clear mid-day. Alone with his thoughts.
The sun was bright yet he felt water sting his eyes and drip down his cheeks as if there was rain. His mind addled by fear. Shock took hold of his senses and for a moment this nightmare seemed unreal.
How could it be?
In the distance he heard the gallop of horses.
The Knights of this land's Court drew close and upon seeing the body of the Princess, surrounded him with their spears drawn. He counted at least three men.
'Scoundrel!' they screamed, 'murderer!' one knight dismounted, dropping the spear and drawing his blade, gave Justin such a flurry to the head, were he wearing any other helmet, he would have been out cold, possibly even dead!
'Honourable knights, please simmer thine rage.' Justin pleaded.
'Silence, rat!' the knight-errant drew his sword up, but as the blade swung down, Justin gripped it with his gauntlet.
Then—the black blade whispering words of encouragement throughout the entire ordeal—Justin swung his blade and cut the knight before him in half. Through the armour, through the spine. Blood splattered and the horses jumped and snorted. One knight fell off his horse, but in the moment when Justin waited to let him stand, a spear from another came from behind. With viper reflexes Justin moved aside and so the spear pierced not him, but the knight-errant's comrade. The last opponent alive stood frozen, gripping to the pole arm digging deeper into the armour of his friend. Justin wasted no time, and as the crows upon the trees surrounding the field all gave flight, the last knight's head rolled off the body and onto the mud.
Justin wept beneath his white-plumed helmet, and after shaking off most of the blood from his blood-seethed sword, he sheathed it into the scabbard at his hip. Then, grabbing the reins of one of the horses he moved away from the scene. The insufferable screeching in his head Justin did endeavour to endure, at least until he could fulfil the last wish of his mentor.
Mounted on the steed, he passed fields of yellow grains and bushy shrubbery, the beast galloping with a furious haste. The day waned to night when from beyond the horizon sprouted mountains of foreboding blackness. Beneath them lied a barely trodden path disappearing into a wood, trees of which had most vile and unnatural shapes, each bark bending in fearsome zigzags and in shapes of men, bears and wolves alike. The horse heaved and kicked and would go no further.
Upon dismounting, Justin cried aloud for the horse to leave and so the beast did. But he grabbed the pommel of the sword by his hip and would nearly break the scabbard holding it secure, were it not for the soft voices carried in the wind lulling the sword's screeches in his head.
The voices were soft, women's voices—and as some spoke others giggled and laughed. Following their melody through the wood, he almost drew the sword again seeing in between the trees movement of some beast.
No! It was but another tree.
'Blasted, this forest still be cursed!' he spoke, more to himself, but the voices ceased.
Yet the sword remained silent. He passed wicked trees, upon hearing the howling of a wolf brandished at last the black sword. The trees swayed in the wind. Seeing the clouds overhead clear he noticed a white light gleam from behind some bushes. On the other side he reached a rocky shore.
By the time the naked moon stood tall above the black sky, it's visage could be seen clear in the waters of Loch Kalel, the lake at the bottom of the valley, in between the bosom of Galadria Mountains.
Justin stood at the edge of the water, with all his might he threw the blade up into the air, at the moon's reflection. Thence from the depths came out an arm and hand and it would catch the sword were it not sliced by it at the wrist. Both blade and hand vanished, yet the visage of the moon rippled in the waves which grew so furious they threatened to topple Justin where he stood. He moved back further ashore, seeing the steam rise from the water as the lake bubbled in boiling fury.
From the mist that now cloaked the other side of the lake, appeared a wooden barge carrying three fair and young women dressed in white silk.
'Alas, dear Knight of Kalel, why has't ye returned? Thy oaths forsworn ye did not fulfil.' one of the women spoke, and her hair was black.
'Thee throw The Lady’s gift away so carelessly, for shame.' added one with white skin as pale as her dress, milk-coloured hair draped off her head.
'Instead thou wouldst play hero for Stratalba's King to win selfish worship and rein false accomplishment!' a woman with braided brown hair said.
Remembering the words of his dead mentor, Justin felt the urge to reply:
'Thine gift is but a curse! The wretched blade is the work of Devils!' then, he noticed the sword appear in his grasp unsheathed. 'What trickery is this?'
He felt a cold chill bite his skin, despite donning full plate.
'Is the power of Idmordria really too much burden for a strong defender of justice?'
Justin turned around and saw a maiden fairer than the three, with orange curls surrounding her white round face, glistening silver eyes and rosy cheeks. But the man was speechless and could do nothing but gasp as the blade in his hand pulsed.
'But you've made me a promise!' she frowned in crude disappointment yet her mouth bent into a smile.
Then the knight cried out:
'This blade seeks blood without rest, without care for whom it kills! I did want the power—to take back my King's Court from the villainous monsters in men's flesh—yet with this I'd only killeth everyone on my way thither!'
'Alas we had a deal Sir Justin,' and she paused, noticing the whimpering sounds coming from under the knight's helmet, 'You'd gain great power, but were to slay the dragon plaguing Thornshire, the dragon dwelling in Laercliff Castle. What prey tell were you thinking serving a King amidst your own quest?'
'As a knight, tis mine own duty to uphold the laws of chivalry! To defend the weak and to seek adventure wherever it may cometh! The King's daughter was in danger, all the knights of the land were on errands, I had to—'
'You needed coin.' the Lady sighed.
'That—that's not so!' the knight lied.
The three maidens upon the barge laughed among themselves, the orange haired Lady drew her attention on them, her silver eyes glowed in flaming fury boiling the water surrounding them.
'Our Lady's champion hast frozen feet so bitter cold!' the pale white woman shrieked.
'She'll have to wait 100 years more for another to brave his way hither!' the black-haired woman laughed.
The Lady drew her hand up, beckoning other maidens to silence, talking to the knight.
'I have waited a long time for you. Yet time now is of the essence, if you cannot complete my quest yourself then you—Justin—must find another who will!'
And before the knight could say anything, the Lady boarded the barge walking as if on air. The barge drew away from the shore and into the mist. Justin stood there, motionless, and as the mist cleared, the visage of the moon still hanging up in the sky returned in the reflection of the water. He was once more alone, not a whisper in the air or in his mind. Just the thrashing of leaves upon the high trees as their branches waved in the strengthening wind. A dark grey cloud appeared hovering over the mountains, almost at once gulping the moon. The following darkness engulfed Justin, yet he enjoyed it, enjoyed the quiet for the cursed blade Idmordia was by some divine magic silent.
Thus the knight fell, in the darkness upon the shore of Loch Kalel, into such a slumber even the howling of the wolves didn't wake him, nor the frost of the morn, nor the rising of the golden sun. But eventually the knight had to wake, for the hunger in his stomach drove him thus into such growl and groan, that he feared a wild bear or boar would hear and dare approach. But the forest by the lake bore no fruit and leaving it for more bountiful lands, Justin heard the screeching of the blade, its cries for bloodshed, its deep want of death…
A string of the Bard’s lute snapped, sent a pang echoing across the inn for a moment. The Bard was silent, as if trying to remember the next events in the story. He put down the lute on a nearby table, and counted something on his fingers, his eyes twitching as his face turned towards his audience.
‘What happened then?’ a voice broke the silence.
Before the Bard could answer, the door to the inn swung open, someone came in and shut it before the cold wind of winter darkness had time to spread deeper inside.
The candles flickered, almost dying. The fireplace too lessened its roar for a second.
A thud in each of his steps, a man donned in armour from head to toe, plate covered the most necessary of spots, but there was a combination of tanned leather and brigandine underneath it. The breastplate and pauldrons were of engraved gold. The arms, legs and the tops of the boots also had golden plates, and the helmet was gold with a great visor drawn down, with little holes and slits to see through.
The man walked towards the bar, towards the bar maiden. One step at a time, each thud as if louder in the dead silent inn.
There was a great scabbard hanging by his hip, a great long one made out of leather not fitting the colour of the pommel and handle of the sword it held, which were black.
Strapped to one of his shoulders was a travelling bag, fully filled, sagging, it made that shoulder droop low until he dropped it to the ground upon reaching the bar.
‘Hello. Can I please have a room for the night.’ The armoured man fished out from the bag a small fist sized pouch and put it on the counter.
His voice was soft and muffled through his helmet.
‘Hey!’ the bald, ginger bearded man stabbed a table with his knife, walked up and stood beside the man in gold armour, ‘you one they call, “Juju”?’ a crooked smile broke across the bald man’s face.
The knight’s helmet turned towards him. After a moment of silence, there was a quiet:
‘I’m sorry, I don’t know who that is.’
Now the inn door swung open and shut several times as the guests left in droves, until the place was near desolate. The bar maiden smiled, though her hands shivered as she took the pouch and counted the money.
‘You know it’s rude to wear full plate indoors.’ the bald man looked around before placing his arm around the pauldrons of the knight, ‘did no one ever teach this noble any manners?’ with the other hand he poked the knight in the chest—scratching the plate.
‘Look at this,’ the bald man’s hand drifted down to the black pommel, the handle protruding upwards, but it was stopped, gripped by the leather gloves with smaller golden plates of the knight.
After the bald man shook free from the knight’s grip, the golden knight sighed.
‘Please, I just want a room for the night.’ and he rested his hand on the handle of the black sword.