Lorcan groaned as he rolled out of bed. It had been a particularly rough night, once again with the horrible visions of the monastery, and that woman in the red dress. Surely the dreams hadn’t been so vivid before. And, scattered amidst the visions, there were even worse images flashing before him. There was a tall, cloaked creature with antlers, a smoking, ruined castle, and the image of a dragon rising over trees hooded by a dark sky. And, that sound of screaming…he shuddered at the thought. He had never seen those before, so he figured those must be ordinary nightmares. Still… He wondered if these visions had something to do with his newfound powers. He hadn’t exactly been practicing with them; he had been nervous that he wouldn’t be able to control them. But, whatever it was causing him to see these things, it was making sleeping a chore, and that was intolerable.
He sat up, stretched, and let out a deep breath. He looked around the room, adjusting to the light coming in through the window. Everything in the room was clean, with all his possessions in their rightful places on shelves and in his wardrobe. Lorcan made it a point to keep his room clean because 1. He wasn’t a barbarian, and 2. To make the presence of a certain two goblins apparent. He had come to terms with the presence of the two goblins in the chapel, but intruding in his room was absolutely forbidden. So, naturally, they would want to do it as often as possible. For this reason, he made sure he knew where everything in the building was, so if anyone stole anything, he would know. The goblins had been too quiet recently, and he didn’t trust it.
He got up, washed himself quickly, and put on some fresh clothes. He went about his room, giving second checks to see if anything was absent. He walked over to the corner of the room, kneeling next to a locked iron box. He pulled an iron key out of his pocket, inserted it into the lock, and pulled the box open. There sat the leather bird mask Haute had given him. He had placed it in the box so as to be reminded as little as possible of the thing, and had it placed in iron so no Fae or demon could touch it. He had little desire to find out what it did, and he worried that Haute had placed some manner of curse upon it. Still, he felt drawn to it in the back of his mind, and he had a dark feeling that sooner or later, he was going to have to put on that mask.
He closed the box, locked it again, and stood up. Pacing his room one last time, he stopped at his bookshelf; a handsome thing made of dark, sturdy wood. It stood mostly empty, save for a few copies of scripture, a few journals he hoped to fill, and a large folio bound with thick leather. He smiled, and pulled the folio off the shelf. He had formed an idea some time ago, that pretty much everyone in TerraSylvae had a story to share, and everyone had some new idea or point of view that others could benefit from. He wanted to collect those stories, having them told directly from the mouths of the people he had gotten to know here. He had written his own, from his life in Shalemont, to the day he had met Evanlyn and Ul’vade. Shay had written hers down as well, and he was hoping to get a story from Kane or Ul’vade. If he could track down Damian or Rhiannon, that would be great too.
After admiring the book for a moment, pondering the possibilities of the folio, he placed it back on the shelf. He left the room, locking the door securely, and proceeded to leave the chapel for a walk. It was a beautiful morning outside, with a brisk wind moving in, and the skies turning progressively darker with the onset of Autumn. Winter was not far away; you could feel it in the air. Lorcan didn’t mid the cold, but he hadn’t had a great deal of experience with winter. Shalemont had always been dead and without weather, and he hadn’t lived in Woodland long enough to know what everyone did here during this time.
He strolled the chapel yard, taking in the beauty of the changing colors of the forest. Absentmindedly, he picked up an apple from a nearby crate and bit into it. It was wonderfully crisp and sweet, and had a beautiful color to it, just like… Lorcan froze, his eyes widening with horror. He looked down at the red-gold fruit in his hands, recognizing it. “Uh-oh,” he said.
He turned to get a better look at the crate next to him. “Uh-oh,” he said again. Those were Kane’s apples, the prized apples of Woodland, the golden apples of the Hesperides. Kane threatened death to those that took even a single apple without permission, and somehow, he had an entire box of them. Immediately, Lorcan turned and hurled his apple with all his might towards the forest. The apple soared high in the air, far above the trees, and sank out of sight. Panicked, Lorcan picked up the crate, his head on a swivel, looking for a place to hid the stolen fruit. If Kane knew he had these…
As if he had been speaking of the devil, Lorcan heard footsteps suddenly approaching, an accompanying merry tune being whistled. It was Kane. Of course it had to be Kane. Lorcan knew those footsteps, and that whistle. Clutching the crate to his chest, he practically flew to the back of the chapel, where lay a small graveyard, with empty holes marking the ground. Lorcan had considered it practical to have a few graves pre-dug before winter hit, should sickness take anyone during that harsh time. Now, he dearly regretted that decision, should Kane get any ideas. He could see it now, carved into one of the gray markers: Here lies Lorcan. Serves you right for stealing my apples. Kane would think that funny.
An idea came into Lorcan’s mind. He hurried over to the open grave, and lowered the crate into it. He straightened up just in time to hear a voice behind him call, “Morning, Lorcan.”
Lorcan jumped, and wheeled around to see standing a few yards away, smiling slightly. He tried hard to regain his composure, and put on an innocent face. “Oh! Morning Kane! What brings you out here?”
Kane stepped forward slowly, giving Lorcan a better view of his face. His eyes had a dangerous glint to them and his small smile was not at all friendly. It was the kind of smile that’s worn when contemplating all the horrible ways you could torture and kill someone, usually when somebody at the table was eating with their mouth open, or when they had stolen produce from your property. Kane stopped right in front of Lorcan, eyeing him like a lion watches a wounded animal. “Oh, nothing in particular. Just taking a stroll, visiting people…” his smile widened dangerously, “investigating a little crime.”
Chills went down Lorcan’s spine. “Crime? Here? Gosh, that’s…horrible. Nothing serious, I hope?” He swallowed hard. The stress of trying to look nonchalant seemed to make his organs hemorrhage. Perhaps it would be better if they did. If his heart gave out, it would be a quicker death at least.
“Believe me, it’s quite serious,” said Kane in an ominous voice. “Betrayal of the highest order, ravaging that which is most pure, breaking bonds of sacred trust.” Kane leaned in very close to Lorcan, who prayed that he wasn’t sweating as profusely as he felt he was. “Do you know what that might be Lorcan?”
Lorcan’s voice suddenly reached up an octave. “Adultery?”
“NO. It’s-” Kane paused. “Well, yes, but what I meant is, somebody, Lorcan, has stolen apples right off my tree. MY apples. The prized apples of Woodland. The golden apples of the Hesperides. Do you know what that means?”
Lorcan’s voice was considerably higher than normal. “N-nothing good I imagine. The poor soul that stole them will be getting his-hers-theirs, I mean.” He tried to chuckle a little, but ended up making a small choking sound.
Kane nodded gravely. “Indeed, such a person would ‘be getting theirs’. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about those apples, would you?” Kane’s eyes narrowed.
Lorcan furiously shook his head. “Nope, nope, not a thing. Me? No, no no no, of course not, I would never, could never, wouldn’t dare…nope, not a thing.” He glanced backward slightly at the grave behind him. “When you find them though, you’re welcome to utilize this grave here.” He smiled weakly at Kane, who was glowering at him.
The Captain scrutinized him for a moment, peering into his soul. After a few moments longer, Kane stepped back, satisfied. “All right then. I’ll let you go this time, but I’m watching you.” With that, Kane turned on his heel, and strode off around the corner of the chapel, grumbling darkly as he walked back the way he came.
It was several moments before Lorcan remembered to breathe. He stood still for a moment, wiping sweat from his brow and breathing heavily. If Kane had come one step closer…Lorcan shuddered. He didn’t want to think of what would have happened if Kane had seen the apples. He stepped back, forgetting where he was standing, and fell backward into the hole, crying out as he fell.
He fell flat on the crate of apples, which creaked under his weight. He hit his head lightly on the ground, and lay still, groaning in pain. After a moment, Lorcan heard the sound of footsteps approaching him again. He cringed, worrying that Kane had returned to finish him off. He braced himself, but, mercifully, death did not fall upon him. Instead, he heard wheezing laughter. A bearded face peered down at him, grinning widely. Lorcan sighed in relief. It was just Dyn Hysbys, the village…something. It was hard to categorize him as anything, because nobody really knew what he got up to. He could be the village fool, but he seemed too wise. He couldn’t be the village wise man either because…well…he was just…odd.
Dyn Hysbys laughed a little more at the relieved and bewildered look on Lorcan’s face. He peered down at Lorcan, who was still spread-eagled over the crate. “I applaud you on your zeal for being prepared for your death. Shall I get a shovel to help you along? Laddy’s got a very friendly one named Roland.”
Lorcan chuckled weakly. “I wasn’t planning on this grave being mine, but it very nearly was. Thank you for the offer, but I hope not to die for several decades.”
Hysbys cocked his head to the side. “If you plan to live so long, you probably shouldn’t be dealing in the thievery of fruit.” He paused a moment. “Can I have one?”
Lorcan shifted his body a little. “Tell you what, you pull me out of this hole, and you can have all of them.”
Dyn Hysbys circled Lorcan, and offered his hand. Lorcan took it, and the old hermit pulled him up straightway. Climbing out of the hole, Lorcan lifted the crate of apples out, offering it to his rescuer. Hysbys took one, admired it for a moment, then took a large bite. “Mmm…this is excellent,” he said, relishing the taste. “Not as good as the actual apples of the Hesperides, but delicious nonetheless.” He nodded to the crate in Lorcan’s arms. “What do you plan on doing with those? Something nefarious, I hope?”
Fear flashed in Lorcan’s eyes for a moment, but he shrugged. “I don’t really know. I wish I knew who put these here. I could’ve been killed.” He glared suddenly. “I’ll bet it was those two goblins. This feels like something they’d think was funny.”
Dyn Hysbys’ face lit up, delighted. “A prank war? Excellent! I was hoping to have something to enjoy throughout the winter. Nothing warms the spirits like petty acts of revenge. Here I was thinking Shay was being nice, but this is much better.”
Lorcan stepped back, nearly falling the hole again. “Shay did this!?” He looked off in the direction of Shay’s house, and shook his fist in the air. “Traitor.” He turned back to Dyn Hysbys, who was giggling to himself. “Oh, I know exactly what to do with these. The villagers are in for a treat today.”
The old man’s smile grew yet bigger, a wicked glint in his eyes. He put a finger to his lips, signaling his vow of secrecy. He gestured toward the road, and beckoned for Lorcan to go. With new purpose in his eyes, Lorcan set off into town with the apples, moving quickly so as to be seen little and stay unrecognized. He peered around corners to look our for Kane or Shay, anxious to get this over with.
He stopped in front of the Drunken Dragon tavern, ducking under the hanging sign of a tipsy dragon standing on two legs. His face had connected with that dragon many times before, when he had unwarily tried to enter the tavern. He pushed the door open, and stepped inside, the noise and smells of the tavern washing over him. He enjoyed coming here, watching the townsfolk laugh and eat, playing games of chance and cards. Though, he tended to avoid the Quarto boards. Ul’vade destroyed him every time. Then, there was Sir McCullin, the cook. That man made some fine food that Lorcan frequently indulged in. Speaking of Sir McCullin, where was he? Lorcan walked around, avoiding eye contact with everyone, trying to spot the barkeep.
As he approached the bar, Sir McCullin came out of a back room, carrying a number of large mugs brimming with mead, which he served to a few men wearing thick, furry coats. In Lorcan’s opinion, Sir McCullin was the embodiment of what all cooks and barkeeps should aspire to be. He was tall, with an impressively rotund belly, and a leer to make a ferocious beast grovel in fear. He was delightfully surly, and he commanded absolute respect and fear in his kitchen. He kept a large forged-steel ladle on his belt, which he used for beatings as often as he did for serving food, and wielded like a hammer. Anyone who said anything negative about his food, tried to cheat him of his money, or started a fight, quickly learned the foolishness of their actions.
What’s more, nobody really knew why the man insisted on being called “Sir” McCullin. He didn’t exactly seem to have the makings of a knight, and he wasn’t the chattiest of folk, so nobody knew his past. However, everyone just contented themselves with calling him “Sir”, the alternative being brutalized by kitchen tools. Besides, his food was excellent, and nobody had reason to speak against him.
Lorcan sidled up to the bar in front of Sir McCullin and placed the crate of apples on the bar. “How do you do, Sir McCullin?”
The barman grunted his standard greeting, articulate as ever. Sensing the go-ahead, Lorcan continued, “So, hear me out. I need a favor. If you help me out, it’ll benefit the both of us. Are you in?”
The barkeep paused. He eyed the apples warily, but Lorcan could tell he was interested. McCullin picked up one of the apples, staring at it intensely. He turned an accusing glare on Lorcan. “You’ve been stealing, haven’t you?” His hand began to drift down toward his belt.
Lorcan saw the danger, and quickly said, “No! No no no no no. Nothing like that. I promise, these just showed up outside the chapel. I have this prank war going on with these two goblins you see, and it seems that Shay-“
Sir McCullin raised his hand. “I don’t care. I know that these are the Captain’s apples, so whether you stole them or not, you’re likely a dead man walking. So, what do you want me to do, hide the evidence? What’s to stop me from turning you over to the Captain?” He raised his bushy eyebrow quizzically. He was doing his best to appear scolding and accusatory, but Lorcan knew (more like hoped) that he was joking.
“Okay, you’re right,” admitted Lorcan, putting his hands in the air.” This looks bad. But, if you help me out, it’ll benefit you too.” He put his hands on the bar and leaned in closer. “Listen, I want to put as much distance between and these apples as humanly possible, and you want to have a successful business. These apples are the best in Woodland, which we both know, so imagine if you were to make a number of apple pies or pastries with them. Clearly, they would earn the Drunken Dragon quite the favorable reputation. You get fortune and glory, I walk away with my life. What do you say?”
Sir McCullin was as expressive as a brick wall. He just stared at Lorcan, unmoving, not even seeming to breathe. It seemed hours before he spoke. “Alright.”
Lorcan sighed in relief. “Oh, good. Thank you. Just…just done’t tell anyone they came from me, or that I had anything to do with this. If anyone asks, tell them…” he paused, then smiled. “Tell them that Shay brought them to you as a gift, but she wouldn’t say where she got them.” His grin widened. “And…call your pastries ‘Hesperides Pies’. Thanks again.” With that, he turned on his heels, and strode out of the tavern, laughing to himself.
Sir McCullin stood still for a moment, then picked up the crate of apples, carrying them into the back room. He set himself to work, skinning the apples, chopping them up, and mixing them with a sweet filling of his own invention. Nobody could ever prove it, but the terminally grumpy cook chuckled to himself as he worked. “Hesperides Pies,” he muttered, as he put the pastries into the oven.