“Gather round my lords and ladies, for I have a tale to tell! A tale of adventure, daring, and deadly consequences! Gather round for another tale from Faulkir, Fortune’s Favored Fool!”
Polite applause rose from the assembled court as the garish halfling took to the raised stage in the center of the audience chamber of Duchess Halvar, ruler of Silverspear. While most were delighted to get a chance to hear him perform one of his legendary tales, the Duchess herself seemed rather bored of the spectacle.
“Now this story is from my younger days, when I was perhaps a bit more brash,” he finished that with a sly wink toward the Duchess, “if such a thing is possible.” Laughs from the crowd, but the Duchess did not seem amused.
“While passing through the tiny town of Aubenglade, I met a simple farm girl of a singular beauty, like a spring lily that had just come to bloom. Walking through the market, she sang a hymn to the Mother as she shopped. I was smitten by her golden locks and cherub smile.” The bard expression seemed lost in remembrance, like trying to recall a pleasant dream.
“For days I did woo her. I sent her flowers. I read her the sweetest poetry. I even sang to her! I sang every song that I know.” And then in a hushed tone “Well except for the bawdy ones. Alas she quickly became bored at hearing the same three songs over an over again.”
As the laughter subsided, Faulkir pulled am exquisite mandolin from his back, playing a faint tune to accompany his tale. As the notes carried through the audience, the magic of the instrument took hold. It was a subtle spell, one designed to ensnare the senses.
“Alas, she would not have me. I was too fat, she said. I was too foolish, she said. Why, I do believe she even said that I was too short! Can you believe it?” He said with a defiant tone. At that, even the Duchess let out a snort. The magic had her as well.
“I could not let such a slight go unanswered! I might not be tall in stature, but I make up for it in bravery and guile, and I decided that I would prove her wrong. So, after hiring a few local guides, we set off to prove that I was in fact the tallest man in all the land. I would prove it by summiting the nearby Teventas mountain! None could be taller than that!” There was much chatter in the audience. That peak was known to be deadly to climbers for its height and the terrifying beasts that live on its slopes.
“Five days we traveled into the mountains, making our way toward the peak. Alas, we would never reach its heights, for during our journey, we found something far more dangerous.” His voice had gone suddenly cold as the story took a turn. “A fane, made from the blackest basalt, carved with sinister symbols of the darkest intent. A shrine to the shadows of the mountain.”
“Now, I could have ignored it, continued on my trek to prove my stature and win the heart of my farm girl, but NO! For I may be a fool, and I may be a cad, but one thing I am not is a coward!” The crowd had grown silent, listening to his heroic choice. They were all consumed by his tale, and his magic.
“This foul place could not be allowed to be, not so close to the sleepy community of simple peasants and bumbling woodsmen. Bravely onward we ventured, me and my brave guides, but inside we found that the place was far from abandoned. Vile cultists roamed the halls, intent upon casting the mountain’s shadow across the entire world!”
The tale carried on with the brave bard and his bumbling guides venturing further and further into the shadow shrine. No matter how grim things seemed to get, Faulkir would find some way to win out in the end, if not by wit then through the cunning use of magic or sword play. By the end, the gathered crowd of nobles hung upon his every word.
“Finally we found our way into the heart of the foul place and there stood an obelisk of the blackest stone, floating above an unholy altar. No light would shine upon it. Indeed it seemed that the shadows from within were reaching out to ensnare our light and our very souls!” His strumming had taken on an ominous tone. “The terror of it left the mage I had hired in a state of babbling terror. The hunters I brought with me to guide me up mountain tried to fight the tendrils of darkness, but it tossed them about like mere twigs, killing one and driving the other to madness. Fortunately, I kept my wits.” It was silent in the room. Everyone was waiting to hear how he would come out victorious once again.
“My keen eyes noticed a series of runes on the altar, below the hovering menace. I could just barely make out the words of a summoning ritual and in that moment I knew what I had to do… for only I could do it!” The diminutive bard strode around the stage as he talked, more like a giant than a halfling.
“Ducking the nearest tentacle, I rolled up to the altar and climbed atop it.” Faulkir danced around the stage, dodging imagined foes. “None of my companions, being big folk such as yourselves, could ever have hoped to squeeze into that space, tucked beneath the floating obelisk. It was my small stature that allowed me to crawl underneath. Using my trusty blade, I scratched out the runes, ruining the ritual and breaking its unholy power. In an instant it was over. The obelisk tumbled to the ground and the remaining cultist fled. They knew I had beaten them.”
“After that, there was no point in climbing the mountain. I had proven my courage once again. This time, being the shortest was a virtue, and fortunately for this fool, the fair maiden did favor me with a kiss.” Faulkir ended his story by blowing kisses to the crowd, who returned the gesture before letting loose a thunderous round of applause. The magic had worked once again. Faulkir’s purse would be fat with coins tonight. Almost everyone seemed delighted, even the Duchess.
In the back, leaning against a pillar, one figure was not at all amused.
She was trying to decide whether or not to kill the halfling. She knew his tale was nothing but lies. Caeth had been there and she knew that the danger was far from over. It was about to happen all over again.