In the beginning, there was a story. It wasn’t a great story, admittedly. In fact, it was rather boring. It had characters, a plot, a beginning and an end, but it was poorly told. Then, one day, it was written on quality parchment with expensive ink, using a pen with a tip so fine that the paper almost giggled as the words were delivered.
Suddenly, the story was no longer boring, but full of intrigue, betrayal, romance, adventure. Full of life. A story told true, nothing missed, aside from everything that was irrelevant. But it wasn’t the words themselves that made the tale become interesting. It was The Scribe.
“Did you get all that?” asked Tailfin.
The Scribe looked up from his parchment. Tailfin stood with a quizzical expression, swaying slightly as the ship rocked beneath them.
“Every single word, Tailfin. Precisely as you dictated.”
The Scribe nodded as he considered what he had heard. Tailfin’s telling had been long and detailed and yet he still had some way to go to catch up to the present.
“This… love interest you mentioned,” he asked. “Nothing ever came of her?”
“No,” said Tailfin with a sigh. “I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”
“Of course. But she… she is important to your story?”
“Yes! Well, sort of. I suppose if I hadn’t met her…”
“I understand,” said The Scribe, jotting a note in the corner parchment. “Shall we continue?”
“Certainly,” agreed Tailfin, pouring himself a drink and handing one to The Scribe. “The next part is probably the most important of all. It’s probably the single most critical moment in my life, the one that turned me into… me! One of the few things about me that answers more questions than it raises.”
The Scribe wriggled in his chair to find the most comfortable position while Tailfin took his own seat, sitting back with his fingers interlinked as he considered his words.
“Well,” he said, tilting his head, “here we go. When I was—”
The ship shuddered violently and both Tailfin and The Scribe were thrown from their seats. They heard frantic shouting from outside, sailors panicking, and erratic footsteps racing across the deck above Tailfin’s cabin.
They ran outside to search for the source of the disturbance. It was sunny outside, an unbroken blue sky stretched all the way to the horizon. A light breeze drifted across the deck, filling the sails as the ship glided with only a gentle rocking on the calm seas. The shore was a fair distance away, and there were no islands or rocks charted any further away than those hugging the coast.
The Scribe tried to make sense of the crew rushing over the decks with a distinct lack of purpose. One of them ran straight to him, grabbed hold of his shoulders, and shouted in terrified panic.
“I don’t want to die!” he cried.
He stood there for a moment longer, stricken, pure fear in his eyes, then he turned and dived overboard.
The Scribe ran to the edge of the deck and looked over to see the sailor splashing frantically as he tried to swim towards the shore. He would never make it.
“What the bloody hell is he doing?” asked Tailfin beside him.
“It’s the Whalebreaker,” said The Scribe.
“You mean the current? I know, we have been fighting it for days.”
“Not the current, no. The Whalebreaker.”
Another sailor ran past, and jumped overboard screaming indiscernible expletives.
“What the godsdammed hell are you doing?” yelled Tailfin.
Two more jumped over while Tailfin spotted the captain and interrogated him, violently shaking him as he gripped his shirt.
“Captain, what the—”
“It’s the Whalebreaker sir, we have to go!” he said, then shouted at the top of his voice, “Abandon ship! Abandon ship!”
A loud noise crashed across the deck as the ship shook savagely again. The Scribe peered into the waters beside them to see a dark shadow breaking the surf. A dozen legs the size of men pierced the surf; in single file they eased through the air a few yards apart before the beast fell back beneath the water.
“I’ve never heard of anyone living to describe the beast,” muttered The Scribe.
“Were those just its left legs?” asked Tailfin.
“I’m not even sure it was upside down.”
“We have to go!” yelled the captain. “It’s the only way!”
“How can that be?” snapped Tailfin. “A gigantic sea monster is swimming around the ship, and your solution is to jump into the water… with it?”
“It eats ships, not people!”
A few more men jumped overboard, the brave and the cowardly equally terrified.
“That was one of your men, Tailfin,” said the Scribe.
“Godsdammit,” he exclaimed. “Anyone else jumps overboard, I will personally see to it that you live a long and lonely life with chains around your neck and cold steel objects repeatedly slicing—”
“They’re not taking any notice of you.”
“Yes, I can see that,” admitted Tailfin, rubbing his temples as the last of his men hopped overboard.
“You two coming?” asked the captain.
When they didn’t answer, the captain followed the rest of the men into the sea, and the splashes of the fleeing sailors were soon swallowed by swells. The Scribe glanced around the deck. It was deserted. The breeze still filled the sails, and the ship sailed along calmly. The Scribe glanced at Tailfin, before they both looked back to the sea.
“Is it gone?” asked Tailfin.
The Scribe sighed deeply, momentary closing his eyes.
“If I were writing this tale – which incidently, I am not – then the Whalebreaker would come crashing through the wave at any moment now, disrupting the momentary calm, and devouring the ship. Whole.”
They stood there in silence, eyes fixed on the sea, hands tightly gripping the railing at the edge of the deck. The waves buffeted, unruffled, against the hull, white foam splashing back onto the surface as the ship cut through the ocean.
“Well?” asked Tailfin after the silence stretched.
“I told you,” said the Scribe, shrugging nervously, “I’m not writing this tale.”
Still they clung to the railings, searching for shadows in the deep, for movement of any kind. The waves continued to collide against the side of the ship, the noise concealing the sounds of any other splashing. The Scribe searched for any sign of the sailors swimming away.
“You think any of them will make it to shore?” asked the Scribe.
“Even if they could swim that far, the tailsharks would get them long before they reached the island.”
The Scribe silently agreed. His grip loosened on the railing, and he turned and wandered back towards the centre of the deck.
“Any idea how to sail one of these?” he asked.
Tailfin shook his head as he studied the rigging. He hadn’t sailed anything of that size before, not without a crew.
“I suppose I could point it in the right direction by turning the wheel,” said the crime lord. “Beyond that…”
“Well, perhaps if we…”
“If we what?” asked Tailfin, after The Scribe had remained silent for some time.
“It’s just… we are talking casually,” said the Scribe. “If I were writing this tale – which I’m still not – then this would be the perfect time for the Whalebreaker to attack.”
Tailfin froze as his eyes swung from side to side, searching for any movement. After several moments of quiet, he stood up and fixed a glare on The Scribe.
“Look,” said Tailfin, “would you stop doing that?”
Suddenly they were both thrown to the deck as the ship careened dangerously to the side. They rolled down the deck, searching for anything to grab hold of. A moment later, the ship settled again, and then scrambled to get up.
“I told you,” said The Scribe.
“Godsdammit, what now?”
The sea was remarkably closer than it had been earlier. The jump overboard seemed significantly shorter than when the sailors had been leaping into sea.
“We’re sinking!” said The Scribe is a less than casual manner.
Tailfin rubbed his temples, then shook his head.
“I can breathe underwater, and the tailsharks won’t eat me,” he said. “What about you?”
The Scribe thought for a long moment as he watched the water level rising. He glanced down to see that he still held his papers and pen in his left arm, albeit a little crumpled and wet.
“I can write a good story!” he proclaimed.
Rushing, he found a blank area on the parchment, and scribbled the words: there was a tender tied to the deck.
“The tender!” he shouted.
Tailfin turned and spotted the boat, then ran to untie it. The ship was leaning well to one side, and the tender slipped down the deck to the water’s edge. They both leapt in taking two paddles with them, and frantically paddled away from the sinking ship.
They turned just in time to see a large mouth breaching the surface of sea. The entire ship was lifted fifty feet into the air before being crushed between the beast’s jaws. Arms and legs sprung from the long grey body of the creature, scales rippled all down its back. Its grey eyes which were as large as their tender stared at them for a brief moment before vanishing in a cloud of wooden planks splintering through the air as the creature splashed back into the sea, its tail whipping up a spray easily two hundred feet high before disappearing beneath the surface.
A large wave hammered into the tender, and they clung on as they struggled to keep the boat upright. The water soon calmed, and both Tailfin and The Scribe fell back into the tender, laughing in relief.
Tailfin leaned forward after a few moments regaining his composure, and stared at the papers in The Scribe’s hands.
“The tender,” he said. “You wrote that? You made it happen?”
The Scribe remained silent.
“You can make things happen just by writing them down?” persisted Tailfin.
“Not exactly,” he answered reluctantly. “The story was already there, as it always is. All the elements waiting patiently. I only put them together in the right order.”
* * *
The tender scraped against the sand as they were washed onto the shore. It had been a battle getting there – of will as much as strength – but they were victorious nonetheless. The Scribe would recount the tale in words one day, once the quest was complete.
“Where are we, do you think?” asked The Scribe.
“You didn’t write this part already?” queried Tailfin with a smirk.
“I’ve been a little preoccupied, paddling for my life.”
“I remember,” said Tailfin, stretching his arms as he gazed along the forested coastline. “Well, we are on the edge of Rordynne Forest. Judging by where the sun is setting, we are on the south coast. And, if my eyes don’t deceive me, there is a rather large rocky peninsula over there that looks remarkably like The Hook.”
The Scribe strained his eyes and nodded in agreement.
“About a day’s walk, do you think?”
Tailfin glanced at the tender pulled up on the shore, then stretched his arms again as he turned back to the sun with a calculating look on face.
“A day’s walk, yes. We can leave the tender here. There is a shipwright near the peninsula that can see us home – for a hefty price, of course. But I could do with some rest if you are happy to wait until tomorrow to keep moving?”
The Scribe glanced around nervously, searching deep into the forest for any unfamiliar threats lurking in the darkness.
“Do you know how to start a fire?”
“Do you think that I came to be the most powerful crime lord on Renryre Island without starting a few fires here and there?”
The Scribe shrugged with a chuckle, and watched as Tailfin began collecting tinder and preparing it on the beach above the waterline. With little effort, he struck two stones together and forged a wild spark that dived into the leaves, and a flame burst out of the twigs. He dropped a few larger pieces of driftwood on the fire, and then sat casually beside it, admiring his work.
“You keep that talent well away from my stack of parchment,” said The Scribe, as he sat beside the fire.
Silence fell upon them as the sun set and the fire flooded the beach in crimson light. The forest remained impenetrably dark, shadows on the border leaping in time with the spitting flames. The Scribe watched the erratic dance with growing unease, imagining that at any moment, one of the shadows would take a life of its own, bursting from the darkness into their camp.
“Where is the coin?” asked Tailfin.
The Scribe broke his gaze at Tailfin’s interruption, happy for the distraction.
“It’s in the Godstone.”
“In the Godstone? Inside it?”
“Well, that’s great,” said Tailfin, shaking his head. “How are we supposed it get it out? Have you seen the Godstone?”
“Not with my own eyes.”
“Not with… what does that mean? Who’s eyes have you seen it with?”
“My father’s,” he said. “The stone lies facing not the west nor east, not the north nor the south. It watches not the sun nor the moons. In stands, a monolith, outside of our reality yet within our sight. It exists beyond our understanding; larger and more perfectly formed than nature should allow; weightless, yet still it burdens the land beneath it. Only by the blood of a true-hearted devotee may it be unforged; its strength is not borne of rock, but of the gods themselves. It is the Godstone.”
Tailfin was quiet for a long moment.
“Yes, it is pretty big,” he agreed. “Any idea how we are going to get the coin out of it?”
The Scribe lay down on his back, gazing up at the stars as they travelled restlessly through the night skies. He wondered if they were looking back at him, watching them as they travelled to the Godstone. He wondered what they would say, if only he could hear them.
“Good night, Tailfin. The tale will unfold itself tomorrow.”
* * *
A long day’s walk had The Scribe and Tailfin following the trail that lead across the rocky peninsula. The Hook was an impressive feat of nature, and The Scribe drank in every detail. If ever there was geological evidence of the gods, the Hook was it.
They came to a rope bridge that separated Renryre Island from Littleren, the island of the gods, and the little brother to Renryre. The rocks below were subjected to an unrelenting attack from the sea, the Whalebreaker current forcing its way through the tumult.
As they crossed onto Littleren, The Scribe could see the Godstone up ahead, jutting out of the land, so imposing as to threaten those who dared to near it. He could also see an old man wearing tattered clothes wandering around, shouting into the wind.
“Ryleine!” called the man. “Ryleine!”
“Excuse me, sir,” said The Scribe as the came near to the man. “Are you okay?”
“What do you want?” he queried sharply.
Tailfin glanced at The Scribe with wry grin.
“Are you lost?” asked Tailfin.
“I’m not lost, I know exactly where I am.”
“Right. Where are you?”
The old man glanced around nervously, fumbling in his pocket as he did so.
“Rordynne Forest,” he insisted.
“The forest is back that way,” said The Scribe.
The old man glanced suspiciously back down the peninsula, then searched around himself, apparently becoming aware of the distinct lack of trees.
“Well, I might have become a little turned around,” he said, and promptly began walking away towards the Renryre Island.
“Wait,” called Tailfin. “Who are you looking for? You were calling for a Ryleine?”
“What? Yes, that’s right. My granddaughter. She should be around here somewhere.”
“Well, yes. She went to Helen. She and that odd young man. I have something for them.”
“Helen? You are going the wrong way, old man.”
“Why don’t you come with us?” suggested The Scribe. “We will be taking a ship there soon.”
“What?” said Tailfin. “With us?”
“I know a girl that works for Arynlock named Ryleine. Dresses like a… like she grew up in the forest.”
The old man’s eyes lit up as he described her.
“That would make you Gerylde? I couldn’t have written it better myself,” acknowledged The Scribe.
That was when he realised: he couldn’t have. Gerylde had one of the coins, and he just happened to be there. He pushed the thought away as he gestured for them to continue.
“We just need to collect something from the Godstone first,” he added.
The old man reluctantly followed as they continued towards the Godstone, walking in silence as the neared it, surrounding it as they reached it.
“What did you say about it?” asked Tailfin. “Too big for the world to hold it?”
“Something a little less blunt, but that was the gist of it.”
Tailfin walked around the Godstone a few times as he studied it in the failing light. He ran his hands over the face, searching for flaws. He kicked it, grimacing as he stumbled away.
“May I suggest we wait till morning?” asked The Scribe. “I’m sure a solution will present itself then.”
As Tailfin began searching in vain for firewood, The Scribe sat down before the Godstone. He withdrew his parchment, inked his pen, and began searching for all the elements of the story. They were there to be found, but it would take some time to discover the solution.
* * *
Morning broke, and The Scribe still clutched at his papers, his eyes dark from exhaustion. Tailfin looked at him uneasily as he awoke, the sun shining brightly on his ragged expression.
“What is it?” asked Tailfin.
“I am not the one writing this tale,” he admitted reluctantly, before nodding toward an odd rock buried in the dirt. “Underneath.”
Tailfin didn’t bother questioning anything more. He began working at the rock, trying to pull it from the ground. He struggled for a long time as The Scribe looked on, worried at the results.
“Have you lost something?” asked Gerylde as he arose from his slumber.
Tailfin glared at him momentarily.
“Have you checked your pockets?” he added helpfully.
“I don’t know even what I’m looking for, Gerylde.”
“Hah!” laughed the hermit. “All the more reason to check your pockets!”
Tailfin ignored him as he worked the rock free of the ground. He studied the hole momentarily before withdrawing a crude tool, a blacksmith’s hammer, the face worn from age and use.
He walked towards the Godstone, eyeing it sceptically as he held the small hammer in his hand. With a shrug, he tentatively tapped the hammer’s head on the Godstone. He was thrown back instantly and a wave of energy rushed from the Godstone, while a bellow of pain echoed from within.
Tailfin climbed up onto his feet and stared in disbelief, his eyes darting between the Godstone and the hammer.
“What the hell was that?” he demanded, but no one ventured an answer, short of The Scribe’s nod of encouragement towards the monolith.
Tailfin braced himself as he wound up to strike the Godstone with more strength. A small crack broke the surface as the hammer collided with it, and another wave of energy pushed back. He swung again, harder, and was rewarded with more fractures crossing the surface, punctuated by the howling agony of the voice within as streaks of crimson liquid began oozing down the face of the Godstone.
The ground began to vibrate, making it difficult to stand. The deep rumbling covered Littleren as the Godstone tried to defend itself. The Scribe clung onto a steady rock as he watched Tailfin falter.
“Again,” cried The Scribe.
Another swing of the blacksmith’s hammer crashed into the rock, and cries of pain nearly crushed even the usually unsentimental Tailfin’s resolve as he visibly struggled to deliver the next blow. Shaking from the pain and effort, he took one last swing, raising the hammer high, and bringing it down with all his strength.
The Godstone shattered, shards of rock exploding and flying several yards away in all directions, some crashing down the cliffs into the sea below. A pool of blood welled at the base of what was once the Godstone, seeping into the dirt.
Tailfin dropped the hammer as he gazed wearily at the destruction, unfixed on any point, panting as he tried to catch his breath.
“What was that you said about the blood of the devotee?” asked Tailfin.
The Scribe said nothing. He has misunderstood the story, arranged the threads in the wrong order. It was the characters that he had muddled. The one that the gods had protected so many times from the vicious tailsharks, the one they had kept alive as he was dangled beneath the waves for a week. Only by the blood of a true-hearted devotee may it be unforged. There he stood; the wielder, not the sacrifice.
Tailfin leaned down and collected something from the bloodstained ground. He wiped it on his trousers, and lifted it to the light. It sparkled as the golden coin caught the sunlight.
“Well, this is what we came for,” said Tailfin. “Can we go? I can still hear the Godstone wailing in pain.”
The Scribe stood up gingerly, followed by Gerylde, who looked equally distraught, his eyes fixed on the gold coin.
“Yes,” said The Scribe morosely, “we have what we came for.”
And we will leave with something quite unexpected.
“Hold onto the hammer. You may yet need it.”
I hope you enjoyed reading Renryre Island Chapter XVII: A Scribe’s Tale
Next, Chapter XVIII: Fools Escaping Fools
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