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Balverine’s Bane


The story below was an entry for a fanfic competition for Fable Legends, the latest Fable game for the Xbox One from Lionhead. The prizes were a controller, game bits etc, but I thought I’d enter because I haven’t written much fan fiction at all. Fable was also one of the first games I played on the Xbox, and so I thought this was the perfect excuse to have a go.

I hope you enjoy it.

*****

Liverstone, one dapper chapper

Liverstone, one dapper chapper

Sometimes, being in a party of hardened adventurers out to make their mark, whilst gaining fame and fortune, maybe even titles, had its advantages. Other times, it had serious disadvantages. Usually because such parties were made of vainglorious, greedy and needy people.

Liverstone, famed slayer of beasts, veteran of many adventures, fights, skirmishes, battles and wars sighed as one particularly vainglorious, greedy and needy member of their party gave voice to what everyone was thinking, but not saying.

‘By the numerous gods of pain and discomfort, my feet feel like they’re about to bloody fall off. Aren’t we nearly there yet?’ Groaned Monty, hopping along as he tried to keep up with his friends and pull his boot off at the same time. ‘Damn you, slow down, it’s not a race!’ He whined, dropping to the grassy verge as his body finally realised that walking, hopping, and divesting oneself of footwear don’t mix.

Liverstone stopped walking, trying to keep his face clear of the fantasies involving sharp knives, feet and bodily orifices that played across his mind’s eye.

‘We’ll be there, when we bloody get there!’ He snapped, one hand irritably twirling his moustache. Gods, I sound like my bloody father! The thought was not a happy one. Nor was the thought that there was any chance he and the bard-cum-rogue might share any blood whatsoever.

‘But I’m tired!’ Wailed Monty, wiggling the dirt-blackened toes finally freed from the boot. ‘My feet hurt. Balls, my toenails hurt.’ Liverstone found himself staring at the man’s toes in horrified fascination.

‘When … when was the last time you had a wash. Not a bath, just a wash?’ He asked, knowing already that he wasn’t going to like the answer.

‘Not since,’ Monty paused, one finger on his lips as he gazed off into the middle distance in thought, ‘the Redcaps. You know, the ones in Bloodstone Marsh.’

‘But that was over a week ago!’ The smell he had thought was a particularly rich nub of blue-veined cheese secreted somewhere about Monty’s clothing, took on a slightly less-mouth watering meaning.

‘I have to say I’m somewhat knackered as well.’ Liverstone tried not to shout as he turned to scowl at Winsome, the deadliest duelist he had ever had the dubious pleasure of fighting alongside. She had a cracking arse, and wore trousers that were positively indecent.

‘Well, I am! Ever since we lost the horses I’ve been walking in blimmin’ riding boots!’ She scowled back, her deep blue eyes glinting, mouth twisted as it always was by the scar that bisected her face.

‘Fine!’ Liverstone threw his hands up in despair. ‘Bertram, which way?’ He asked, turning to face the final member of their party. Bertram, was a quiet soul, and would never be known as the soul of a party. Not even a wake.

Bertram’s only answer was to produce a well-folded piece of parchment, snap it open and mutter to himself whilst looking around at the various hills around them. Finally, just as Liverstone was opening his mouth to give him a verbal kick up the arse, he looked up.

‘There’s an inn, about five miles on. No name.’ He lisped.

‘Well what are we waiting for?’ Monty yelled as he sprang to his feet, boots back on in a flash.

*****

Beautiful

Beautiful

It turned out that the inn actually did have a name, ‘Balverine’s Bane’.

‘That sign looks nothing like a Balverine!’ snorted Winsome as they stood looking up, the sign swaying slightly in the late evening breeze.

‘More like a rabid bear crossed with … Well, I don’t know what it would have to be crossed with to make something that bloody awful looking!’ Laughed Liverstone.

Despite the sign, the inn itself looked better than most of those the party had been able to afford to sleep in. The shingles were in good order, the horse trough had fresh water, and the tables and benches scattered around didn’t look too weather worn.

Liverstone led his party through the ironbound door, all four spreading out by instinct as they covered the room inside and let their eyes adjust to the gloom. As with most inns, the clientele was filled with the usual regular. The old gaffers, mouths more gum than tooth as they supped cider. Farmers, tired from a day’s hard work, clearing the taste of the fields from their mouths. Merchants sat hunched over their tables as they did business, their hulking guards staring at everyone and anyone as if they were going to rob their employers there and then.

Sight restored, Liverstone ambled over to a large oak-topped table surrounded by four Blackwood chairs, close to one of the three fires that gave warmth to the room.

No sooner were they seated than a busty wench bustled over to them, swaying hips and ample bosom in equal measure.

‘Two rules. You sit, you eat and drink. You sit, and you don’t fight. We don’t want no trouble. Today’s fare is the same as yesterday. Vegetable soup with bread and cheese, or bread and cheese, or roast of the day with vegetables and roasted taters. What’ll it be?’

*****
‘That was bloody delicious!’ Monty said, pushing himself away from the table as he sucked marrow from a bone.

Bertram tipped his cider mug in agreement. The gesture more than enough to show his agreement. He found that people liked to talk. Far too much in his opinion. As a result, they often under-estimated those who didn’t.

It wasn’t that he didn’t have plenty to say, rather that by the time he had phrased what he wanted to say, exactly how he wanted to say it, someone far less eloquent but far more loquacious had jumped in and spouted some drivel that approximated what he wanted to say.

That was one reason he had decided to become a Will User. Every user created the same spells completely differently. Granted, a Hobbe might not appreciate, or even realised the difference if attacked by two Will Users casting a fire attack, but to him and his fellows it was immediately apparent.

Some Will Users were like him. They took care in crafting. They took pride in cooking the skin off their enemies in the most efficient and effective manner. Others were like the Lout, as he referred to Monty. Loud, brash, subtle as a barbed battle-axe to the groin. It was a wonder the thief had lived past conception. Possibly even ejaculation.

‘Plan for tonight,’ said Liverstone, looking up from the map he’d been studying during the meal, ‘Monty gets a bath. A proper one too. No argument.’ His glare made Monty’s recently opened mouth close with a snap.

‘Bertram, I believe you said you needed supplies.’ Bertram nodded. Once. ‘Great, here’s some coin, I reckon one of those merchants would be more than happy to deal with you.’

Bertram looked over at the merchants. They seemed to be fairly well dressed, which meant they would have fairly decent goods. Good enough for his needs anyway. Pushing his empty plate away, he stood and ambled over to the merchants.

*****

Liverstone watched his friend as he left the table. Bertram and he had known each other since they were raw recruits in the Bandit Wars of ’50, plucked from the fields, bill hooks replaced with bills and swords, smocks with poorly made leather armour.

It’s only thanks to Bertram realizing his talent that I’m alive today, he thought, remembering with a shudder the way the bandits – who had been about to slit him from groin to throat – had jogged and screamed as the lightning arced between them. Even now he fancied he could smell them cooking. The look of terror on Bertram’s face was also burnt into his memories. Poor sod, he only ever wanted to breed chickens.

‘What plans do you have for me, oh great captain?’ Winsome’s playful tone brought him back to the present.

‘Firstly. Stay out of trouble. If you can’t do that, then don’t kill anyone. Or arrange to kill anyone tomorrow. Secondly, stay out of trouble. Thirdly, see if anyone has any horses to sell us. I’m fed up with walking, and it does nothing for my reputation.’

Winsome smirked as she tugged at an imaginary forelock, then left to speak to another table of merchants.

Liverstone leaned back, taking a long pull on his ale, Avocet he believed the serving girl had called it. Bloody lovely, he drained the dregs the raised his tankard, holding it there until the girl saw it and bustled over with a full one.

‘Why’s this place called Balverine’s Bane then?’ He asked as she plonked his fresh drink down.

‘Well, Bill Burgundy is the man you need to speak to. But,’ she threw a glance around the room, ‘seeing as it’s a bit quiet, I’ll give you the quick skinny.’

Liverstone suddenly found himself in danger of being suffocated by two plump pillows as she leaned down to speak into his ear.

‘The boss don’t like us talking about it much, seeing as it was his son what did all the being eaten and everything.’ She paused, her breath tickling his ear as she calmly placed a hand on his thigh. ‘But, it was Bill Burgundy what done for the Balvarine. Took his pickaxe and buried it, right in its skull so he did. Just outside. So the boss had Willum paint a new sign, and changed the name of the inn from the Queen’s Head.’

*****

Later that evening, Liverstone was still trying to remove the barmaid’s hands from his thigh, and other unmentionable places, whilst trying to maintain some form of decorum. People rarely appreciated heroes ravishing their women folk.

A few more locals had drifted in, and a somewhat cleaner Monty was sat in the corner playing lewd ditties on his lute and telling even lewder stories. By the roaring laughter and [censored] of coins as they landed in the hand set in front of him for just that purpose, he was doing well.

Better than me, thought Liverstone as the barmaid slipped once more and tried to sit on his lap.

He was therefore eternally thankful when a somewhat drunk local staggered into them both, spilling most of his beer over the both of them.

‘Whoops! All hands on deck Daisy!’

She squawked, stood up, and dashed off.

‘Sorry about that. Could see she was getting frisky. Boss doesn’t like that. Never takes it out on her though, just the poor sods she takes a fancy to.’

Liverstone smiled, ‘Not a problem, not a problem at all. What’s a bit of beer between a man and his saviour?’

‘Name’s Crocket, and if I’m your saviour, does that make you the damsel in distress?’ Crocket fluttered his eyes.

Lord of the Oak, what is it with these people? he thought.

‘Err, ummm, I,’ he flapped his hands, ‘what I mean to say is,’ he tugged at a collar that suddenly seemed so tight he was reminded of a time an assassin had mistaken him for her target.

‘Wan’ see m’bear? Another local staggered up, sloshing drink all over the place as he waved his tankard about, Crockett spluttering as he caught a face full.

‘Bear? Where? I’d love to see your bear!’ Liverstone stood up so quickly he knocked his chair flying. ‘Please, lead the way, lead the way!’ Making apologetic noises to the still spluttering Crockett, he pushed the local along as quickly as he could.

*****

The walk didn’t take too long. It would have been shorter if the local hadn’t forgotten what they doing once, stopped to puke twice, and got into an argument with a tree that was “Cucking looking at me all funny, damned pempslider”

Finally, they arrive at the man’s home, nothing more than a ramshackle barn, with a badly written sign saying “Beewar, Beer.”

“Right, where’s this bear then my inebriated friend?”

“Name’s not ineebrated. ’S Jonti. S’right here. Roun’corner.” Jonti staggered off to the right, Liverstone starting to follow him. Then, he staggered off to the left, muttering about the ‘bliddy slope.’ Needless to say, the ground was totally flat as far as Liverstone could see.

Rounding the corner, Liverstone stopped in his tracks, jaw dropping. He stared, rubbed his eyes, stared some more, then realised that his jaw was still open.

‘What the bloody hell is that!’ He pointed to the creature hunched in the cage before them, it’s head grazing the bars, long, oh so very long arms stretched out to the side as the large, by the gods were they large, paws grabbed the thankfully thick bars.

‘I told ya! It’s Bob. My bear.’ Jonti said proudly. Waving a hand perilously close to the well-spaced bars.

‘That’s not a damned bear, it’s a Balverine!’ Squawked Liverstone, hand on his sword, Will growing as he prepared to fight for his life.

‘Bob’s not a Balverine! That what’s on the inn sign is a Balverine! Bobs a bear!’ Hiccupped Jonti.

‘Have you ever actually seen a bear?’ In real life?’ Asked Liverstone, his mouth dry at being so close to such a feared creature, caged or not.

‘Well, not exactly. Willum, the artist what drew the sign showed me a picture he’d drawn of a bear though. And that’s a bear. Bob the bear. Named him myself.’ He puffed out his chest and did a little strut, tripping closer to the cage and the wicked-looking claws as he did so.

‘Look out man!’ Liverstone snatched at the man’s crude smock and yanked him away from a claw that had just been reaching out for him.’

‘Steady! ‘E jus’ wan’hug from his daddy.’

Liverstone had heard and seen enough. ‘Stay here. That’s a bloody Balverine. I’m going to get my friends. Don’t get too close, you utter shote!’ He turned and sprinted off, praying to any god that was listening that his friends weren’t too drunk to fight.

*****

‘Erethay anyay Alverinebay inay ethay agecay, ownday ethay oadray. Elphay emay.’ Said Liverstone as he leaned towards Winsome. It seemed she had concluded one form of business and was busy conducting another form with one of the most ugly men he had ever seen. Alive or dead.

‘Alverinebay?’ She said as her lips parted from the guard’s with a wet sucking noise. Rather like someone eating an orange, thought Liverstone, as he nodded.

‘Loodybay igbay astardbay ootay.’ He said, ignoring the glare that her companion was directing towards him.

‘Uckingfay ellhay!’

‘Precisely,’ Cant was a useful language if you didn’t want people to understand what was happening and run around screaming for a hero to save them, but it did give him headaches.

‘Get Bertram and Monty, we’re going to have to illkay it. Toot sweet like.’ Not waiting for her to answer he strode over to the bar. ‘Bottle of your finest whiskey please barkeep. Take away.’

The barman sneered at him for a moment before reaching under the bar and pulling out a dust-covered bottle.

‘Twenty.’ Burbled the barman, his chest and throat thick with phlegm, the most utterly disgusting sound that Liverstone had heard for a long while.

‘Fine.’ It was overpriced, especially considering what he planned to do with it, but he couldn’t bear to hear the man speak again. Slapping the coins into the table, he snatched the bottle and joined the others as they waited.

*****

As quickly as he could, Liverstone lead them back to where Bob the “bear” was kept.

‘I promise, it’s a bloody Balverine, just around the corner. Right … Oh by the Light!’ Shoulders slumped he looked at the pile of bloody flesh that lay just before the empty cage in front of them.

‘Where’s this Balverine then?’ Asked Monty, leering at Liverstone and crooking his fingers as he did so.

‘Don’t take the bloody piss, Monty. It was a Balverine and that plonker has only gone and let it loose.’ Liverstone stared at the open door, a severed hand still grasping the handle.

‘What’s the whiskey for then?’ asked Monty. Liverstone started, he’d completely forgotten he had it, ‘I was going to give it to Jonti in payment for us killing it.’ Puffing out his cheeks, he tossed the bottle over to a gleeful Monty, who immediately set about opening it and taking a swig.

‘We can’t let it live.’ Bertram’s voice was little more than a whisper but it cut through Monty’s hooting laughter.

‘Wait? What? You want us to fighting a skanking Balverine! Are you mad?’ Monty’s face had drained of all colour.

‘If we don’t stop it, everyone in the area will die.’ Bertram crossed his arms.

‘I agree, it’ll make us even later for the next job, and I doubt we’ll get paid. But that thing needs do die.’ Winsome stepped up beside Bertram, resting a hand on his shoulder.

‘Fine. Vote carried.’ Said Liverstone, nodding to the others, ‘We find and kill the Balverine. Monty, get tracking and shut your trap.’ Just to emphasise the order he pushed the rogue towards the cage, ‘look for tracks.’

Muttering to himself, Monty took a long pull on the bottle, popped it into one of his many pockets, and set to work.

*****

An ear-piercing shriek split the dusk air and Monty looked up from the spoor he had been checking. ‘I’d say that our quarry is in that direction.’ He pointed towards where the shriek had come from.

‘You don’t say.’ Liverstone’s blood ran cold at the thought of the battle they had ahead of them. ‘Vee formation, Bertram, I do hope you’re Will’d to the max dear boy.’

Not waiting for the Will User to answer he set off at a light jog, one he had learned whilst in the light infantry. Jog fifty paces, stride fifty paces. Rinse and repeat. It was a good way to get somewhere quickly, whilst remaining in relatively good shape. Fighting was all about conserving energy. That and trying not to piss your pants.

*****

Bad Bob! Bad!

Bad Bob! Bad!

Well, at least I saved me breath, thought Liverstone as he rolled under the gargantuan arm the Balverine was currently using in an attempt to remove his head from his body.

He kept the roll going, springing to his feet as lithe as a cat, ‘Bertram, fire!’

Flames erupted between him and the beast, forcing it to retreat from the intense heat, giving Liverstone a chance to catch an all-too-brief rest

Winsome stepped in, slashing with the tip of her sword, the sharp edge scoring a thin line, the Balverine screeching in pain. It lashed out, claws the size of a man’s hand cutting through the air.

‘Stay away from its mouth!’ Shouted Bertram, a stream of lightning arcing from his outstretched hand. It struck, drawing a shriek from the Balverine and filling the air with the stench of burnt flesh and singed hair.

It spun, both hands clapping together, Bertram yelling as his arse slammed to the ground, his cap left dangling from the pinky of one of its claws.

Liverstone thrust out his hand, a blast of air causing the Balverine to stagger forward, spoiling its next attack. He Willed a weaker fireball, trying to keep it off balance as Bertram scrambled out of the way, all thought of Willing gone from his mind.

There was a whistle and a soft breeze by Liverstone’s ear, an arrow suddenly jutting out of the Balverine’s shoulder. As Liverstone charged forward, two more punched through the creature’s thick hide. The Balverine twisted in agony as yet more hit home, Monty loosing as quickly as he could.

‘Good grief!’ A backhanded swing whooshed over Liverstone’s head, forcing him to drop to his knees and arc backwards. The soft earth gave way and he slid forward on his knees, coming to a rest against the beast’s legs. ‘Bugger.’

‘Hey! Ugly!’ Winsome waved her arms, trying to distract the Balverine from the tasty morsel at its feet. Turning its head to the sound, it took its attention from Liverstone for a split second.

‘Hah!’ Liverstone sprang upwards, ramming his blade into the creature’s neck, pushing it with all of his weight, driving it through the roof of its mouth and into the brain. Blood rained down on him, the stench immediately filling his nostrils. With one last effort he twisted the blade, withdrew it, and Willed a blast of ice into the gaping wound.

‘Uh, you might want to get out of the way!’ Yelled Winsome.

Puzzled, he looked up as the Balverine toppled forward, ‘[censored] .’

*****
Despite being somewhat crushed, Liverstone was in good spirits as he entered the Balverine’s Bane, the creature’s head resting on one shoulder.

‘Bloody hell! They’ve gone and killed Bob the Bear!’ yelled a particularly gummy gaffer.

‘Good job too! That git killed Bob! Bad bear!’ There was a rousing chorus of shouts from the rest of the locals, mostly in line with what had just been said. Liverstone looked around the room, shaking his head.

‘No, it’s not a bear chaps, it’s a Balverine.’ He said, dropping the heavy head to the floor with a dull thud.

‘Booger’arf, that’s no Balverine. Wot’s on our sign is a Balverine, that’s a bear. Willum showed us what they looked like.’

All heads turned to barman as he slammed a glass onto the bar top. ‘Suppose I’m going to have to change the name of the pub to Bear’s Bane now.’

‘Well, yes, I suppose you will.’ Liverstone’s shoulders slumped forward in defeat as he accepted a pint and a back slap from a gaffer and the inn erupted in cheers for ‘Our hero, the Bear’s Bane’.

The End

About mattsylvester

Father of two beautiful daughters and married to the beautiful Karen, Matthew has been reading and writing fantasy and science fiction since he first read the Hobbit at the age of 7. Matthew was Features Editor, Technical Consultant and regular columnist for magazines such as ‘Fighters’, ‘Combat’, ‘TKD & Korean Martial Arts’ and ‘Traditional Karate’. These are the four leading martial arts magazines in the United Kingdom. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed 'Practical Taekwondo: Back to the Roots', which has been sold around the world. With regard to his martial arts background he has been studying martial arts since 1991. In 1995 he hosted Professor Rick Clark of the ADK and since then has been studying pressure points and their uses in the martial arts and on the street (initially as a Special Constable and as a Door Supervisor). All of this practical hands-on experience means that he is uniquely placed to write fight scenes that are not only plausible but some of which are based on personal or anecdotal experience. Matthew has had a number of short stories published by Fringe Works, KnightWatch Press, Anderfam Press and Emby Press.

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