Author: "from The Tales of Citharon WayGuester"
Source: Academy of Learning of Riverhaven
"You've been really quiet, Citharon," said the tall Elven ranger, as he tossed back the remains of another mug of ale.
"By real, I mean unusually so. As in only telling us one tale so far this night, and here it is time for the false dawn."
The Halfling bard grinned lazily. "Friend Acton, my mouth has been busy nonetheless." He pointed a pudgy finger at five empty mugs dripping with the remains of ale. They were stacked pyramid fashion on the table, two straddling three. A sixth, full mug, clearly intended to crown the rest, was in Citharon's hand.
"Well," rumbled a Dwarf from somewhere deep in his graying beard-- "will ye no' consider one more tale? I can smell my guardin' shift hobblin' this way, and it stinks."
Citharon stretched. "I suppose so, Maur, if you'll buy me a set tomorrow night."
Maur snorted, a sound that woke a few of the tavern's more relaxed inmates. "I do that, and I'll have ta run extra duty ta pay the rent. You're a tiny fiend, Citharon-- but done and done. Fair price for your tale."
"All right, then." The bard meditatively stroked the six strings of his biabli. "But mark, nothing epic. I won't speak of kingdoms lost, doomed lovers or cursed items. I'll tell you a true tale of something that happened once not too long ago in Riverhaven. It's not spoken of very much, because few people know the real story. But I had it from several reliable sources, and went there myself to check it out once." Citharon paused, and his eyes seemed to briefly focus on the events of another time and place. Abruptly he shuddered, and a took a swig of his ale.
"Well, at one time there was a wealthy, well-bred young man named Byron Dunshade. He came of good human stock and had seen battle in distant lands. When his parents died, and with no surviving kin, Byron returned to the old Manor. He was sick of war, and as the last surviving Dunshade, thoughts of marrying and raising a family occurred to his mind.
"It chanced that the very first day after his return Byron met a young woman. Her name was Tatia. She was fresh and winsome, and she knew these things; what's more, she was unattached, and not a little lonely after having brought several romances to unsuccessful conclusion.
"Byron could have cared less about the casual facts of Tatia's recent past. He only had eyes for this wonderful, beautiful creature who appeared to have stepped out of a storybook-- a tale of some raven-haired princess in a land faraway, gazing from the window in a tower that touched the sunset for a knight unseen, unknown, to share her life.
"And so he courted her. Often they were seen together, sometimes in the company of other young people; though Byron found these friends of Tatia rather thoughtless and shallow after the horrors of war. Truth to tell, he only had eyes for Tatia, and the more he studied her the more he found to admire in private, away from the world's frivolity. She in turn was touched by all this attention from a wealthy, well-placed young man; and as time went on, Tatia's pleasure changed first into affection, and then to love.
"Within three months the nuptial bells sounded. Byron and Tatia were married amid lace and orchids, opals and diamonds, green lawns and blue skies and a moment that stretched beyond time into a forever place called memory.
"Scarce a year after that they had a child, Laurel. In time she displayed her mother's dark rich hair, her smile and laughter; and Byron loved her.
"But Laurel's effect on Tatia was still greater. I produced this child, ran the thought through her mind: I created life. For Tatia who had never so much as considered her friends more than a series of running social engagements, this fact was a personal revelation. Byron's part in the matter was of no consequence. Tatia had made a child...and Laurel was a work of art. Perfect in every way.
"From the start there was something in Tatia's attitude towards Laurel which puzzled Byron--a look, perhaps? A glance that conveyed some emotion that Byron never received? But the squire of Dunshade had nothing to complain about. His wife and child were both incredibly beautiful, and like the Manor they were entirely his to appreciate. His days and nights were filled with joy at the pleasures they shared, whether it was something as simple as lovemaking or as complex as taking a child out for a ride on a swing.
"Yet gradually as the years progressed Tatia's attention became increasingly focused on Laurel. She was the treasure of her mother's delight, her every movement and gesture exquisite. She still loved Byron-- was he not her husband, after all?--but Laurel was more than that.
"Byron took note of all this with growing resentment. He loved Laurel, too--did he not take her for walks and show her the wonders of the Manor...? But, he reasoned, all things should be in good measure. And Tatia was his wife, his love, his treasure, who should be focusing more attention on him. He came to resent Laurel's intrusion upon his life with Tatia, and every delighted squeal of the child brought pain to the father's breast.
"Tatia remained oblivious to her husband's dark silences and mute stares. Her joy in Laurel rose at sunrise and only drew rest at night. Meanwhile Byron's schedule had gone in the opposite direction. He became nocturnal, spending long and longer hours in his study, trying to put the thought of his wife from his mind. Of course he did nothing of the kind. She was everywhere, because she was nowhere. He felt her absence like a red hot iron burning in his heart. Byron touched little food but drank incessantly, and read the love poetry he had written to Tatia during the days of their courtship.
"Finally, one evening, Byron decided to gather his courage and end the madness about him. Calmly he removed a long, elegant letter opener from his desk and rose. It was Laurel's hour for bed, he recalled - as if he could forget. He mounted the staircase, and entered the child's bedroom. There before him stood the mother, smiling on her babe, and Laurel, sitting on the soft mattress. The child saw him; her eyes lighted up; she shrieked in delight, and waved with both hands.
"Byron's hand slashed outwards with a strength and accuracy worthy of a one who had fought long and hard in foreign lands against the forces of darkness. Laurel fell forward dead, her trusting smile fixed. A woman's scream blazed across the room.
"Tatia...? Tatia! recalled Byron, and he turned. She stood there looking at him--at last, looking at him!--but in her gaze was only horror. Where was the love he had sought to return to them both? Byron's cold fury suddenly took flame. He tossed away the letter opener and grasped a fireplace shovel. Then as Tatia screamed again Byron hit her...and again...and again...and again. Then he fell to the floor, wracked in sobs.
"Late that morning Byron awoke. He saw Tatia stretched before him in a dark pool of blood. The wedding ring upon her finger winked at him, and instantly he knew what he must do.
"Byron weaved up the stairs like a drunken man, tears streaming from his eyes. Carefully he opened a window in the attic, and climbed out. Flattening himself against the ramparts, his eyes automatically searched the horizon for the one thing they delighted in; then memory returned. With a final cry of 'Tatia!' Byron threw himself upon the bright spikes that lined Dunshade Manor's wall. He shuddered once, then lay quiet."
Citharon sat back in his chair and ceased to speak. For a long moment the tavern's other habitues remained silent as well, and no one, not even the dog with its incessant itch, cared to move.
At length Acton cleared his throat. "I thought you said there was nothing lost here, Citharon," he said.
The Halfling stirred, and blinked. "Hmmm? I said there were no kingdoms lost, doomed lovers or cursed items. Yes."
"Well, it seems to me - and begging your pardon, I'm no bard, mind you - that the kingdom of love was lost. The lovers were doomed by their own way of looking at things, and the cursed item was surely the innocent babe."
Citharon nodded slowly. "Yes, I suppose it is an epic of sorts, at that. But there's still this difference: most epics are buffed up tales of long ago, as real as Pontificus' rainbow armor. The epic of Byron and Tatia Dunshade, now, that's real. And the proof lies in the old Dunshade Manor itself, if you have the stomach to look for it."
Then an unusually sober Citharon took a long, hard swig of his mulled wine, and stared at the grinning fire.