by Christopher Kellen

The door of the cell slammed shut with a resounding clang.

“Thou callst this a prison?” shrieked the red-haired man from the newly-disturbed dust upon the floor. “I hath spent the night at inns with more class!”

“Hold thy tongue,” snapped the guardsman as he retreated into the dank darkness beyond, “lest the interrogator hold it ‘ere long.”

The red-haired man dragged himself up into a sitting position and rubbed his aching shoulder. The guards had stripped him to waist searching for weapons, and the dank cellar prison had a distinct chill that was already settling in.

It had not been a good day.

“Ah, new blood hath arrived,” croaked an ancient voice from behind him. The red-haired man let out a surprised squeal, not unlike that of a flustered pig, and spun around in the dust to face the speaker.

“Who… who art thou?” stammered the red-haired man.

“I? I am no one, nothing at all,” cackled the speaker; a shriveled, dried-up old prune of a man, clad in naught so much as a thin shift. A grey beard hung from his withered chin to his knobby knees, and pale, rheumy blue eyes peered out from beneath bushy white eyebrows. “What is it that thou hast done to be locked in here with such as I? Thou couldst be not a respectable rogue, and thou hast not the naval bearing of a pompous pirate!”

The red-haired man glanced at his bare midsection briefly, and opened his mouth forthwith to speak, but was cut off by the insane ramblings of the ancient man who stood before him.

“Surely thou couldst be none of those things, for the Walking Gods dost have love for those! In Their wisdom They couldst ne’er have sent one of Their Own to rot in a place such as this! And no, surely thou’rt not a miserable mercenary, nor a salacious sellsword, for ‘twere that thou wouldst not be here e’en now! So, pray tell, what wrongs hast thou committed to be committed here with such as I?”

“Alas, none of those things am I,” lamented the red-haired man, “for ‘tis true, the Walking Gods have much love for those. Nay, I am but a simple spinner of stories, a teller of tales, and a singer of songs. I am a bard.”

“A bard!” hooted Greybeard, his raucous, raspy laughter echoing off the cold prison walls. “A bard!”

Once more did the red-haired man open his mouth to speak, but was cut off by the insane laughter of the ancient man who now rolled upon the floor before him.

“Now see here!” the red-haired man began angrily, but his words were swallowed by the echoing of the laughter from the prison walls.

At length, Greybeard did descend from the heights of his humor, and shook his ancient head ruefully. “The Walking Gods hath little love for bards, my unfortunate friend, and Vorza, God of Ways and Means, hallowed be His Name, outright despises them!”

“Aye, alas, it is true,” cried the red-haired man. “And worse still was I born under the Sign of Vorza, God of Ways and Means, hallowed be His Name, Himself!”

“Most unfortunate indeed! How is it that thou camest to such a vile and reviled trade, and born under the Sign of Vorza, no less!”

“’Tis a long and sad tale indeed,” mourned the red-haired man. “Wouldst I could tell the tale in song, as is my wont, but those lamentable guardsmen hath stolen my lute.”

“Then thou shalt tell the tale in prose most purple, I am certain,” muttered the decrepit and desiccated old man.

“If there should be prose of any other kind, I certainly shall knowst nothing of it,” the bard agreed. “Then I shall begin what I have come to call the Tale in Which Euphonious of Altan-upon-Discord Learns of His Unfortunate Destiny.”

“Couldst perchance use a shorter title,” grumbled Greybeard.

The bard began, in prose purple as the evening violet primrose, as was his wont, ‘Twas late in the year when Euphonious of Altan-upon-Discord was born, when the bluehorn trees hath leaves turned argentate and standeth proud against the deep cerulean sky. ‘Twere no omens, ill or otherwise, upon such a joyous day; no sable-winged ravens took flight, and the ancient, bloodshot eye of the Great God Auveral didst shine as brightly in the sky as thou ever hast seen…”

The amaranthine-tongued bard broke off his tale as the sound of booted footsteps approached with rapid precision. The door to the cell slammed open once more, and two of the aforementioned lamentable guardsmen seized the unfortunate bard by the arms and begin to drag him away.

“Wait, forsooth! How is it that justice in this place is so quickly dispensed?” cried Euphonious of Altan-upon-Discord. “I beg of you! My tale is not yet finished!”

“Aye, but it is,” growled the guardsman as they vanished into the gloom.

The rheumy blue eyes of Vorza, God of Ways and Means, watched as the guardsmen dragged off the hapless bard to his inevitable fate.

“Indeed, the Walking Gods hath little love for bards,” muttered the old man, as he vanished in a pillar of light. “And Vorza, God of Ways and Means, least of all.”