The Marshal's Road:The Song of Erik of Candar...

The-Marshal_road_logoThere was a time, before the Order and the rule of the Lord Marshal... A time of chaos and disorder and violence and wrath... A time when life was lived by the rule of the sword and the ferocity of the man that wielded it. Of loose tribes and warring clans... It was a time of strife and difference... A time of death. 

And it is a time that is coming again. 

The Song of Erik of Candar


Before arriving to Candar, Life had rarely been kind when it dealt with Erik... 

Born the child of an adulterous woman, he had the early life of a bastard... Raised off in some convent never to know a mother's love lest her sins be discovered. The monks charged with his care spent more time hitting him than anything else, his beatings so frequent they were scheduled. It was so bad in fact, that at the age of ten he took off down the Marshal's Road; feeling his fortunes fared better on his own than under the watchful eyes of letcherous frocked men.  

His assumptions bore true, his exchange for the cold of night and long days of hunger a welcome one to the beatings and torments at the hands of holy men... The only life they saw this bastard boy worthy of having being one of pain and penance for the sin of his ill-begotten existence. He used his new freedoms industriously, eventually making his way to Candar, the furthest most outpost on the Marshal's Road. There, a kindly miller named Hector took him in as his apprentice. This man too had been spit upon by Life, his sons taken by the Marshal's conscription years prior and his wife by the cough a few winters back. He was bitter and cold, but saw hope in the gaunt face of the boy he found half frozen in his stalls. He taught the boy all he knew, both of his trade and of life in general, and in time took to calling Erik "son". These feelings were shared by Erik, this embittered, broken man showing him more kindness than any other living soul ever had, and in his seventeenth year took the man's surname as his own. 

Eric took to his new life quickly, needing only the opportunity to be worthy of more than lashing and scraps to ascend to such lofty heights. His pluck did more than garner the favor of the old miller, as others in the town took notice of the bright young man's talents. The elders marveled at his uncommon wisdom and pragmatism, while the young ladies fawned over his potential (it had to have been the only thing they saw in him, as years of neglect and abuse, while easily overcome by the spirit, could not so easily be forgotten by the flesh. His skin was scared and thin, with an unpleasant setting on his face). He settled on a wife, a buxom woman named Angeline with a keen eye for investment and a willingness to pursue, and was appointed chief tariff collector for the city- a high honor to be bestowed upon a man at such a young age. 

His life finally having fallen into place, Erik of Candar felt as though the days of the Fates abusing him had drawn to a close. He slept easy at night, he felt making up for those lost sleeps of his youth and ate well at every chance (for much the same reason). In truth, there was little he denied himself when it came to indulgences (he was only resistant to the charms of women, his heart purely devoted to his beloved Angeline), but beyond that lived a sound and moral life. 

He had a few successful years as Candar's Tariff Collector, making it as high a Chief Councilman of Candar (a mayorship, for all intents and purposes) before he reached his fortieth year. So when word came that the Lord Marshal was summoning Eric to Court for an appointment, it came as little surprise to Eric or anyone else in the City of Candar. It was whispered by some to be a Governorship, by others Chief Tax Collector of the Realm. But to Eric it was yet another grace that Fate was now sending the way of the one time long suffering bastard... The orphaned miller boy who made his way from nothing. 


It was to accept such an honor that Erik of Candar found himself so far from home, riding along on the back of a worn out mare as he made his way to the Marshal's Court. It was a few days ride along the Road, a well worn gravel trail that cut through much of the Marshal's land. His beloved Angeline was stuck at home, only a few weeks away from the birth of their first born. The Old Woman by the stream, a woman known to still be familiar with the Ancient Ways, had told Angeline that she would birth a boy... News that Eric greatly relished. A grand promotion and the birth of a son... The well earned fruits of a life of struggle. Though at the time it didn't seem like that; finding himself so far from home, astride a withering horse as he rode the final stretches to the capital. He would have another day ahead of him, he was told as he rode out of Marshal's Keep- the final village between him and the Marshal's Grand Garrison.  

Erik fancied himself a man of steely, steady resolve... Not easily thrown by jitters or fear. He had grown up hard, fending for himself at such a young age. But as he rode past the final stretches of Marshals Keep, he felt his stomach grow heavy. The heaviness grew as he rode, intensifying as the high forbidding walls of the fortress loomed off in the horizon. All the villages were in its shadow, and even Candar- as distant as it was- could still see on a clear day the faintest of silhouettes of the castle's spires off in the southern horizon, but as he fast approached the marshal's garrison the ominousness of the fortress became apparent. He could see the heavy grey stones clearly now, stained red with the blood of failed invaders, stacked a hundred foot high... The black and Crimson flags, proudly bearing on either side the Marshal's citadel, waving in the tumultuous mountain air like a violent bloody mist... He could even faintly see the crowning of the archer's helmets, keeping a watchful eye on the horizons. 

This heaviness forced him to drink as he rode, hoping to settle his nerves a bit as he trudged along the final leg of his journey. 

It was known as the "Sinner's Stretch", the road side lined with examples the Lord Marshal had chosen to make of those foolish enough to break his Laws. For the most part, the law breakers were confined to these large steel egg shaped cages, dangling precarious off jagged steel riggings. They were set there, many for days or weeks, others infinitely longer, to remind themselves and others what happened to those who broke the Laws of the Marshal. The various villages had similar forms of public chastisement, with similar charges and stockades gathered on the outskirts of town... But nothing like the collection on Sinner's Stretch. There, the cages went on for miles, dangling eerily in the still air. The creak of weathered, rusted metal sliding across weathered rusted metal was ear piercing at times, echoing off the jagged peaks of the forbidding mountain train opening a few hundred yards before him. Most of the cages went empty the further along he went, the crimes on this bit of the road reserved for the highest order. These criminals were treated with harsher punishments...

Long spears impaling decaying corpses broke up the clutter of steel pods, the rotting flesh sliding down the stained, greasy spears. Erik rode by as quickly as he could, feverishly pulling off his flask of wine as he dared not stare at the macabre spectacle that crawled too slowly for his taste by his lowly nag as they limped along their way. 

It took most of the day to get through the worst of the nightmarish scenery, the grotesque torments of the condemned dwindling to a scant few collections of the black steel cages again. They eerily creaked as he rode past them, singing an eery hymn to the dwindling sun as it slowly fades off into the distant horizon. It tucked behind the jagged peaks of the mountains lining the walls of the roadway, hastening the departure of the sun's last rays as they were consumed by the shadows of the mountain. With his ride not near finished and the road growing too dark to continue, Erik's mind (a bit dulled by the wine he had been drinking all day) turned to finding a place to rest for the night. He had anticipated such a need for days now, the rest of his ride spent enjoying the comforts that his well earned station in life had earned (in the shape of a soft warm bed in a secured inn and warm meals every night), and in truth was looking forward to a night in the wilderness. He had longed for a night to recapture the ferrel days of his youth... To feel the night air on his skin, feel the crackle of energy as critters rolled in the nearby brush; fingers quickly clutching a sharpened blade as he determined if the scurry was friend or foe... He enjoyed his new life of comfort, but felt a night in his past skin might do him a bit of good. 


Erik settled on a spot a few yards from a grouping of cages. He paid the cages little mind as he settled in a soft spot of grass just off the road, working quickly to establish a camp before the total darkness of night overtook. He build a small fire, using wood he had been gathering as he rode, and began searching for stones to cook his supper over the flame (some sausage he had picked up before leaving Marshal's Keep from a butcher promising them to be the best in the realm). He found a few good sized stones, even in size and roughly balanced, and a decent sized piece of slate suitable to cook on not far off from his camp site. He was sure to stay clear of the road, not wanting to get caught under the wheels of a late night racing wagon, but didn't dare get too far off the clearing... The woods along the foot of the Marshal's Mountains rumored to be crawling with polliwogs and goblins. He wasn't the superstitious type normally, and typically didn't buy into the wives tales and mutterings of the commoners, thinking himself better than such irrationalities. 

But even still he felt it wise to not tempt fate.

With the sun settling off to the horizon, Erik of Candar settled himself by his healthy roaring fire and began building himself a makeshift stove. He placed the larger rocks with a bit of space between them and stacked the thin slate stone atop. He then build a little nest of kindling and dried grass, lighting it quickly with a stick off his campfire. His second fire going under the stone stove, he then unpacked his bag, pulling out the sausage and another skin of wine. He unwrapped the sausage (wrapped tightly in a thin cheesecloth) letting the three links breathe a little as he waited for the stone to heat up. It took a few minutes, time passing slowly as he sat in the dwindling twilight, the air tinged with the sweet smell of smoldering wood. He reached back into his pack, pulling out a simple clay pipe and a small pouch of tobacco. He packed the bowl, tapping it clear of lingering soot along the round stones before stuffing fresh tobacco into the ashy bowl. Lighting his pipe, he leaned back, enjoying the silence of the evening; the chorus of frogs and crickets chirping along to embruing wood taking him back to a thousand nights so long ago. 

He took a sip off his wine, splashing the stone a little before doing so. He could smell the wine sizzle off the scalding slate. He squeezed a little more wine atop the stone, settling the sausage along the top of the sizzling wine; the dried casing pulling tight as the wine soaked steam engulfed it. He smiled to himself, his stomach rumbling a little as he carefully arranged the sausages to maximize cooking surface. 

 

"Them sausage smell good, pops... You wouldn't happen to have a spare..."

 

He paused as he heard the voice speak to him in the darkness. It was calm and friendly, sounding very casual despite the jarring nature of its arrival. 

"Who's there... Show yourself!" Erik called out to the darkness, pulling a short dagger out from his belt. 

"Over here... By the cages..." The voice replied. 

"I'd show myself, but..." It paused, rattling the bars that confined him. 

Erik glanced at the cages across the road from him. He could see a shadow off the the back in one of the far cages. He found it odd, not having noticed anyone sitting in there prior (or that they had decided then to be the opportune time to speak up), but moved towards it none the less; stopping first by the fire to make a quick torch. 

"That's it... Over here..." The voice lead, the shadow watching Erik slowly creep towards him. 

Erik inched closer until he could clearly make out the man. It was difficult to make out everything in the fire light, but he could see the man was locked within one of the steel eggs. He sat with his legs criss crossed, thin knotted arms hanging out the wide gaps between bars. 

"What's your name, convict?" Erik asked, his voice growing more confident seeing the man locked away. 

"Darby, m'Lord." The shadowy man replied. 

"Well, Darby. How did you happen to find yourself chained into the furthest set of cells on the road. It's like someone was going out of their way to forget you." 

"You could say that. Slept with another man's wife." The voice replied nonchalantly, his cage creeping as he adjusted himself to better see Erik. 

"And I take it the man had important friends?" 

"The man was the important friend. It was the Sheriff's wife I bedded. Nice girl too. Sweet." 

"And that didn't get you killed?" 

"I imagine that was the point of the whole locking me half way to nowhere. Left me a week ago to rot with two days worth of moldy bread and sour wine. You might wanna go roll those sausage." 


Eric paused, turning back to check his fire. He rolled the sausage, golden brown sizzling skin hissing as he pulled them off the hot stone. Readjusted (and baptized with a generous splash from his skin) Erik turned his attention back to Darby, slowly rocking his cage back and forth. He headed back towards the man with the skin of wine, taking in a mouthful as he walked over. He moved closer this time to the incarcerated man, eager to get a better look at him. The man was young, maybe twenty if Erik had to guess, and eye catchingly handsome. He had chiseled cheeks and piercing blue eyes that seemed to stare deep into a person when he gazed at them. His hair was long and blonde, though appeared darker under the week's worth of sweat and grime. His clothes were tatters, bloodied and torn clothe hanging off his thin, muscular frame. 

"You say you been here a week and ain't a stitch of hair on your chin," Eric commented as he stared at the handsome man. 

"Couldn't grow whiskers if my life depended on it," Darby smiled, rubbing his dirty hand across his cheek.

"It's why folks took to calling me Darby the Dandy. Mind if I get a pull off that wine? Been drinking rain water and piss for six days now and I'm not ashamed to say I am very thirsty." 

Erik thought about it for a moment, the penalty for disturbing a man held in bondage nothing he felt like experiencing. But his loneliness thought better for him, his ears no longer fancying the dead silence of night. 

"Guess there wouldn't be no harm in a pull... Not like you killed a man," he relented, handing the skin through the bars. 

"Thank you, my Lord," the caged man replied, eagerly pulling off the skin. 

"That's quite enough," Erik said, after feeling the man was taking too great a liberty with his skin. He grabbed at the leather strap, yanking it from the man's hands. 

"Them sausages is gonna burn." The man then said, sending Erik into a race to his stove. He got there in the nick of time, the skin starting to burst as oil and juices exploded out from the cooked flesh. 

"They sure smell good..." The caged man called out, hoping to perhaps befall a little more of Erik's charity. 

"Did you get those in the Keep?" 

"Yes," Erik said, tearing off a chunk of two day old bread, placing it in the grill to freshen up a bit. 

"From Wallace? Oh, you're in for a treat, mate. That man was put here by the gods to make sausage, and he certainly does them honor..." 

The man paused watching Erik in the flickering light prepare himself a sandwich.

Erik could feel the convict eyeing him as he tended to his supper, the sight and smell perhaps more tortuous than his sentence in the cage had been up to then. Finished preparing his sausages, he sat by the fire to eat, still feeling envious eyes fixated upon him. It gnawed at his good nature, having spent too many hungry nights himself to let another man wither away while he gorged himself. 

He got up, carrying the three sandwiches and his skin, the flickering torchlight guiding him back to the cluster of cages. He set the sandwiches down on a stone as he tended to making a quick fire, bundling together loose sticks and moss before kissing it with his torch flame. 


With the site brought to spectral life by the newborn flickering flames, Erik handed Darby one of his sandwiches, smiling gently to the bound man as he did. 

"Here. Not gonna let a man starve while I feast. You can celebrate with me."

"And what exactly might we be celebrating?" Darby asked, jamming the sandwich into his mouth the second the final words exited it. 

"My promotion. The Lord Marshal summoned me himself to bestow the honor." 

"The Lord Marshal, you say... You must be an important man to garner such an honor." 

"Well, I try not to brag," Erik said, feigning humility as he puffed his chest. 

"You're an alright fellow, you know?" Darby said, jamming another bit of sandwich into his mouth. He tried to savor it but his hunger quickly turned him ravenous; attacking the sandwich without mercy. 

"All kidding aside, you a tax collector or something?" 

"Yes. Chief tariff collector for Candar." 

"Candar, huh... You are a long way from home, my good sir... A long way indeed." 

Erik took a pull off his skin, offering it to Darby once finished. 

"So... A death sentence over a woman... I hope she was worth it. " He chuckled as the caged man took the skin eagerly from him. 

"Ain't no gash worth this end."

"What was her name, if you don't mind my asking..." Erik volleyed back, starting to gnaw on his second sandwich. 

"Alexia... Woman was a walking goddess, my friend. Fair skinned, full figured..."

"I can only imagine..." Erik teased a bit, tapping on Darby's cage with his boot. 

"And she was the type that knew it too, if'n you get my drift."

"I know the type..."

"She liked to turn heads, that one did... Liked it more when you'd flirt with her a bit... Like she got off on the sin of it all." 

Darby took a breathe, watching Erik finish up his sandwich. 

"So how'd you get caught, if she was such an expert temptress? Did your charms finally land themselves on some lonely soul too naive to see you for the cad you are?" 

"If it were only so happy an ending, rotting here as a star crossed love mourns me miles away. But it wasn't nothing like that. Just tempted Fate one too many times with that one, that fat sherif ripping me off his old lady mid stroke."

"You're kidding," Erik rolled, a hearty belly laugh choking his words. 

"Wouldn't be in this cage telling you this if I was, mate. Fat bastard ripped me off her then beat us both stupid for making him a fool."

"He hit her too?" 

"Damn right. She starred insulting him the second I came off... Kind of shit you never want coming out of your woman's mouth. Looking back, she might have gotten the worst of it, seeing as how I at least got to leave; his men dragging me out here to my current state." He gave out a hopeless sigh, clanking his head against he coarse iron bars as he did. 

"Worse part was, the bitch wasn't even that good." 

"As though you have much to compare to. You're just a pup." 

"I grew up a few towns from here... Locke's Mead. The Conscription took many of the men from home for a long time... Women get lonely. And I get lonely women." 

He paused as Erik withdrew his pipe from his coat, starting to puff on it. 

Erik noticed the quiet, locking eyes with Darby. He offered him the pipe, again the convict grabbing eagerly at it. 

"You were saying?" 

"The women got lonely and bored and lusty, and I- too young to be called to serve and too pretty to be ignored- felt it my duty to keep my neighbors comforted during their hardship." 

"And I take it people started to talk?" 

"Not right away... But after a few of the war widows started showing, it could be said things got dicey. Figured it was time for a change of scenery and made my way to the Keep." 

"And what was your trade there... I mean, besides whoring." 

"A jack of all trades, if'n you will..." 

"And now it's clear... You're a bum, Mr. Darby..."

"Begging your pardon?" Darby replied, feigning shock at the insult. 

"You heard me well enough... You're a cad; corrupting legions of once virtuous women with your lusty charms. But it seems as though this road for you has come to an end."  Erik stated, his ire fueled by the wine. 


"You must forgive my confusion, Lord. I thought we were getting along... Did I offend you?" Darby asked, sarcastically. 

"You did. You sit before me- young, strong, handsome, charming... And throwing it all away over cunt and frivolity. I could have the world, if I had your gifts... The fucking wor-" 

Erik's speech was cut short as he felt a cold, grimy hand grab the back of his head. It pulled hard, taking him off balance. The unseen fiend was on him quickly, giving him little time to react before feeling the stinging pain of a jagged knife pressed against his throat. He relented his struggle as he felt the edge of the knife against his neck, surrendering. His body jerked a little as his unseen assailant yanked at him, tying his hands behind him as he layed upon the dirt and stone. He looked up, flickering light showing the shadows within the cage yanking the lock, popping it open easily. 

"Took you long enough," he could hear Darby say to his partner, tying the final knots around Erik's chubby wrists. 

He heard unintelligible chattering coming from behind him as his assailant made himself visible. 

It was no man that had caught Erik off guard but rather a polliwog. He had never seen one, hardly believed any had still existed (if they even existed at all) but there walking before him stood one. The creature was short, no more than three foot, with a mess of ratty grey hair crowning his pointed rodent like face. He hissed as he walked by Erik, showing his jagged teeth as he menacing stared at his bound prey; continuing to chatter to his partner.

"Here." Darby said, handing whatever remained of Erik's second sandwich over to the creature. 

It cursed at him in its marbled tongue. 

"I know you don't like cooked meat. But it's all we got." 

The creature chirped back, menacingly pointing at Erik as he did. 

"No you can't eat the fat man. Why? Because he was nice to me, that why." Darby replied to the creature, seeming to understand his spewed clicks and screeches.

"Release me, damn you!" Erik cursed at the pair, struggling on the coarse ground. 

"Or what? You're a long way from Candar, friend. Now shut up or my friend here will eat you." 

The polliwog turned to Erik, snarling as he shook his knife towards him. 

"I command you!" Erik screamed. His cried were replied to with a flurry of punches and kicks from the grey skinned creature; snarling as he struck Erik of Candar. 

He was surprised by the power the tiny being had, his body sore from punishment. His chest hurt with he breathed and could feel his eye swelling in the afterglow of the attack. 

"You fuck!" He swore, spitting blood from his mouth as he cursed the pair. 

"I'll see to it that they impale you for this! So you hear me?!" Erik screamed, the pair distracted as they pilfered through his belongings. 

"Weeeeellllll...." He heard from his campsite, his eyes too swollen and they to clearly see anything in the waning fire light. He could hear footsteps coming back to him. 

"So," Darby said, dropping Erik's pack before him. He took a seat next to the bag, going through its contents before Erik. 

"That's a nice full coin purse you have here, Erik. You really must be a real important fellow. And here are some credentials. And some clothes... Might be a little big but better than these rags. And what else... Oh, some bread, a knife... Erik, my friend... You have been our most profitable pigeon by far!" 

Erik looked a bit confused, the wallops to his head and face starting to take their toll. 

"Pigeon... Pi... Pi... Pigeon?" He managed to mutter, his words slurry and bloody. 

"You'd be surprised just how little the soldiers who march this roadway actually carry on their person... Even after ol' Roger and I figured out to catch them before they made it to the Keep to blow it all on whores and opium, it was still hardly worth the effort it took to hatch this little scheme. But you... You, my sandwich sharing little pigeon,,, you have made this whole gamble pay off. Pay off proper too... Money like this, I bet I can even get my little friend sucked off." 


Erik could feel himself sliding in and out of thought, the creature damaging him more than he would have expected. He could hear his horse shrieking, kicking up gravel as it struggled in the shadows.

"What's... what's..." Erik sputtered, struggling to keep conscious.

"Oh, that's Roger eating your horse."

"But I... I..."

"It could have been you... Could still be, if you prefer... Though I would rather suggest not. Polliwog like to eat living flesh." Darby replied, his low menacing voice drowned out by the blood curdling cries of the suffering animal being torn to bits by the ghoulish creature that had bound Erik. He could feel himself start to cry, warm tears rolling of his face; falling into dust and gravel below him to be forgotten forever. 

He could no longer hear the horse whimpering; the only sounds left in the darkness were those of the polliwog sauntering back. He came into sight, hands and face bloody as he gnawed on purple flesh. He offered some to his companion; Darby quickly refusing it. 

"It was a good haul... Yup, plenty enough to get you laid... I didn't know you heard the joke... Yes I do think I'm funny..." He said, pausing only to let the creature banter back in his chatters. 

The creature chirped a few more words out, aggressively pointing at Erik.

"Well, that's your job... It is... It is... Look, I'm not going to argue. I bring them in, you handle the killing and stuff... You know it turn my stomach... No, I'm not being a baby..." They bickered a bit more, their conversation going on in infantile circles as they debated their responsibilities in the crime. 

"Just do it so we can get the fuck out here... Soldiers vanish all the time, but this guy people will look for... No I didn't know he would bring us this much attention.... Just do it, damn it. I'm cold." 

The creature finally gave up his debate, pulling out a chewed up blade tucked into his waistband. The creature lunged at Erik, driving the blade deep into his guts. It thrust and again and again, darting the rotund man's abdomen repeatedly with his knife.  

"Not the stomach, you cruel monster! The guy was nice to me... No need to leave him bleeding out all night writhing. Make it quick and let's go." Darby exclaimed as he dressed himself in Erik's clothes, a bit sickened by his companion's ruthlessness. 

The creature cursed at him, pulling his blade from Erik's stomach. He then dragged it across his neck, dark red blood exploding as it tore a seam along Erik's pink flesh. 

His head grew light as blood oozed from his throat, warm blood trickling out from the deep cut left by the polliwog's blade. He could feel Darby grab hold of his feet (taking Erik's boot off before doing so), dragging him along the rocky terrain towards a dug in embankment off the road. He rolled Erik down the side of it, sending him crashing into a bog of mud and rotting bodies. 

He took one final glance up, seeing the silhouettes of his assailants looking on as he slowly sank into the black, dark waters. 

 

"It's a shame," Darby said to his companion, watching as the dark waters made what remained of Erik of Candar disappear. His companion barked back, still gnawing on horse flesh. 

"No, I'm not getting soft. He was just nice, that's all. Rest of them pricks got their end being too distracted fucking with the caged sissy to notice you creeping behind. This poor devil got his sharing his supper and wine. Life's just not fair sometimes..." He paused, Roger replying in his tongue. 

"Think what you want. Still had you do it. Hell, I even let you eat his horse. We could have used that fucking thing to get to the Keep... I understand you were hungry... I get it... I get it... Look, you wanna end this little partnership?" 

The creature grew quiet at the sound of Darby's threat. 

"That's better. Now let's head back. I'd like my cock sucked, my belly full, and head swimming in wine and merriment before the sun sees us again." 

The two men wandered off back down the Marshal's Road, their shuffling feet along the gravel echoing for a bit as they marched along. 

 

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