Happy Tuesday, everybody!
Did you know that some Chinese police stations deploy guard geese instead of guard dogs? I guess remember that next time you spy a gaggle at the park.
In my heart, I’m a fantasy nerd first and foremost – that means I’ll take enchanted swords over lightsabers, fireballs over laser beams, and spellbinding elixirs over chemical compounds. Which is why I find it kinda funny that, to date, the stories I’ve successfully sold have been, in order, an historical fiction and a speculative horror (coming soon, NIGHTLIGHT podcast, get ready!).
So, stemming from that love as it should, naturally I ran a D&D campaign (questionably) for a couple of years. Today’s tale is the origin story of one of the players’ character concepts: an orphaned street rat with a curious mentor that helped him nurture his adventurer skills. Bravo!
May I present:
“Revan, of the Crossroads”
“Catch him, dammit! Catch him!”
Revan smiled as he darted down the alleyway. Diving over piles of refuse and sliding under a fallen beam, he looked back to see the angry merchant stumbling to the ground in failed pursuit. He loosed a proud snicker but stopped short to see a patrol of town guard entering the other end of the narrow path with clubs in hand. Wasting neither momentum nor thought, the young elf deftly leapt to his right, planting a step on the wall by the closest guard’s shoulder and vaulting to a low roof on his left. Three quick, bounding paces and he was lowering himself to the street once more on the building’s other side. Revan closed his eyes and took a quick breath as voices approached the alley fence on his right. He locked eyes with the guard between the fence boards.
“Hold right there, you thievin’ rat!” the guard commanded.
Looking shaken, Revan held his hands up and slowly reached into his tunic to retrieve what he had stolen. From it, he produced not the illegally procured item in question, but his own middle finger, which he showed the guardsman with jovial fervor.
“I’ll have your hide you dirty…”, was as much of the guards’ howling that reached Revan’s ears during his fair escape. Being Market Day as it was, he was easily lost in the crowds that pervaded the bazaar stalls of Faraday. At the far end, he stood atop a barrel between the tents of a seller of trinkets and a local apple farmer scanning the fringes of the crowd. A few moments later, he saw the band of guards appear from around the lane corner, breathless and red-faced, throwing their clubs to the ground in frustration. Good thing those plebs can’t run for shit, Revan thought as he dismounted the barrel and was lost amid the alley shadows.
“Oh yes,” said the seller of trinkets to a young woman that had approached his tent. “I have a fine array of bracelets that would fit a lovely maid wonderfully, but for you I’ve just the one. Ah, well now. Um, damn. I beg your pardon, I seem to have misplaced it.”
Revan half-danced as he jauntily strode along to the sounds of the Market Day minstrels. He took one final crunch of his apple and tossed it to the ground beside a small ant hill. Eat up, fellas, he thought as he held his wrist up and admired his new bracelet. It was a twisted rope and leather band set with small non-precious stones. Still though, it was nice. The sounds of music faded more and more into the distance as he made his way to the outer edge of town and the caravan park. He skipped between the wagons and carts, dodging the odd pile of horse shit here and there, until he found the one he was looking for (wagon, not horse poo).
A young woman in her early twenties with fair hair and rich brown eyes sat on the bench of her wagon with its reigns in her lap. She sat with her back to the green painted wood of the covered wagon looking with tired eyes over the rest of the caravan park. Many of those in the area were guards keeping watchful eyes on their claimed spaces or merchants who, like she had, arrived too late to set up a proper stand in the full market. She was just convincing herself to get to work when her wagon shifted with an added weight. “Hello, Revan,” she said without looking.
“How did you know it was me?” he asked from the wagon’s roof.
“You’re not as sneaky as you think you are.”
“Oh, I think I am. How was the road, Nora?”
“Hot, dusty, full of shit. Nobody woke me. I only arrived a short while ago.”
“Ah, that’s crap. Almaran with you, or he snooze too much too?”
“Haven’t seen him just yet. But he should be here soon.”
“Mind if I wait with you?” His lied down and let his head hang over the side, his long hair hanging like a horse’s tail.
“You can wait, I need to go set up. Just keep an eye on the wagon for me.”
“Oh! Here, take this with you, so the day’s not a total bust.”
“Hmm, this is pretty Revan, thank you. Where’d you get it? Are these rubies?”
“The market and probably not. Now go on, get! People need potions and things and, well, whatever else it is you do.”
“I’m an enchantress, dear,” she said with a sarcastic flutter of her eyelashes.
“And I am a prince,” replied Revan regally.
“Oh fuck off.”
So in the meantime, Revan lay on top of the covered green wagon, twiddling his thumbs and playing games in his mind with the clouds that passed overhead.
The wolf, the maiden, the toad, he called them out as they shifted with the wind. The toad became a…snake…or a duck and…went up the maiden’s dress. And the wolf, oh the wolf got fat…and ate the maiden…no, humped the maid. No, yeah, ate the maid. And they became…one, big…cloud. Where the hell is Almaran, the old tit!
Having been born poor and orphaned at a young age, he’d had no family business to assume or apprentice under nor the albeit rare opportunity for education of any kind; and so, Revan had learned to make his living as a light-fingered street urchin. Almaran, as Revan had come to know him, was a traveling arcanist and storyteller whom the young elf had met as a child.
One evening making his rounds about the market stalls and purses of through-wandering travelers, he noticed a new face with a crowd of other children about him, enlightening and emboldening them with strange tales and gestures. Sparks flew from his fingers as he spoke of the ancient, mystic fey wilds; glyphs and sigils danced in the air in colorful patterns as he told the ways of the wizard; and fierce, kaleidoscopic flames sprang high into the air with the tales of elder dragons. As Revan approached the mob of children, he was invited by the kindly old man onto his humble, carpeted stage to help reenact the Tale of Two Dragons.
The bond between the two quickly formed and throughout the years as Revan grew, Almaran would visit on his passage through the caravan town. Through his stories, Revan heard tales of famous swashbucklers, legendary archers, cunning rogues, and dashing explorers. In the time between visits from the old man, Revan put these tales to practice and began to emulate them to the best of his ability, impressing his mentor always upon his return.
While he mused, the sun had parched the skin on Revan’s forehead, accustomed to the shadows of the night or the shade of wavy bangs as it were. Sunburns peel something awful, he thought. I bet Nora has something for that sort of thing, being an “enchantress” and all.
With the impulse, he rolled off the side of the wagon, landed with the grace of a cat, and opened the back latch on Nora’s wagon. Inside he found crates and cupboards of all sizes and odd shapes containing a myriad of strangely colored jars, vials, flasks, jugs, bottles, and pouches. The colorful array of elixirs was matched in its visual impression only by the powerful odor that emanated from so many alchemical mixtures so closely packaged – smelling much like a spice shop that was home to a giant wet fish. Truly unsure which vessel contained the ointment which would sooth him, Revan started on his left and reached for a short cylindrical jar. He struggled with the tight lid for a frustrating moment before he felt the lid pop and the seal crack. Inside was a paste of deep blue, the thick fumes of which swiftly and somehow gently placed Revan face first in the dirt, quite unconscious.
The young elf awoke several hours later, his forehead no longer of primary concern as he groaned his way to consciousness and nursed his bloodied nose.
“Quite a fine tumble you took,” called a gentle voice. “Looks to me to be Athelas extract, well spoiled now so long exposed to air. In doses, it heals aches and its leaves can be smoked to sooth anxiety. Ho-ho! Though, that batch appears quite concentrated!”
Revan looked over his shoulder to locate the source and saw a man, his face hidden by the wide brim of the hat he wore, dressed in long lavender robes and driving two donkeys pulling a covered wagon painted a happy mustard yellow. “Almaran!” called the young elf with a smile. “About damn time you made it. What was the hold up?”
“Ah well,” came the mature, gentle voice of Almaran, “I was held up along the road by a poor fool who’d driven his cart into a tree. Service to one’s fellow man and so forth.”
“That took you all day?”
“Ah, um, well no. But turned out the man was suitably versed in Robes and, well, you know how much I do enjoy a game or two.”
“Or several, apparently. In any case, how did the road fare for you?”
After a deep breath, the robed one lifted his head and said, “Uneventful, besides,” and it was now that Revan saw not the soft, rounded features of the face of the man known as Almaran, but the sharp jaw, high cheek bones, slight nose, and bright eyes of a young man in his middle years. “Yes? You look surprised, my boy.”
“Well that’s because I am, a bit,” Revan admitted. The magician had, many times before, demonstrated illusory antics for the sake of his storytelling. “This a new character you’re trying on?”
“In a manner of speaking, but I’ve not brought riddles and tales for you this time.”
“Ah, what’s it, then?”
Revan stared gormlessly at the man known as Almaran, the light of the wagon’s lantern reflecting in his sharp, elven eyes, his brow ever slightly furrowed in contemplation.
“Oh gods,” sighed the wizard. “To speak simply, you’ve outgrown this town, Revan. You’re ready for bigger things and brighter horizons. And moreover, you’re ready for the greatness those travels will bring you. Ready yourself as you may, but by Market’s end, make your way for Tallin. There, you will meet-”
“Why’s your face different?”
“Why’s your face all…different?”
Revan shrugged. “Yeah.”
“May I go on?”
“Well, yes. Um, right. Go to Tallin, seek the Temple of Bokonon and begin your way.” The wizard smiled.
“My way where?”
The wizard’s smile dropped. “Have you listened to any-”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Revan dismissed with a wave of his hand. “Go to Tallin find the Temple of Bollocks for some such. Sure.”
“Well,” began the wizard, straightening his robes and composure. “That was about a difficult as I’d thought it might be, though for different reasons.”
The young rogue gave a cheeky smile. “You know me. Oh! I got you something.” Revan’s hand disappeared into his tunic and returned holding a small parcel wrapped in brown cloth and twine. “Do you know what this is?”
“Looks to me to be a phallic effigy of some sort.”
“Close!” Revan cheered, not fully grasping Almaran’s vocabulary.
“Ah,” the wizard worried aloud as he unwrapped the parcel with caution. “Oh, this is a lovely pipe, Revan. How did you come by this, if I might ask?”
“I’m proud of you.”
And so, the two shared a night together beneath the stars as the Market wound to an albeit boisterous close. The man known as Almaran dutifully instructed Revan in how to find the Temple of Bokonon within Tallin and Revan quite passionately ignored him as he made up his own constellations in the nighttime sky. When the old sage was content that Revan would correctly find his way there, the two delved into sharing stories of the time each had passed since their last meeting. Eventually, Revan gave voice to a thought that had been irritating the back of his mind.
“Are you really Almaran?”
“Hmm,” nodded the young elf. “Are you a friend of his?”
A silence hung between them above the crackling of the campfire.
“Do you trust me?” asked the stranger known as Almaran.
“You laughed at my fat princess joke.”
“It was a good joke.”
In the morning, Revan was equipped with suitable gear provided by Not Almaran and he set boot to path on his journey to the city of Tallin, the City of Temples.
The Take: Of all the backstories I’ve written, I think I’m putting out one of my favorites here first. Revan’s cheeky, kind of dumb, impulsive, street-wise, and naive. All together, he makes for a good scoundrel and that came together well in the campaign. While it didn’t quite get to play out, he also unknowingly harbored quite the unique secret (more on that later).
And that’s all for now! I think I’m going to make this the first installment of a series that covers the whole gang, just ’cause they were fun. See ya Thursday!
Interested in more? Like knee-slappers and chin-scratchers? Check out my first published work in the Third Flatiron’s “Hidden Histories” anthology here (and tell ’em Evan sent ya!):
Today’s FableFact source: