Those Varying Borderlands of Gloom and Light

The Gloom

Working in the gloom was not uncommon. All mediums came with advantages and drawbacks, seldom were they unconditionally generous.

Here, there was Dankness of the dripping sort which had soon put an end to his torch. He never had cared for lamps with their greasy or oily fumes and cumbersome inclinations. Far better to enhance limited vision with your other senses, and of course caution. Arguably you might be better off without a torch anyway, for then you could wield your sword easier without the glare impeding your vision. Find your way by steady step and one hand gliding over the nearest wall. And always remember the watcher whatever or whoever they were had the first advantage, some sort of advantage of your own.

This would be a poor and humiliating place to find luck had finally expired. No grand venture for some noble close to the Imperial Throne, who desired something but whose rank required discretion. Instead in a remote squalid location, simply to make good on an error, a salve to a petty lord with far more vanity and ill-conceived pride than character. A place where small, slithering base things dwelt, their deadliness paid out in sly, instinctive reactions, no sliver of comfort that they revelled in the kill; no roaring out a challenge and bellowing victory over your body. Not for you the bleached skull posted somewhere to mark your end, only the slow ugly decay as smaller things feasted on your flesh, chewed on your bones and what was left was rolled along by a fetid stream to be swallowed by swamp or mud. These were the places which usually claimed the inexperienced or the lost. The humiliation would be of someone finding out where The End had finally been met and for what reason.

He stopped to steady himself, intending to shake loose the creeping tendrils of Desolation such places and circumstances birthed. He had traversed sharper places. He should treat this as no more than groping around in a sewer for a misplaced purse. Time to gather in all the instincts and experiences, treat this as but a task to be done and no more.     

He wanted to move on, for there was no option. However all hard gained knowledge and perceptions warned him there was something else out there, aside from any small creature. Waiting, lurking, watching. Whatever this was had been very still and patient, until his closing proximity appeared to have unsettled this stance, there was a rising of breath, the barest of sounds of movement. He stilled the irrational relief at a possible challenge, there were always the creatures, one careless move could cause them to strike out from their deep, wet gloom, and there would be no contest.

‘Hey fellah,’ the traditional greeting to a stranger came in clear, slightly anxious words surprising him. A greeting by anything so female should be sultry, tempting, lowering your guard before the strike. The eyes not two person’s length away widened, as if to signal there was no threat; a good killer always kept their eyes hooded in darkness, eyes could reflect even the barest of light.

‘Hey yourself girl,’ he replied, also honouring tradition, he kept alert but spoke casually, good manners cost nothing ‘Are you lost or here with a purpose?’

Carefully viewing and measuring the shifting of the shades of gloom, he discerned the outline of someone seated against the wall, legs hunched up to avoid the dangerous pools and watery traces.

‘Never get lost,’ came the sulking reply ‘Don’t reckon on doing so neither,’

The drawl placed her from Hengestatia, a land he believed to be populated entirely by restless nonconformists.

‘How about you fellah? Come in out of the rain? Or,’ a mournful sigh issued ‘You intending to make a fool of yourself too?’  

‘Comments which suggest you know something more than I do,’

‘I wouldn’t say that. I’m hearing an experienced and cultured venturer coming to a soul-sucking forlorn and remote place for no more than a candlestick which would get the finder laughed at on most markets be they open or behind doors,’ a bitter laugh followed ‘Now why would that happen? Unless said venturer been so long in highly thought of quests they forgot to look down and tripped over their own reputation?’

Hengestatians, ever loquacious, even if they were astute. 

‘Very well. On taking a short cut I inadvertently insulted a local lord of low character and intellect when stopping his drunken obnoxious son from forcing his attentions on a tavern serving girl; fists and an introduction to a midden were involved. The lord required I look for this lost valuable family artifact, or he would burn down the tavern as he co-blamed the owner. You?’ the last word was pointed.

There followed the sound of something lightly striking the wall, he guessed it was the back of her head.

‘Nothing as noble as yours. Common enough stumbling amongst the ranks of us lesser venturers. Did start in a tavern though. Got to drinking with fellow scrabblers and we started to swap notions on which would be the most stupid of quests here abouts and someone came up with The Candelabrum of House Waardeloos; them being an object of derision in this princedom, so singularly useless and negligible, folk of your style would not have heard of them,’

‘I have now,’ he said bitterly ‘Go on, there must be more,’

‘C’mon over here classy venturer,’ he stiffened at the overture, relaxed at the sudden weariness causing a thickening of the accent ‘I don’t feel much like speakin’ this out loud,’ a cough of a laugh followed by an obscenity ‘Scraith. Don’t it get tiring?’

Caution his byword as he grew closer, there was a flick of a match and a faint geometric glow from a box she held. A young lined face, framed in pale hair, she was possibly a handspan taller than most women, dressed in travel hardened leathers and buckskins, a wide-brimmed hat flipped back, a tough smile.

‘My. An’t you a looker too,’ she patted the rock gesturing him to sit. He slumped down next to her ‘You’ll like the joke on this one. We got around to cards. I musta drunk a smidge too much. Kept playing the hands bad. Ended up betting my best sword, knife and gauntlets. Lost. At the time, seemed they were being kindly over it. Said if I could bring back that stupid-ass’d candle, it would make up for being so stupid as to lose my gear,’ she tailed off with a long sigh. ‘Least I had the sense to keep mechanical illumination,’

‘No disrespect, I have heard funnier endings to stories,’

‘An’t done yet,’ the sulking again. ‘Cause the punch-line only came to me when I got here. I’ve been down the tunnel a bit, comes to a sudden drop, my little gubbinz here only illuminates to gloom ten paces, so down goes a stone. Counted,’ she held up a hand ‘Six…damn six…. That’s like two hundred paces, ‘bout a hundred man drop. And’ she held up one finger to the gloom. There’s no going beyond that drop. S’ a wall,’ she bumped her head again ‘Set me thinking, those fellows knew it would end up here. No one carries two hundred paces of rope or clambers into nowhere for a market day selling candle. They set me up to fail, keeping really good quality weaponry,’

‘And I by honour bound was obliged to try,’ he said in empathy.

‘There was a splash too,’ she added ‘Frib’ knows what would be waiting down there,’

They looked at each other, the shared expression of two who should have known better, but had let one guard or another down and wandered into situations they had usually avoided.

‘Luck and sense run out with the best of us,’ she said, then suddenly extended a hand to him ‘Betherelle Gettis,’ by way of introduction.

‘Varow Dekyria,’ he replied and shook her hand.   

They lapsed back into silence.

Previously he had expected one day in battle, old injuries, age, over-confidence, poor judgement or some quirky event would be his downfall. Not just running out of confidence and the humiliation of being herded here like some farm animal, tethered by Honour and Reputation.

‘Unless I get that candlestick he will burn down the tavern,’ he said, hoping speaking out the words would give him resolve.

‘Sure Master Venturer Dekyria. You go and try, lose you grip and fall, into some deep ice cold water which’ll rip your breath out, stop you swimming to the plinth or whatever. Or trying to clamber up, cold, shivering, losing that grip again,’ a slight shrug ‘Me, I just lose good gear, walk away looking a fool. I can get good gear again, go to another part of the empire, piece together another ragged sort of a reputation,’

‘You must be short on resources,’

‘At my end of the business a little bit of light  thievery is not frowned upon,’

The word  landed lightly first as an observation, then settled.

‘What sort of light thievery Betherelle Gettis?’

‘Don’t sound so censorious Master Venturer Dekyria. Finding unsecure windows and doors and tippy-toeing into places where folk can afford a small loss,’ a little hurt seeped into her voice ‘All beneath your status I am sure,’

‘I apologise. My curiosity took hold,’

‘You sound suddenly planful,’

A pause that stretched her nerves followed.

‘Much experience of combat with your lost sword and knife?’

‘An interesting question,’ she sat up ‘Since we’re down amongst the drainage as it were, no. Mostly fists and knees, or hilt of the sword on the nogging. Sharp end for defence before running off. Only served mild wounds and maybe two deaths to my name. My line is scouting, look-out, being an extra body to intimidate, relieving of fat purses by hard suggestion and,’ brittle cough ‘That light thievery. Good at it all too,’ her eyes glinted knowingly ‘Combat? You’d probably see me off in a count of five. If I was lucky to get the chance to flee, that is. What’re you scheming all of a sudden?’

‘My experience’ he chose his words ‘Is more in combat. I can moved deftly, but had the luxury of feeling if discovered I could fight my way out. You seem far better based for avoiding danger,’

‘Know your limits I say. What road are we treading? I’m guessing there’s a ‘We’ in this chat,’ 

‘I admit on realising the true extent of this wretched business I fell prey to despondency. Listening to your view of this work I am angry at being caught out by such a wretch and his worthless son. The candlestick is of no importance. The well being of the tavener, his family, staff and neighbours are. This lord is in the way,’

There was a long low whistle.

‘You gonna remove him and his progeny from this mortal world? That’s a turn around, heavy duty, no mistake,’

‘It would not be the first time I have been part of such an enterprise. I only need someone who is deft at finding their way into a place,’

A soft puff of an exclamation.

‘I dunno. I got no quarrel with this fellow. Killing lords hangs around you for a long time and distance,’

‘There again Betherelle Gettis. Success in such a venture also gives you a new sort of status to those higher than mere lords,’

‘Oh my. Here was I thinking you worked only noble causes,’ she fingered the box, light and shade moving across her face’ Mope in here, slouch out. Or?’

There was a  smirk.

‘I’ll see you in then and watch your back?’

‘One extra matter,’

‘Yeah?’ suspicion

‘Best we marry after. Husband and wife teams carry more value and oddly, dignity,’

‘Why, Master Venturer Dekyria. How could a girl refuse such an offer?’

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11 thoughts on “Those Varying Borderlands of Gloom and Light

    • Busted! 😄.
      Like many a writer who has indulged in ‘world building’ the attraction to continue work there at different times and locations is too tempting.
      It maybe that Betherelle and Arketre do share some ‘blood lineage’ (Betherelle coming earlier….I think).
      Thanks for the observation Audrey; encourages me to forge on.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: #BlogBattle Stories: Gloom | BlogBattle

  2. Enjoyable piece! The third paragraph is probably one of the gloomiest passages I’ve read. 🙂 The buildup of danger made Betherelle’s appearance as startling to me as it was to Varow. Their dialogue was a bit of illumination in the dark, and his idea on how they could join forces certainly shows promise for a productive union – including marriage. When she first admitted to light thievery, I was brought to mind how thirteen dwarves needed a hobbit for a burglar…. Also suspected that not only was the water at the bottom cold, there could be something hungry swimming around. Quite an intriguing read!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very enjoyable read. Liked what you said about returning to world build territory too above. Also something I’m prone to. Often to procrastinate about back story/getting to know characters better rather than getting on with the books!

    I think you captured the despondent optimism of Dekyria well….as I perceived it. Very atmospheric in the paragraph Abe suggested too. Good use of the prompt word.

    Liked by 1 person

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