THE KINGDOM OF HALFI
“It all began years ago. Some say four hundred, some say it was more like five; but no one knows for sure, leastways nobody I know could tell you. And it all happened in Riverport, strangely enough, where they had a run in with some tinkers. They were a people like the travellers we know today ‘cept that, as the story goes, this lot were originally from Masachea. Now they'd moved to Pars because of some trouble they'd been having as a separate tribe in Northern Masachee, and they came over the Hurgals all together and settled down wherever they could. For some reason people didn't like ’em: wherever they stopped they weren't welcome. So, eventually, after a lot of what we'd call criminal doings, they set up as travelling traders and seasonal workers. Anyone, strong enough or daft enough to trust ‘em, would give 'em whatever rough work they had and then pay them a pittance.
"I don't suppose they had a good life: we weren't any kinder to them than the Masachee were, and nat’rally enough they'd no thought of being kind in return. And they certainly didn't see why they should follow our laws, given as they had their own. You see, though they didn't all travel together much, they counted themselves as part of one kingdom, and that not Pars but the Kingdom of Halfi."
"This all seems tame doings to me, Bibron," Angren protested. He was not a good listener, nor ever had been or he would already have known the story as told by his father many years ago. "What’s the Kingdom of Halfi to do with Tumboll?"
"Well, I'll be coming to that. I always think a tale makes best sense if you listen to all of it."
"I’ll do my best."
"Well then. The reason they were unpop’lar may have been because they were very good at cheating, and they were very bad at losing face. By cheating I mean for example, they'd sell a man a horse with its fetlocks darkened up, but the horse would run right back to the Halfi and they'd have the darkening off before the idiot came looking. ‘You lost your horse? Run away? You should be more careful.' You know the kind of thing. Maybe they'd deal in gems but, because they were quick with their hands, they’d be selling glass for the price of diamonds. That's how they lived: each deal was a game, but they had to be the winners.
"Now, their downfall was because of this way they had. I don't know if you know but at that time the Masachee had only but a few pigs, and, as a result, pigs were worth gold to ‘em. The Halfi shared that passion, though they'd rather get the pigs for nuthin’. Now, Pars isn't the place for pigs neither, not like The Fat Thousands. We've plenty of cattle and sheep so we've never bothered that much about ‘em. But in Riverport all sorts of people come and go, and this story's mostly about an Aegardean merchant who stopped there reg’lar on his journey to Masachea. And his trade, a’course, was in pigs.
"What all the fuss was for I don't know. I've had a good bit of pork in my life and I say it's nuthin’ special. But these Halfi were crazy for it. Their problem was they were crazy anyway: worse than the average Masachee. And they were twice as crazy about pigs, and four times as wicked in their plans for getting a hold a’some.
"Now, this trader’s name was Porlick and he was the biggest man in pigs there ever was. Made a stay in Riverport because that was the route, but he made it longer than most so's his wife could do her shoppin’. Rillia was her name, and she ruled him like a man rules a cur.
"She had this habit of setting herself up in a big house where she could have all the traders come to her, rather than the other way ‘bout. Make no mistake, this pigman was one of the richest men who came through the city, and his wife was known for spending his money like water. Nat’rally, the Halfi got to hear about this Rillia and it weren't long before they came up with a scheme that would gain ‘em the pigs they so treasured.
"Well, they acted like sweet innocents at first. They went along to one of her buying sessions, not to sell her anything mind, but to sing her a song or two. They had a minstrel with ‘em. He was Halfi too but, thing was, this fella, well there was something magical about him. He could sing you songs that made you forget where you were or what you were doing, that thrilled you and frightened you, that made you happy and made you sad, as though everything sung was more important than anything else in the world. You wouldn't call him a wizard but he had some strange power that's never been heard since. Rillia was most taken with him and his songs and she had him come to see her every day. The fee he demanded was quite modest and she didn't hesitate to pay it. Every day he walked away with a pig, he did, but always had to promise to come back one more time.
"Old Porlick wanted to be getting a move on, and he complained and moaned about how long she was taking in Riverport, but she just tut-tutted him and told him to keep his peace. And stay they did.
"Rillia must have fallen for this songster and she made every opportunity to speak to him, and in all their talking he managed to let slip, gradual like, that the Halfi were a rich folk of strange powers, and that though they’d never think of sellin’ em, they had in their keepin’ such wonders as you could not imagine their like. A'course Rillia then demands to see these treasures. She says that if they're so wonderful she'd have 'em at any price.
"And so we come to the cheatin’. Rillia must have been coming on into her fifties, and a lot of what she spent old Porlick's money on was unctions, and make-ups and the like, all to make her look younger. She knew Porlick couldn’t love her if she became ugly, and he might leave her. She was vain, and rightly proud of her looks for her age, but she knew they couldn’t last. Those small wrinkles in the squintin’ of her eyes would grow and soon she’d look as old as her years. Fear of that made her a soft touch.
"The next time this bard turns up he tells her he's brought with him the greatest treasure in the world. He spins her a yarn claiming that some of the Halfi, and the King included, had found the secret – and I tell you no lie – the secret of eternal life! There was a drug, he said, a potion, a precious water given only to a few, that if you had but one sip of it you'd never die. He said that their king was the very same man as begun their wandering a thousand years before; that he was almost a god to ‘em. And all that came from this water of life. Now, Rillia's not as stupid as all that, and neither is Porlick, who'd come along to see what these wondrous treasures might be. Porlick calls the man a liar and the man acts all offended. Rillia agrees with her husband, this once, but she can't help thinking how wonderful it would be if it were true. The minstrel pushes it a bit further now: taking a flask from out of his purse and placing it on the table before them, he lets ‘em look at it in silence for a moment or two. “There it stands before you,” he says at last, “The true elixir of life, drawn of the eternal font, lifeblood of the gods. Whatever is in you that grows old can become new, whatever is broken will be healed, whatever is weak will become strong. How would it be if you both could regain your youth and keep it forever? This is the great treasure of the Halfi.”
Well you can imagine what Rillia thought of that. And maybe you can imagine what Porlick thought too. So when this minstrel offers to demonstrate the true powers of the drug they decide to let him try. He calls forward one of the Halfi as’d come along with him: an old biddy he explains is his old Grandma or some such, and all together up they go into Rillia's private chamber.
"I don't know exactly how they did it but when the old girl took the drug, before their eyes apparently, the wrinkles disappeared from her face, and her hair grew long and new. It's up to you to decide what was goin’ on: disguise and sleight of hand, illusion or whatever, but the point is that Porlick and his wife were taken in. It was all too excitin’ a prospect for them to go thinking of trickery and deceit. The promise was too much for them and made ‘em stupid. A’course the wife wants to take the drug straight’way she lays hands on it and even Porlick, with visions of himself and his wife as young as they were when they had first made love, well, he was more than ready and willing to do the deal. The Halfi minstrel he drove a hard bargain, and Porlick ended up paying out a great portion of his stock for just one small bottle of the stuff.
"Had it been me, I think I'd have taken the drug before I gave up my pigs to ‘em, but somehow this Halfi managed to persuade him different. Porlick agreed it’d be common sense to tell people before he took it, just in case they didn't recognize him after, and so he decided to wait until mornin’. But, after the Halfi had gone, both the merchant and his wife thought it'd be a fine entertainment if she took her dose before they went off to bed. And so that is what she did."
Bibron paused for a moment to let the situation sink in. He looked around at those listening and smiled.
"Well then," he continued, "Here’s old Porlick sitting on his bed waiting for his beautiful young wife to come along and share it with him; and there’s Rillia looking at her face in the mirror waiting for the lines around her eyes to drop away and leave her pretty as a sixteen year old. Well, the drug changed her alright. But she never lost any of those wrinkles and she never lost any years. All her life she had hair black as a raven's feathers and never a grey: it was her pride and joy. But now, even as she watched, first one strand and then another, and then a handful, and then all of it: every last hair on her head fell away and there was nothing to do to save it. And it didn’t stop there, on no: away came her eyebrows, away came the hair on her arms, and under her arms, away came the hair on her legs. None of it was spared, not even right down to her... well, as there’s ladies present, let’s just say there was one small part as looked just that little bit younger after all."
Some of his audience sniggered on cue though not all. Captain Farber was unconcerned. He always enjoyed his story telling whatever the reaction. But his primary target rolled his eyes. Angren could admit that the story was slightly more entertaining than crushing ants but, given the circumstances, he was growing impatient and had no time for jokes.
"Look Bibron, is this getting us anywhere? From what I've heard so far these Halfi seem alright. So, they cheated people, it doesn't make them crazy."
"No it don't. But I've only told you about the cheatin’ so far and nothing much more, so hold your horses. You'll see how mad they can be.
Next will be Halfi 2
Wilf Kelleher Jones
A Song of Ages
Island in the Sun (c)
12/5/2012 wkj fantasy
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