THE KINGDOM OF HALFI (b)
"Where was I? The hair! Well, Rillia flew into a rage about her lovely locks, but Porlick was more concerned with being cheated out of his stock. He cursed her as a stupid woman, cursed her for making him look such a fool. Did he have a thought for his wife and how she must feel? He did not. Porlick was in such a rage he took it into his head that Rillia was just as much party to the crime as the Halfi. “Get you gone to them, hag!” he cried, and he threw her out onto the streets in the cold of the night, “Go find your minstrel and see if he’s a song for you now.” And he slammed the door in her face and vowed there and then he never would take her back.
“Well, you might think that the end of the tale, and a cruel end too, but, sad to say, that was just the beginning. Porlick wanted his pigs back and he wanted his vengeance.
“On the very next day, our trader went out and he hired himself some swords. Their job to chase after these thieves and, however they chose to do it, with as much blood spilled as they liked, return his stock to Riverport. Now who knows the ins and outs of it, but to cut it short, Porlicks's men were not the brightest nor were they the kindest. They bashed about the Part searching here and there, mistreating any of the Halfi they came across, and yet not one pig did they find. Looking like fools themselves they took a different tack: against the law of the land, and against decency, they laid hands on a Halfi girl, a young woman and an important one too: almost a princess to them, her father being head man about those parts. Well, they took her in Coldharbour market and carried the girl, her screaming curses at them the while, all the way back to Riverport, looking to use her as hostage for fair payment, and a little more on top for their trouble. It was a mistake. The Halfi didn’t like that at all and they came howling after them with never a thought of paying up, only murder in their hearts.
“Picture it: all the Halfi standing outside the gates of Riverport demanding their girl is given up, and Porlick up on the walls calling for the militia to pour oil on them if they came too close. Well, there’s plenty of words spoken with both parties feeling aggrieved, and the hired swords stirring it up to their own advantage. I can’t say whose idea it was but Porlick’s men drag this girl up onto the battlements for all the Halfi to see; and then Porlick brings out, to show to the militia, the so called wonder that started it all: that small bottle of elixir that’d cheated him of his stock. With the girl struggling but held fast, and the mercenaries all jeering, and the Halfi below screaming out threats, one of those bad men snatches the elixir out of Porlick’s shaking hand; he brandishes it high for all the Halfi to see, and then sets to forcing the whole lot down the poor girl’s throat.
"Well, that was it. That’s where the madness came in. You might think that a young girl losing her hair is a shame, but it's not anything to go to war over. These Halfi didn't see it like that. They went wild: acted as though he had downright killed her by giving her the drug - not that they’d seemed so bothered about the effect on Rillia. Anyway, talking was now out of the question; paying up never a thought. As I said before, they were just about sane when they were winning but losing they lost any shred of sense or decency they might have had. First of all they tried to fight their way into Riverport to get at Porlick and his men, and they’d have ripped ‘em to pieces if they'd caught up with ‘em, but the town militia was having none of it. They defended the walls and defended Porlick, though not through any liking for the man: they had a duty to keep Riverport safe and the way those Halfi were… well no one would’ve been safe if they’d a got in. But in the eyes of those mad devils it was like the city was taking sides against them. Luckily for Riverport there weren’t enough o’ these Halfi, there and then, to break-in through the gates: a few of them ended up dead and any number were injured from arrow fire and so after sunfall they gave it up and disappeared into the night. Everyone waited, for that day and for the next, expecting every hour that the Halfi would come back. Nothing happened. Not for a day, not for three. After a week had passed everyone began to breathe just that bit more easy and things in the city got back to normal. The people of Riverport had no allegiance to this ‘gardean trader, they thought nothin’ of this mess was anything at all to do with them and that the Halfi’s argument was only with Porlick and the sell-swords. And with the days going by without a murmur or hint that the Halfi were still around, they mostly began to think that the problem had just upped and gone away.
“Fools to think that way. The Halfi weren’t forgetting any of it. It started with reports of people disappearing. Women disappearing: youngish girls – daughters of traders, of officers, of craftsmen. And not just a few: they couldn’t credit it but within the month they realised that more than forty girls had gone and no one could find out where to. Even the most stupid must have worked out it was the Halfi and the parents of the missing girls feared the worst, thinking they’d never see their loved ones again.” Bibron shook his head. “Do you know, I reckon it would’ve been better if they never had.
"Here’s how it was: one morning as the Gate-watch were setting out to open up the town for the day – a good bit before dawn as they do still today - they found a sheet of parchment fixed to the inside of the Kingsgate. It read something like: “Two for every year - the price you pay.” That’s all there was but I guess they must’ve known what it was about – the Halfi girl being about twenty-one years – and they must have known it was gonna be bad, but they opened up the gates anyhow.
“Naked, hairless and mutilated the poor girls were laid there on the road for anyone to see: anyone as had the heart and stomach for it that is. And there, standing just beyond, massed in the road and in the fields to left and right, hundreds of the Halfi. Stood there silent, watching as by lantern light the bodies were discovered, silent as the cries rang through the streets of the town, silent as more people came carrying torches, some to gawp in horror, some to weep, some to search desperate and hopeless: how could they find their lovely girls in amongst all that tortured flesh? The sun came up. The Halfi broke silence. They began to jeer, to curse, to scream, to shout; and they didn’t let up until the militia and many of the townsmen, aye and quite a few of the townswomen too, took up their weapons and came out to meet them.
“There was a mighty battle. Porlick, finally realizing where his rage and his desire for revenge had led ‘em, felt nothing but ashamed to have caused the death of all those young women. Taking up whatever courage he had left to him, out he went himself to try and stop it all. He took the Halfi girl with him; disgusted at what he had done to her, wantin’ to make amends. But it was too late for that, it had all gone too far and they both got caught up in the fighting and both were killed. To cut it short: the militia won the day at last and very few of the Halfi escaped the field. They buried their girls together in a great mound which you can still see today outside the Kingsgate, but the Halfi dead, Porlick and that poor girl included, they burned on a great pyre that blazed for a week and cursed the streets of Riverport with a foul reek that lingered for months on end: a daily reminder of the tragedy that comes of revenge.
"And there once again, you'd have thought it’d ended but, as a fact, well the very worst was yet to come. I think I said that the Halfi didn't get together much as a tribe but spread themselves far and wide. So those who were killed in Riverport were only a portion of the full number. One of those who escaped went to their 'King', and it was him that made all the rest happen. They'd had enough, I reckon, done with running, done with all the casual persecution, done with being treated as freaks.
"I won't go into the hows, the wheres and the whens, but what they did is an abomination to stand forever. Halfi from all places took out into the night and whenever they could they'd steal a child. They took hundreds of ‘em. And they didn't kill ‘em straight. Oh no! By all accounts they took to cannibalism. The story ripped through all of Pars that the Halfi were stealing children and cooking ‘em alive. Whether that was true or not the children were gone and that was a certainty. It was madness, cruel and wicked madness.
"Well, that was the final crime. The King of Pars, Rúhandar by name, sent out his armies. The Halfi were hunted through every last corner of the country and mostly killed. A few hundred survived, whenever the generals could hold back their men from their anger, and these few were held to trial and they were found guilty. Now, there'd been so much killing by then that people were sick of it; over the border the Masachee were making such a noise about this so-called ‘massacre of their people’ – not that they’d ever owned the Halfi before then; and so the King knew he couldn’t have done with it and just execute ’em all. Eventually he decided, with his advisors and with the justices, that it would be best all round to exile the Halfi, to set ‘em apart from normal folk. And so they put ’em on Tumboll. It was the Partian wizards as arranged it: don’t ask me how but they set up spells to keep the exiles bound to the island, spells that would set a fire in ‘em if ever they tried to escape. And so it was done and that at last was the end.
"Every few years the army would go over to Tumboll to make sure everything was secure, that the Halfi were prisoners still; but as the years went by they noticed the Halfi were becoming more and more savage, and madder than ever. Eventually it ‘came too dangerous to visit and from then on, through all the generations, they've been on their own. And Tumboll has become a place of horror, a place to avoid for any as’d like to stay alive and whole. Worse than a land of demons! And Tumboll, Angren my lad, is just exactly where we are right now."
And that was the tale as Bibron gave it. Without a doubt more could have been said but what he had heard was easily enough for the swordsman.
"So, let me get this straight," he said calmly, "What you're saying is we're on an island seething with maniacs who'd like nothing better than to torture us all to death, just for the fun of it."
"That's about the sum. The story is probably exaggerated but it's more or less right. Fact we're alive now shouldn't encourage you too much neither: even in Pars they were accused of sacrificing people to their gods so they’re likely keeping us for some festival or other. They were said to have kept to cannibalism too, which is a bit odd if you think about it."
"Well, this island may not have everything but it's not short of pigs. Place is supposed to be ridden with ’em. Apparently, and you’ll like this, it was Rillia as brought ‘em here. Too ashamed to live with good folk, they say, but still she had a right to Porlick’s estate. So she gathered up all she had left, stock included, and asked for to be exiled to Tumboll along with the Halfi. Strange woman. The story don't say what happened when she arrived but, ‘part from the pigs, I shouldn't think the Halfi were all that pleased to see her."
Next will be: Passage
Wilf Kelleher Jones
A Song of Ages
Kingdom of Halfi (a)
12/5/2012 wkj fantasy
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