The Lay of Skathen Nord
Canto I: The Pirate
Attend and listen scuts and drunks
To hear the lay of Skathen Nord.
Lift your drinks besotted punks
To honor Skathen, the bravest lord.
For if you haven’t heard of he
Who fought the Witch King long ago,
Allow me grace to sit and speak,
Unfold the tale of victory and woe.
A bar like this in Tartaria,
That cold and brutal winter land,
Was rocked by alehouse hysteria
And filled to burst with a villainous band.
Cutthroats and pirates sat and drank
And filled their hearts with treachery.
They gambled and fought with rusty shanks,
Then indulged with whores their lechery.
And in their midst a hero sat.
This hero’s name was Skathen Nord.
He’d not consort with vile rats
But here was all he could afford.
The rent for rooms was very cheap
In inns where sickly lepers had lain
And vicious criminals would reap
The gold of sleeping men they’d slain.
Yet also he sought a cunning lass
Whose infamy was known by all.
Her name was Raven Fairlies, an asp
With wiles Skathen wished to call.
He knew she stayed in taverns rough
Because she was wanted for piracy.
Amongst the treacherous and tough
She had a lawless amnesty.
In fact, he didn’t have to wait
For long for Raven to show her face.
She strode to the bar with a lazy gait
And ordered rum with casual grace.
Her tresses dark and body lithe,
But beauty hid her fatal side.
Woe to fools with amour blithe
Who thought a femme fatale a bride.
Soon Raven spotted Skathen watching,
A one-eyed, bald, and bearded man.
He wasn’t the usual callow plotter
Who sought a lover to lay and scam.
Intrigued, she took a seat by Nord
To ask if what he saw had pleased.
But he ignored her winsome form
To focus on a graver need.
“I’m told your name is Raven Fairlies,
A wanted pirate, skilled with swords.
You’ve sailed the icy seas with daring
To plunder ships of golden hoards.
“Your ill renown is known by all
And none but fear the Corvus ship.
I need to sail the Strait of Caul
With one who’s fearless of the risk.”
“The Corvus never sails for free.
As captain I make sure of this.
So what can you do to pay the fee
To hire me, my crew, and ship?”
“I offer ingots forged of silver
To voyage cross the Strait of Caul.
Much more than even you could pilfer
From royal ships in doldrums stalled.”
Raven took umbrage with that claim.
She scowled and said, “You surely jest.
My skill in stealing brought gold and fame.
I steal it all ‘cause I’m the best.”
“But leave that now and answer this,
Where are the silver bars you own?
The payment first, I must insist.
I won’t accept credit or loans.”
“You’ll wait until we cross the sea.
I cannot say where I have the bars.
The fellows here would steal your fee
Before we had a chance to start.
“And since I know your reputation
You cannot double-cross me yet
If I withhold the information
Until I’m safe to repay the debt.”
Raven cursed but asked in turn,
“But why should I trust you to pay?
How can I know your word’s worth
If you show no cash to back your claim?”
A table close at hand could hear
The conversation about rewards.
The greedy left their cups of beer
To steal the silver of Skathen Nord.
A sallow youth with filed teeth,
A sharp and nasty grin he showed.
“I hear you have some money, chief.
You’d best to hand us all your gold.”
But Skathen ignored the beardless boy.
“I’ll give you half upon the morn
To assure you I’d not stoop to ploys.
Once I’m across the rest is yours.”
Thus Skathen and Raven shook their hands,
Confirming a deal on even terms,
But the callow thug again demanded,
“The money now, you mangy cur.”
Nord ignored the slight on his pate
And said no word about the threat
But raised an axe to demonstrate
The youth had made a losing bet.
The battleaxe called Batwing crashed
Upon the table in front of Nord.
He rested his hand on the axe’s haft
Ready to give the boy his reward.
The greedy and senseless drew their blades
To bathe in blood and earn their keep.
So Skathen rose to seal their fate
And send them to eternal sleeps.
The youth could only sling his sword
One time before he was disarmed.
Skathen dodged the slash with scorn
And cleft the limb and shoulder apart.
He reeled and spewed a gout of blood,
The first crimson river to run.
In shock he fell and shook in a puddle
Beside his limb, holding his stump.
The crowd unfazed by the casualty
Pushed past the boy to fight.
They raised their knives to battle with he
Who owned the treasure they’d kill to find.
Ms. Fairlies was no slouch in fights
And stood to defend her friend with cash.
She would secure her earning rights
By slaying thieves who sought the stash.
The scimitar strapped to her side
That Raven called the Friend of Crows
Had fed murders to birds that bide,
Waiting for Raven to lay them low.
With this she cut the nearest drunk.
From head to toe she neatly sliced.
The gash was deep, and so he sunk
With cloven face still showing surprise.
Meanwhile Skathen stopped the horde
By slashing wide and felling brutes.
Each man had drawn his hardy sword
But felt outnumbered by the two.
A few with courage struck at Skathen.
He leapt upon the table high
And booted heads until they caved in
Or they fell back, let others try.
A skillful swordsman with a rapier
Thrust at Raven to stab her chest.
She was fast but still it grazed her,
Nicked her arm but it barely bled.
She fenced the fellow, blocked and slashed,
Falling back when he advanced.
A rapier’s quick, but not as fast
As Raven’s feet in a swordsman’s dance.
He thrust too far and opened his guard
And couldn’t recover in time to block.
She struck the blade, broke it in shards,
And sliced her foe from bottom to top.
Skathen crashed through tables and chairs
To chase the thugs who sought to fight.
And soon but few would even dare
To face the man and risk their life.
Amidst the wreckage of furniture
And bodies and limbs in ghastly piles,
A gang of thieves in armature
Awaited the final battle with smiles.
The burnished steel of armor gleamed
In light come down from the chandelier.
Their swords and daggers also beamed,
As if in the light of a burning bier.
They wouldn’t wait to soliloquize
Or gab like the fallen, armless youth.
They rushed the two to win the prize
By cutting Skathen to get the truth.
In turns one routed the gang with slashes,
The other singled out a member
To stab through the chinks or even crack
The armor and pick a limb to sever.
The group looked tough when all together
But each alone was weak and scared.
When separate from the other members
To Raven and Skathen they couldn’t compare.
And so they died without a word.
One by one they fell to cuts.
Between the chinks the blades inserted,
Raven and Skathen spilt their guts.
Finally the brawl had ended.
The blood had soaked into the floor.
Up to the bar, Skathen wended
And scraped his boots of crusty gore.
The barkeep shrieked and ducked below
The bar in fear of Skathen’s fury.
But when he heard a wallet open
He stood to take the coins in a hurry.
Though Skathen owned but little money
Besides the silver owed to Raven,
He paid doubloons for what he’d done,
Spilling blood and breaking tables.
He left the dumbstruck barkeep then,
An ale in hand to find his room.
He needed rest for tomorrow when
He’d search for another to join his crew.
“Take care to clean this bloody mess
Unless you want your customers
To bolt before they pay to rest,
Leaving you with an empty purse.
“Scrape up the bits and build a pyre
To burn the lot and hide the crime.
The help of soap and funeral fire
Will cleanse this place of death and grime.”
With a titter Raven advised
Then left the barkeep to clean the place.
The work would take most of the night
But at least it wouldn’t look like a grave.
Canto II: The Elder Woods
When last you heard the lively lay,
I told of Skathen and the thieves.
A deal with the pirate Raven was made
To take her ship across the sea.
Some greedy thieves had wanted lucre,
But Raven and Skathen rebuffed their efforts.
Many were slain or badly wounded,
Punished with blades for their endeavors.
And now dear folks we shall resume
The tale of Skathen who sought a crew
To help him brave the Witch King’s tomb
And wreak his vengeance with a coup.
But more of this when Skathen wakes,
Lift up your drinks and voices too.
Let me hear the cheers you make
And I’ll begin the tale anew.
As soon as the sun had lit the hills,
Skathen woke and shooed away
The dreams and omens that boded ill
To clear his mind for the coming day.
An image from the dream still lingered
Only seen by his sightless eye.
Around his throat were bony fingers
And wormy lips then cracked and smiled.
But Skathen ignored the Witch King’s face
And death foretold by asphyxiation.
He wouldn’t let the chains of fate
Prevent the King’s extermination.
He tramped down stairs to break his fast
And dine before the journey long.
He needed a blacksmith skilled at his craft
To make their weapons and armor strong.
The nearest town that had a smith
Would take a day to reach by horse.
So Skathen wanted to mount up quick
To leave before the day had worn.
The quickest route would take them through
The Elder Woods’s furthest edge.
They wouldn’t risk a violent doom
By venturing deep where creatures crept.
The Elder Woods were old as time.
The trees had sprung from the primal dark.
And deep within remained the signs
Where ancient chaos left its mark.
And from the ancient emanations,
From pools of darkness left behind
When light and form led to creation,
Monsters stalked forth to join their kind.
Although the creatures rarely left
Their dens so deep within the forest,
Skathen knew to hurry was best,
Before night fell and monsters swarmed.
Bleary-eyed, the barkeep mopped
The last of the blood upon the floor.
All night long he hadn’t stopped
Until he’d cleaned away the gore.
Skathen noted the bodies gone,
Assumed they’d all been buried deep.
Unaware they were on the lawn
All together in a burning heap.
The barkeep stopped his task to cook
Some food for Skathen, who sat and thought.
Raven, hung over from rum, came looking
For Skathen and ordered a morning shot.
“It’s hell to wake so early, caitiff.
I’m used to sleeping when ashore.
Unless we’ve got to run away,
Why rush when we could sleep some more?”
Skathen explained the situation,
Bringing out a tattered map.
He traced the route to their destination
And warned of the forest’s hidden traps.
“I’m well aware of the woods, dear lad.
I’ve heard the legends as have you.
There’s nothing there to fear but bandits,
And meeting me they’d surely rue.
“But more important, why a blacksmith?
You want to cross the Strait of Caul,
But what’s across that needs attacking?
Don’t lie or you won’t cross at all.”
“I’ve not admitted my true intent;
For that I shall apologize.
And yet I feared you wouldn’t lend
Your boat if I had not just lied.
“The Witch King lives across the strait
Within an icy citadel.
He has revived and plans to raise
An army fierce from the pits of hell.
“Long has he slept in seeming death,
Felled by my father, Aldric Nord.
In truth, he lived – on madness fed –
Until he had regained his force.
“My father suffered long and hard
Against the madness ever growing.
The Witch King cast a curse that scarred
His brain before the final blow.
“The Witch King feigned his death but fed
On Aldric’s growing insanity.
He lost his mind and died in his bed,
While Witch King thrived on his agony.
“I will avenge my father’s death
And reap in blood what he is owed.
I’ll hear the Witch King’s final breath
And feed his guts to hungry crows.
“But more, I fight for Tartaria.
The king has sent me on this quest.
If the Witch King’s barbarians
Assemble, all will suffer death.”
“Your father was a man of worth.
I drink in praise of him today.
And may the Witch King’s castle burn
After he and his army are slain.”
Though Raven was startled by the thought
That Skathen worked for Tartaria’s king,
She knew he was no royal cop
And wouldn’t jail her like a fink.
He fought for vengeance and for honor.
She knew that she could trust his word.
When looking in his eye she saw
His loyalty was well assured.
“Then let us go through the Elder Woods
And find the blacksmith you will need.
I will not fight for the kingdom’s good,
But I shall help you cross the sea.”
So Skathen paid the silver owed
To Raven Fairlies before they left.
They mounted their steeds and forward rode
From the tavern and burning bodies reft.
The sun climbed higher every hour.
The day grew hotter as time progressed.
Skathen grimaced, Raven loured,
And both had yearned for the woods for rest.
Soon their respite was in sight.
A canopy of trees hung over
The road, obscuring the burning light,
Entreating the two to take repose.
Though Skathen urged the pirate on
To ride until they reached the town,
Raven dismounted with a yawn
And chose a shady spot to sit down.
Despite his words, she took her rest
Beneath the darksome forest trees.
All of a sudden, Skathen oppressed
With weariness near fell asleep.
It was as if the shady forest
Encouraged them to sit and lounge.
In fact it seemed a sinister force
Haunted the shady resting grounds.
He didn’t know what dark enchantment
The forest held that made him weary,
But Skathen struggled against entrapment,
From being snared by eternal sleep.