The Wood King: Part One


    In the Thieves Guild, the penance for betrayal is betrayal. When Tancredo confronted Yaruzhi in the Oaken Tankard Tavern and rammed an unsubtle knife into her bosom, the consequences were thrown at him by the handful before he had time to blink. He was alone as the guards dragged him to gaol. No shady figures or cryptic messages appeared as they usually did. He killed a thief, so the thieves would now kill him – only slower.


    Tancredo was not important. Born to lowlife pilferers, he was neither intelligent nor skilful. He entered the Guild as an adolescent with a stiffening mind, doomed to for ever dwell in the waters of uneducated simplicity. His slow ways placed him amongst the auxiliary members; the foxes, the scavengers. The ones who did not matter.


    His new family called themselves the Northern Forest Wraiths – a name uttered only in hushed murmurs throughout the city – and they brimmed with sophistication. Half of its members were not in it for the coin at all. They sought only the thrill of stealth and escape.


    Rich snobs, Tancredo found, have no time for garbage scraped out of the gutters. In fact, the young thief earned his nickname when his nose bent awry under the supremacy of a rich snob’s fist. ‘Tancredo the Crooked’, they called him. It became his favourite nickname. Soon it shortened into simply ‘Crooked’, and as the years went by he forgot what it was like to be known as Tancredo.


    But now, entrapped and deserted, every one of his names were stripped from him – Crooked, Forest Wraith, Fox, Scavenger, Blockheaded Pauper – all except the wretched name of a much younger boy. An exceptionally stupid boy who was sold by thieves to thieves for three silver septims. He felt like a babe new-born, his slate scrubbed of what he had seen and what he had done.


    ‘Tancredo Nimrick, in accordance with the constitution of the Imperial Empire, you are sentenced to death by hanging on the eve of the morrow.’


    And he was thrown into a cell to wait for that dreadful hour. The end of his future. The gaoler watched over him at all hours, but never had he felt so abandoned. He was not truly a fox – he could not scavenge alone, not without instruction, not without guidance. He was a hound. A runt of a hound. Useless, easy to cast out, but strengthless on his own. Solitude would kill him, and the Forest Wraiths knew that. But they were animals too; they cared for no one.


    As the night broadened, Tancredo mulled over the fate that had befallen him. There was no voice to cheer his punishment, no rumour to spread his dastardly feats through the streets of Chorrol. He had lived only to survive. None of his names were worth anything.


    That was not what he wanted.


    A spell before dawn, Lady Luck answered his despair with a soft voice to break the silence.


    ‘Good morning.’


    Tancredo started violently. ‘Hoy!’ he whispered to the darkness. ‘Er, what did you do with the gaoler?’


    ‘I gave him a smoke. I see you are lost, Crooked. Come forward.’


    ‘Don’t call me that,’ returned Tancredo bitterly. ‘I lost that name.’


    Behind the bars of his cell, sparks of rue shone from yellow eyes as a torch sprang to life. Those eyes belonged to Meryanen the Smoker, cloaked and hooded; an arrogant elf with a heart too strange and wonderful to understand, and a mind which could extract answers with statements instead of questions. She settled against the bars, resting her chin on her shoulder. Tancredo leaned his back against hers.


    ‘I can almost pretend there isn’t metal between us,’ he soughed with mock wist.


    The Smoker gazed quietly at the firelight playing upon the ceiling. ‘It was foolish to kill Yaruzhi, old friend,’ she said.


    The humour faded from the tip of Tancredo’s tongue. ‘I know.’


    ‘Yet you did so on a whim.’


    ‘I wanted to.’


    ‘You could not restrain yourself.’


    ‘I did not try.’


    ‘You did not foresee the consequences.’


    ‘Yes. No… No, I saw them.’


    He knew he would pay the price of treachery. But he had been so blinded by bloodlust and the urge to be rid of that backbiting cat he did not care about what was to come. He did not regret his actions. He was glad of what he did.


    ‘Yet you are sad,’ said the Smoker, as if she had read his thoughts.


    ‘Yes,’ whispered Tancredo. ‘Yes, I am sad.’


    Silent, condolent, the Smoker nodded. She sighed a long breath and used her sympathy to descend into the bottomless depths of self-pity Tancredo knew so well, and she drank from his suffering like a leech, inquisitive. They sat that way for a cruel distortion of time. Tancredo wanted to say something, but he had no words to give her. She was a vile creature who, with all the fascination of an unlearned child, fed off the misfortune of the defeated. Incomprehensible, she was. Apathetic, yet a mind-reader. Tancredo could not understand her motives, nor did he care to try.


    Just don’t leave me here to die alone, he pleaded.


    At last, the Smoker stood.


    ‘You may leave now, but I suggest you exercise quiet swiftness. First room right, take the sword if you will, second room left-hand forward, hold your breath, front wall far right, out.’


    She tilted her head, blank-faced, then fled from the dungeon with blinding speed.


    Hands trembling, Tancredo tried the gate of his cell. The latch lifted with a sigh and the gate opened slowly. Tancredo stood in breathless shock. His heart ticked in his ears.


    He had his instructions. Exercise quiet swiftness. He could do that.


    He bolted. Past the rows and rows of cells and criminals cajoling him desperately, past the unconscious gaoler, he skidded into the gaoler’s sitting chamber. First room right. He swung into a doorway on the right and found himself in a room filled with chests and boxes and labels for each.


    A body was slumped over a desk, eyes and mouth open. Smoke was crawling out of his nostrils. Neatly spread over the mess on the desk lay a naked grey blade, an old thing and very neglected. Take the sword if you will. Ignoring everything else, from letters to gold and silver, Tancredo snatched up the sword and turned to leave.


    He found there were two corridors on the same wall. Second room left-hand forward. He took the one on the left. He sped up some steps. A gate of bars had already been left open.


    The next room was huge, and smelled strongly of—Hold your breath. Hurriedly he filled his lungs and clamped his throat shut. Front wall far right. Stepping around the smoking, sleeping Watchmen as they panted for air, Tancredo headed right and escaped into a narrow hall. Ran up a flight of stairs, then another, and a third. He crashed into a thickset door hinged with iron, heaving it open.




    As the sweet nightly air of Chorrol greeted him, Tancredo let out his breath. Freedom had never tasted so beautiful. He threw his arms up, whooping for glee and liberty.


    ‘You always were good at remembering,’ said a familiar voice, queerly situated above his head.


    Tancredo snapped his head toward the sound. The Smoker roosted placidly on the arm of a lantern pole, smiling a smile that dared not touch her sharp yellow eyes.


    ‘You always were good at… er…’ Tancredo tried to find a word.


    ‘Melodrama? Yes, I suppose so.’ The Smoker sighed and lifted her eyes to gaze at the city. ‘You cannot stay here, Crook—Tancredo Nimrick. You have nowhere to go. Ah, you are lost in a very large world, old friend. Do you have the will to continue your journey on your own?’


    ‘No,’ said Tancredo at once. ‘Come with me. They will get you for helping me escape, yes? You left your mark all over the Watch Castle. Nicon will find out what you did. You have to leave as well or they’ll do the same to you.’


    The Smoker turned to him with a look of amusement. ‘I have no wish to help you any farther, old friend. If you should die when we part ways, so be it. My life is of greater value than yours. Surely, I have been more charitable than you deserve.’


    ‘What do I do, then?’ cried Tancredo.


    Sighing again, the Smoker slid off the lantern pole and landed lightly beside the distressed young man. She put a hand on his shoulder.


    ‘Old friend,’ she said sternly, ‘you run.’


    With panic building in his chest, Tancredo ran.




  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  June 28, 2016
    Wow! I've never seen a boichephobe. :D Personally I'm in love with the carefree cannibals. But, though the title seems to be terribly misleading (yikes... sorry about that everyone), this story has nothing to do with Bosmer, just a rather different sort o...  more
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  June 28, 2016
    To think I was reluctant to read this out of a fear of Bosmer. Boichephobia I think it is called. Yet to my surprise we start of in a dungeon and a swift flight to freedom, a mysterious Elven lady with  a heart too strange and wonderful to understand. Tha...  more
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  January 18, 2016
    Thank you guys. I'm really sorry the next part is taking longer than I expected. School has been flattening me. I'm still hoping I can make it before the end of January, but I regret I cannot make promises. Again guys, I'm awfully sorry.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  January 16, 2016
    Eagerly awaiting Part II.
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  January 16, 2016
    I should of commented earlier as I read this about a week ago. It's really good that's all I can say.
    Even I'm impressed by your skills as a writer and I'm about the same age as you. (if I could recall that comment from one of the DWE chapters)
  • Idesto
    Idesto   ·  January 16, 2016
    A great story! Really imaginative characters, great dialogue, great story. There's more, right?
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  January 10, 2016
    Thank you LokaCola! Another one is on the way. I hope it lives up to all of these expectations!
  • LokaCola
    LokaCola   ·  January 10, 2016
    I have to agree with everyone before, this is really good!
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  January 8, 2016
    FishDout, eeee, I don't know what to say!  Thank you so much!
  • FishDout
    FishDout   ·  January 8, 2016
    I'm reading this again in awe. Honestly, this has to be one of the best pieces I've seen on the Vault. So well written, and you've set up these characters so they already seem to have elaborate back stories, and with such depth. On par with many of the pu...  more