Carrion Crown by Kelly
The Tale of Ilirio and Daphine
The smell of peat smoke and sweat welcome you to the common room of the Pale Man Tavern. It sounds like an unpleasant smell, but it is the smell of people coming together at the end of a hard day’s work to share a drink and a story. The Innkeeper is Greken Addlethrump, a short think gnome with pure white hair and uncommonly pale skin. His pink and gray eyes scan the room in a lost, dreamy state, but he never seems to miss an empty glass or a coin that is dropped on the counter.
The common room is crowded, for everyone knows that tonight is a special night. The children are nearest the broad stone hearth along the wall, women cluster nearby talking with each other and cuffing an unruly child on the head. The men of Opava stand furthest back, nearer to the supply of the wheat beer and rye whiskey. Also nearer to the door.
He comes in finally. Thalam Zhan is his name, but most just call him Old Thal. Tonight, though, he carries a different name, Savatarok. It is an honorific that comes down through the years from old Varisian and translates simply enough to Storyteller. He is a tall man despite his years and his back is still straight after countless harvests. His years have slowed his steps, but he makes his way through the crowd with a nod and a warm hello to each of his neighbors before taking a seat by the fire. Out of tradition or habit, a mug of strong whiskey is quickly placed in his hands. He dips three fingers in to the whiskey and then flicks them in the fire, giving a brief flash of light; the story begins.
I have been called tonight to tell the tale of Ilirio and Daphine. I am not our best Savatarok, that would be Balgi. He nods to a man of fifty or so years in the back of the room. But I have one advantage over even him…I remember this story. It was eighty two years ago this summer that the love of two foolish youngsters lead to tragedy. I was ten.
[Despite his claims to be a poor storyteller, Old Thal goes on over the next hour to spin a marvelous one. Back before the Duke of County Lozeri was deposed a local farm boy fell in love with the cousin of the Duke when she would ride through the countryside. She noticed the boy’s attention and found herself taken by the strong, rough looking youth. The early flirting and hidden meets soon became a passionate love affair. It is an old tale of forbidden love that every community across the kingdoms of the Inner Sea seems to have, but this one took a poor turn. The youth Illiriio set out to make his fortune as a sellsword and tomb raider as a Pathfinder, a word Old Thal uses with great distain.
Two years later he returned to Opava a changed man, and not for the better. He was larger, stronger, and violently tempered. He had gold, gems, and armor unlike any seen in this area before, but the oddest possession of his was a thin black stilleto. It was a blade made with dark, evil magics and could burn though anything. On the northwest corner of the mill’s foundations you can still see where Illirio made his mark with that evil blade deep in the limestone.
But that wasn’t the only change; his skin seemed to burn and bubble, he ranted endlessly on Daphine and claiming what was his. When she next came through Opava she was horrified by the change in her once kind lover. This meant little to Illirio, who grabbed her wrist to pull her off her horse. She screamed in pain as his very skin burned her. The guards around her reacted quickly, four moved to attack the man while two others pulled the girl free and raced away with her to safety. Four well-armed guards against one seems like poor odds, but Illirio was unharmed by the spears of the soldiers. He casually pulled them one-by-one off of their horses, sat on their chests, and used the thin blade of the stiletto in the eye slits of the helms of the guards. Within a half of a minute all four were dead and Illirio was laughing like a madman.
He leapt on one of the abandoned horses and galloped after the fleeing trio. When they were found some time later, a gruesome site was discovered. The guards were unsurprisingly dead, but so was beautiful Daphine. She had been horribly ravaged in the worst of ways by Ilirio and in the process her body so burned that her body was barely recognizable. Nearby was a suddenly aware Ilirio, weeping uncontrollably at what he had done.
The following trial was swift. He was beheaded within a fortnight by the Duke’s personal executioner.
It was the next full moon when he reappeared. His headless ghost chasing down the road after his fleeing love. His spirit wields the headman’s axe that took his own crown and he will strike down any he finds on the roads. This is why on nights when the moon is near full, we avoid the Old Forest Road, especially near the bridge where he caught Daphine.
Ilirio’s ghost had been quiet for years, but he is restless these days. Instead of just striking out at the full moon, he now lingers on most nights waiting for prey. What has awoken him? What is so evil that it even disturbs his rest? It’s those gods damned witches!
The gathered crowd mutters in agreement and growing anger.
We need to hunt them down! Let Ilirio rest again!
As a few shouts of anger can be heard before the marshal makes her presence known.
“ENOUGH! Thal, that was a fine tale, but you know better than to get these good people all stirred up and looking for a fight.” She steps in to the light, looking fierce despite her small size. “We have no reason to suspect those women of anything evil, just a bunch of superstitions and rumors. Now why don’t you all go home and call it a night.”
With muttered grumbling, the crowd begins to slowly disperse.