A J Thompson | Andrew Thompson, Rockhampton Australia

The Man With No Name, a short story by Andrew Thompson

The Man With No Name is an excerpt from my novel, "Lords of the Kreyml".

©2013 Andrew Thompson

Positioned between a chandlery shop and the town square, Olaf's Bakehouse with its wide awnings, shaded tables, and arguably the best coffee in town, was a popular spot for travellers and locals alike.

Out front, odd-looking gadgets whirred and spun, seemingly without purpose. An eccentric as well as a man of the cloth, Bishop Olaf fancied himself an inventor. His collection of solar powered gizmos provided much amusement for the children of the town.

Each day, he opened the Bakehouse before dawn to cater for the workers on early shift at the factories. This dawn however, a much larger crowd was gathered. The reason for the town’s early waking was twofold, the first being Olaf's call to the flock. On Thanas’ behest, he had issued an urgent summons to all citizens of Titania to attend service at the cathedral. He gave no reason save that their presence was required.

The second excitement of the day concerned the presence of the youth writing at the corner table. Until yesterday, the resident exile was mute. The gossip surrounding the sudden recovery of his voice held the town in its grip. Many believed that Olaf’s summons and David’s recovery were intertwined, and most anticipated that the Bishop was about to announce a miracle by the divine hand of God.

To David himself though, his thoughts were possessed with his speech. Perhaps for that reason, no one dared approach his table, the frantic scribbling of his pencil as effective a deterrent as a sword. He was grateful for that.

Only one man distracted his attention. Philippe stood in queue with the others. His presence was unusual for he rarely came to the Bakehouse and never ventured out amongst the common masses. Philippe was more an island to himself than the exile he guarded.

Tamaq realised that Philippe hadn’t spotted him. He debated slinking off through the kitchen but managed to stay his nerves. He folded his notes and waited for the soldier to pass by the table.

The soldier looked down, his surprise apparent but guarded. "So, you found your voice."
Tamaq swallowed, not from fear but nervousness. The sound of his voice still seemed strange.
"Sit, Captain. I mean ... please sit with me for a minute."

Philippe seemed to hesitate then took the chair opposite. His expression lacked any trace of emotion. Tamaq leaned in slightly so they would not be overheard.
"I just wanted to say ... I’m truly sorry that Father did not grant you release. I know it isn’t fair and I gain no pleasure from it. I wish he could punish me without exiling you as well."

Philippe remained unmoving, his expression unchanged. The seconds drew out then his chair scraped back, and he walked off without a word.

Tamaq returned to his coffee disappointed. He had hoped to close some distance with Philippe, whose enthusiasm for his role had begun to wane early in the piece. Philippe had all but given up his attempts at degradation only weeks after their arrival in Titania five years ago. Since then, he was sometimes gruff, occasionally resorting to mind games, but that was all. Even those small tortures were rare.

"What was your crime?"
Tamaq looked up startled. It was one of the Northerners. "What?"
"I asked the nature of your crime."
"Does it matter? By your uncivil tone, I am already judged."
The man scowled. "Just stay away from my son."

Tamaq felt the hairs rise on his arms. He was in no mood for idiots, or obscurity.
"I’ve buggered no boy, Sir. I suggest you look to his uncles – That’s often the case."
"You mock me?"
"I do. Now go, I have no time for thugs."
"I am Chang of the Valkyrie. Jai d’Ulnu is my son."
"Ah, the boy who seeks a mentor. Now I understand the cuts on his arms."
"How dare you!"
"How dare I? Look at you – an unrestrained brute, and he all gentleness and calm. No wonder he seeks escape. And lie upon lie, you know he’s not from Ulnu."
"It is not a lie. It’s where I found him. He tells no one of his past."
"Well he told me. He was born and bred in Erstinaya. His mother loved him and he misses her fiercely."

Chang stood stunned but Tamaq was not about to let up.
"And you Sir are from Caryllius, the Bay of Breton judging by the colours on your ship, which I note with intrigue to be the former Warship Lydia. Where did you salvage her from? Balool? Tamita? Or did you slit the throats of her crew while they slept?"

Tamaq reclined in his chair and eyed the dumbfounded seaman.
"You judge me for my exile Sir, but my, the inglorious tales you could tell."
"You ... can identify a warship’s name? Without markings?"
"I can, and alas you challenged the wrong man. You’re unfit as a father and I’ll not see the boy further harmed. I’ve pull with the Governor. He’ll be made a ward of the Crown."

Chang slumped in defeat. How had the attack reversed? But he knew why. He caused it himself. He always reacted the same way.
"I’ve rescued three boys," he finally said, "But only two survive. I thought it a good match for young Lassa, a ship’s Captain as mentor, the hope of a future as a seafaring merchant, but the lad did not see the day. He was used then killed, his body tossed into the sea."

Tamaq lowered his eyes. "I’m sorry to hear that. The boy will rejoice when he wakes in green fields. But I’m no felon either. I offended the King. A wiser man, less proud, would have held his tongue, but I did not. I’m exiled, not gaoled, and if I could revisit that time, I would level the same offence."

Chang studied the stoic youth. He wondered why the King had chosen banishment instead of having him executed. Stavius was fond of exiling his foes but surely it was a costly affair. Yet knowing the nature of Stavius, having seen his effects firsthand, this case was most likely revenge. This boy offended him and now had to live with his shame. Yet the dark eyes showed pride and passion, anything but shame. He seemed aware of his place in the world and if a King could not tame him, who could?

"I fear I misjudged you, Master David. I apologise."
Tamaq dipped his brow.
"I too for my impertinence. It was unfair of me to blame you for Jai’s malaise."
Chang lowered his gaze for long moments then looked at the man again.
"I will trust the boy’s judgement. If it is your wish and his to join in sacred tenure, I’ll not stand in the way."
"He’s made no formal request. It’s chatter, nothing more."
"It won’t stay that way. I know my son. When he fixates, nothing deters him."

Tamaq rubbed his temples.
"I like Jai. I like him very much. But today of all days, he’s the last thing on my mind. At least … he should be. He could not have sought my dotage at a worse time."
"In a few days then."
Tamaq shook his head aimlessly.
"By all the Seers’ eyes, man, look at me. I’m poor, an exile, an enemy of the King. My discredit would pass to him by association. I’ve nowt of worth to offer your son."
"But you do. You’ve survived, perhaps excelled, despite your circumstances. I see that now – I see with the eyes of my son. You are a man of the Faith who has lived a full life and now has wisdoms to share. Is that not the purpose of a mentor?"

Tamaq sighed heavily. First the son and now the father. He had sought the approval of neither and now he had it in spades. At noon they would see him differently again. The whole town would see him differently.
"I can’t think about it now. I have to finish writing. I’ve been asked to speak at the church."
Chang squinted.
"We’ve been ordered to attend. You’re the speaker?"
"Yet you claim you have no worth?"

Tamaq held the Caryllian’s stare. Chang seemed an honest man with good intent. He could only imagine the battles Chang and his crew had endured sailing the length of the globe.
"You’ve given me your trust, Captain. I shall give you one in return. Just tell me in truth, am I remembered in the greater world?"

Tamaq slid a coin across the table. The man looked at it curiously, the face upon it - a face not seen for many years. He sat bolt upright with shock. The seaman’s weathered hands gripped the table hard.
"Be steady," Tamaq said, "Show no recognition, do not fall to knee or say my name. You will disclose my identity to no one, not even Jai. He will learn soon enough, but not yet."

Chang sat glued to the chair, his chest heaving as though he’d run a marathon. He nodded in helpless agreement as his eyes pooled with tears.
"When we heard the King’s decree … no one could believe it. Your exile … It changed the entire world."

Tamaq looked away pained.
"So I feared. I’m beginning to hear the reports, and I’m sorry."
Chang clutched the royal hand as though it were a relic of the Faith.
"You are blameless, Prince. I’m so terribly sorry that this has been your fate."
Tamaq cupped the sailor’s fist.
"My fate has not yet run its course. It is in the hands of the Ancients."

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