THEN A PENGUIN WALKED IN #31

A HAIRY DIGRESSION - PART ONE
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LET US LEAVE DOMINICK now to the inevitable scorn he is soon to receive from the very people he has come to save, and instead set our sights elsewhere. Fear not, we will return to Dominick in due time. It is his story, after all. But first we must cast our eyes upon the western edge of the city. And so, as darkness settles over Haven like a blanket of thick, unlaundered socks, and Dominick is sent to his room to think about what he has done, we look down upon an inn just inside the Western Gate.

It is not a large inn, nor is there anything remarkable about the building. But it is here that our story takes us.

The common room of the inn was full, but the mood of its patrons was subdued. It hadn’t take long for word of the One to migrate throughout the city. Soldiers who had borne witness to his defeat of the minions of the Dread Lord Hob spoke to anyone who would listen and the story spread like wildfire. Soon the citizens began to come together as one in celebration. But then had come the latest bit of informational rumor from the Palace. Word had it that the One had lost Arakis, the Black Sword of Power. Furthermore, the rumors stated that he let it be stolen right out from under his nose. The rejoicing had died down rather quick after that and most folks went on home to rethink some deeply held beliefs. Those who didn’t return home retired instead to their local pub, or inn common room. Basically anywhere that alcohol was served.

At the small inn by the Western Gate — the sign outside named it the Inn of the Juggling Halibut and depicted a carving of a fish juggling three balls — there was not a seat to be had in the crowded common room. On most nights over the past week, those who sat at the tables or stood by the bar would’ve been travelers come to see the Triumvirate in session. Tonight the travelers had all moved on and were replaced by the people of Haven. They all clumped together in groups and talked quietly of the day’s events.

Near the fireplace at far end of the room a woman with a flute stood on a bench, playing a jaunty tune that no one listened to. On a normal night the patrons would be singing along, for the tune the woman played was a familiar one, and quite popular. But not tonight.

All heads looked up from their cups as a woman with hair the color of fire entered. She carried with her a sword wrapped in furs. The sword did not ride at her hip, or on her back, instead she cradled it in her arms like a newborn babe. She paid no attention to the eyes that studied her. Instead, she moved through the common room with a sense of purpose, passing by the bar in favor of the room beyond where one would go to make sleeping arrangements for the night.

Once past, the inn’s patrons were back to their cups, nearly forgetting the woman was even there. Later, when asked, they would remember her fiery hair and the sword she held close. Beyond that they would recall nothing. But she is not why we are here, so let us ignore her.

Instead, we draw our attention to an old man sitting silently in a high backed chair before the roaring fire. He held no cup in his hand for he was not at the inn to drink. His hair and beard were both long, unkempt, and white. He wore a robe that at one point might have been white, but was a dark patchy gray now from years of stains. He stared into the fire and toyed with his beard.

The woman with the flute eventually gave up and moved on. There would be no coin to be had here.

A man who stood alone by the bar peeled away, and clutching a mug of beer, shambled his way over to the old man.

“You know stuff,” he said to the old man.

“That a statement, or a question?” The old man continued to stare into the fire.

“They call you Okama,” the man said, his speech only slightly slurring.

“They call me lots of things,” said the old man. “And some ain’t too polite. But Okama will do as well as any.”

“They say you’ve lived forever.”

“They like to talk, don’t they.” Okama turned from the fire to look at the man with the beer. “But no, I ain’t lived forever. It ain’t possible. Forever, after all, is still happening.”

“I’m Balta,” the man said. “My friends over there tell me you’ve lived forever and that you know stuff about everything.”

“Well,” Okama laughed before continuing. “I have been kicking rocks for an awful long time. And you can’t be alive as long as I have and not know a thing or two.”

Balta took a long drink from his mug.

“The sword has been stolen,” he said.

The dull conversation around them had died down. Everyone in the room was watching Balta and Okama.

“Has it now?” Okama said. “Which sword is that?”

“The Sword of Power. The black sword.”

“Arakis, you mean?”

“Yes,” Balta said. “They say that the One has returned and that he allowed the sword to be stolen. We are doomed.”

“Doomed?” Okama laughed again. “No, we ain’t doomed. Not necessarily.”

Balta did not reply, but someone from a table near the front shouted: “How can the One defeat the Dread Lord Hob if he doesn’t have the sword?”

“The One is more than just the sword,” Okama replied. “Besides, the people of Gund have faced greater dangers than this Lord Hob in the past and survived. You know this.”

“The Nowhere Man,” someone nearby said in a choked whisper.

“That’s right,” Okama stood, addressing everyone. “The Nowhere Man. The King of the Nighttime World. Never before had we faced such darkness. It was in that fight that Arakis came into being. You all know the story.”

There were nods of acknowledgment all around.

“But did you know that the Black Sword of Power went missing then as well?” Okama asked.

Heads shook this time.

“I didn’t think so.” Okama sat once more.

“Tell us,” Balta said. “What happened?”

“Well,” Okama said. “That story beings with The Beard That Walks.”

To be continued . . .



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