A Bit of Backstory
Illustration by Mark Hansen
The warm fire burned steady and bright a good distance from where Tonklyn sat. The cold stone floor underneath him made his legs hurt. He held his steaming tuber stew and scrap of bread in his lap, his cloak and blanket wrapped around him. The voices of the other beggars echoed off the shadowed walls and darkened ceiling of the ruined chapel. The sound of marching soldiers rumbled down the street beyond the chapel wall and faded into the night air.
He took a bit of bread, dipped it in his stew, and ate. The warmth felt good. It wasn’t a lot of food, but it would stave off his hunger. He could tell already that life out of the palace had had an impact. His ministerial robes were much roomier than ever before, and he could feel a little more of his cheekbones.
To his right, he heard the faint snoring of Kiffra, resting after a long day of healing. One after the other, people came to him, draining his magic, sapping his Will, and he freely gave it all. Tonklyn took another bite and shook his head.
“Hey, Yer Majesty,” Verd’s voice chirped from the shadows, “I managed to swipe y’ an extra bit of bread.”
Tonklyn looked toward the voice in the dark and scowled. “You shouldn’t do that. If they catch you being nice to me, they’ll skewer you and cook you next.”
Verd laughed, then quickly stopped. “Would the’ do that?”
Tonklyn snorted, shook his head, and took another bite. “I’m surprised they haven’t roasted me yet. A guy my size would feed the whole lot of them. It seems the only way any of them would ever like me is if I were well-salted and -peppered, with a nice crispy browning, like a pheasant. Shylai’a herself might run me through just to hear the cheering.”
Tonklyn looked at the silent space where Verd’s voice had come from. A dusty chunk of rock that had rolled there at some point, probably in the initial destruction of the chapel. It sat there, alone, apart from the wall it broke away from. No-one rested on it, of course, but he tried to imagine a small person sitting there anyway. “Is this the part where you’re supposed to say something encouraging, like ‘No, everyone loves you, really…’?” Tonklyn sighed and took another bite of stewy bread.
After another moment of silence, Verd murmured, “Hold out y’ hand.”
Tonklyn hesitated and finally released the bowl on his lap and extended his hand out between the folds of his cloak and blanket. The chilly air felt crisp on his fingers and a chunk of bread appeared in his palm. Tonklyn made a surprised frown. Not only had bread actually appeared, but it was a pretty big piece. It was full and fluffy with a nice crust, not the dried crumbly stuff he was currently dipping in his stew.
“Ah…,” Tonklyn whispered, “Thanks.”
“Yeah. Melyeah sent it o’er.”
Tonklyn frowned, surprised again. He glanced at the group singing Winterfest carols around the fire. He couldn’t see the woman among the shadowy forms.
“So, ah…,” Verd ventured, “You were really the king?”
Tonklyn savored the cool smoothness of the bread. “Mmmyeah. You didn’t believe me?”
Tonklyn scowled at the empty space. He picked up the bowl and wiped away the last of the stew with the last of his bread.
Verd explained, “Well, i’ didn’t matter t’me if it were true er no. Only mattered that you believed it. So, I called ya ‘Majesty’. What’s the harm?”
Tonklyn set the bowl down and leaned back onto his elbow. He wished he had a cup or bowl of the hot brew, but that would mean he’d have to stand up and broach the group. That still didn’t feel safe. Maybe he’d get some after everyone had gone to bed. If there was any left. He glanced over the array of bedrolls. He gestured to the sleeping form of Kiffra, wrapped up in blankets some twenty-odd feet away. “So, what’s his story?”
“Ooch! I’ve known him forever, it seems,” Verd said, a little wistfully. “It’s amazing what he’s been through.”
Tonklyn’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah, well, we’ve all had it tough.”
Verd went on as if he hadn’t heard. “When I firs’ met ‘im he was a slave. He was indentured to a man who traveled fr’m town ta town sellin’ potions and preaching ‘bout the Creator. They were in Portstown when I met ‘em. Kiff was a lot younger then. I coul’ tell he was diff’rent, he never fit in. He doesn’t know quite how people work. The merchant tha’ owned him was real rough on ‘im, too. Yelled whenever he couldn’t do som’thin’ just right and smacked him up a bit whe’ he made a really bad mistake.”
Yeah, that’s what you do with slaves, right? Tonklyn hugged his knees and stretched his neck.
“I shewed him a few bits o’ magicry, to help ‘im get through. He really took ta the shadow. I thin’ it helped him hide, feel safe. Not tha’ the Merchant man couldn’t get to ‘im anyway.”
“One day, the merchant man caught ‘im healing someone. I dunno wha’ made the man madder, the fac’ that Kiff used the shadow, or that he hadna sold him a potion ‘stead. The man tore inta Kiff with a stick and near beat him ta death, screaming ‘bout how th’ Destroyer would take him for usin’ evil magic. I tried to stop him, but tha’ only made it worse, ‘cause he couldn’t see me and thought I were a demon.”
A chill wind blew under Tonklyn’s cloak. He shivered. A heaviness settled over him from somewhere he couldn’t feel.
“The ol’ man left Kiff to die on th’ roadside. It was just outside o’ Twynne Rivers, not far from here. I tried ta heal him, but I’m not a wizard f’r true. I just kep’ him alive long enough for him to do some more healing on hisself.”
Verd let out a very audible sigh. “He still don’t walk right after that beating. We’ve stuck tagether ever since. I make sure he’s got good people ‘round him an’ I bring in people that need his help.”
Tonklyn raised his head and frowned. “You brought me here.”
“Yeh, I did.”
Tonklyn’s brows pinched together. “But I don’t need him. I don’t need anyone.”
“So ya say,” Verd whispered, “So ya say.”
Author’s Note: Backstory
All characters have a backstory, even the villains. In this story, Tonklyn isn’t so much the villain of this book as he was the previous two, but his backstory is still pretty harrowing. So is Kiffra’s backstory. It’s interesting to see how adversity and challenges have impacted each character.
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