It had started as such a simple day.
He got up late in the day as is his want were Sunday's was concerned, seeing as the his lord didn't expect him work on this day he didn't see no good reason as to why he should for anyone else neither, and that included the picken' of berries for the missus.
"Git out'a that bed right now you lazy bugger or as the gods as my witness I shall be puttin' the broom to yeeer bbeeeehhhind". She shrieked, at just the right tone that she knew would elicit the wince of pain that she was aiming for.
Like the master archer her shot had found its mark, a mark that guaranteed there'd be no more sleeping this day. So without any further ado he hauled his heavy frame out of bed and tentatively felt the floor with his toes feeling around for his warm slippers that should be somewhere in the vicinity of where he left them the night before. Alas he could find but one and after pre-emptive look under the bed started a grumbling anew.
"Damnedable flea bitten mutt what good is it any way"? He mumbled to no one in particular.
Coming down to the breakfast table in one slipper and still grumbling to himself he finds a warm steaming tea waiting for him, just what the doctor ordered on this still chilly spring morning, he starts looking around wondering to himself what's missing but not quit sure yet in half awake state what it is.
"Breakfast", he exclaimed, a little louder then expected for he knew what the answer would be should Beryl think it where an order.
The return salvo was quick alright.
"You listen to ME Elijah Samuelson! Don't you be thinking just because you got the rights to be ordering men about in the fields you can come right on home and be doin' it in this here house, I'll be taking none of your lip this morning!" she said in defiant voice that he knew brooked no trifling with.
"There'll be noooo breakfast for you till I gets me blue-berries the ye promised me LAST Sunday, now get your flabby arse up them stairs and put some clothes on, I'll be taking no back chat from ye neither, the quicker ye go the quicker you'll be back to break your fast.
With no further ado and a tone in her voice he felt quit sure had been put there to torture him he shuffled back up stairs to put on his dungarees and his boots. Of course what he didn't see was the wry little smile that had crossed Beryl's lips as she saw him carry on upstairs.
Elijah did as he was told and made his way back up to the bedroom. "What on earth she doin' all day anyway, that she can't find no time to picken' her own damn berries", he muttered quietly to himself under his breath. For the Lord O' Manor knows there'd be hell to pay should she hear him. Its bad enough she blackmailed him with no breakfast.
"An' ruddy blue-berries – wot she wan' them fuh? Lord of t'Manor comin' to tea or summat? Should I stop at t' churn house and fetch some cream on me way back?" He said sarcastically, still keeping one eye out for his wife.
"Aye, you do that!" Yelled Beryl downstairs and three rooms away as the back door slammed shut.
Temporarily stunned by her un-natural hearing he missed a step, jarring his ankle. "Ruddy witch," he muttered quietly, as he peered over the banister – she was nowhere in sight. "How t'hell can she hears me from there?"
Beryl's dog was sitting at the top of the stairs, watching him with his head cocked. Barely bigger than a hare, Long-stockings nevertheless managed a credible snarl and his teeth were like a saw blade where he drew his lips back. The missing slipper was a mangled, drool-dripping wreck hanging from a corner of his mouth. Elijah shook a fist at him, careful not to get too close as he edged past, his back against the wall.
"Mangy little sod, whatcha wanna eat ma slippers fuh?"
Long-stockings spat the slipper onto the carpet and ran a beady eye over him. Not for the first time, Elijah had a sneaking suspicion that the cursed thing was looking for a bit of bare flesh to sink his teeth into. He drew his naked foot quickly out of sight, and the cursed dog laughed at him as he slammed the bedroom door shut behind him – it could have been a snarl, but after twenty-six years of living with the supernaturally long lived runt, Elijah knew better.
The town of Kuddamisdit dangled from a shabbily precarious mesa over which it had attempted to spread (unsuccessfully) for generations now. Urban creep was inhibited by not only the size of the stable populace (there wasn't one) but buy a peculiar local superstition that prevented the expansion of the township beyond the ring of high stone roc droppings that encircled the mesa, decorating the scree beneath with a dun, aromatic circumference of wyrd-earth power that threatened menacingly any local farmer bent upon taking the lowlands as his newest fiscal endeavour. It was to the ancient Grembarth wytch Detritusia that all paid shying homage of that superstition.
Kuddamisdit was an especially remarkable community of the Retracted Reaches, especially because no one apart from the inhabitants was canny enough to survive the chaotic weather stigmatised upon the Reaches by the mad meteoromancer L. Ningo. So, structures within the elevated township were hardy, functional and needless to say quite ugly. Mosses and fungi cowered in the infrequent nooks and crannies aboarding the houses and barns that seemed to lean against each other for a soggy kind of warmth, and the glow of a welcoming fire through the spattered quartzite windows was diluted by the tincture of irrepressible slimes that fed upon the mineral, lending the welcome warmth a weepy and worrying woefulness.
Elijah, having wrung his moistened slipper and inserted his foot therein broached the lightening air, closed the bedroom door, shivered and decided to nipp off before his lovely Beryl came upon another pleasant Sunday morning chore with which to burden him.
Deciding not to risk life and ankle on the decrepit midget of a dog, Elijah decided the safer alternative was by far the window overlooking the penthouse of the upstairs bedroom and so, or more to the point not so, made his way onto the roof of the pen below. Within two steps he found himself sitting on his head as he (in a most un-catlike fashion) fell off the roof. Tis true don't you know, large men before breakfast find it very difficult to land on their feet.
And off he trundled, leaving with the best hurrumphed slam of a gate his rickety little gate could manage. So here he finds himself, late of morn and empty of belly, perhaps a little stop over at the bakery would be in order? That's it. Then, to pick the darn berries, - via the bakery yes that should do nicely.
The one redeeming feature of Kuddamisdit was that due to several inconstancies in the (dare I say it) design, there was not a straight street to be seen any where in the town, one needed to walk but a house and be completely lost from view to any who might be watching. You know, the usual lot who take interest in the goings on of others, thieves, miscreants, local law enforcement and oh yeah the worst of them all, wives uggggh!
Ten minutes later, a forgotten purse and a mouthful of teeth gnashing at the baker who would be hearing none of it.
"Your not listenin' to me Elijah, if me missus found out I spotted ye the credit I'd never hear the end of it and even worse your missus, there's tales out there of her powers don't ye know, I don't need to remind ye wot happened to ye last time, sheesh me arse was raw for a week!" preached the slightly scared-looking baker with a nose covered in flour as it was.
"Just get on with it son, git yer berries and maybe, just maybe she'll give you time off for good behaviour this afternoon".
Leaning in conspiratorially, "Old man Peabody says the old catfish and his harem of lovely ladies has finally come back from upstream, should make for some fine eating, do you think she'll let you out for a spot a fishen later on, if'n ye gets her berries o'course", said the baker with a wink.
With belly still grumbling and making its displeasure known to him he set off once more to get the berries, resigned to his fate of getting absolutely nothing in his belly till the little womans say so.
He hadn't gone more than a few steps when he realised that he'd forgotten his gamp. His unceremonious tumble off the roof had driven it clear out of his mind. How was he supposed to forage out in the open without it? There were at least twenty of the things scattered around the house – they even kept a spare by the gate. How could he have forgotten it?
He couldn't see a lot of sky – the crowding roofs of the buildings leaned in close over the street. It was a clear, washed-out spring sky with not a roc in sight. They didn't often come into the Reaches, but their vindictive bombing campaign of any stray Kudamisdite had in the past led to total ostracism of the unfortunate victim to a hungry life bounding the scree – roc poop simply would not wash off. And it stank. Men have been known to continue stinking for up to three years and even then there was a vile after taste of it.
His thoughts trailed off just as he reached the edge of the mesa, the smell of roc faeces slipping down his throat greasily. It was a deceptively simple thing. The blueberry bushes were in a small cluster not one hundred yards away, partially sheltered from the usually inclement weather by a collection of boulders through which they seemed to have wended like yoga masters, bearing their fruit with the distended and malformed dignity of a political candidate kissing a baby in a funhouse mirror. The bushes could be approached by a mottled pathway bordered by hardy grasses and patches of dead, roc-bombed earth.
Elijah took another furtive look at the sky, his upper lip stretching uncertainly, his nose twitching and his stomach growling and occasionally garrotting his pancreas. The sky was clear.
A tumbleweed tumbled weedily by.
About one hundred yards? He began to tense, his awkward muscles flexing in cowardly desperation. He would die of starvation soon. And the risk of never seeing Beryl again from being roc-bombed helda certain fascination, butwhat was left of his life after thatwouldn't be worthliving ifhedidn't get those berries back to her.
Sweat pushed the humidity aside to bead on his speckled brow. His nose twitched again. Hegulped one final gulp, plucked up what little courage he hadand ran like buggery to the berry-copse.
Closer he got. The blur of the sky was still clear. The bushes neared. No roc-sound ripped through the air, that sound that was the harbinger of eternal odour, nothing. The bushes neared nearer.
Reaching the copse, bellowing a bellow meant to bestow superhuman strength upon the bellower, Elijah ripped a ripper of a ripe berry bush -roots and all- from the rocky ridge and ran rapidly back up the path, his eyes squinting through the bush that bustled over his head and back as he hid beneath it.
He had made it.
With berry ….bush in hand and the shrubbery doing the best impression of a gamp that he had ever seen he bolted back to the only bit of cover the rocky ground could afford. There he sat like a bus driver hiding under a bush on a rainy day waiting for his bus to arrive knowing full well that buses where on an order of several lifetimes away from being invented. The odd berry falling from the bush and landing on his balding pate with a satisfying dollop as the odd over ripe berry committed suicide on his head staining the pale skin purple where they landed.
With much resignation he resolved his resolve into one last piece of resolve andnewly determinedhe set off back up the path from which he had come,- cowering cowardly under his all protective shrubbery.
And then he heard it, at first he thought it could be nothing more than his already overactive imagination (which if truth be known got very little work on the off season, so when there was work to be done he found his imagination worked very hard to make up for the difference of the rest of the year). But no, there it was again the sound he most wanted in the world not to hear is exactly what he was straining the hardest to try to hear. Thwump, thwump, thwump the long slow wing beat of the Roc, on each beat it bit at the air like a rabid dog up a postman.
"Oh folly, oh my, oh dear", said Elijah looking about him desperately for any where more substantial to hide than his protective blue-berry bush.
Then he did it despite his best efforts it snuck out, he tried with all his might to avoid it but it would not be ignored his fear would not let him. For this was no bellow, battle cry strength imbuing scream, ohhhhh noooo this was a scream on a completely different level. It sort of started with a gurgle as though even his fear's desire to let loose a rip snorter of a scream was it self too scared to start the ball rolling. Butunreasoning fear would not take no for an answer as he tried to restrain himself his fear would hear nothing of it. He could feel it building within as the distinct flapping of great wings came closer, and closer ….and closer.
He looked everywhere about as quickly as possible knowing full well if he did not let loose soon his scream would surely draw more attention to himself then he desired. Doing his best to keep his berry bush as vertical as possible with his left hand he dropped to his knees and as quick as he could dug himself a hole into the closest dry pile of dung that was in sight ('cause as we all know wet Roc dung has wonderful sound absorbing properties as long as it was dry, just ask any pimply Kuddamistite teenage musician who is forced to practice in his parents garage - shed - barn). When he could hold no more he thrust his face into the hastily dug hole of excrement and screamed his little lungs out, for it wasn't over in one mere breath oh no, this was the scream of a scream from a fear so deep that you couldn't see the bottom of it.
When enough of his wits had recovered, well enough to tell his brain to stop screaming any way, Elijah pricked his ears straining to hear the sound he really no longer wished to hear but afraid that he would any way. Then he heard it…or more to the point didn't hear it well actually he didn't hear a thing.
Maybe I shouted meself deef, he wondered as he stood up, he didn't bother saying it 'cause he figured he wouldna heard it any way.
What he did hear was a long wailing scream coming from afar but getting closer, he thought it was himself there for a second maybe a leftover from previous scream or maybe even a little of the scream that might have escaped from his Roc dung hole but no, his hearing was definitely getting better but he still couldn't place the location of the scream or even where it was coming from. He picked up his berry bush and had a listen underneath it for the source of the scream but to no avail. He was feelingall the better that he could no longer hear the Roc wing beats and thought he better scram before that scream caught up with him because it was definitely getting louder.
He looked up. Then the sky fell down!
With a great wallop and the resounding clanging of metal mixed with assorted curses (that would not be polite to report, for the sake of the kiddies and all) as the two bodies tried to occupy the same space at the same time.A great pile of flesh fell to ground for there where arms and legs everywhere, some were covered in metal and making a gawd awful racket, some bits were flailing about like some great fish suddenly thrown from the blue water sky. Covering it all was the ever staining blue berries that had been jammed in the middle like… well like blue-berry jam.
After a few moments of deep groaning and more muttering of curses and several more of disentangling of assorted limbs and body parts, Elijah finally got to see what part of sky actually fell him, a very heavy, very rusty and a very, very smelly tin man.
The tin man was covered head to toe in what looked like the contents of a runny nose only on a much larger scale. It was as though the tin man had gone hot tubbing in something a little less liquid and quite a bit more viscous than water. Whatever it was it was translucent and it eeked from every seam of his tin suit, especially around his ankles as the slightly steamy colourless slime began oozing out of his greaves and over his feet as he tried to regain them.
Elijah was considering offering the stranger a hand, then caught a wiff of him, thought the better of it and tried to retrieve what was left of his blue-berry bush instead. Alas, there was little left of the multi-tasking umbrella/blue-berry bush as most of the useful fruit that didn't have the good sense to make a bid for freedom had been unmercifully squished when the two men came together, the berries life juices either staining Elijah's tunic or mixing with the smelly mess of the tin man who was still passed out on the shock absorbing Roc dung.
Getting to his feet first Elijah stretched out very sore muscles and bones. He nursed the numerous small cuts and bruises now welling up on his body. He started spying nervously about for the Roc, guessing that's where the smelly knight had come from and tried to cover himself with the now utterly useless, now flattened blue-berry bush. After a few moments of preening the bush, ignoring the knight completely, Elijah realized there wasn't enough left of it to shade his balding pate, let alone supply enough useable berries for Beryl.
With a click of his tongue and a shake of his head looking pointedly at the unconscious knight he threw the bush to the ground and debated the lesser of two evils. The Roc or the angry wife, of course he didn't have to live with the Roc, he had the distinct feeling if he didn't return with the berries he was going to be ostracised anyway, so he risked the Roc. With renewed vigour, or at least appropriately prioritized fears he set off further down the path towards the patch of blue-berries hugging the side of the path trying to be as small a target as possible for keen Roc eyes to see.
Elijah also wanted to get as much distance between himself and the sprawled knight as possible, he had no doubts the Roc would return to see whether dropping the knight from the sky would bust him from his hard shell, like marrow from a bone. Moving as fast as scared bones could manage keeping one eye on the sky above and the other on the path before him