The Shame of Corr Ladin (Mike Pink)
In your time of need,
I swam in the sea of your misery.
When you felt dread,
I exalted in the shadows of threat.
When you dreamed of possibilities,
I offered tainted promises.
In all of your generous deeds,
I showed the truth of greed.
At the time of your death,
I laughed at your demise.
Adlam Scorthen’s Chronicles of Simla the Damned.
Sunlight filtered through the firs of Rosen Forest as a figure emerged from the tree line. From his vantage point on the porch of his trappers lodge Corr Ladin could see that the figure was a man, slim in build but moving with the confident grace of a swordsman. He was walking without haste but his stride was covering the ground smoothly heading directly towards the cabin. Corr’s lodge was at least ten miles from the nearest settlement and six from Garam Salt’s cabin on the slopes of Herald Tor. As the man had stepped into the clearing there had been no momentary adjustment to the change in light from the gloom of the forest, no surprised acknowledgement of the simple wooden building nestled in the clearing, the man knew the cabin was here and knew where he was going. This was not a chance meeting. Corr sighed deeply and chanced a glimpse back into his home. Now was not a good time for uninvited guests. As if to illustrate this thought his wife’s screams of pain and rage rolled over him. Guilt formed a knot in his stomach and burning bile rose in his throat. He’d had no choice but to walk this path.
As a landlord Thrain Hork was demanding and greedy. As a man he was vicious, sadistic and vengeful. Corr had been advised against taking the tenancy on the small trapper claim from the start. All of the previous tenants had either been left paupers or handed back the lease papers under mysterious circumstances after leaving the territory. Several had sought an audience with the region’s Bishop to complain of Thrain’s conduct but none had ever appeared at the cathedral for their hearings and their cases had been declared void. In what now seemed to Corr as unforgivable naivety he had scoffed at the failings of others assuming they were lazy and prone to blaming Thrain for their own faults. He, he had drunkenly exclaimed to the customers of Hora’s Inn, would take the claim by the balls and become the richest trapper in the history of Hadras. Corr had moved into the lodge that summer.
At first he had flourished, restoring the lodge from the trials of weather and prolonged neglect. His traps were always full and although far from becoming rich enough to buy the claim he was able to afford the home comforts that his own father had never been able to provide. On a winter morning of the second year he had started his usual routine of checking traps for mink, martin or fox. Midway through the rounds he crawled through a thick growth of brambles to inspect a needle trap he had reset the day before. The needle trap was Corr’s favoured method as it allowed for larger animals to be trapped. Comprising of a two-inch needle set at ninety degrees in a wooden arm six inches in length, half an inch wide and attached to a spring-loaded mechanism on a flat board. When set the arm was pulled away from the board, laid flat on the ground and held in place by a baited pressure lock in the mechanism. To free the bait the unsuspecting animal must pull the lock, springing the trap. The wooden arm would snap up pushing the needle, tipped with fast acting poison, into the creature’s head or neck. Corr had found that the best poison to use was that of the rainbow tree frog. These small amphibians excreted a toxic poison that could paralyse a full-grown man in thirty seconds. Corr had discovered that it worked on mink and martin within five seconds and lasted for twelve hours. Trapping in this way meant that any paralysed prey were left unprotected and vulnerable to scavengers, but Corr had found that if he regularly patrolled his routes the gains outweighed the losses.
As he pushed his way clear of clinging thorns, Corr saw that the trap had been sprung but no animal was lying close by. Cursing his luck he carefully picked up the device to reset it and placed another drop of tree frog poison on the needle. A low threatening growl caused him to fumble the trap, narrowly avoiding piercing his gloved hand with the poisoned needle. Reaching for the hunters knife at his belt, which would be useless against anything larger than a snub tailed wood cat, Corr spun into a defensive crouch expecting a leap attack from whatever predator was behind him. He was met by open air. With blood pounding in his ears and confused by the lack of attacker, Corr almost missed another growl coming from ground level to his right. Slowly, so as not to provoke whatever beast was there, he looked down and could see faint movement in the periphery of his vision. Something was curled on the forest floor but when Corr looked directly at it, vision skittered across his awareness to vanish. Excitement began to grow in his breast as comprehension dawned in his adrenalin-addled brain. His trap had caught a planar dweller. Depending on the size of the beast he could make a fortune from this one catch. Summoning his will, Corr concentrated hard on the area that he had spotted movement. The planar dweller was staring at Corr, its piercing sapphire blue eyes filled with bestial hate and fear. Holding the creature’s gaze so that he did not lose sight of it again, Corr stepped forward slowly easing his finisher spike from the pouch at his belt. The beast growled in vicious warning. It tried to lift its head to defend itself but the paralysing poison still held sway over blood and muscle. Corr knelt in front of the creature and placed his hand almost tenderly on top of its head. With speed and skill born of repetitive action he slid the point of the finisher into the dweller’s eye and depressed a small button on the handle releasing twin barbs, scrambling the frontal lobes of its brain. As life fled from the creature the light bending aura that made it almost impossible to see began to fade revealing a thick black pelt flecked with dark purple. Corr gasped at the sight, he had heard of planar dwellers but had always thought that there was something mythical about the tales. Even in death this animal was magnificent. The fur from planar dwellers was famous for its extraordinary properties. When worn as a garment planar dweller pelt imbued the wearer with the ability to resist magical effects, which made it much sought after by arcane scholars and alchemists. The rarity of the beasts meant that it had gained a handsome enough price for him to begin wooing Lita Fairclough.
They had married 18 months later in the parish church.
Corr recalled the solemn vows they had exchanged, both of them barely been able to suppress the joy and laughter behind the serious countenance demanded by the church. He saw the beauty of her shine through her thin veil of muslin. Waves of red hair cascaded down the cream homespun dress that her mother had made for her. Dark green ivy leaves formed a slender wreath kept the veil in place and complimented her hair and eyes. When she had entered the church her very silhouette had taken Corr’s breath away along with every other man seated in the church. Lita was a rare beauty there was no denying it and Corr had still not believed that she was about to marry him. The words he had spoken now resounded in his head like an accusation, “Lita you are a treasure that has been hidden from my eyes. Your presence has banished a fog from my eyes and I can see the world anew with brightness and beauty that was not there until you came into my life. I now make this vow, in front of all witnesses, that I shall offer you protection from all harm, I will shelter you with my body and my soul, I will love you until the end of time and should any ill befall you by my hand may my soul be granted no forgiveness. These words I speak to you so you know that to be my wife you will never have need to hold fear or pain in your heart.”
The words Corr had spoken out of love on that bright summer’s day two years previously, now battered him relentlessly. Bile rushed into his throat and he vomited his breakfast onto the wooden porch. Tears of grief and guilt stung his eyes and wet his cheeks. There could be no way back from this. Sounds of altercation issued from the still open door, the ring of steel on steel, dull thuds of hard-edged weapons meeting soft flesh and bone. A sharp, high-pitched cry brought Corr to his knees as if he had been punched in the gut. The sudden violence occurring in his house was his fault. He should never have agreed to Thrain’s demands. He should have stood up to the man and bourne the consequences as any decent husband would have done. Instead he had let his wife down. His precious Lita, he had wronged her in a way that brooked no forgiveness for he deserved none. Now he had brought the foulest kind of violence into their home.
Movement on the doorway caught his attention and Corr looked up from kneeling to see Thrain lying across the threshold, a wicked sword cut had taken most of the right side of his face and skin hung limply from his jaw. A feverish light shone in his eyes as he looked directly at Corr without seeing. Shadow fell across Thrain’s prone figure and his body went into brief spasm causing the loose skin of his face to flap like a landed trout. Corr’s miserable countenance fixed on a shaft of silver light that pierced Thrain’s back between the shoulder blades and travelled up at a slight angle. Corr followed the light’s path only then realising that it was the stranger’s long sword impaled into his landlord’s now lifeless body. The man’s pitiless stare bore into Corr’s skull as surely as his blade had sliced Thrain’s skin and Corr wept harder, tears splashing into the puddle of vomit between his hands.
Suddenly a coiled snake dropped in front of Corr’s face spraying small globes of puke onto his hands. Corr leapt back from the serpent in alarm taking the skin off of his hands in the process and stared dumbly at the still coiled reptile lying in the fetid pool of his part digested breakfast. The stranger’s shadow left the doorway and it was only then that Corr realised that the coil was not a snake but the coarse hemp rope that he kept on a hook by the door for when he went climbing to his less accessible hunting sites. In his guilt shrouded state Corr was not able to grasp the significance of the rope’s appearance and simply sat vacant and numb with tracks of sick cooling on his chin.
Corr was not sure how long he sat in this stupor, but when awareness slowly returned, he heard Lita angrily launching curses at him. Her clothes were torn and blood stained and she had fresh red welts on her face which were almost covered by the flush of fury at the humiliation she had suffered in the hands of Thrain and his lackeys. Emerald green eyes that had once been so full of love that it had brought tears to Corr’s own eyes, now regarded him with a hate so pure that it cut into his soul. The unspoken accusation was obvious to him, “How could you not only stand by and allow them to use me in this way but actually arrange for it to happen to free you of your debts?”
“I will not grant you the honour of dying by my blade as you do not deserve it,” The stranger’s voice was deep and tight with anger, his glance flickered to the rope. “You should face the harsh judgement of Gorse the Unforgiving, Keeper of the Gate, and if you have any shred of decency and courage left in you then you will see that I have the right of this.” With that, he turned from Corr and gently led Lita from their house back towards the forest where he had appeared.
Corr’s eyes were drawn as if by an unseen force to the rope in his sick and he understood the man’s words. He raised himself up from the porch deck, stooping to scoop up the rope. In a daze he deftly tied a noose in the end and through a length over an oak beam above his head. Judging the length dangling from the beam to be adequate, Corr made it secure on the horizontal rail he had spent so many nights leaning on, marvelling at the beauty of the setting sun. Taking the noose into his left hand and grabbing a support post with his left, Corr climbed up onto the porch rail. He looped the noose around his neck and took a deep breath. He looked to the retreating figures of his wife and the stranger. The man had his head close to Lita’s as if speaking words of comfort or encouragement. Neither had turned round to see what Corr was doing. Unbidden, the memory of when Corr had first laid eyes on Lita flashed into his mind’s eye. She had been the most beautiful girl at the midsummer’s feast. With fiery red hair and piercing green eyes full of laughter, she stood out from the other girls as a diamond stands out from coal. When she had chanced to look his way Corr felt as if his breath had been sucked from his lungs, his knees felt weak and dizziness and almost overtaken him. The look had been only for a second but it had left him feeling that she had captured his soul. With this memory came pain and fresh tears burst forth wetting his cheeks once again. Corr was unable to take his eyes from his wife’s back as guilt, anguish and fear overwhelmed him. Whispering her name one last time, he stepped back off of the rail into air.