A Tale from the White Liar Tavern
"The Black Claw"
A Flintloque Short Story by Tony Harwood
Artwork Conceived and Created by Tony Harwood and Edward Jackson
Throughout the realms of Valon the White Liar Tavern in Broomcoat has a very special reputation for the quality of the ales sold and the tales told. During the cold winter months the landlord brings comfort to his regulars by offering hot mulled brews and spiced pies. With steam rising from their flagons it is customary for patrons to recount their stories...
On a particularly cold and dark evening, as the noise of low hanging branches scratched at the windows of the tavern, a group of younger Dwarves were having some fun at the expense of a ‘Long Beard’ – an ancient looking Dwarf who carried upon his back a huge double headed axe.
“Young Beards, they just don’t ‘ave the respect for their seniors.” was the curt statement from the elder as he ordered a tankard of brew and sat quietly in the corner.
“What about a story?” was the taunt from one particularly loud and brave young Dwarf.
“A story, I’ll tell ye a story. A tale so rotten it will taint your ale.” replied the old Dwarf. He sipped his ale and began.
"Ye will know that for many years the Star Wraith himself, Aleksander, walked amongst the living flesh of Valon and searched out sources of Wilde Magick and in particular lost or special items for his own ends. One such magical item was a ‘Living Branch of Yew’, which is said to have allowed Aleksander to command the very trees of the forest and even make them march on his enemies.
Later when the Dark Czar was corrupted by the Evil Forces and teachings of the Necromancers, the branch is said to have shrivelled and petrified.
During the Wars with Mordred and the Annulment and decline of Wilde Magick that followed such artefacts, especially those which still held some power, were rare indeed. So rare were they that a number of foolish individuals sought them out on quests across Valon.
“The Living Branch of Yew, once lifelike and filled with natures sap, had withered into the shape of a gnarled and blackened hand upon which nails as sharp as thorns could be found and the twisted wood forming black knuckles, all knotted and raised. Legend renamed it the Black Claw.
“Eventually with the wars in Urop allowing the minions of Aleksander access to places previously held fast by noble folk, the Claw was found by an ambitious Vampire Lord. The Vampire, fearful of his position as a minor lord of the Moskovan court, kept the find hidden from the Dark Czar and always kept the Black Claw close about his person. Despite his weak-will he continued to experiment with the staff in an attempt to discover all of its arcane secrets.
As the months passed the Vampire became more and more obsessed by his experiments and, expedited by rumours that Aleksander had happened upon information of the whereabouts of the branch, a strange and horrific change overcame him. His right hand began to resemble the twisted staff itself and he was forced to wear a velvet glove for the rest of his short existence. A few months later the Czar’s advisor, Razputrovich, was reported to have ‘acquired’ the magical staff and had experimented with it, with similar results. It is said that Razputrovich still wears a glove on his left hand. There is no doubt in my mind that this is due to the strange transmogrification properties of the staff."
Almost as if planned a nearby tree creaked and it's boughs thudded against the White Liar's roof.
"The elderly Dwarf smiled grimly and continued his tale. “Later in the Mordredian Wars the Black Claw was once again lost, however, rumours soon began to emerge that the staff was once again active and, at an emergency gathering of the Dwarven clans, a regiment of hand picked Dwarven Pioneers was raised with the sole aim of finding and destroying the Claw. During this time many reports of the magical artefact filtered back to the Dwarven Councils – but precious few of the reports could be verified and none of them spoke of the weapon’s destruction. Now, years later, the once proud and numerous Dwarven Pioneer Regiment has dwindled to all but a handful of weary survivors. Some of them still search, even now, for the Claw hoping to destroy it.
Some of my Dwarven brethren have had some success though. It is that success that has led to those few Pioneers that remain becoming the target of whatever,” he sipped his ale and met the eyes of every listener, “or whoever, controls the Black Claw.”
The younger Dwarves erupted into a barrage of derogatory comments all targeted at the elderly Dwarven Axeman.
“Do you take us for birthlings, youngsters still clinging to their mother’s skirts? What sort of tale is this?”
At this the old Dwarf shook his head, laughed, took one last swig of his ale and rose to leave.
“Good Morrow to you all”, he said as he left the tavern, pulling his single thick leather glove, which he had not removed, tighter around his left hand.
As he left the inn, the room fell quiet. All that could be heard was the continued scratching of old near dead branches on the windows of the inn.
With a slow dawning realisation the mocking faces of the young Dwarves turned to expressions of cold fear. There are no trees, no branches, anywhere close to The White Liar, what had been causing the noise…
Now it's Your Turn...
This article was originally published on Alternative Armies' content portal, Barking Irons, and is reproduced here with permission.