“They called me ‘The Vulture’. Wherever there was a battle in this godforsaken world then I was sure to be there. I had been a soldier in the King’s army, but then I became a mercenary, a sword for hire. I followed the smell of blood and I gloried in killing. The money was useful—whores, drink, more weapons—such things must be paid for. But I didn’t do it for the money.
“I did it for love.
“I would like to say that this is my story, but I am a modest, and an honest man, so in truth this tale is a window into a world, which is open for a short time before the wind blows it in. You, my gentle reader, are lucky not to pass into the world beyond that window—it would be like coming face to face with evil itself.”
For the Vulture a winged messenger is only the beginning of a nightmare that he hoped would never haunt him again. But his past has caught up with him and he must pay for his crimes.
Vulture Returns is the first of a series of short stories entitled Ten Tasks for the Vulture.
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They called me ‘The Vulture’. Wherever there was a battle in this godforsaken world then I was sure to be there. I had been a soldier in the King’s army, but then I became a mercenary, a sword for hire. I followed the smell of blood and I gloried in killing. The money was useful—whores, drink, more weapons—such things must be paid for. But I didn’t do it for the money.
I did it for love.
I would like to say that this is my story, but I am a modest, and an honest man, so in truth this tale is a window into a world, which is open for a short time before the wind blows it in. You, my gentle reader, are lucky not to pass into the world beyond that window—it would be like coming face to face with evil itself.
Realh Dorn was a country always at war. When it couldn’t find a neighbour to fight then its inhabitants fought amongst themselves. Names of wars such as the Eight, the Twenty, the Fifteen Years Wars had no meaning in a country like Realh Dorn. There was, long ago, a time known as the Seven Month Truce, but many people now consider that to be a tale told by old women to scare young children.
Even I found the number of battles in Realh Dorn tiresome, so in the summer of the Year of our Denial (Y.D.) 568, I decided to take a leave of absence from Realh Dorn, where I had been reaving, killing, pillaging, burning, and ravaging for three years without a break. I was tired and I needed to rest. My arm was tired. I think I had developed a sprain in it. The physician I spoke to before I burned down his house told me that the tendons in it were strained from overuse caused by the repetition of certain movements of the arm in a continuous fashion. I think he meant that I had been killing too much with my sword, and perhaps he hoped that I would save him. He was old and I respect the opinion of my elders, so I did listen to him. Instead of my sword I gutted him with a dagger that I had in my left hand. His wife and daughters were none too happy to see how I repaid him for his consultation. So they paid as well with their lives. I treated them well though. I killed them quickly and without pain, and I raped none of them. The so called regular troops of the King’s army would have treated them worse. They would have screwed their brains out and left them cut and bleeding for thieves and wolves to pick over. I may be called The Vulture, but I don’t like to pick over carrion.
I spent the summer in the mountains of Sevethlen, away from the heat of the plain. I had found myself an empty shepherd’s hut, with access to a stream, hunting, and a village not far away where I could buy bread and a little wine. I could walk in the mountains, watch the clouds roll in and raptors circle on the air currents. In the evening I would play my pipe and sink into a contented sleep when the sun went down.
So I was surprised when one day the birds I was watching suddenly stopped their graceful circling. They flapped their heavy wings in what I thought seemed like fright, desperate to be away. And then I saw what they were afraid of. It wasn’t a bird. A flying lizard you might call it. No bigger than a hawk but I presume with an evil reputation amongst the avian community. It was flying straight for me. I could see its long head looking this way and that and it’s long pointed mouth of razor sharp teeth opening and closing as if talking to itself. And then it spotted me where I stood outside my hut. I started to move back carefully, not wanting to fall over a rock, but not prepared to take my eyes off it either. I was nearly at the doorway of my hut when the thing was with me. I raised my arm to protect myself, but I needn’t have been afraid. All that happened was that I heard the heavy leathery sound of flapping wings and the thing was over me and had flown past. I looked to see if it was coming back, but it was already flying high up the slope of the mountain, and I soon lost sight of it against the grey rocks of the high cliff-face. I wondered if it nested there. I had never seen one of these creatures before, although I had heard tell of them. Some men said that the royalty of Realh Dorn and other nations in Westent kept the things as pets, and would hunt with them for amusement, although I had never seen evidence of such a thing.
I was about to enter my hut, to fetch my stick and water-bottle as I was thinking of taking a walk up the mountainside to see if I could spot the beast again, when I saw, directly at my feet a wooden tube, no bigger than my hand. I knelt and opened the tube, which was tied with red ribbon at one end. A small folded piece of parchment was coiled tightly inside the tube. I pulled it out eventually (my fingers are not made for nimble work) and unfolded the item. It was a letter, and it was addressed to me.