Whispers of Promises

Fan Content

Written on 2018-07-31 by Laurent Duhamel

"You have a lot of guts to summon me like this, lady" the Redcap's grinding voice echoed through the dimly lit room.

Two Trolls, twins by the similitude of their faces and the almost eerie synchronism of their words and actions, had brought Bartok here. Their timing had been perfect: No one is truly able to defend themselves, against two Trolls no less, while they're answering nature's call in a public restroom. The Redcap liked fighting, but he liked picking fights he could potentially win a whole lot more. Both victory and escape seemed improbable prospects at the time, and so with a grin and mocking reverence (he hadn't fully pulled up his pants and they clownishly fell to the ground, accompanying his exaggerated gesture) he had agreed to follow the Trolls outside of the subway station into a dark alley and then a flight of stairs behind a building leading to a basement under a strip club.

And so there he sat in a chair that smelled of cheap cologne and photo development liquid. Across an uneven pool table, barely visible as if the very shadows in the room aimed to conceal her as best they could, an elongated and feminine figure stood.

"A thousand pardons, Sir Bartok" the figure spoke in a barely audible whisper. "Sluagh", Bartok thought immediately. She had used his title, which most only did ironically and very few took seriously, since the story circulated that he had not wanted it.

"I am afraid such dispositions were necessary to make sure we were able to meet alone and in secret." She tossed a small linen bag on the table. One of the Trolls reached out to pick it up, opened it, but his eyes stayed on Bartok while the other Troll looked inside. Without any signs of even subtle communication between the two and no acknowledgement to what appeared to have been their employer, they left rather rapidly. The Redcap couldn't help but relax a bit. If things got nasty, he now had better chances of choosing what to do and be successful at it.

But that these two Trolls had been hired to bring him here, knowing where to find him and when to pick him up without too much fuss (or without Lisette around to even the odds) did stimulate a curiosity in him. Curiosity, to the Redcap, was another face of Hunger.

Hunger which now had to be satisfied.

"Secret? This might turn out to be quite the interesting afternoon after all… do go on." He grinned.

His grin was returned, he felt, without him being able to really see his host's face except for the two pale blue glowing dots of her eyes piercing trough the dark. She walked to the side of one of the tables and produced a bottle of scotch, seemingly out of nowhere, and two glasses that each had two ice cubes in them. She opened the bottle and elegantly filled the glasses.

Bartok's eyes narrowed. That he was offered a drink, his favorite one at that, was proof that the woman had done her research… but to what extent? Did she know what had to be done next? Did she understand what needed to happen for the conversation to continue in a constructive manner?

Without offering the Redcap one of the glasses, she downed hers in a single motion, filled it up again, and only then offered Bartok his glass.

She knew the code. Good. Either someone that had been instructed in it had trusted her enough to impart it to her or she had been talented enough to find it on her own.

"Impressive", Bartok said, the false courtesy of his previous words gone. He took a sip from the glass he had just taken from his host. Not the greatest scotch he had ever tasted, but it was passable. The gesture was what mattered here.

"I wanted the introductions to be as close as possible to what is required. If I have offended you or made a mistake that would taint the rest of this exchange, I am deeply sorry and hope you will give me a chance to redeem myself.", she said, bowing her head and doing a small and gracious curtsy.

Bartok looked away for a moment. The Sluagh seemed sincere enough, but there was a vibration to her delivery that betrayed a certain urgency. In other circumstances, Bartok would've charged in, taken control of the conversation from the get go, dictate momentum in order to make sure he would be on top of things, whatever things may be. But there was something at work here that intrigued him… plus he wasn't accustomed to be spoken to as elegantly as this.

"You're doing fine. So far." He winked. "What do you want with me?"

"I want to join." She said almost too fast, as if the words wanted to escape her mouth with all haste.

"Join?" Bartok half-whispered, eyebrow raised.

"JOIN?" He said again, his monstrous mouth over-enunciating the word. His host stepped back two paces.

The Redcap then threw back his head in a roar of a laugh that would've made any Disney villain instantly jealous (and possibly a bit aroused).

And then in a fragment of an instant, as with a strike of lightning, he was up, his chair overturned on the ground, quickly closing the distance between himself and the Sluagh. Fangs out, eyes glowing, his anger at the notion that one could simply walk up to him and ask to join the Merry Motley blinding him to the fact that the girl standing, recoiling and shaking in front of him was barely twenty and now terrified out of her mind.

"Join… do you know what it is, exactly, that you ask, you silly, silly girl?"

"I… I…" her bravery had to be noticed and somewhat admired here. Redcaps can and will intimidate anyone… and anything, scare furniture into dusting themselves and terrorize the bravest knight into sobbing apologies. And there she was, stuck in this dark room with a nightmare yelling at her, and she didn't flee and even summon the willpower to stutter a response?

Perhaps there was potential here.

She continued, clearly conjuring up any courage she could: "I… know what your motley stands for. I'm… I'm tired of the game. The politics, the abuses… I want things to change. I've tried to figure out how… and without lying to myself, which I have done enough, I can't figure out a way other than… "

"Casting your lot with outlaws? Leaving everything behind? Title, privileges and power? Being hunted constantly by righteous do-gooders and black-hearted tyrants alike? Did you think about the basics… at all?"

She blinked, eyes fixed on him.

"ANSWER ME"

Her long black-blue hair moved backwards as if pushed by a sudden wind shift.

"I… no. I didn't. I'll be honest. I just want… out", she answered as commanded with a shaky voice and knees.

"Out. Out? Out of what? What house are you a part of?", he asked.

" … Liam" she answered, looking away.

"HA!" he almost spat. "And a Seelie house at that! Well well well! Figures a fucking Liam would want to break oaths and allegiances alike. You want to leave your house and yet it's almost… conditioning! Taking clichés too far, perhaps, eh?", he grinned maliciously "Who put you up to this?! If you think it hasn't been attempted before, you got another thing coming, you whisperin’ twig!".

There was something odd about his speech pattern. On one hand, he was vulgar and graphic, on the other, eloquent and flamboyant. He was ugly as sin, especially that large scar across his throat, but it was as if the sound he was capable of producing was obscuring the monstrosity of his appearance.

She swallowed noisily. "Although some would find it clever to try and infiltrate your ranks to later claim that large bounty on all your heads, I assure you, Sir, that it is not my intent, nor have I been motivated by other parties to ask this of you."

He backed off a bit, picked up the bottle of scotch from the shelf on which it had been left, opened it quickly and drank about half of it in one gulp. "What's your name?", he half-whispered the question before wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He had been angry too when Francine had asked to join a few months back. The original four that they were made the choice they made because they were forced by circumstance to make that choice, they felt. Francine had wanted to join because she too had seen her life destroyed. The motley felt responsible. They had saved her son from a chimerical monster, yes, but now the son in question was being used as bait, Francine's life completely destroyed almost overnight: Divorce, lost custody of her son, then evicted… she had nothing left and wanted to make things right for herself.

"Bernadette", the Sluagh answered.

He sighed. If Lisette were here, she'd tell him to play nice and fair, to listen to the girl… to take a chance. Like he had done with her that time.

"Alright… Bernadette … let's say there were a… position… available, in our motley, for you. What do you bring to the table?"

"Well I'm pretty good at-"

She stopped short as he suddenly stepped forward.

"I'm going to tell you what you bring to the table: a whole bunch of a mess, I'll bet. No one goes outlaw for ideals and dreams except the criminally insane. You have problems that you either want to escape or want your new outlaw buddies to fix. That it, sweetheart? We've heard it all before. Spit it out. It's alright. Let it aaaaaaall out. Worse thing that can happen at this point is that I'm right and not surprised at all."

Bernadette's eyes went left and right as she was struggling to find the right words for the situation.

"Come on, little girl. Don't be shy. I'm not the boogieman… I'm the monster who the boogieman is scared of. Who's your boogieman?"

She stuttered, as if an unknown time limit was drawing to a close.

"WHO"

"IS"

"YOUR"

"BOOGIEMAN"

With it each word, it seemed the room was shaken by an earthquake.

"I KNOW HOW TO GET BOBBY!" She finally yelled (as much as Sluagh can yell, really), eyes closed, arms risen in front of her face.

A moment went by, she risked opening an eye, then two. Bartok was back on his stool, lighting a cigarette, a wide grin on his face. And to Bernadette's amazement, they weren't alone in the room anymore. They were all there. The Merry Motley. Lisette the Pooka, the Queen of Fudge, Pooka Pan, playing hopscotch in the middle of the room. Lady Cassandra the Crimson, arms crossed, her tall and muscular troll form crouched in a corner of the room, head bent to the side in order to fit in. Longstride, the Smiling Prince, eyes full of stars as eshu sometimes have, a bit of sand on his great blue robes, looking through the alcohol bottles on the shelf. And finally, Francine, the Vengeful Mother, the most recent member of the troupe, hands on her hips, looking at her intensely.

It was again Bartok who spoke in that monstrous voice.

"Why didn't you say so before? Sit down, Bernie, we're gonna have a nice chat."

A few weeks later, the stairs in front of a court house

Cassandra's pacing like a caged animal. Francine's in Lisette arms, crying. Bernadette is a ways away, just standing there, eyes looking at nothing, in complete shock. And I… well I really thought we had a shot. There was only one way to get Francine’s son back in her custody, and that was playing the human legal game. Longstride comes down the stairs straight at me. I know that face. When Longstride isn’t smiling, it’s always a bad sign.

“They stacked the deck” he says, almost out of breath.

Of course they did. It’s the why that, if I’m right about this, pisses me off.

“I saw at least two kithain in there, they tried to evade my sight but I’m absolutely certain glamour was used too” the Eshu continues, looking away.

I should’ve known. But we can’t stop trying the “correct” way. This could’ve worked. It should’ve worked. Bernadette’s legal contacts are solid, and the girl can work a computer better than anyone I know.

Fucking Sidhe. Goddamn fucking Sidhe. Capricious, arrogant, self-absorbed hobgoblins the lot of them. Francine could’ve had visitation rights, at the very least… but no. Of course not. She asked us to save her kid from very real danger. We did. We did because it was the right thing to do. We didn’t ask anything in return.

Hell, I had a great lunch too, that time.

Ah yes… there it is. That’s what our enemies wanted all along. There’s a snake of a thought slithering through my brain… a very familiar one. Lisette almost immediately looks my way, as if she could read my mind.

She can’t.

She can read my heart though.

It’s not my fault. I’m not responsible for these nobles’ power trip. They’re fucking with Francine’s life to get to us, to set an example. Associate with rebels and we take everything you have, including family, away. What happens when Bobby chrysalises? Suburban dad takes care of it?

What if the kid does indeed chrysalises and become a Troll? A Pooka? A Sluagh?

Fuck… what if he… what if he… what if he becomes a Redcap?

I don’t know how these things work… what if, because I was there, because I did what I did to save him… what if that somehow left an… aura or something… and he… he…

I can feel it. Hunger. It rises inside of me. I want to fight. I want to hurt. I want to bleed. I want to destroy everything. That trashcan is getting kicked, for a start, and then I’m gonna take it and smash that car’s windshield over there. And then someone’s gonna want to stop me. There’s always someone. And then I’m gonna punch that someone in the face.

Yeah.

YEAH THAT’S IT.

I’M GONNA EAT SOMEONE’S FACE OFF.

A big red hand slaps me on the shoulder and then grips it tight.

I turn around, my face all monstrous.

Cassandra’s never been scared of me. Or at least she’s never showed it. She doesn’t have to say a word, her eyes do most of the talking in any circumstance anyway. The Hunger remains… but I work hard at shifting its focus. Hopefully it works for us again.

First things first: we take care of Francine. She’s one of us now, they made her one of us. That and someone passed the ultimate test to join The Merry Motley. I walk over to Bernadette.

She almost jumps when she realizes I’m standing next to her.

“Sir Bartok I’m sorry… I was so sure that…” she whispers.

“Drop the Sir. You’re one of us now” I say.

She looks at me like a confused puppy, blinking.

“You have acquired the final requirement to join”

“What’s that?”

I smile sadly and take her hands in mine.

“You gave it your all, everything that you had, with all your talent and a lot of heart… and you failed. That’s what it takes to be one of us. That knowledge. That’s its possible to loose even if you gave it your best.”

She starts crying softly and buries her face against my shoulder.

“It’s alright. That allows you to get to the next part, which is just as important as the first one.”

She looks up at me. I smile.

“Trying again.”


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