Tale of a Dead Man

by Rhyana Fisher

(aka why bards shouldn't fall asleep in an rpg chat room)

Come join me for a moment and I'll tell a tale true
of the Artesian Dragonlands and a fellow I once knew.
He earned the nickname DeadMan, listen to learn why.
Yep, it really happened, truth twists weirder than a lie.

Before he became DeadMan, Shadow was his name
The queen's own favored bard he was, a person of some fame.
Chance had brought him to this town on business of his own
But he entertained us with good cheer that eve and away the time had flown.

The performance may have tired him out, I couldn’t rightly say
Altho’ the night was yet quite young with hours left ‘til day
The poor guy keeled over! And that before the fight!
One minute he spoke but in the next his spirit took to flight

We called and called to wake him up, yelling in his ear
You wouldn’t think a bard would be so awful slow to hear
I even offered him dragonwine from my own small personal store
With a thieving dragon in the room! yet all he did was snore...

Werewolves howled next to him upon the plain planked floor
Another on him pounced and jumped a dozen times or more
I could almost feel sorry, for my ribs ached watching it
But then I thought of how much worse it would be if they bit

I found out then, as if to prove my fears were based on fact,
Those wolves had not had dinner yet, they had merely snacked
They were getting hungrier as I more nervous got
While good ol’ Shad slept on and on, oblivious to the plot!

Well nervous is as nervous does--I thought on things a while
‘Til annoyance took the upper hand and I smiled an evil smile
So he’d waltz right in and go to SLEEP?! Our company he did slight
My watch-snake WAS rather hungry, as I’d not fed her all night.

As I stood there caught between extremes, the door then opened wide
And as it shut we saw a great enchanter step inside
He took one look at Shadow, then he turned to us and said,
“Sheesh, here’s your problem people, can’t you tell this man is dead?”

He’s dead? He’s DEAD? He’s REALLY dead? That's when the whole room freaked!
Those who couldn’t rush right out the door through open windows sneaked
I never saw a party die, pardon the pun, so fast
I swear the place was empty before thirty seconds passed

The brave souls yet remaining sat there gawking at the mage
He simply stood there cool and calm while looking wise and sage.
We’d no idea what to do with that dead man, for I fear
None of us had taken up embalming as career.

Perhaps that mage could read our minds, more likely ‘twas our faces
He gave a huge long-suffering sigh and began undoing laces
Pulled out pouches, boxes, packets--laying each upon the table
“I guess I’m stuck with fixing this--You clearly are unable.”

He spoke on quite assuredly, “I’ll breach the seven hells
Never fear, I keep components right on hand for resurrection spells.”
I think that if he had foreseen Shadow would be such trouble
That mage would have raced for the border, his pace more than doubled.

First he steeped the body in a weird smelling herbal brew
Alas! A total loss of the pot for boiling stew
And poor ol' Shad was still just as dead as dead can get
The mage just shrugged as if to say, “The fight has not begun yet!”

Then he crumbled dried leaves over Shad while screeching words of power
When that failed his expression turned more than a little sour
That mage tried every trick he had, used all his herbal store
With no effect, altho’ the body twitched a few times more.

He glared at Shad's dead body then he turned to us again
He mumbled swear words under breath and counted up to ten.
“Ungrateful, stubborn, misborn soul! Your mother was a mule!
Stay dead then, why should I care? You’ve made me look a fool!”

He drowned his trouble in dragonwine ‘til he passed out on the floor
I smiled slyly to myself, for that evened up the score
The dragon and a wolf were the only others in the room
Yes, there was the dead man too, but he’d already met his doom

None of them could use that which I’d spied amongst his things
A harp is rather hard to play if one has claws or wings
‘Twas no mistake, a harp it was, or I’d eat my old felt hat
I’d carried mine for far too long to wrongly I.D. that

Luck had brought me here I thought, for just a few days back
Mine was broke to tiny splinters during an attack
Now if I’d been correctly trained ’tho alas, it had not been,
I’d have known to never satirize a bully and his kin

I snuck a look around the room and all were busy drinking
None were paying me much mind, which gave me time for thinking
A dead man could not use a harp, the plan began to hatch
The post of royal bard was free! Upon that I could latch!

If I said I had apprenticed on, yes, fudged the facts a bit
Wrote a ballad of his death, heroic and with wit
Performed it on his harp to give the illusion it was true,
That post would surely become mine--that dead man couldn’t argue!

I'd've never followed thru on that crazy plan of mine
Had I not fortified myself with several cups of dragonwine
Altho’ so desperate for a harp, as I’ve already said
Stone cold sober, I’d be too afraid to rob one newly dead.

I snatched the case and opened it, as bold as you could please
No one even noticed! It amazed me with its ease
Then again, the others had their attention fixed elsewhere-
Fighting for the last few drops of dragonwine left there

A royal instrument, that harp - it was love at first sight
It glowed like burnished gold amidst the flickering firelight
As if the spirit of each song that it had ever played
Imbued it with high magic that could not completely fade.

Temptation struck too strong for me, ‘tho knowing I should run,
I just had to hear that instrument insanity had won
From the very first notes plucked, it caught me in its spell
Where the hours flew off to, I really couldn't tell

'Twas the best performance of my life and no one heard but me
Despite the lack of audience, my grin was filled with glee
I'd've had to sell my very soul to buy a harp this fine
And here it magikly appeared, by some warped Fate's design.

Warped indeed was that design, for as the sun's first ray
Kissed the farthest edge of earth at the start of a new day
I gazed absentmindedly about, then froze with mouth agape
As I'd been playing in the night--THAT DEAD MAN CAME AWAKE!!!

I don't know how or when he woke or if he'd been there long
He was sitting in the nearest chair, softly singing to my song
As my fingers fumbled to a halt and I turned ghastly pale
The dead man, he looked up and grinned, alive and far too hale

I prob’ly should’ve been afraid, for Shad might have been a ghost
Come to haunt me ‘cuz I thieved his harp and schemed to gain his post
Alas, the truth is that, of all thoughts running through my head,
Giving up the harp, THAT was the one which filled me with most dread

As I gawped he spoke right up, meaning well, I'm sure
“You give a good performance for an untrained amateur
Have you an apprenticeship? T’would be an awful shame
To waste a talent that could bring a fortune and great fame”

How could he know he'd just tromped on my very last frayed nerve?
For I’d searched far and wide to find a master bard to serve
The kind ones had apprentices, the bad ones wanted gold
Poor and orphaned is a tale most prefer remain untold

Had he not already died that eve, he'd've fallen over then
As I glared a hole right through his skull and slow counted to ten
But when my fingers clutched his harp to bash over his head
She shivered in my hand and common sense returned instead

Untrained or not, there's no excuse to harm a well loved harp
I set her gently in her case, my “No” rang icy-sharp
Shoulders slumped in weariness, I grabbed for my bag to run
But ol' Shad had one more trick to pull before he'd had his fun

My nattered pack hung from his hands, t'was his grin filled with glee
“Excellent - you've got no reason not to come with me.”
By boldness thus I gained a place with the king's own crazy bard
Though DeadMan he may be nicknamed now, I won't complain too hard


Author's Note: this would be what first got me into writing poetry back around 1998. yes, it took me this long to finally write an appropriate ending. yes, it's still a rough draft. yes, it really happened...sort of. i did take a few constructive liberties towards the end. eventually it'll get condensed, maybe in another decade or so. all the same, it was fun.

Posted on 08/26/2010
Copyright © 2021 Rhyana Fisher

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