Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from December, 2020.
This story is part of a collection called Shards of Kardpaz, which are texts I’ve written for the world of the Dungeons & Dragons campaigns I run with students at my school.
I. Sprunny, n.
The tavern din surrounds me, an undercurrent for a song I’ve heard before— a hundred times from a hundred bards. They sing and dance the way you do before your love is torn from you. I see her dancing with them— her ghost swaying with the lyre— the way she did before.
II. Celebrous, adj.
Polite applause from drunken patrons after his song ends— the same thing as every other act. Finally, then, they took the stage, shouldering their lyre. A legend ‘mong bards, whose name is known to fill souls with newfound fire. I first saw them perform here years ago on the Hash Brown Tavern stage. The first song they played, they called “Corse Boyfriend,” chilled me to the bone. In their chords, I heard his voice, I saw his eyes, I lost my breath until the last note died to a smattering of applause. I returned each week, to study their hands— to learn the chords to produce his eyes on my own. My bloodstained lyre keeps him from me still.
III. Auguste, n.
Whenever I perform, I stick to standards— the shanties they want from a halfling like me. They laugh and cheer, but I always fear That I, not the story’s fool, am the object of ridicule.
IV. De-Extinction, n.
The last time I held you, there were rocks flying over our heads. The last time I held you, your blood was soaking into my cloak. The last time I held you, they pried you away from me. The last time I was home, I watched you die in my arms. The last time I was home, they chased me to the edge of the forest. The last time I was home, they said my kind isn’t welcome anymore.
V. Briticism, n.
Leaving Mossmeadow meant leaving the winds of Lake Quarx. The capital isn’t far from Mossmeadow, but the way people talk in Arcton took time to understand— some words they use aren’t used the way I’d ever heard them at home. Leaving Mossmeadow meant leaving my son. Walking through the city, I see many families— many children learning the ways of their culture, the foods of their families, the stories of their elders. I think about who is raising him, how much he is missing.
VI. Bigly, adv.
“Coll, you’re up,” says the tavern keeper— an old dwarf whose auburn beard has started graying out. I down my ale to handle my nerves, grab my lyre, head to the stage. “Good evening, I’m Coll Tabe. This is a song I used to sing to my son to teach him about our history back when he was young. This is the story of Maro Lightfoot.” I play so loud the wall shake. I hope they hear me back in Mossmeadow.
VII. Magnalia, n.
The first love of my life was a baker who brought rolls to my family’s inn, and we’d talk ’til the church bell tolled. I asked her to dance in the village square under the setting sun. We were wed nary a year 'fore she died delivering our son. The second love of my life was a farmer who brought gourds to the autumnal market, and I’d buy all that I could afford. We drank one night in public for once, and then they made us run from rocks that flew and broke his skull, and then they took my son. I don’t know why the sky and sea must take them all away from me.
VIII. Slobberknocker, n.
A string breaks. Back on stage. The happy song had traveled with me into the memory, became a lament without my realizing. It’s apparent in the audience’s faces— it is not what they wanted.
IX. Anemious, adj.
It’s nights like this that make me move from city to city— a leaf on a breeze that never lands anywhere.
X. Zero-Sum, adj.
I sulk back to the bar. A fresh pint by my chair. “It’s alright,” the tavern keeper says. “You’re getting better, for sure. In the meantime though, their displeasure in your playing makes them buy more ale, so this one’s on the house.”
XI. Sportingly, adv.
“You really think that? That I’m getting better? It doesn’t really feel that way at all.” I take a swig. “Oh, of course, Coll. Everyone eventually gets better when they put in effort.” I shrug. “You think I was born able to make the best hash browns in all of Kardpaz?” I sigh. “It took me a long time to find the secret to cooking potatoes, Coll; It’s true. “You know, Uku was just like you when they started playing here all those years ago, too.” “What?” “You look up to them right? I saw you scribble notes after they performed ‘Raccoon with a Dagger’ last week— never cared for that raccoon friend of theirs— Anyway, you’re usually here when they perform, and you get so focused until their set’s done, then you start scribbling on whatever you got. It’s pretty obvious.” Dying inside, I clear my throat. “You must be real old, then, Rosti.” I gulp my ale. He laughs, “Older than stone.” He turns, back to work, helping someone a few seats away.
XII. Gee Willikers, int. and adj.
After Rosti leaves, I finish my ale, rest my forehead on the cool rim of my stein. “Hey, uh, Coll, right?” A voice behind me asks. I nod, tilting the stein with my forehead off then back on the counter with a soft tap. “I just wanted to tell you I thought you did well tonight. I’ve head Maro Lightfoot a lot, but never a rendition with so much heart.” Vaguely familiar voice. “Um, thanks. It means a lot.” I turn to shake their hand— a custom in human cities. A kind smile on an elven face the shade of night sky on the summer solstice. A poof of white hair. Uku Silve is standing in front of me. They’re talking to me. Wait. They complimented me?!
XIII. Bokeh, n.
“Wow! Um, thank you! It means so much!” I can’t keep my cool. “Sorry, I just never thought you’d know my name.” “It’s alright, dude. Don’t worry about it.” They gesture at the stool next to mine, “May I?” I nod fast as hummingbird wings. I stammer, “Mind if I ask you a question?” They nod. “Is it true, what they say?” “You’re gonna need to be more specific.” “Is it true you were kicked out of your village?” They sigh, nod slowly. “Yeah. My parents kicked me out as a kid.” “I only ask because I was kicked out of my village, too. And seeing you succeed, hearing your songs, just gave me so much hope.” “Your parents kicked you out too?” “No, it was my dead wife’s parents.” Uku nods, holds up a finger, writes something quickly on a paper, puts it in their cloak pocket. “That sounds difficult. How’d that happen?” “A lot of it’s a blur. They caught me drinking with my partner at the tavern, decided I was not a fit parent for my son, Towhee, took him and ran us out of town.” They shake their head. “Damn. Where’s your partner now?” “Qualen’s dead.”
XIV. Mentionitis, n.
“He died?” “Yeah. He didn’t make it out of Mossmeadow. They threw rocks while chasing us. He got one in the head.” “They killed him?” “Yeah.” “Your dead wife’s parents killed your partner.” “Yes. They didn’t approve of me being with another man. “They never really liked me. I think they blame me for Corvin’s death.” “How’d she die? Wait. That’s rude. You don’t have to answer.” “It’s alright. She died giving birth to Towhee.” “Shit. That’s a lot of trauma for a person. Was all that recent?” “Not really. They ran me out about four years ago; she died ten years before that.”
XV. Pastinate, v.
Uku sits with that for a while. “You’ve had to hold on to all that for a while.” “Mhmm.” I fiddle with my stein handle. “It comes out in what you play. It gives your songs a different hue than when other people play them.” “Is that… good?” “It makes you unique. You got a future, Coll.” They jab my arm. They say they have to travel in the morning, look forward to seeing my next set. They tell me to get in touch the next time I’m in the city, to maybe try checking out the temple of Pelor down the road to see a friend of theirs.
XVI. Sir Roger de Coverley, n.
The last time I met clerics of the god of sun and time, They played their lutes and sang their songs, the equinox was nigh. We halflings love to drink and dance; we let ourselves indulge. The steps are so important that a misstep would repulse. A shift they brought to people’s mind when songs and dances ceased. They looked from o’er their shoulders then, would scowl and glare at me.
XVII. Ruck, n.
I do not sleep. All night, discomfort— I toss and turn, pace around my room in the tavern. I do not sleep. Cannot forget, but should I forgive people who hate me for how I live? I do not sleep. Uku said that they have a friend there; they would not send me into danger. I do not sleep. I hear her last breath, see his blood spill, feel hollowness that cannot be filled. I do not sleep.
XVIII. Meeja, n.
The sun rises— the clerics describe it as Pelor greeting us, reminding us of his grace. The sun rises. I can see it arch over the temple’s bell tower through the window from over the bed’s edge. I’ve heard the praises my whole life— the background of half of our songs. Pelor’s temples always the largest, the most polished. Their clerics travel throughout the kingdom to convert more fanatics. Begrudgingly, I make the decision to get out of bed and go to the temple.
XIX. Hysterology, n.
Above the temple doors, a giant seal of Pelor. Gold, intricate details of His face in the sun. Around the necks of vendors, small symbols of Pelor. Metal pendants on small chains, they grasp and whisper into. Behind the tavern counter, a sun carved into a plaque. Silent and everpresent, always watching from above. Entering Mossmeadow, a yellow sun on red banners. Tall humans in long cloaks want to help, spread the word. In songs they sang to us in school, the sun god saves the day. He feeds the starving, heals the sick, deserves all our praise.
XX. Pronoid, adj.
Even in the early hours of morning, the temple is full of people praying alone, lighting candles, confessing to clerics and priests. Lost in a forest of humans, I look for a cleric to ask about Uku’s friend. I bump into someone, turn to apologize. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” “It’s no problem,” says a cleric, a young human sitting in a floating platform— a chair with no legs. “Are you okay?” “Yes, thanks. Um, actually I’m looking for someone, a cleric.” “Well, I’m that, so can I help?” “I’m looking for someone specific.” “Okay. What’s their name?” “I’m told they go by Applelegs?” “No one goes by- Who sent you here?” “Uh, Uku Silve.” He nods. “Yeah, that sounds like them. You’re looking for me, I’m Elyon.” “Why Applelegs?” “When we met, I used parts of an apple box for my chair.” He taps the side of the floating platform. “I assume they thought it would be a good joke. Which, to be fair, it is. “They and their friends got me this new chair after our, uh, adventure.” “If you don’t mind me asking, why do you have the chair?” “Oh, I can’t use my legs. Never could, but, thank Pelor, I was raised in this temple, so I was well taken care of.”
XXI. Nirl, v.
“I know what that face means,” Elyon nods. “You don’t need to pity me; I get around fine. The way I move through the world may be different from yours, but I am no less of a person. I’m not some charity case to remind you of your privilege either. Had to go through a whole thing with Uku’s friends about it— they were obsessed with trying to ‘fix’ me. “So, can we skip that whole bit?”
XXII. Teh Tarik, n.
“Right, sure. You’re right.” “Good. Why did Uku send you?” Elyon scans the pews. “I’m not entirely sure. They watched me perform at the Hash Brown Tavern last night. We talked afterward, and they said I should stop by the temple to see Applelegs.” “Well, that’s ambiguous,” he chuckles, squints at the stained glass over the temple’s entrance. “Follow me.” He floats away from the pews, down a hallway with fewer people. “Have you eaten?” He asks, opening a door. “Not really,” I say, walking into a cafeteria in the side of the temple. People in rags and bandages sit at tables, huddled around warm mugs. Clerics serve food, sit with them. Elyon gestures at an empty table, floats behind the counter. He returns with two mugs of something I’ve never seen before. He hovers across the table from me, sips from his mug. “Uku usually sends people to me because of their past or ours. So, which did you talk about?”
XXIII. Gorger, n.
I recount everything I told Uku about my past. Elyon nods; sips from his mug; loses attention, gets tense when an older man enters the cafeteria. His robe adorned with thick metal chains, a staff in hand topped with an intricate carving of Pelor. A priest.
XXIV. Futzing, n.
Elyon clears his throat. “Ah. I think I understand now.” He places his mug down, eyes it, rotates it slightly with his thumb and middle finger, aligns his napkin by it with his index and ring fingers. He holds his hand up in a fist, analyzes his arrangement, nods. “You’re stuck. Uku probably thought I could help you get unstuck. Follow me.” He floats over to and up a spiral staircase at the end of the cafeteria. I follow him. “Stuck?” “You haven’t noticed how much you talk about their deaths? Your loss?” I pause. “It’s normal thing to struggle with; I’m not saying you should shrug it off— just that I think I can help.” I nod. “What happened to your family? Your parents?” “They’re still in Mossmeadow. Why?” “That’s lucky. Traditionally, people have their parents as a support structure.” “They didn’t really try to help me when shi- things went down.” “Oh. Should’ve seen that coming.” He sighs. “I never got to meet my mom, so I kinda idealize parents— assume the best in them— I guess.” “You never met her?” “No. She, um, also died in childbirth. Delivering me, actually.” “Oh. I think I understand why Uku sent me here now, too.” My thighs start to ache. “How much further are we going?” “Oh, right. Here.” The stairs arrive at a platform. “That was convenient,” I gasp, bend over to stretch my legs. “Well, it’s a magic staircase. It pops you to whatever floor you want.” “What? You could’ve done that the whole time?” “Yeah, but we were in the middle of a conversation. It would’ve broken the rhythm.”
XXV. Jough, n.
Elyon takes me to his room, an entire wall covered in bookshelves. “First things first,” he gestures at the shelves, “please don’t touch any of the books without asking first. The last time someone was here, they knocked over the shelves and I had to spend hours putting everything back where it belongs.” He sighs, “It was Uku’s friends.” I hold my hands up. “Not a problem.” The door creaks behind me. “Morning, Elyon.” The priest is outside the doorway, a mug in hand. He takes a sip. Elyon turns around quickly, lowers his head. “Morning, Father.” “I trust you’re showing your,” he looks at me, “guest the best hospitality?” “Yes, sir. Absolutely, sir.” “This won’t impede your duties in the temple, I gather?” “No, sir. I will complete all my tasks, sir.” “Very good. Have a Blessed day, Elyon, Elyon’s guest.” He turns. His steps echo from the staircase going upward. Elyon releases a breath. “You alright?” I ask. “Yeah, yeah. Everything’s okay.” “That guy seems intense.” “He can be, but he had his morning drink, and, well, he can be better whe— well, it’s a balance.” “You live and work here with a guy like that? A guy you tense up around all the time?” “Well, yeah. He’s the high priest. He raised me. He took me in when I was a baby.” “He doesn’t seems to... like you at all?” “He’s just stern, you know how religious people steeped in tradition can be.” I hear rocks bouncing off tree trunks, breaking Qualen's skull. “Uh, yeah. I guess. That doesn’t mean you need to put up with them though.” “Coll, the sun shines on all people regardless of who they are, what they do or think,” he pauses, “or who they love. “The people who killed your partner do not represent Pelor or His will. They are hurt people who hide behind His name. “I hope you would not lump us all together.”
XXVI. Howzit, int.
I’m quiet, imagining different timelines— where I return and they welcome me, where they never ran me out, where I return and they reject me, where Qualen didn’t die. “You alright?” Elyon asks, putting a hand on my shoulder. Back in the present. “Um, yeah. I’m alright. I just- I can’t just-“ Elyon nods, clasps his hands in his lap. “How can I just forget and forgive everything? How is that a reasonable thing for a person to do?” He bites his cheek, looks over at the bookshelves. “Some say being in the shadows is a choice a person makes. Pelor shines on all land, all people, indiscriminately. His light will hit anyone who wants it— it is a choice to go into the shadows, a choice to stay there, a choice to avoid His light. “He cannot keep you warm all the time; He must attend to the needs of all people, of course. But night ends, and His light and warmth returns— if you choose to embrace it.” “Are you saying I’m choosing to be upset at Qualen’s murder? At Towhee being taken from me?” “Of course not, Coll. You should be upset. Anyone would be. Avoiding to grow or move from it is a choice though. What you do with the hand you’re dealt is a choice. “No one can steer your life but you.”
XVII. Zeroth, adj.
“I get that Pelor has done a lot for you, and you have lived in His service your whole life, but leaning on some dude in the sky can’t be your only plan! “To assume everything will work out comes from a place of privilege, Elyon. You’ve had a safety net your whole life that will catch you if you fall too far, too fast. “I don’t have that! I’ve been on my own for years! If I fall, I hit god damn ground!”
XXVIII. Throgmorton Street, n.
“I hear you,” Elyon says, grabs a book off the shelf, offers it to me. “Make yourself a net then.” I take the book, open the cover. “You want me to have this?” “You can get it back to me when you’re done with it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have chores to do.” I thank Elyon for his time and the book, leave the temple, then find a bench to sit. The book is Elyon’s journal from the time he spent with Uku and their friends. I read listening to the din of the market.
XXIX. Radiatore, n.
I eat dinner at the Hash Brown Tavern, Elyon’s journal by my pint on the bar. Closed, fully read, his story echoes in my head. Rosti waves a hand in my face. “You there, Coll?” I shake my head, rub my eyes. “Yeah. Yes.” He places a plate by the book. “The daily special.” “Thank you,” I say. He knocks twice on the bar, moves on to someone else. I stare at the plate. Looks like a pile of open ribcages in a pool of blood. A vision? The past? The future? What am I to do now?
XXX. Acheronian, adj.
“Coll, you’re up,” says the tavern keeper. I down my ale, grab my lyre, head to the stage. “Good evening, I’m Coll Tabe. This is... a song.” An improvisation: your boat’s in a river shrouded in smoke out to deliver your soul down below you look up t’ward the sky trying to find anything warm to dry your drowning mind he greets you with eyes black deep as coal mines you’d seen them before back in empty steins shattered skulls on cave walls painted in blood of everyone in your life who made you feel loved shattered skulls on cave walls painted in blood of everyone in your life who made you feel loved
XXXI. Bicky, n.
Silence after the last note dies, but I don’t mind. There’s an old elf in the back with misty eyes. I go to the temple of Pelor in the morning to drop off Elyon’s journal with a cleric. I go back to the tavern to say goodbye, and Rosti is cleaning the bar, removing steins. He looks up when I enter, signals me o’er offers a bread wrapped in cloth. “One for the road.” Leave the tavern and realize where I should go. Need control of my story. I’m going home.