World Building: Mythic Figures

“Gareth Killkenny is the King of Thieves,” said Mumford with a satisfied smile. “He can spot a fellow thief at a hundred paces, charm the underclothes off a Foresworn Sister, and he once fooled the All-King into believing he had a long lost twin brother.” 

“Well I heard,” said Nyavel, mimicking the old man’s gruff voice, “That Gareth Killkenny once hid in a guard’s own shadow, that he stole a maiden’s voice, and that he wears a cape woven from the silk of a caterpillar only found in childrens’ dreams.”

“Aye,” said Mumford. “I’ve heard similar.”

“What?” asked Nyavel. “No you haven’t. I just made all that stuff up.”

“Aye,” replied Mumford, “But it’s true all the same.”

Quiet Paddrick and I sat back and watched the two of them go at it. It was the fifth week of our journey, and Mumford had slowly been ramping up his stories as time went one. The spats between him and Nyavel were, for the most part, good-natured, and had become part of their nightly ritual before Mumford would finally be allowed to get on with the meat of the story.

“Anyway,” said Mumford when their argument had reached its conclusion with a disgruntled snort from Nyavel. “I’d not yet finished the list of his accomplishments, else I would have gotten to those. Gareth Killkenny talked a dragon out of three centuries of accumulated wealth in the span of ten minutes. It’s said that he can throw a dagger so precisely that he once cleaved a mountain in half by hitting just the right spot. He can fall from any height and land safely, and he once held his breath for eighteen hours while clinging to the underside of a trade galleon as part of some mad scheme.” This continued on for some time, and we thought nothing of it, just another of Mumford’s wild stories.

It wasn’t until years later that I met the man himself. The guards announced he’d been jailed, and he’d asked for me as confessor, due to in part to my combination of high status and low birth. He was a pitiful creature, dressed in rags and much older than I’d imagined. We spoke for some time, and he had some explanations for some of the stories, while others he claimed were fabrications. He’d stolen a maiden’s voice by poisoning her and ransoming the antidote. He’d spent five hours underneath a ship, in a net and breathing through a tube, which he described as the most miserable experience of his life.

“How did you come to be like this?” I asked.

“I stole from the wrong man,” he replied.

“Who?” I asked. “The king?”

Gareth laughed. “No,” he said. “I stole a man’s youth.”

“How?” I asked, though I thought I knew the answer.

“Trickery and legerdemain,” he said, “Now he lies rotting in a cold cell, no children, no wife, and nothing to show for a lifetime of thievery.”

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