Chapter One: Wherein I do not steal a pie, but pay a price nonetheless.
There was a pie. There was a pie cooling on the window ledge. Steam was rising up into the frosty air, illuminated by the flickering candlelight coming from within the building. Is there a more welcoming sight? Is there a more welcoming sight for a traveler from a far land, trudging through the cold, dark forest on a cold, dark night, waist deep in snow, frozen to the bone, than the sight of a pie cooling on the window ledge with steam rising up into the frosty air? You don’t have to wonder. I can tell you. There is no more welcoming sight than such a pie. On this night there were sights and sounds and smells, all nearly as welcoming, and they were arrayed around this particular pie like the elements of a fine meal might be arrayed around a very nicely roasted chicken breast. Candlelight flickering through the shutters casting shadows on the snow, smoke rising from the chimneys in a quaint small town, the smell of burning wood and the smell horses just overpowering the smell of pine, the sounds of men and women singing; all welcoming but not as welcoming as pie. I was as happy to see that pie as I was to see the little town in which it cooled on the window ledge.
I should stop and introduce myself. I am Eaglethorpe Buxton, famed world traveler and storyteller. Of course you have heard of me, for my tales of the great heroes and their adventures have been repeated far and wide across the land. Yes, I am sad to say that many of my stories have been told without the benefit of my name being attached to them. This is unfortunate as my appellation, which is to say the name of Buxton and of Eaglethorpe would add a certain something to the verisimilitude of a story, which is to say the truthfulness or the believability of the story. But such is the jealousy of other storytellers that they cannot bear to have my name overshadow theirs. In truth I am probably better known in any case as an adventurer in my own right than as a teller of the adventures of others. But in any case, there was a pie.
I had been traveling for days through the snowy forests of Brest, which of course one might associate with a nicely roasted breast of chicken, but that is not necessarily the case. To be sure I have had one or two nicely roasted chickens during my travels in this dark, cold country, as I traveled from one little hamlet to the next. I would say though that I’ve eaten far more mutton and beef stew than roasted chicken breast. I suppose this has to do with the fact that eggs are dear, though I’ve seldom found an inn that didn’t offer a scrambled egg on porridge of morning. In fact, in distant Aerithraine, where I was once privileged to spend a fortnight with the Queen, I have had some of the finest breast of chicken dinners that any man has ever enjoyed. But notwithstanding this, there was a pie.
I had trudged through the snow for days, forced to lead my poor horse Hysteria who had taken lame with a stone, through drifts as high as my belt. So I was cold and I was tired. More than this though, I was hungry. And above the smell of pine and frost and people and horses and smoke, there was the smell of that pie. It smelled so very good. It smelled of warmth and happiness and home and my dear old mother. It was a pie for the ages.
I would not steal a pie. I did not steal this pie. Though I have been most unfairly accused of being a thief on one or two or sixteen occasions, I have never been convicted of such a heinous crime, except in Theen where the courts are most unfairly in control of the guilds, and in Breeria which is ruled by a tyrant, and one time in Aerithraine when the witnesses were all liars. So as you can see, I am not one to steal a pie. But being concerned that the pie might be getting too cold, I reached up to check the temperature. It was at this moment that I was laid upon by at least two pairs of rough hands.
“This is a fine welcome for a stranger to your town,” said I.
They called me varlet and scoundrel and dastard and pie thief and tossed me bodily into the confines of a small shack just out behind the structure in which the pie had rested on the window ledge. I looked around in the darkness. It was not true darkness to be sure, because the shack was poorly put together, with wide gaps through which the cold and frosty air entered with impunity. It struck me immediately that it would not be too hard work to bust out of this prison, but I waited and put my eye to one of the cracks to see if my attackers had left and to see if I could spot what they intended for Hysteria my valiant steed, which is to say my horse.
The two ruffians who had attacked me were making their way back to the front of the nearest building and just beyond them I could see one short fellow attempting to lead Hysteria away, though she tossed her head unhappily and pulled at the reigns. I sighed, and could see the steam from my breath forming a little cloud just beyond the confines of the little shack.
“So,” said a small voice, and I turned to peer into the darkened corner of the shack. “They have caught another pie thief.”