Taken from my collection, Tales from Norlandia, here’s a story with a touch of the mystical about it.
A collection of Steampunk short stories from the world of Norlandia, the setting for Richard Dee’s novels The Rocks of Aserol, A New Life in Ventis and The Sensaurum and the Lexis.
Find out how the Ladies who Lunch changed their world and the truth about Drogans.
Learn how steam powers the country, what to do in a balloon and how a bald man made a scientist think again.
Or what can happen on a train journey, how to drive an Exo-Man, the magic in a charm and so much more.
“These fast-paced, beautifully described, edgy steampunk stories will keep you on the edge of your seat until the last page!
What can I say except that I loved it?”
His name was Wylde.
Just Wylde, there was no need of another. Everyone knew who was referred to – the most famous man in all of Norlandia. Ladies flushed at the name, men aspired to be compared to him and young boys played games based on his exploits. And they were legion. Yet the most important tale: where did he come from and how did he defy the odds, was unknown.
He was Wylde; together with his band of explorers, he was the discoverer of foreign lands, friend of the savage and the man who had introduced the civilised world of Norlandia to the delight of those two marvellous beans, cofé, and cacao. The first Norlandian man to traverse the mighty rivers of the Spice-lands, first to the summit of the highest unnamed peaks of the West; the list of firsts was enough to fill a news-sheet.
He had cheated death so many times that it was almost unbelievable. And that was before you counted his inventions, the myriad of clockwork and steam-powered devices that had made life more bearable for citizens everywhere. You had only to suggest a problem to Wylde, next day he would give you a solution.
“Ask Wylde” became a common saying when any difficulty presented, anywhere in the land.
Wylde reclined in a chair at his club; he had finished a delicious luncheon, washed down with the finest wines of Omnipa. Servants cleared the detritus from his napery and left the bottle of spirit close to his hand.
He was tired, so tired. His hand went automatically to the charm around his neck and he felt its rough shape. He knew it was the sole reason for his success, the tale could never be told but it was better than any of his exploits.
He had been born Eintil Wild, a child with aspirations. His father was long gone and his mother kept him close to her and away from what she saw as the dangers of the world, in her mind, they were lurking around every corner. Perhaps because of that, he dreamed of adventure, of one day making his mark.
Then one summer’s day, a man had come to his village, a stranger, old and frail, worn out by life. Sitting himself beside the village pump, he held court for the children, and Wild, when he could slip away from his mother’s shadow, was there to hang on his words.
“Once I had nothing but what I stood in,” the man said, his voice high pitched and quivering with age. “Yet I made my mark on the world. It was I who invented the steam press and the friction motor.”
The children’s eyes grew like saucers; these were two of the marvels that had propelled Norlandia on its path to being the greatest of nations. The Steam-press had revolutionised manufacturing, with its ability to produce multiple exact copies of any shape in sheets of metal. The friction motor enabled mechanised transport, propulsion without equines, which some folk still saw as little more than magic. And the very man was in their village! Wild could not wait to get home and tell his mother.
His mother scoffed, “preposterous!” she exclaimed, “the man’s a trickster, you keep away from him Eintil, him and his tales.”
But Wild could not stay away, the man exuded some sort of attraction on the children. He sat every day with the rest as the man showed them the things in his possession, treasures from all corners of the world. He passed them around for inspection. Each one had a tale, and each was more exciting than the last. There were Drogan claws and rare shells from far lands, medals from foreign rulers for services rendered, lumps of gold and shining diamonds.
Then, one morning, Eintil found himself alone with the man, his tired eyes bored into the youngster.
“What do you desire, boy?” he asked.
“Please, sir, I want to explore and be famous,” Eintil replied.
The stranger reached under his shirt with his aged-spotted hand and pulled out a small object, a charm of some sort, attached to a fine chain.
“I have had more than enough of this,” he said. “It has worn me out and I think that it wishes to belong to another. Take it, keep it around your neck, whatever you wish for, it will be so.”
The other children appeared. “Tell no one,” he warned as they clustered around. Wild put the charm in his pocket and kept his hand over it.
The tales that day were not as exciting, perhaps the children had tired of them, Eintil’s mother came and dragged him away in the afternoon, much to his embarrassment.
That night, in his bed, Eintil took the charm from his pocket and pulled it over his head. “I wish I were a famous explorer,” he whispered. Was it imagination or did the charm shake against his chest and feel warm? “And I wish that my mother would not make me look stupid in front of the others,” he added.
The next morning, he was awake before his mother had stirred, which was unusual. He ventured into the village to see if the stranger was still in residence. As he approached the pump he saw a crowd. The village’s Watchman was bent over a shape and Eintil realised that it was the stranger. The Watchman stood. “The man is dead,” he announced.
The crowd muttered; the sound like rustling leaves. Again Eintil felt the charm move.
That very day, without returning home, he left the village. No one saw him go as he ventured into the world. He changed his name, he was no longer Eintil Wild, he was simply Wylde, the name had come to him while he slept, he felt that it implied a reputation and suited him better, now that he had a purpose.
The following years had been busy and he had achieved fame and fortune. Everything that he had wished for had come to pass. He knew now that it was the work of the stranger’s charm; that had been confirmed on one of his travels.
He was sitting in a native village in the Western Isles and the elders had suddenly fallen to their knees before him.
Wylde was confused, he knew these people, yet they had never behaved like this before.
In the native tongue he had acquired overnight just by wishing it, Wylde said, “Lhank’i, I do not understand, why do you all bow to me.”
There was silence, the elders kept their heads bowed. Only the headman rose to his feet.
“Where did you get this thing?” Lhank’i asked, pointing at the charm, which had become visible as he leant forward.
“A man gave it to me.”
Lhank’i looked at him with sad eyes. “And did he tell you all of it?”
Wylde was puzzled, what more did there need to be? He had whatever he wanted. Wasn’t that enough?
“If you take the power of the Magrit,” the old man said, his face twisted into a grim smile. “You must never remove it, or rest from your labours once you have set a purpose. If you do, you will die, as sure as the suns rise.”
Wylde laughed. “Superstition,” he scoffed. But his mind went back to the figure by the pump, his worn-out body and his words.
Lhank’i shook his head. “You may think you are civilised but you know nothing, if you receive its power you must also accept its control. It will exhaust you until you want no more of it.”
Wylde had never forgotten the conversation and had never removed the charm, nor had he allowed himself to relax for long.
A steward woke him from his reverie. “Beg pardon, Wylde; a man is outside to see you.”
Wylde roused himself and went into the street. There stood a man, tall and vaguely familiar.
“How may I help you, sir?” he began.
The man came closer. “Do you not remember me?” he said. “We used to sit together in the village and listen to the stranger’s stories.”
Wylde knew then who he was. “How did you find me?” he asked.
The man grabbed at Wylde’s neck. “He promised it to me,” he shouted. “But you got it first.”
Wylde stepped back; he had the sudden thought in his head that it was time to pass the burden on. Almost without thinking, he pulled the charm over his head.
“Here, take it then,” he said, “I am tired from its weight,” he said. The other held it, triumphant.
Wylde turned away. Perhaps he should warn the man. But he had already departed. In many ways, he was relieved to be parted from the charm. He felt young again, refreshed. It was someone else’s problem now; time to move on. The Magrit’s new owner could learn for himself. And he would be damned if the same would happen to him as the old man, he was sure of that, for he was Wylde.
As he crossed the street, his mind was filled with his determination to cheat the Magrit. He failed to see or hear the oncoming steam omnibus, one of his own inventions had reduced the noise it emitted and it came at him with a whisper.
His last thought was of his mother, perhaps she had been right after all.
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