An Englishman In Medecia
A Ghostly Tale
With reference to the previously mentioned but nameless town on the southern Skye coast, I later came across this piquant little tale concerning it, which I have here attempted to render into English.
In the late summer of 1403, a particularly poor year as far as weather was concerned, a commercial traveller named George deValdemar was making his solitary way from Garrick to Charne. Having heard disturbing stories about Withermede he elected to avoid the road which led through that forest, and instead took the path along the south coast, a choice he was later to have cause to rue.
His original intention was to make one final visit to a potential customer, then take leave of Garrick some time in the morning, which he hoped would allow him to reach the next inn by the late afternoon or early evening.
Unfortunately the best-laid plans, as they say, go oft awry. The potential customer proved to be interested, but spent an inordinate time in haggling over details and prices. Then when deValdemar returned to his inn to settle his accounts before leaving, there was an argument over a discrepancy in the bill, and more time was lost in arriving at some kind of mutually agreeable settlement with the obstinate inn-keeper.
The end result was that it was already past noon when deValdemar set out, heavy suitcase in hand, and began on the southward track towards the coast. He could see grey clouds gathering ominously over the sea ahead of him. By the time he reached the coast and turned eastwards along the cliff path large drops of rain were beginning to pelt down.
Cursing his last customer, his inn-keeper, and his luck, deValdemar had a momentary lapse of resolve during which he contemplated turning back and returning to Garrick, but his contretemps with the inn-keeper was still fresh and uncomfortable in his mind, so he reluctantly decided against this otherwise tempting option. Turning his collar up, he put his head down against the rain and trudged onwards along the east path. He hoped that the rain would prove to be a temporary squall, soon to die away, though the increasing darkness of the clouds above him made this a dubious proposition.
In fact, the rain did eventually ease somewhat, dying to a steady, miserable drizzle, though the clouds remained dark. Even though it could be little more than late afternoon, it had grown almost as dark as night, and the rain was a constantly shifting mist obscuring the way ahead.
Under these circumstances it is perhaps not too surprising that at some point deValdemar found himself lost, having inadvertantly strayed from the increasingly muddy and ill-defined track. The path that he thought he was following suddenly petered out in the midst of hummocks covered in heather and gorse. In some dismay he tried retracing his steps, but the path was increasingly hard to follow, and somehow he lost the way again, and found himself back at the same cluster of hummocks, or possibly another very similar cluster. In the darkness and the rain it was impossible to tell. He strained his ears to try and catch the sound of the sea, in the hope that it would give him some sense of direction, but either the sea was now too far away, or the sound of the rain was drowning out the sound of the breaking surf.
At a loss to know what to do, deValdemar clambered on to one of the hummocks, and standing on this marginally higher vantage point he looked around for some clue as to which direction he should head in.
In one direction, through the darkness and the rain, it seemed to him that he could make out a darker shadow, possibly of a bank of trees or even a building, though to the best of his knowledge there were neither any trees nor any buildings in the area. Nevertheless the faint promise of some kind of shelter was enough to set him stumbling off in that direction.
Somewhat to his surprise, the shadow gradually resolved itself into a building, a rather decrepit structure with what appeared to be an inn sign hanging outside, too weathered and grimy to make out the name. The windows were equally dark, with no sign of light, and it seemed to deValdemar that this was a long- abandoned place. It was still shelter, though, so he tried the door in the hope of finding it unlocked, or at least fragile enough to be forced open.
The door yielded reluctantly, but was neither locked nor barred, and deValdemar found himself inside the inn. It was not as abandoned as he had thought, because behind the bar stood an inn-keeper. It was, however, a singularly unwelcoming inn. There was a huge stone fireplace, but no fire blazed within it. There was light, but thinking back on it later deValdemar found it impossible to place the source of the light, and certainly it was dim and inadequate, leaving shadows in every corner. There was a smokiness to it that would normally have seemed understandable, but which somehow seemed disquieting and unnatural, perhaps because there was no obvious source of smoke.
Apart from deValdemar and the innkeeper, the room was empty. The innkeeper himself seemed a sullen and taciturn fellow, with a bald head and broken teeth, and wisps of hair growing from his cheeks that at certain moments seemed more suggestive of cobwebs.
At deValdemar's enquiry after a room and a meal the innkeeper's aspect seemed if anything to grow even more sullen. He pushed a scrap of parchment at deValdemar, which proved to be an inventory of rooms, meals, and prices, written in such an uncouth hand that deValdemar had some difficulty in making it out. The prices that he thought he had managed to decipher seemed utterly outlandish. In the end, deValdemar pulled what he hoped to be a sufficient number of coins from his money-bag, and pushed them across the bar. The innkeeper glanced at them, then handed back an inordinate number of his own coins, presumably in change, which deValdemar swept into his bag without bothering to examine them. Having already had an encounter with a difficult innkeeper he was not feeling inclined to repeat the incident, even though he was normally a keen haggler.
He ordered a drink while waiting for his meal, repeating the exchange of coins, then sat at one of rickety tables, nursing his drink, and wondering where this mysterious and previously unknown inn had come from. He made a note that he would have to enquire about it when he reached the inn that had been his intended destination.
He took a pull from the tankard, and nearly spat the mouthful out in disgust, so bitter and rank was the taste of it. He cautiously took another sip from it, pulled a face, but managed to swallow it. Then he pushed it to one side, and drank no more of it. He hoped that the meal would prove more appetising, but was disappointed. The cracked plate that the innkeeper handed over seemed to contain some sort of gruel with pieces of gristly meat in it, and the whole was barely warm.
deValdemar was hungry enough by this time to take a couple of mouthfuls, but found that he couldn't face any more. Under normal circumstances he would be complaining bitterly by this point, and making as much of a fuss as he was capable of, which was not inconsiderable, but somehow he felt drained of the ability to rouse himself. With a sigh he pushed the plate to one side, hoping that the abandoned drink and abandoned meal would act as sufficient reproach to the innkeeper, though this seemed unlikely.
There seeming to be little else to do, deValdemar indicated to the innkeeper that he would like to be shown to his room. He was led down a narrow, low-roofed passageway, so dark and with so uneven a floor that he stumbled on a couple of occasions, and knocked his head on an unseen roof-timber. At the end of it he was shown into a small room that boasted the bare minimum of accoutrements. The bed was the crudest and most ramshackle that he had ever slept in, but exhausted from the trials of the day he clambered into it gratefully enough. There was no heat in the room, the bed was bitterly cold and had the faintest smell of dampness about it, but in spite of this, and in spite of the constant drumming of the rain against the windows, deValdemar was soon asleep.
He awoke cold, stiff, and damp. The dawn light was beginning to dissolve the morning mists, the sound of breaking surf drifted on the light breeze, and to deValdemar's astonishment he found that he was no longer in the inn in which he had spent the night. He was lying on open grass, nestled between two gorse covered hummocks.
Stiffly he got to his feet and gazed about him, initially in perplexity, but then in some anger. A short distance away from him was the road which he had lost his way from on the previous day. Of the inn, there was no sign. He must have been taken from the inn during the night and abandoned here by the side of the road, doubtless after having been robbed blind by the villainous innkeeper.
In proof of his theory he hunted for his money-bag. It was still with him, and still jangled with coins. He frowned, and looked for his suitcase, finding it lying barely an arms length away. A quick inspection showed that its contents were still present and undamaged.
Oddly enough, this only increased his anger. If he had not been robbed, what on earth was the point in taking him from the inn -- however unsalubrious it had been -- and abandoning him here?
Hefting up his suitcase he returned to the road and stamped his way along it, determined to decry the inn to anyone that he came across, and ensure that no other innocent traveller would have to endure such a night, and such a rude awakening.
It was approaching mid-day by the time he arrived at his original destination, and he was relieved to see the open door of the inn, and even more relieved to find a blazing fire in the fireplace, and a room full of friendly locals and a friendly innkeeper, even if deValdemar's decidedly bedraggled appearance raised a few initial eyebrows.
He ordered a room and a hot meal (making especial emphasis on 'hot', which caused further raised eyebrows), then proceeded to tell his tale to the locals, first gaining their attention by ordering a round of drinks for them all.
They listened to his tale at first with interest and some sympathy, but with increasing disquiet as deValdemar recounted his experiences at the inn. There was a noticeable shuffling of feet, and uneasy glances between the locals at deValdemar's description of the inn and its solitary innkeeper.
When it was over, one of the older locals loudly cleared his throat, and announced that 'there ain't no such inn hereabouts'. DeValdemar became somewhat stiff at this pronouncement, and demanded to know in that case where it was he had spent the night.
Someone muttered a name that sounded like Mortonshaft, but was reduced to silence by angry looks from the others. DeValdemar was told that wherever he had spent the night, it was certainly at no inn known to anyone there.
Things might have turned somewhat uncomfortable, if not to say ugly, were it not that at this point the innkeeper politely asked deValdemar to pay for the drinks that he had generously ordered and which were currently being downed.
deValdemar pulled out his money-bag, and emptied the contents onto the counter, and both he and the gathered locals gaped at the collection of coins that tumbled out. Every one of them was weathered and green with thick verdigris as if they had spent long ages underground, and where their markings had not been completely worn away it could be seen that they bore the inscriptions and insignia of an empire that had perished from the world over fifteen hundred years before.
- Languages: [Editor's note] In spite of the fact that he provides us with various notes about the languages of Medecia, the narrator nowhere deals with the interesting question of how he came to learn the various languages of that world. There are hints later on that this was achieved by some sorcerous means, presumably through the generous assistance of the narrator's original host, Graegor Pendrake.
- Times and Seasons: [Editor's note] The narrator entered Medecia, or at least begins his account of his travels, in the autumn of the year 1486, the years being dated from the fall of the Scarlet Empire.
- commercial traveller: Itinerant salesmen would seem to be as common in Medecia as they are on Earth, if not more so.
- George deValdemar: [Editor's note] This would appear to be a mangled form of Gíroge Tavaldremar. Gíroge is a common masculine name, and Tavaldremar is the only surname which resembles the narrator's rendition, though the result gives George/Gíroge an aristocratic sheen which he probably does not deserve. It probably should be pointed out that in the language of Skye 'g' is always hard, as in 'garden', so the narrator's translation seems to be based on its appearance rather than its sound. His translation of Tavaldremar seems to be based on the mistaken assumption that 'ta' is derived from tára, from.