TO TRY A TINKER by Louis W.

Gresham

“By the authority vested in me as King’s Magistrate, I hereby condemn you to death by hanging.” The fat robed man’s voice was shrill and grating. Dress up a pig and it still squeals, thought the Tinker. “In death you shall atone for your crimes. For only in dying can you pay for what you have done. False prophesy. Blasphemy. Perjury. These are capital offenses in the eyes of man. They are damnable offenses in the eyes of Deus Maior.” The Tinker spat on the dirt floor of the massive barn that served as Wallenstowne’s occasional courtroom. The magistrate’s face flushed. “You shall respect the King’s justice, sir. If not now, then at the end of the rope.” The Tinker did not respond. The magistrate rapped his worm-eaten old gavel. “On this day justice shall be served. This court is adjourned.” A cheer went up from the gallery. “Not so fast, magistrate.” The Tinker’s words boomed over the noise of the crowd. Silence descended on the room. His commanding voice did not match his appearance. From his wellworn boots to his battered jerkin and many-patched hat he looked nothing more than a humble traveler. The aquiline features of his face were largely hidden by several months’ worth of jet black beard.

The Tinker’s gaze passed from the magistrate to the crowd and settled back on the magistrate. “Have you not forgotten the Kingslaw? I have the right to a final response before I am led off to slaughter.” The magistrate grumbled. “We usually dispense with that.” “And do you flout your own god’s prohibition against executions in daylight too? If I remember correctly, death is only to happen at dusk.” Everyone in the converted barn that served as a courtroom looked out the window. “By my guess we have an hour or so of daylight left.” The magistrate rubbed his hands and coughed nervously. “Well technically, yes—-“ “Good.” The Tinker smiled. “Then we have some time to talk.” He looked back out at the crowd. “Good people of Wallenstowne, will you lend me your ears? I have a tale for you that will be worth your while. There’s no better storyteller than a tinker, you know. You might think twice about this hanging business when it’s done.” * Tradition demands that the accused explain what brought him to his condemnation. Some men are contrite. They acknowledge what they did and beg forgiveness. Others detail the sad circumstances of their lives that brought them there. Deprived childhood or impoverished family and all that. I promise you one thing: the facts. You shall know why I am here. And a good bit more. I am a tinker by trade and name. As you know, a tinker scrapes together a living by traveling from town to town. Sharpening blades, mending tools, trading odds and ends. I do all of these things. The best tinkers trade stories along with their wares. I am one of those.

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None of this is out of the ordinary. But I am not just a storytelling tinker. I plant seeds with my stories. Seeds that grow into belief, which grows into faith. Faith is power. I am on trial because I told you a story about a goddess. You took offense. There is no true god but Deus Maior, you say. All others are false idols. I will be the first to admit that Maior is a powerful god. But you are fools to believe he is the only one. There are many gods and goddesses gallivanting around this mortal plane, and a good number of devils too. Many of them have angels and demons at their backs. Why do they bother to leave the divine planes and come here? They need people to believe in them. Faith is their currency. The more people who believe in a divine, the stronger it becomes in relation to its fellows. Maior happens to have a strong following. Thus he is a powerful god. Humana, the goddess of whom I spoke, has precious few believers but so much potential. Fertility is her area of expertise. For farmers like you she would have been a godsend. Livestock, crops, your families-- all would have been fruitful and multiplied. Too bad. She’ll go looking elsewhere for her faithful. She came to me because I have a talent for this business and a reputation to match. Many divines have sought me out for help building their followings. Some have missionaries to do their bidding, but the ones just starting out often rely on people like me. Gods pay well. And not just with money. Humana had hoped to make her start here. She already pulled off a few little miracles to accompany my stories about her. Soon she was going to up the ante. In no time, with just a little faith, her power would have been on the upswing. She’ll be disappointed to see me go, but like I said she’ll move on.

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Since everything is nicely bungled now I’ll tell you the story I wasn’t planning on telling. The story of why she needed a new home and came here. * One month ago I found myself in an unusual position. I was not working for a single divine. When I arrived at the sleepy little hamlet of Fallow’s Rest, about fifty leagues from here, I had nothing but my grindstone and a few tools to make a living. The people were friendly enough, but it only took me a day to mend and sharpen everything they had. I was all set to move on when a cold front hit the town like a slap in the face. The hail alone would have done a number on me. Ten hands of snow came along with it. There was no end in sight. Luckily the town’s only inn was in dire need of cleaning from cellar to attic. The innkeeper gave me food and board while I played housemaid. The wind howled at the windows for a fortnight. The morning after the storm finally broke the loveliest little damsel you could imagine strolled into the inn. She was dressed in a simple peasant girl’s dress with a basket under her arm and ribbons in her hair. Golden like the sun. No one in the town had ever seen her before. I had her marked as soon as she crossed the threshold. Pretty little peasant girls don’t stroll into strange towns by themselves. It’s simply not done. Especially since Fallow’s Rest is leagues away from civilization. So that left only one explanation in my mind. I was about to get a new client. She sat down next to me and ordered a tumbler of ale. Her voice sounded like it was dipped in honey. I told the innkeeper to make it two. No more housecleaning for me. We sat there in silence until the drinks came. She took a hearty swig that was entirely too large for her little self and looked me square in the eye.

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“You’re the Tinker. The one who spreads the word.” I nodded and took a sip from my tumbler. “Indeed I am. And I’m open for business.” “Good. I’m looking to get started.” “How’s your recognition?” “Nonexistent. I left my father’s court this morning to strike out on my own. He has plenty but no one outside the Gossamer Plane has ever heard of me.” “Who’s your father?” She blushed. “Arian the Endless.” I tipped back my tumbler again. “I take it he won’t be happy about your departure?” She fidgeted in her chair. “No. But I’m not going back home. It’s my time now.” “I hear you. But these things are always a little more complicated when there are connections to the likes of Arian.” “I’ve got diamonds.” I chuckled. “Let’s take it nice and slow. What do you have up those little sleeves of yours? I’ll need to know to come up with a plan anyway. Plus you might be able to just grant me something and keep your diamonds.” “I make things grow. Life in all its forms blossoms around me.” “Good. That’s always an easy sell. We can spin you as a fertility goddess. You’ll be a hit with the farmers around here.” “So what’s the price?” I looked into the mirror behind the bar and scratched at my whiskers. There was no mistaking it. A nasty shade of grey was coming in. “How about rolling back my clock ten years? You fertility types usually have the youth and vigor trick in the bag too.”

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She smiled. Pretty little white teeth shone inside her cherry red lips. “Done.” * In a sennight I had the people of Fallow’s Rest eating out of my hand. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. All it took was a few carefully orchestrated sightings of Humana around town and in the fields, a couple choice applications of her talents, and some stories. Before long they were building a picturesque little shrine just outside the town. Humana was delighted. If I didn’t keep an eye on her she would have gladly pranced around all day in the fields raising mountains of grain. It’s always like that with divines who have never been on the mortal plane before. They don’t understand the careful wooing that it takes to get lasting worship. You have to give the people just enough of a taste to leave them wanting more. Dump everything on them right from the start and complacency won’t be a long time coming. It was almost time to reward the budding faithful of Fallow’s Rest with a flashy miracle when trouble showed up. It came in the form of a lusty rogue of a demon named Detrok. I had crossed paths with him years ago when I was helping his patron god repair a much damaged reputation among a whole city of believers. Some of my best work. Gods, goddesses, and the occasional devil strolling around alone are usually not a problem. They are levelheaded enough to know that meddling too much in the mortal plane can cause ruptures in the gateways to the divine planes. In most cases nothing worse happens then what would have happened with the overenthusiastic Humana if I had not been around. Angels and demons are another matter altogether. Without the influence of their patron god to keep them in check they run around like pups that have not been housebroken. Their power pales in comparison to that of their betters, but it is still more than enough to cause serious damage.

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To make matters worse, Detrok’s timing was especially bad. If he had arrived after the kickoff miracle, with the initial foundations of the town’s faith intact, I would not have worried as much. Now, though, he could easily unravel everything Humana and I had accomplished so far. If Humana had been a martial little goddess capable of tossing him out of town, I would easily have been able to spin Detrok’s arrival into a positive. She was not. This was a serious problem. * I was out for a walk on the outskirts of Fallow’s Rest at twilight when Detrok materialized in front of me. His arrival was preceded by a noxious cloud of smoke and the acrid smell of brimstone. Demons are always fond of dramatic entrances. Detrok was bigger than I remembered. Muscle rippled across his body from his horned head to his clawed toes. His skin was a deep red that was accentuated by the sleek fur-lined black cloak he wore over his shoulders. A pair of black breeches anchored by a massive leather belt with a shining copper buckle was his only other garment. When I finished coughing he spoke. “It’s been a long time, Tinker.” “Indeed. It’s good to see you again, Detrok. What brings you here? Does E’Lish require my services again?” I had to look up to speak to him. He was a good three or four heads taller than me. Detrok grunted. “E’Lish and I had a disagreement. I thought it best that we parted ways.” This was news. Angels and demons were bound to divines for the term of their existence. An angel without a patron god, or a demon without a devil, was an outcast in the divine planes.

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Little better than a leper. There were very few scenarios in which that bond was broken. None of them good. I did not press the matter. “So what brings you here?” “Word travels fast, Tinker. You’ve got chatty friends in the divine planes. I heard that you were working for a charming little goddess around these parts. I happen to know her.” I bit my lip. Whatever came next would not bode well for my engagement in Fallow’s Rest. “She and I have a history. We had a good time that ended badly. I’m here to make amends. And take her back.” Knowing Detrok, the truth was likely more complicated than that. He was the capricious type. Quick to anger and capable of great violence. Perhaps Humana had been attracted to the bad boy demon image at first, but she probably realized her mistake soon enough. Whatever her feelings for him, though, any hint of the demon’s presence in Fallow’s rest was unacceptable. It was time for a little subterfuge. “I see. Well you’ve actually just missed her. I sent her away for a fortnight. You know my methods. Absence makes the hearts of the faithful grow fonder.” His face darkened. “That’s not what I wanted to hear. Where did she go?” I frowned perplexedly. “She didn’t tell me. I know she had been growing a bit homesick lately though. The Endless Estate is a lovely place.” Detrok’s brow furrowed. “She hated it there. More than once she told me that when she left she would never go back.” “Perhaps she’s had a change of heart.” “Maybe.” His expression was brimming with suspicion. “It doesn’t matter anyway. I’m in no hurry. If she’s coming back here I’ll just wait.”

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I cursed silently. The Detrok I remembered was not especially sharp. I had expected him to run off and start skulking around Arian’s domain immediately. At the very least the angels there would have given him a good beating. “Do you have a problem with that? You look like you just swallowed a lemon.” “Of course not, Detrok. You may do as you please.” He grinned. “That’s right. I’ll see you around, Tinker.” A puff of smoke, that awful smell, and he was gone. * Sure enough the next day the town was abuzz with wild rumors. One man swore he had seen a bat the size of a cow fly by his window. The innkeeper complained that a cask of his wine had turned to blood. Several women whispered of having the same strange dream, in which a devilishly handsome dark haired stranger slipped into their beds and had his way with them. I sat at the bar listening to all their pattering and wracked my brain for a solution. A day or two more of this and Humana’s new movement would come to a screeching halt. By the time my ale was done I was no closer to an answer. I rose from my seat at the bar and turned around. There she was, pretty as a daisy on a perfect spring day. But her eyes were red from crying. I rushed to her side and ushered her out of the inn. We walked clear out of town. I followed the road for a half league into the forest and sat her down in a nearby glade. Her words came out between choked sobs. “He found me in the fields. Tried to play off everything that had happened. Told me he still had feelings. That we were meant to be together. I told him to leave--" The sobs again. “He took me by the arm. I slapped him. He laughed at me. Said I would be his whether I liked it or not. Then he dragged me off into the forest. He would have forced himself on me if I hadn’t begged for a day to get myself together and reconsider.”

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“I’m so sorry.” Even worse than I had expected. “The last time I saw him was outside Father’s walls. He was nothing then. A nuisance, but not capable of any harm. I saw something in him. For a little while. When I had enough and he didn’t get the message I told Father. I never saw him again. He’s different now. “He told me that he was free to do anything he wanted. Somehow he managed to break free of his patron. He mentioned something about ‘walking in the flesh of the gods.’ What does it mean, Tinker? How did he manage it? How am I going to get rid of him?” I was astonished. This I had never heard of. A demon rebelling against his patron divine? Whatever Detrok had done, he had emerged from it stronger than before. We were in a serious bind. “Humana, listen to me. You’re in trouble. Is there any way you can go back to the Gossamer Plane? The only way you’ll be safe is with your father. Or at least one of his kinsmen.” Her eyes hardened. “No. I’m not going back there to hear them tell me ‘I told you so.’ I’d rather be ravaged by Detrok than crawl back to my father’s door.” “Well then. Give me a moment to think this over.” A stubborn goddess is not to be quarreled with. I would have to find another way out of this mess. We sat there for a while. She stopped her crying eventually. “Humana, I can only think of one way out of this. I heard of a goddess with similar . . . talents who was once in the same boat. A god wasn’t taking no for an answer and it got to the point that he actually chased her across the mortal plane. She ended up turning herself into a tree. Two months later the god gave up and went off to try and seduce other victims. In the meantime she managed to double the grain harvest in a nearby hamlet. Some allies of hers spread the word

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about what she had done. When she emerged from hiding she had the beginnings of a nice little following.” “That sounds completely ridiculous. There’s no way I’m turning myself into a tree.” She crossed her arms and pouted. “Could you do it?” “Maybe, but--" “Do you want to get raped by a demon?” “No--" “Then we do it my way.” * We set off down the road that same day. I made the mistake of picking your town as our destination. A sennight ago Humana grudgingly took root in the forest nearby and began working her powers. The signs of her presence are already here. Your crops are sprouting like weeds. I talked to a farmer this morning whose apples have doubled in size. Every flower for miles is blooming like there is no tomorrow. Six of your mayor’s cows have gotten pregnant since yesterday. There has been no sign of Detrok. I was really starting to think that I was going to be able to chalk up another success to my name fairly soon. So there you have it, good people of Wallenstowne. I meant no harm. If anything you should be thanking me. I don’t know what your god does for this town, but if I were you I would take a moment and think about it. Don’t throw this opportunity away. *

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There were murmurs among the assembly. Several of them could attest to the truth of the Tinker’s claim about their crops. More than one face looked torn, but advocating for a divine other than Deus Maior in Wallenstowne was not something done lightly. Anyone who spoke up now could easily find themselves in the same predicament as the Tinker. Dusk had descended outside. Each of the townspeople knew that the Tinker’s fate hinged on what happened next. The magistrate sensed the uncertainty rippling through the crowd. So did the Tinker, who allowed himself a glimmer of hope. Perhaps someone would rouse the crowd in his favor. As the magistrate raised his gavel for silence a flash of blinding light erupted in the barn. When dazed eyes recovered they were greeted by an awesome sight. A tall manlike being of unearthly beauty wreathed in white light stood before the crowd. Great wings rose from his densely muscled back. Wisps of shimmering cloth were his only garment. His skin had a glowing pearl hue and his eyes were dazzling silver. Long emerald hair fell across his shoulders. The magistrate was the first to recover his wits. He jumped out of his chair and prostrated himself on the dirt floor of the barn. The stunned crowd followed suit. When the magistrate saw that the Tinker still stood, he scrambled over to him and dragged him to his knees. The magistrate hissed at him through clenched teeth. “Humble yourself, fool. That is our lord Deus Maior.” The god turned his gaze toward them and smiled. “I am indeed. These proceedings piqued my curiosity. Do not fear, Master Tinker. I mean you no harm. I would simply like to see this goddess for myself. If she is everything you say she is, I will reward you handsomely for your trouble.”

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The Tinker felt the bonds about his wrists dissolve. An invisible force lifted him from his knees while the dumbfounded crowd looked on. “Show me where she is.” There was no resisting that voice. The Tinker nodded. “Of course, my lord. Shall I lead you there?” “No need.” The god advanced within an arm’s length of the Tinker. “Conjure the place in your mind. I will do the rest.” He placed a hand on the Tinker’s forehead. His touch was like ice. The Tinker obeyed. “Thank you.” The god turned back toward the assembly. “People of Wallenstowne, this man was telling you the truth. There is a lovely goddess of many talents hidden in a glade nearby. She could have brought great prosperity to this place.” Smoke began to swirl around the god’s body. “Alas, she will not be yours. There is only one place for her. At my side. She is mine.” The Tinker’s heart sank. Of everyone there, he alone could guess what would come next. The god dug his fingers into the middle of his chest. Small rivulets of emerald liquid slipped from the wounds that appeared. With an effort that rippled the muscles across his arms he pulled apart the flesh as if it were the rind of an orange. The magistrate and the assembly looked on in horror as the figure peeled itself piece by piece. In a moment it was over. A pile of discarded whiteness lay at its feet. Detrok stood there grinning. “Thank you for your help, Tinker. I’ll take it from here and give Humana your regards. Citizens of Wallenstowne, please proceed with the hanging as planned. Our friend here was right when he mentioned that I walk in the flesh of the gods. I’m the rare

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demon who can possess not only mortals but gods as well. A useful trick. Not only for deception, but disposal as well. I’m afraid to say that your god is no more. Goodbye.” The smoke consumed him. When it dissipated he was gone. The magistrate placed a hand on the Tinker’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he said shakily. “We’ll make it quick.” ****

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