Set on the world Tarkeenia, the story marks the struggle between God and man, magic and indefinable evil.
THE UNSEEN PROMISE
Blame, guilt and a warm fire
The sound of steel on stone shook the narrow laneway where the two brothers lay in hiding. Voices, dark growls threatening death and a most certain bloody end, roared in Roedanth’s head. The hand clamped over Peetra’s mouth trembled, in fear, but also in worry. There would be no going anywhere now, not with half the city guard after them.
“Peetra, why did you do it?” Spoke a shaken whisper into the still ear of his only brother. “We had it all, a roof over our heads, two meals a day, and I was learning a trade. Why, Peetra?”
Blood stained his hands; had soaked through to his undergarments and the sticky feeling of Peetra’s life on his skin made him feel sick. Roedanth shifted the damp, coarse stone against his back a chafing reminder they were up to their necks in shit. Peetra groaned, the sound escaping from in between Roedanth’s fingers. Startled, Roedanth wriggled again, pulling his brother in closer and the bolt in Peetra’s breast thrummed.
“By the stars, I’m sorry, Peetra. I didn’t mean it.” More whispering, but this time Roedanth stroked and smoothed out his brother’s sweat-soaked hair. “You’re burning up.”
The voices were in spitting distance now; two in particular set his heart racing.
“I told you Sam, the old woman pointed down this-a-ways.” A Tolerian slur marked the man as a mercenary; half the city guards were mercenaries, paid for by the taxes collected by the current King of Crow’s Nest.
“So you’ll take the word of an old woman instead of a warm fire and a mug of beer,” grumbled the other.
Roedanth could almost hear the sulk in the man’s voice. It was cruel, and he again withstood the pangs of guilt. The Tolerian’s response erupted into a grunt, whether in agreement with his companion’s remark or from the veracity of his own duty the boy didn’t know. What he did know was that Mr. Bicky lay dead and Peetra dying. Who would believe him those two men with their hard eyes and hungry swords? Not likely. There were no friends in the city guard. The lengthening shadows were a friend, though – they created deeper, darker corners to hide in.
The men were almost upon them now. The sulky one, obviously bored with the chase whistled out to a woman, her voluptuous tits strained against the cheap cloth of her garish, far too small dress. She called back, a drunken invitation promising more than just a passing fondle.
“Now, what I wouldn’t give to spend five minutes with the likes of that,” crooned the sulky one.
Again the Tolerian grunted. “Listen, the quicker we find these murdering bastards, the more time you’ll have in wetting that wick you so fondly talk about all the time.”
Harlots and thieves occupied the lower levels of Crow’s Nest, gracing The Seed with their filthy company. A dangerous place to those not guilded – the setting of the sun usually sorted out the fools from the foolhardy. The two guards were almost on top of them. The damp air didn’t disguise the rank stench of unwashed bodies, stale spirits and for the most alarming part, irritation. The Tolerian hawked a glob of phlegm; arcing the pledge over the barrels the lads hid behind. Startled, Roedanth moved his hand higher, covering Peetra’s mouth and nose. The terrified young man squeezed tighter. It would be the Seven Hells for them both after what his brother had done; there could be no forgiveness to murder
“One of them took a bolt. I saw Skinny Nose loose one into the smaller youngling. He never misses.” In after-thought, the Tolerian cleared his throat again. “The bastard.”
More noise, steady footsteps, unhurried and oddly familiar coming their way. Both guards turned; the scraping of their heavy steel boots clunked on the stone laneway as they met the new stranger.
“Who’s this then?” Not too friendly, but friendly enough to stop the approaching man. An eerie yellow flame crept closer, dispelling some of the surrounding shadows that harboured the boys.
An old voice cracked with age called out. “Just the Bearer. I light the way for the souls who need the cheer at night. I carry the fire. I am its keeper.”
“Well and good, old man. Maybe a bit of light might help us catch the murdering pair,” spoke the local.
“Might indeed, good sir. Poor Mr. Bicky. I heard he was a good man, mostly that is. There are some around these parts, though, that held the rough side of their tongue for him.” In a quiet voice, meant only for the two guards, the Bearer leaned in. “They said he had a fondness, you know – for the little innocents.”
“What do you mean, little ones, old man?” Curiosity tinged the question.
The old man glanced up the laneway and frowned, then back to the questioning man. “You ain’t ‘eard it from me, but I knows a woman whose husband drinks at the Brown Jug and he said he likes the boys. He treasured em’ young you know.”
“Disgusting…” spat the Tolerian.
Roedanth’s’ eyes welled. He’d been such a fool not to see the truth. As he leaned his head against the stone, closing his eyes to stop the tears, the memory seared fresh wounds into his already bleeding heart. Peetra huddled on his cot, knees drawn up to his chin – his eyes red-rimmed as he mutely shook his head, refusing to talk – Mr. Bicky rubbing at his crotch, whenever Peetra found the nerve to visit the workshop or the furnaces – Jolein sniggering at the fat man’s leering face.
How could he have not seen it? Perhaps his gratefulness at being given a home for himself and his brother, and the high luck on being accepted as a Copper apprentice blinded the truth. Oh god, it wasn’t his talent for the precious metal that had attracted Mr. Bicky after all. Roedanth unconsciously tightened his grip on his younger brother’s face. Anger and grief rose up, sharp as a knife, as he realized it was Peetra who his master desired.
The voices were further away now, fading off into the coming night as they disappeared down the laneway. The old man moved on, taking the brighter light with him. The men satisfied that their search was at an end, followed the Bearer. Once again they were alone. The beginnings of a rowdy night were brewing, taverns, and brothels all getting into the swing of business – but for the moment, they sat safely hidden. The city sentries still walked the streets and the locals still finishing off the day’s trade remained indoors. It would be a little while yet before laneways became a bustling mess. The muggings and murders carried out tonight would be ignored, left untouched. After all, who cared about the lower levels anyway?
Mr. Bicky, though, was another matter. To the everyday world, he presented the face of a respectable man, a wealthy man, loyal to the King and Crown. He paid his taxes, always on time, and donated a heavy purse each month to the Biscop’s House – as if paying his way would open the gates to a heavenly afterlife. What he did behind closed doors and in the seedy shade of his own home although deviant was tolerated. No one ever spoke ill of Mr. Bicky, no one dared.
He let out an exhausted breath and eased the pressure from Peetra’s face. The blood dried on his skin, on his brother’s clothes and on the weathered flagstones below. So much blood, so much guilt
Peetra slumped to the ground and for the briefest of moments Roedanth peered over the barrels. Left, then right and left again, the flickering light from the iron standard allowed him to see a little way beyond. It wouldn’t be long before the night trade filled the streets, then it would be safe. He would hide his brother and fetch a healer. The money he had saved was well hidden, tucked up tight behind one of the furnaces.
Jolein wouldn’t look there, why would he? That pox-faced snoop didn’t work, yet he took everything, all the things that weren’t his. Roedanth copped a black eye and the loss of his first month’s wages to learn that Jolein was Mr. Bicky’s eyes and ears in the workshop. He was never wrong. Yes, he had learned the hard way.
Turning back to Peetra, Roedanth bent down to inspect his brother’s wounds. “Peetra, wake up, wake up.” Gently he eased the cooling body back into his arms. He stroked his hair again. “Your fever’s gone; you’re going to be alright Peetra. Open you eyes brother.”
Silence. His stillness was alarming. Laying a slim finger against the side of his brother’s neck, Roedanth listened for a pulse. The faintest sign of life would be a beacon of assurance. A flicker of an eyelid to stop the rising guilt, drool or snot to coax a smile, but there was nothing, no life, no hope for a miracle. Peetra had died under his hand. In the fear of being caught, Roedanth had suffocated any chance of securing salvation for either of them. Peetra was dead – and the panic, freshly awoken, brimming with trembling nerves and sweaty palms, and now gave way to tears. Silent drops splashed onto the blue-tinged flesh around his brother’s mouth and eyes. Lost was his only family; there was no one left, nothing.
Holding his hand, Roedanth stared numbly as he grieved over the last of the shadows disappearing under the rise of the Pata Batu. Soon the darkness would conceal his dash, the one that would save him. It would be a relief to put all to rest, kindness in a sick guilty way, to end a fat man’s depravity, no matter what the cost. But not all endings come with a happy promise. For Roedanth, this would be the case. From here on, all would pale in comparison to what was to come.
Jolien stood over his employer’s body and with grim satisfaction made a mental note of everything in the room. All would be his, just as soon as he could arrange a cart from the Biscop’s House to collect the ripening corpse. He would catch the shutters and lock the door. A pity that the other one – ah, what was his name? Yes, the other apprentice – Jac. He was still at the Sanctum. They first thought him ill, the kind you get when you’re feeling more than poorly. But that hadn’t been the case; Mr. Bicky said just a few weeks ago that Jac got the Calling. He would not be coming back and a good thing, too, because now Jolein would never have to share. All the more for his empty pockets, and at the end of the day, the Coppersmith shop would be Jolein’s.
“Good riddance to the little prick and I hope the other two burn in the Seven Hells,” Jolien muttered. To no one in particular for he lounged alone, but it felt better saying the words out loud, over the rotting body. Mr. Bicky, a white needle dicked nonce whose taste in small boys had ultimately led him to a cold grave. As sick as the fat man was, the skinny man liked him in his own way. Despite all the leering the Master had been an exceptional Coppersmith, and now that he was dead, Jolien would have to try and hold the business together himself.
He knew that Mr. Bicky’s Will: a sheet of yellow parchment finely written and kept with the lawyers, Marches and Bearers herald uncertainty. He had been with the Master the longest, so wasn’t it only right that he should take on the business and everything it owned.
“Are you done with your leave-takings?” The Biscop’s cleric stood at the door, his saffron robe hanging loosely on his thin body. His baldhead caught the last glint of sunlight as it fell away to the darkening sky giving the man a holy look, and Jolien stepped away from Mr. Bicky’s dead body as though it was a thing to be feared. “Yes, yes, of course, I am finished. I thought it right to say my goodbyes, especially after what has happened. He was a charitable man, a kind man, and to think that those two murdering bastards…” He had the decency to look abashed. “I am sorry, your Holiness. I didn’t mean to blaspheme, I can’t help but get angry just thinking about what they did.” As the cleric stepped up to the lanky lad, a sour smell wafted up Jolien’s nose, and again he felt sick, but the rich baritone voice and the well-manicured hand, which reached out officiously chilled him further. Beside the holy-man, the pimply faced youth felt as tiny as a dobmouse, and to the church itself, he nothing more than a suffering sinner. But hell, what was there to lose? If he played his cards right the Biscop’s greedy needs would serve his own.
“Your Holiness, I would ask…What is being done about his killers?” Jolien softened his voice. To any other, it would have sounded like a whine, but to the cleric, there was only the voice of a grieving lad.
Dark eyes probed Jolien’s watery ones. The monk nodded. “Oh, you need not care, they’re being searched for and when they are found, the King will have his way. Do you know these men?” Jolien could feel the man’s heat. “Do you know where they might be now?”
The fuzzy hair on the apprentice’s lip quivered under the cleric’s scrutiny. It was well known that the Biscop’s House welcomed the death of sinners. Everyone knew that. Only those who had a mind to keep living portrayed the life of a saintly man.
“No, I don’t know where they are, but I wish I did. It was his apprentice who did this, him and his lusty brother through jealous yearnings, always wanting Mr. Bicky’s things for himself. He pushed his kin into my employer’s arms; trying every charm and evil doings he could think of to get what he wanted.” Jolien regarded the priest from lowered eyes. The cleric’s face reddened under the apprentice’s enlightenment, so he continued. “I just never thought he would resort to murdering the poor man. It’s a tragedy, that’s what it is, a terrible blow.” He sniffed at the closing of his little speech.
The cleric bent over the stiffening corpse, the slight beginning of decay slowly wafting into the air around them. Jolien stepped back as far as he could respectfully go, for he was afraid that he would vomit if this discourse were to continue any longer. The Order scared him and rightly so – for the King’s ear and the Order’s purses were one and the same threatening the existence of familiarity. The holy man straightened up, and Jolien thought the man’s knees cracked and wincing the apprentice grimaced in revulsion. The bald-headed cleric thinned his lips into a sour smile.
“Don’t worry, young master; you have nothing to fear from the Order. I am sure we can come to some agreement about securing your rightful place here. I will have the elders look at Mr. Bicky’s personals, and if this man is the worthy soul you proclaim him to be, I am sure we’ll have no problems.” The cleric’s voice typically oily, without joy or truth in its telling reassured Jolien’s lie.
Bowing his head, Jolien smirked into the folds of his smelly tunic.
Time for some laundry I think, after all I can’t front up to the Biscop wearing this old thing.
HEART OF SECRETS
Is to be released soon following revision. Here is a taste of what is to come –
Up a hole
Her struggling slowed, ceasing altogether. She was a bundle of bones and rags he pulled along after him. Scraping and bruising her ravaged body, they continued. Pellimac whimpered, but for the better part, shock kept her silent. Father tried, crooning affectionate clicks and clacks at her joyous return, but it only terrified her more.
Rats fled the pair. Even the darkness shied away in the face of Father’s fanatical headlong rush. She belonged to him again! Hours passed, and the jubilant Speck and the stunned nomad woman stopped. His bony fingers clenched Pellimac’s wrist, smudges of black rose to the surface of her skin held the promise of blood red rings. Deep in the inky murk, a part still pure and intact screamed at the loss of the sky and open earth. She wept. Her cries excited Father as she strained in lungful’s of air in between loud sobs.
Father dragged his prize across grainy streams peppered with gold and gravel, through the gloom until at last, with a clack and a pop, they entered Hi’ayman’s chambers. Dazed and disorientated, Pellimac stared ahead. A vague memory rose. Another place such as this, where she endured fear, pain, deprivation and loneliness. The cruel nightmares were reaching out like old friends.
The trace of something human lingered upon this room. A bed and bowls of water scattered around the floor signalled familiarity. She waited.
Father sat silent alongside his love. Her stillness soothed his racing heart and helped to lessen the insatiable hunger gnawing in his bloated belly. Who could doubt his yearnings now? He felt her trembling. The salty sweat that sheathed her skin and delightful memories caressed him with renewed feelings of lust. A loud sniff set Pellimac moaning, and by her fear, the monster bit into her shoulder. It wasn’t a hard bite, more of a nip, but it broke the flesh. Blood so sweet welled to the surface, and he licked it away in a lover’s bliss.