Here we are - the lastest from the new book, the title of which is still to be revealed. By the gods I'm infuriating. I know. However, the good news is that I said I'll be releasing the title when I reach the end of the first draft... I'm only 20k words away. That, if all goes well, is only a fortnight away. Stay tuned. I'm writing as fast as I can.
Today we have a scene centered around a town hanging for you. Dark fantasy, anyone? ENjoy, and as usual, ignore any strange and/or nightmarish typos that you see. They're just there for show.
The blood had grown bitter in the short time since he'd left the house. Thank the Almighty he'd only tasted the tiniest of drops. But it wasn't the taste that was bothering him.
It was the fact that his aunt may have been right.
It had come slowly at first, the tingling. For half an hour, Merion paced about his uncomfortable room wondering if he'd feel anything at all, snorting to himself at how mistaken Lilian was, of how much of a fool she sounded. Then he felt that telltale numbness in his fingertips. The stirring in his lower stomach. The treacle at the edges of his eyes. It was rushing, but not as he knew it. There was a headier weight to it. A sweeter tang. The tendrils of something altogether different from alcohol.
He didn’t like it when his aunt was right.
We never do when those that oppose us are.
And so it was that the early afternoon found Merion huffing as he strode strode down the dusty road into town, a sole and stubborn purpose in mind. He would find Calidae, or Castor, or even that butler if he had to, and clear this whole damned nonsense up.
There was a different air in Fell Falls than the one he was used to. Stubborn resolve had ground itself a sharper edge.
Guns had found more hips to rub against. Swords even, here and there, and daggers for the children. Every corner, every crossing, every other roof paid host to lordsguards and sheriffsmen. Fists were tighter. Brows were furrowed. Every other glance was to the west, to the invaders who would see their town trampled, burnt and bathed in blood.
If Merion didn’t know any better, he would have guessed a war had just broken out.
A bell rang out from somewhere between the worker’s camp and the town boundaries, where the rail slanted across the main street and out into the rough desert. Merion saw the shift in the throngs of people and workers in the street. Like a tide they swept west towards the ringing. Merion followed like a piece of flotsam, listening to how the conversations around him began to buzz with a strange mix of emotions Merion hadn’t quite seen before.
His old friend curiosity got the better of him, and like any young boy, he had the strange and unnatural ability to slip through crowds with ease. It took him less than twenty minutes to duck and weave his way to the front of the huge crowd that had now amassed on the edge of town.
A scaffold had been erected out of poles, rope and twisted lengths of spare rail. It stood high enough so that all could see; at least twenty foot high at its tallest part. Something you could roughly refer to as a stage had been hammered and nailed together beneath the scaffold’s tallest point; some twenty feet above the sand. Men dressed in black stood on it, standing silently with their arms crossed in front them.
While Merion was pondering what sort of travelling theatre company this was, why they couldn’t afford a proper stage, and why in the Almighty’s good name they would travel all the way out to the very brink of civilisation, a grim hush fell over the crowd. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw those around him squeezing their faces into half-smiles. Some were even nodding to themselves.
It was then that the crowd began to boo and hiss and curse. Merion saw the black meandering through two lines of sheriffsmen, a full head and shoulders above their dark brown hats. There was a smear of blue paint on the hood. Shohari blue.
More booing as the condemned took to the stage, led by a portly sheriffsman and two lordsguards. He was in full view now, in the crosshairs of the town’s hatred. A few pebbles clattered against the wooden boards of the stage. A handful of lordsguards moved in to hold the lines back. Merion was shoved sharply in the back as the crowds shifted.
‘Calm yourselves!’ the sheriffsman shouted from the stage. His uniform was fancier than the rest. The bright eight-pointed star on his chest gave it away. The sheriff himself. ‘I said calm yourselves! Justice’ll be served to this one by a rope, not by rocks and angry hands, you hearin’ me?’
There were a few shouts, but the crowd settled somewhat. The mood held tight like a bow at full stretch, ready to plunge an arrow deep into the blue sky. This crowd wanted blood, and it would have it.
Muttering now, as Lord Castor walked the rickety steps. The Shohari was struggling under the hood, hissing strange words. A dig in the ribs from an armoured gauntlet put an end to that. Castor was draped in a dark green cloak despite the sun, the sigil of his house emblazoned on his leather jerkin. Merion involuntarily took a small step forward but remembered himself before shouting out.
‘You see before you an invader. An intruder. Vermin!’ Castor yelled, his voice loud and clear.
Cheers from the crowd. Castor was playing them like a fiddle, and Merion couldn’t help but admire it, despite the grisly circumstances.
As the rope was brought up and slung over the top of the scaffold, Castor continued. ‘His kind would have the railway we’ve toiled so hard to build ripped up and left to rust.’ More boos and curses. ‘His kind would have this town razed to the ground. He would have us left rotting in the sun with a blue-fletched arrow in our backs!’ Shouting now. Fists punched the hot air. Merion had begun to sweat.
Castor turned to jab a finger into the Shohari’s chest. ‘His kind will fail miserably,’ he said, and his audience clenched their fists and jaws and shook their heads. A hush fell once again as the noose was held up and lowered over the Shohari’s head. The condemned struggled and cursed in his foreign tongue but there was no hope. His rage and fear turned to nought but gurgling as the knot was pulled tight. It could have been the heat-haze, but Merion swore he saw those bound hands shaking as the Shohari was pushed toward the edge of the stage.
‘Let this one be a message to any other Shohari who think Fell Falls is for the taking. We will not be so easily removed from our homes, our businesses, and our future at the shore of the Lost Sea!’ Castor raised his hands as the lordsguards stepped forward.
A shove. A gasp. A snap as the rope came taught.
The poor Shohari bounced once with a sickening crunch and then swayed back and forth while his legs kicked. Not a sound came from him, and if it did, it would have been drowned out by the cheering and yelling of the crowds. He swung like a gruesome pendulum in the hot sun as the life ebbed out of his reach. Merion didn’t take his eyes off of him for a second. He couldn’t, in truth.
Three full minutes it took for the Shohari to stop twitching; for the crowds to sate their thirst for justice. When they finally began to trickle away, like an angry, swollen lake spilling over its own shores.
Merion was left standing in an empty circle of his own, staring at the swinging body on the knotted rope. Life was a strange thing, he thought. All the miracles of the Almighty, swept away by a long drop and short stop. Nothing left of hopes, dreams, fears, and hates but a bit of meat dangling for the vultures. It was such a fragile line Merion couldn’t help be terrified by it.
It was only when he heard the deep voice of Lurker behind him that he turned away from the spectacle.
‘Never been one for hanging,’ he said. He touched the brim of his hat, and Merion shrugged.
‘I’m not sure if many people are,’ the boy replied.
‘Watching it I mean. Seen enough hangin’s in my time. You?’
Merion unfortunately had to nod. ‘When they caught the Whistling Strangler. Father delivered the sentence personally. Half of London turned out to see him hang. Sixty-two murders tends to make you quite notorious.’
‘I imagine so.’
Merion turned back to the makeshift stage and spied Castor Serped marching away towards the south with a train of lordsguards in his wake. A smaller, lither figure walked with him, long hair flowing out from beneath a bonnet.
Merion started running, sparing not a moment to excuse himself from Lurker’s side. Answers were more important than manners, just this once.
His shoes kicking up puffs of dust and sand, Merion closed the distance in five seconds flat.
‘Calidae!’ He blurted as he ran. Two of the lordsguards whirled around, hands already at their sword-handles. Merion brought himself to sharp stop and bowed low. ‘My Lord, my Lady,’ he said.
‘Relax, gentlemen,’ Castor ordered sharply. ‘Master Hark. What brings you out into the sun to ogle at such a spectacle?’ There was no condemnation in his tone. Just a slight quirk of curiosity.
Merion looked over his shoulder at the swinging body, buying himself time to dig out the right answer. ‘Justice,’ he replied, when he turned back.
Castor raised his chin, possibly to hide the tight smile that had appeared on his thin, pale lips. ‘And rightly so,’ he said…
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