Tallen opened his eyes to a dreary morning full of rain. His malnourished body came with a deep-set frown. Not a small man, he almost reached six feet, yet even his imposing figure couldn’t prevent today. It was more often than not his mouth that landed him into trouble. Stripped of his gray cloak and robes, all he had was a sheet tightly wrapped round his body. He shivered. His main tumbled down to shoulder length, a little sparse round the crown; he had always hopped to attract the ladies. But then when the visions appeared, he could no longer disregard them. Even if most of his predictions came true, what would it matter, they were always painful. People never want to here bad news, worst still if the bad news never came then he was the one at fault, but they always came eventually.
Tallens lips parted to catch a trickle of water that slid down the window. Still hopping his roguish good looks might sway them, but the court had little affluent women. Than there was the chief, a massive body of work, he ate more than he spoke. How can someone like that be persuaded to let him go? Impossible, that’s how I landed into this mess to begin with. The savages, what have they done to Lesshalia. How can they persecute the truth? As a foreteller he’s seen pretty amazing things. He’s been to all four corners of Esth and back, yet in all his time he managed to live through all adversity. How then am I trapped here, I am a great foreseer, I should have seen this coming yet it seems even I am infallible.
Tapin returned. ‘Good to see you’re still here, the people would be mightily disappointed if we had a no show.’ He strode down the steps with a swagger down his left leg. His festered sore irritated him as he came to undo the lock, with a clink the door opened. Tapin proceeded to strap Tallens arms together before muttering. ‘The chief will especially delight in your execution northerner. Don’t worry good old Will’s gonna go easy on ya. He says it’ll feel like a razor blade, a little nick to the neck and off your head goes.’ He snorted, sniffling a little.
Tallen paled as Tapin described his execution. All fight left him by this time, not that he could have struggled much. The food tasted foul, the water smelt as bad and the hygiene was there within the cell, no place to go. His ribs showed, a few warts and names sake imprinted near his thigh. He rose to conform to Tapins tugs. Even if he wanted to, he had no weapons bar the straw and a loose stone that might as well have been a pebble for all the good it’d do him. ‘I’m glad someone’s enjoying themselves.’ He sighed. His opal green eyes looked dour as he struggled to come to grips with the impending reality. Still he was a handsome man underneath that beard of his. More the pity, he thought, never again will I taste the delicate flesh of a wench. His rounded head and smooth body featured so little blemishes, but one might not see the truth of it. Covered in grime and soot he looked the part of a thief, yet a spark of hope persisted.
Tapin was halfway up the stairs when Tallen collapsed. Even though Tapin was no slouch he felt the dead weight and called out. ‘Daroff, get yer lazy butt down here, I told you he’d faint. They always do.’ He grumbled a little disappointed.
A burly figure popped his head through the door. He replied cynically. ‘Don’t go putting no blame on me Tapin. It was you who said he’d be fine. I offered but you said nay. Still he looks destitute.’ He simpered at Tapin with one of his queer laughs. Then took his time before grabbing Tallens left shoulder.
Tapin lifted his right shoulder and then they both carried him outside. ‘It’ll soon be over then, lets hope we don’t regret this.’ He mused.
‘What’s there to regret, a lowly scum like this telling us what’s best, the chief did the proper on him, put him out of his misery. Ha, and he be wrong too, what a ways to go.’ Daroff turned to Tapin. ‘But you know there’s been a lot of them lately.’
‘Yeah that’s what I thought too.’ Tapin halted and opened the door. ‘They all said much the same, but even if any of it is true, I find it unlikely mind you. We better keep quiet we don’t want this to spread.’
‘I’m sure the chief knows what he’s doing.’ He frowned.
‘Yes, I had the same thoughts. What If…’ He scratched his chin before continuing. ‘What if what the northerner says is true?’
‘You mean the blight spreading and how his sister t’was the one to start it all and all them houses burning and our women being barren and all.’ Daroff huffed as he pushed Tallen through the door then followed Tapins lead and lifted him over the blockade they had put in case something bad was to happen. ‘Boy he sure is heavy, you’d have thought he’d be light as paper by the ways we’ve been feeding him.’ He grinned at the last remark.
Tapin sweated a little before getting annoyed. ‘Yes, yes, so the dead always get heavy. Stop winging. Besides.’ He paused. ‘It’s not what I meant, he may have said that but its what he said to me that most disturbs me.’
Daroff raised his eyebrows. ‘Oh, and what’s that?’
‘He was saying he’s important is all, something about being a noble of great prestige. I’m just thinking if, if so many keep vanishing like this, people will be asking why the trail ends at poor old Lorenbast, they would.’ A puzzled look crossed his face. ‘What then, even though we’re not of any province so to speak people will ask questions. Probably send out an army to investigate into it.’
Daroff eyed Tapin with a little scorn. ‘Ah, you worry too much. There’s been not an army nor a nobleman interested in this place for twenty winters or more.’
‘Perhaps but then what’s up with the chief? Have you noticed he seems to be gorging food down as if the pits themselves needed it? The amount he eats a day, a family of five would be hard pressed to eat in a week is all.’ He grunted. ‘Besides the rate he’s going the fields would be dry by the morrow.’
He turned on Tapin in a threatening manner as if the body was paperweight after all. ‘I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. Now look who’s winging. Let’s get moving, the sooner this is over the better if you ask me. You’re not getting cold feet now are you?’
Tapin scowled, a little offended. ‘As if.’ Without a word they dragged Tallen to the courtyard. The streets were packed with onlookers. The cobbled stone was soaked with rain. As they approached, the people blocking their way parted. A scruffy woman threw a rotten tomato at Tallen, it ran down the cloth leaving a light red line. Another jeered as they passed. A third was about to throw a stone but was prevented by a strong hand.
‘Hay.’ He yelled turning towards the owner of the hand. ‘What in pits name is your problem?’ Enraged he wanted to lash out but thought better of it. ‘Can’t you see a heretic when you see one.’
‘No.’ the man muttered. ‘All I see is a man half starved.’
The man felt a little intimidated. ‘Let go, uh, let go my hand.’
Shifting his gaze from the impoverished man he asked. ‘Why is he being put to the gallows?’
Fanatically the onlooker screamed. ‘Why in all the pits do you think?’ His eyes widened. ‘He’s a heretic, a northerner just like you. Now let go.’ He demanded. ‘Before you join him, is that what you want.’ An insane grin spread across his mouth. ‘Or better yet, are you his accomplice.’ He parted his darkened hair. The onlooker seemed infuriated, as if madness overtook him.
Ord looked into the onlookers eyes, there’s no reasoning with this one. He seemed to be gone; he even smelled the stink of madness on him. ‘Hold there fellow. I only wanted to know, if he’s a heretic then a heretics death he deserves.’ He unclasped him and disappeared into the crowd before the onlooker could do anything. He looked into the crowd and the smell of madness assaulted him. What is this, who are these people. Quickly he backed into the last row of onlookers and squeezed his way through to the other end. At a running trot he brushed past the door of Ye Old Plondits to warn Miranda and Ephraim.
‘Ooh, my back.’ Ephraim complained. The room still smelled as bad as the night before. As he got up he noticed Ord’s bed lay undisturbed. ‘Miranda.’ Ephraim knelt beside her.
‘Mmph, leave me be whelp. I am the lady Miranda Lynn Angelmere, you’d do well to heed these words.’ She mumbled at Ephraim. ‘Go away.’ She brushed his hand aside as she pulled the covers tightly round her shoulders.
Ephraim tugged at her dress. ‘Miranda.’ He shouted.
‘WHAT.’ She cried, her eyes snapped open.
‘Ord.’ She spoke a little dazed. ‘What about Ord.’
Sheepishly he explained. ‘He’s not here his bed remains undisturbed! Don’t you find this a little odd?’ He stood up.
Miranda propped herself up. ‘Is that all. He’s my ward, what do you expect.’ Annoyed she went to the lavatory. ‘You should be used to this.’ She rinsed her hands. ‘Its not like he had anything better to do, besides he did feel out of sorts about this place.’
‘Yeah I know, but still it’d be nice of him to tell us.’ He plucked a nose hair and yelped a little. ‘He can’t keep this up you know. One day he’ll have to get a proper nights rest.’
Miranda popped through the door refreshed. ‘Proper nights rest.’ She scoffed. ‘You call this a proper nights rest.’ Her fists bunched up. ‘I guess one can’t be choosy.’ She jabbed at a recently formed scare. ‘It’s Ords responsibility to see to our safety. Besides he probably went in search of information concerning Lesshalia.’
‘Then there’s that too. You don’t suppose there’s anything good to eat round here.’ He asked more to himself than anyone. His stomach grumbled in protest. ‘I’ll go down and take a look.’ Miranda waived in response. Downstairs the place looked the same as the night before. No attempt was made to clean anything. The place looked deserted. Perhaps its still too early or something, he thought to himself. He approached the desk quietly. As he was about to yell for Relg, Ord burst through the front door. Ephraim spun around, a startled look on his eyes. ‘Speak of the pits themselves. We were just talking about you.’
‘No time for this.’ He wheezed. ‘Where’s Miranda.’ Not even waiting for Ephraim’s response he climbed the steps to her room.
‘Well duh, hello.’ Ephraim started. ‘As if we didn’t know the answer to that one.’ He followed.
Ord looked a little shaken as he entered. ‘Miranda.’ He started. ‘There’s trouble.’
She immediately tensed as she buttoned her blouse. ‘Ord, come sit, tell us what you know.’
‘No time, we must hurry.’ He paced to his bunk and reached for his dagger and sword. ‘It’s him.’
Ephraim came in. ‘Did I hear there’s no time.’
As he was about to leave Miranda halted him. ‘Stop.’ She said. ‘What happened?’
‘Yes do tell.’ Ephraim blocked the exit with his fat countenance.
Wearied, Ord stopped. ‘I knew something was wrong a mile away. It’s just that I didn’t want to alarm you. See I smelled this kind of thing before. It’s the madness. Then after we came here I stole a bit of drink to calm my nerves.’
Amusement played on Ephraim’s mouth. ‘Stole a little, more like drank half the bottle.’
‘Damn it Ephraim.’ He snapped, irritated. ‘Look it’s this whole place, at first I thought nothing of it, but the longer I stayed here the more it dawned on me.’ He paused for dramatic effect. ‘Its as if.’ He shook his head. ‘Well, its as if what Lesshalia said came true. You remember her words, last winter just before she left Imbrisvale she had a vision.’
‘And what of it.’ Ephraim asked curiously. ‘Something about plague?’
‘And you call yourself a troubeneer.’ Ord retorted. ‘Not the plague, a blight, a blight will take root in a lonely village.’ He recited.’ This village will become known, but not at first.’ His eyes furrowed. ‘Um.’ Miranda interjected. ‘Yes, I remember.’ She said. ‘Everything will seem fine at first but a cloud will appear. A haze of smoke will show the madness as a man is carried to his doom. Then she passed out and the next morning she was gone.’
‘So what, you think this is the place she spoke of.’ Ephraim cracked his knuckles.
‘I’m certain of it.’ He sounded convinced. ‘This is as far as her scent goes. I scouted around.’ Grimly he continued. ‘I’m not sure but I think she died a while ago.’ Renkin have an incredibly keen sense of smell, so well in fact, that he’d be able to smell a scented apple a mile away. But the advantages don’t stop there; his eyesight is second to none, as keen and shrewd as a dogs. Still for all the benefits his ancestry provide, he still has a tendency to scavenge for half eaten food, delighting in savory meat freshly killed, something he tells to no one lest they find him uncouth.
Miranda appeared distressed. ‘Are you certain of this?’ She whispered.
Ord looked downcast. ‘Almost sure, I saw many graves just outside the village. Perhaps it was another. I had little time as some men approached. I couldn’t see their cowled faces, but a perplexing scent carried after them. They carried a body to an open grave. After which I returned to the village, fearing to be seen.’ He tried to reason with himself that he did all he could.
In a lighter tone Ephraim spoke. ‘I’m sure it was an old acquaintance that had some clothing of hers.’ He hopped but seemed less convinced.
‘Then our mission has already failed.’ She uttered miserably.
‘There’s more.’ He paced the room. ‘I couldn’t sleep so naturally I remained lithe in my undertakings. Everything was fine up until this morning.’ He said urgently. ‘A crowd started to form. I found this odd so I decided to blend in as best I could. Fortunately no one took notice. It almost seemed most of the town was present but for what I could only imagine. Especially at such an early morning too.’ He stopped for a moment, his patience at an end. ‘Enough, by the gods the more I sit here, the sooner another will die. Come we must stop this madness.’
‘Wait, wait just a bit.’ Ephraim tried to digest all he said. ‘A man or woman?’
Miranda got her things and started to follow Ord. ‘Does it matter.’ She hollered.
Ephraim retorted. ‘Well, yes. It could be Lesshalia.’ He too stopped to dress and followed after them. Or then again maybe not, he thought.
As they made haste to the courtyard, the bedraggled man knelt on a chopping board, an axe aimed square for his gullet, like a turkey ready for its end. The people started to chant. ‘Kill, kill, kill.’
Miranda gasped and impulsively shouted. ‘STOP.’ The crowd continued to ignore her. ‘I COMMAND YOU TO STOP.’ She started to weave the words into an irresistible cacophony. Momentarily the crowd silenced by this remark. Then smoke started to rise from the bodies of the people, most but not all. Tapin and a couple others looked at Miranda, a little confused.
Ord drew his sword, fearing the worst. He stepped forward. Ephraim followed suit, fumblingly he drew his double-edged daggers and waited for the crowd’s response.
She weaved the words once more. ‘I command you to stop.’ Then a corpulent man made his was through the crowd. The man was heavy beyond measure. Were he to sit, he’d certainly crush a couple of heads. But it was the way he walked, as if carried by something, he reared his way to a halt before them. He sounded shrill. ‘Who dares stop the execution of the heretic?’ All the while eyeing them with his right eye. The left appeared blind.
‘In the name of Imbrisvale, I demand to know what this man is accused of.’ Miranda responded bravely. The crowed became agitated.
The man stopped in thought before he slyly responded. ‘Ah, Imbrisvale, it seems fate has intercepted the foretellers end. Chief Kell greets all.’ He snapped his fingers; the man wielding the axe immediately lowered it. Then he turned to the assembly of people. ‘Go home.’ He glared over them. Without more words spoken the crowd dispersed, a little stunned, some deeply shocked, while others still out for blood made their dismay apparent. ‘Come.’ He said. ‘We need to discuss terms I presume.’ He did not turn to them, instead strode off to his villa in sheer arrogance.
Ephraim was about to say something but Ord abruptly pressed his hand over his mouth and whispered. ‘Don’t be foolish. Do you think to fight all of them.’ Then grinned and followed after the haughty man. Ephraim and Miranda subsumed and did the same. They looked at each other wordlessly as the man they just saved was being dragged away.
Kell was a brutish man; the buildings shook a little as he walked down the street. But that might be a little exaggerated. Non-the less Kell hit the ground hard enough for Ord, Ephraim and Miranda to feel the impact. His fingers were adorned with jewelry, a scarf was neatly wrapped round his neck and the apron strung round his waist made him look like the local butcher. The rings jiggled as he walked, but in particular one ring captured Ord’s attention. A black opal with an unusual twist in the center seemed to somehow rotate of its own accord. He wondered how such a thing was ever possible.
‘This way.’ Kell pointed to a large hall. ‘This is my humble establishment. If you’d like some refreshments.’ Kell seated himself behind a large desk, the table filled with all manners of food. A half-eaten stuffed turkey to one side, a pork roast, chicken and a grilled spittle of beef. Wine and fruit in bowls, with fish and bread all spread out lavishly as if waiting for tonight’s revelry. Unceremoniously Kell helped himself to a portion of grilled beef, downed by a flagon of fine wine, a potato and some grapes. ‘Good food, dig in.’ He spoke as he chomped down on a tender piece of meat.
Ephraim picked an apple and took a large bite. ‘Dear Kell, more accurately, chief of Lorenbast, you don’t suppose you’d bring us up to speed with the situation now would you.’ He said with his most charming smile.
‘Ah.’ He looked Ephraim over. As if gaining a new insight he said. ‘A troubeneer I see. Now what does such a creature want with a poor defenseless town as Lorenbast.’ Then returned to his meal, snapping a chicken leg he put to his puffy lips.
Ephraim looked at Miranda wide eyed, then to Ord. He did not know how to respond to that exactly. ‘How perceptive sir.’ He changed tact. ‘Now about that man.’
Kell removed a plump piece of pork and tore into it. ‘I’m just ravenous today it seems, you must excuse, my manners are somewhat jaded today.’
Miranda could stand it no longer. ‘Listen Kell, you tell us what we want and then perhaps we won’t need to bring Barrington into this.’
Kells eyes shone a silvery white as she said it. ‘Ah Barrington, should be mine that. I think one day it may be given to me.’ He resumed his gorging.
‘Answer me.’ Her temperature raised a level.
‘Tut, tut my dear. I agree. Tallen is the one you refer to. He is a worthless piece of hide that needs to be dealt a lesson. As did other foretellers face the same fate before him. We don’t tolerate heretics in this village very well. You see, he speaks of blasphemy where only the righteous walk.’ A grin as wide as a gutted fish flashed across his face.
Ord stepped forward. ‘Tell me Kell did Lesshalia happen to receive such a lesson.’ He raised his sword level. Anger flashed in his eyes as he watched this monster feast.
Kell looked at Ord briefly, a flicker of recognition came to him. ‘Lo brother, there’s no need to point that beastly weapon around. Aren’t you perchance a relkin.’ He frowned. ‘Now, now brother there’s no need to upset yourself. I won’t tell if you won’t. Come join me, this is a happy time.’
Ord looked puzzled. ‘Where is Lesshalia?’ He repeated.
Kell stopped eating and considered Ord’s words. ‘Lesshalia you say.’ He feigned. ‘I’m not aware of such a one. Do you think us savage.’ His good eye rolled back.
There was nothing he could say. That fact that he could tell Ord was Relkin bothered him. But he sensed a dreadful power behind that mask of flesh and bone, a power as strong as the pits themselves. The smell didn’t reassure him, such foul madness, it almost consumed him but he was stronger than this. He had to be, as a knight of Imbrisvale, he had to be, as a ward and protector to Miranda, he had to be. But then he started questioning his own role in all of this, what if this was meant to be. He shook his head. ‘If you know me to be Relkin then I’ll ask again, where is Lesshalia?’ A steely edge crept into his voice.
Kell only smiled. ‘Do not insult me boy.’ He put down the food and sat still for a time. ‘Do not interfere here.’ He warned. ‘I expect you all to leave tomorrow otherwise!’ He did not finish his threat and he didn’t have to. The guards spoke volumes as they approached and ushered them out of the hall roughly.
The sky parted, a mist blanketed the town, then a ray of sunlight pierced through putting an end to any rain. Ephraim, Ord and Miranda were ushered back to ye old plondits. Inside they retreated to their room as all the men and women looked on.
‘Be sure to pay for today.’ Relg shouted after them.