Dusk (12)

04/27/2015 § Leave a comment

He has not been down in the cellar in a long while. It is a dank, dark place marked with a thick odour of salt fish and sour cheese, which makes him think of women, somehow, and so isn’t altogether unpleasant.

He finds his way further in, treading carefully, toward the lone jail cell in the back of the cellar. He has less than a quarter of an hour before two of his men will make their way down for another bout of questioning. It’s more than enough time for what needs to be done, but he is nervous, beyond nervous, because everything depends on this. His position. His future. Fail, and he will have neither. All the work and money he has put toward them will be for naught. And he will leave the Watch dishonoured and mostly likely crippled, if he is allowed to leave it alive at all. That much has been made perfectly clear to him.

Garrick feels the beginnings of another curse forming inside his chest, but stops himself short this time. He might, it occurs to him, just need the Lady’s grace, after all.

He finds the assassin chained to the wall, just where he is supposed to be. Only a pale mass of naked flesh, in darkness, reeking of human filth. Garrick has heard about this one, how stubborn he’s been, how outrageously defiant. The lad’s either a dullard or a bold little bugger, or possibly both. A single stroke of luck in this wholly unfortunate mess, for Garrick Bann. For if the lad had talked and gave up the name of his employer…

The assassin isn’t moving. His form appears limp, sagged, bent… lifeless. For half an instant Garrick finds himself hoping, relief already flooding his nervous mind—but then there comes a harrowing cough that wracks the man’s entire body, followed by a ragged inward breath.

The assassin lifts his head.

“You… Want… More…?”

The voice gives him a shiver. Garrick takes a deep breath to calm himself. He knows what he is here to do, what he must do. Which is a mercy, truly, yes, compared to what awaits the lad in the torturers’ chambers.

He takes a step closer, takes out his leather flask.

“I’m only here to feed you some wine,” he says in a flat, taut voice. “You’re no good to us dead.”

The assassin does not answer, but doesn’t object either, when Garrick brings the flask to his mouth and gently tilts his head back.

Dusk (11)

04/23/2015 § Leave a comment

“Fuck the Lady.”

So curses Garrick Bann, sergeant of the Watch and the officer-in-command of Havertham’s westernmost land gate, as he steps down into the cellar of the guardhouse where the prisoner is kept. He guides the door shut behind him, gently, contrary to his mood, and then, bearing no light, stops and waits for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. It occurs to him, ever so briefly in that waiting, that he is standing at one of life’s so-called junctures—a fork in the path, a threshold about to be crossed.

The thought does not linger long, for Garrick Bann, for all the qualities that define him as a leader of men (one well-married cousin and many, many bribes), is not a man given to self-reflection. He is a man who gets things done, as he likes repeating when his spirits are high on ale and dice: leave the thinking to philosophers and poets, and leave it to the real men (he’d be thumbing himself in the chest) to get things done.

That is what he’s doing, here and now, descending the steps into a dark corridor. Doing what needs to be done, to clean up a mess that some ill-gotten luck has brought quite literally to his gate. Just how in the Lady’s light was he supposed to know that an exile would show up at the gate, with an assassin in tow, just after he’d left the post for some well-deserved relaxation? Or that a justiciar would be dragged into the mess, who’d laugh scornfully at his suggestion of… a gift of friendship? Or, worst of all, that his old-blooded patron would take such an interest in the matter?

So, in truth, Garrick can tell himself without deceit or cowardice that there really wasn’t a choice to begin with. Certainly not one where he had any say in. His being here, his carrying what he carries… It’s almost predetermined, seen in that light. Any further thought is just useless pussyfooting.

“Fuck Her in the arse,” he mutters again, finding as before no satisfaction in swearing.

Dusk (10)

04/17/2015 § Leave a comment

At last, the pain stops.

“Tough son of a whore, this one.”

Chest heaving, the Watcher spits on the floor and takes two steps back. His comrade offers him a leather flask. He grabs and drinks in big gulps, the pit of his throat moving needfully.

“I don’t suppose you’re going to start talking now,” says the other one, the one who watches and asks questions. “Your name. The name of the man who hired you. That’s all we need.”

Moss hears the man only faintly, the blood hammering in his ears like so many drums. His own breathing is thin and ragged, each inward breath coming with a sharp pain in the chest.

In the brief reprieve from the constant thrashing, his thoughts begin to flow back to him. But slowly, muddily, for he has never been one for cleverness. His own mother, who had indeed been a whore, had told him as much, and worse. Yet why did she not just smother him as a babe, as she’d said she should have done many, many times, if he had been nothing but a misfortune? Why not spare the both of them the misery?

“Tell us the names, and it can all end.”

There is a bitter, metallic taste in the back of his throat. Moss opens his mouth to curse the man, but what comes out isn’t words. A rush of bile and blood, hot and slippery against his own naked skin.

The Watcher clicks his tongue.

“It’s going to be much worse for you, you know, when the torturers come.”

There is fear in him, hearing that.

“They’ll put you on the wheel and break every last bone in your body. And if you’re still alive after that…”

“Slice off your nipples, they will,” says the other one. “And feed ‘em to you. That what you want?”

“The names. Yours, and the one who hired you.”

Moss hesitates, in the silence that follows. The temptation is real. He has heard the stories, whispered among those in his line of work as warnings against failure. Of the torturers who dwell in the shadow of Red Hall, in the abandoned cistern underground. Better to kill yourself, it is said, than let yourself be taken to their lair. A fate worse than hundred deaths.

It’s utter foolishness, then. Madness. But Moss cannot let himself be defeated by these Watchers. Or any Watcher, for that matter. There is power in denial. He understands it now. A truth. He will not give them what they want. Will not—cannot—go back to who he was before.

The Watchers give up, after a time. Before leaving him in darkness, one of them tells him:

“Think on it. You only have a little time.”

The Pedagogy of Love

04/16/2015 § Leave a comment

One.

Admit hurt. It doesn’t have to be difficult. Say to your loved ones “This is where I’m hurt,” “Right here is where I’m sort of broken,” or “Can you hold me? I think I might be falling to pieces.”

Two.

Do not resent your loved ones for trying to fix you. Thank them no matter how spectacular, valiant, and disastrous their failure. Remind them politely to love you in spite your brokenness.

Three.

And stop trying to fix yourself. You are, for better or worse, who you are. You can’t go back in time and kiss that girl or boy you loved or stop your parents from falling out of love. Give a proper burial to your past if need be, but leave the self-help books for the self-absorbed. Move on.

Four.

Make art. Do it with courage and honesty, do it any way you can. Use everything you have—even pain. Scrub out the lies you’ve carved into yourself all these years. Make yourself be known to yourself in the process.

Five.

But don’t think for a moment that suffering is a necessity. This is a lie. Do not, under any circumstances, invent suffering where there is none.

Six.

Share what you have made with the ones you love, with love. Share it loudly, proudly, and without apology.

Seven.

Repeat. Do it better. Do it in your own way.

Dusk (9)

04/15/2015 § Leave a comment

Chained up against a cold stone wall, naked and covered in his own filth from waist down, Shane Moss knows that his life is coming to an end.

The awareness is… surprisingly clear. Not a bitter thing at all, not something to rail against. It is only a fact, a knowing, familiar in the clarity of the moment. You lived your life one way, could hardly complain if and when it ended the same.

“The sergeant just got back.”

A voice, directly ahead, not far.

Moss lifts his chin, tries to look up. His vision is a slit, the eye of a needle, both his own swollen and bloodied shut.

At first there is only the orange glow of a torch, too bright for his battered eyes. Then, in a moment, a sudden shadowing: two human shapes, dark against the light. Two Watchers. One who does the beating, and one who watches, asks questions. There are always two of them.

“How pissed is he?”

Pissing, more like. The poor bastard’s got to report to Red Hall and explain his absence.”

“I would pay to see that.”

“Aye. Shorey says he found him in a poppy den. You believe that? The man wasn’t sober enough to mount a horse, or he could’ve gotten here in time.”

“Deserves whatever’s coming to him, if you ask me.”

“Shorey’s already got a pool going about that. My bet’s on two ranks and forty lashes.”

“Only?”

“You know he’s got ties to the Sirramarks. The only reason he made sergeant in the first place.”

“Fuck that.”

With that, their conversation ends. Something lurches in Moss’s stomach in the ensuing silence, but the beating doesn’t begin. Questions do not come. Moss can see the two of them standing directly ahead of him, within an arm’s reach. Can hear their breathing, mask-muffled, over and above his own.

They want me to wait for it. The understanding comes to him like a firebrand, bearing its own kind of light. It shows him… anger, defiance, deep within. Not against the certainty of a bad death, no, but against these Watchers, who would try and frighten him toward it.

He was very nearly one of them. Would have made a better Watcher, too, than both of these combined.

With that thought, Moss opens his mouth, summons his best smirk.

“Gentlemen… Here to… suck my cock?”

Dusk (8)

04/14/2015 § Leave a comment

A silence, in the wake of the justiciar’s leave. No sound but the crackling of hearthfire, and the deep, still-ragged breathing of the patient. The exile. Enis takes advantage of the quiet to think, and to finish her cup of wine at leisure.

She is just beginning to feel the effects of the wine, three cups of piss-poor red, when Jamie asks for her attention.

“Mistress.”

“Hmm?”

“Instructions for the patient’s care?”

“Ah. Yes.”

The Watcher, who has kept his own silence, wordlessly gazing at the exile, looks up at that.

“Watcher—Lowe, is it?”

He nods.

“Keep the room heated. You’ll want to have someone regularly check on the drain. Little blood is normal, as is clear fluid. Send for me if there is green pus, or if the flesh becomes inflamed and begins to smell.”

She gives him a moment to absorb the details.

“You may move him to one of the beds here, once he awakens. He will be in a great deal of pain when he does. You may need to restrain him. I would prefer to keep him sleeping with milk of poppy, but I imagine the justiciar… will be eager to carry out his duties. So I will send my apprentice tomorrow, with something for his pain.”

Watcher Lowe nods, slowly. His eyes fall to the exile, lingers on the wounds, the thin brass pipe jutting out of the lower one for draining. Then he looks back at her. “Thank you, doctor,” he says at length. “I thought him dead, when he… went out in my arms. I know little about the healing arts, but I have seen enough men die to know, that what you have done here… ”

She finds herself able to smile. “A strange thing, is it not? That we can ward off death with sticks and knives.”

“It seemed such an… injustice, for a man to survive an exile only to die at the gates.”

Her turn to nod.

“What do you know of the… assassin?”

The Watcher turns his head and spits on the floor.

“A stubborn bastard. Not a word since he woke up. Despite, ah, our best efforts.”

“Will he require my expertise, as well?”

A barb in that question, more reflex than intent.

“No, I think not.” The Watcher’s expression is something between a grimace and a smirk. “My comrades are… knowledgeable, at administering pain without doing harm.”

“Ah. I see.” A pause. She stands up from the stool, receives the leather bag with her tools from Jamie. “We will take our leave, too, then.”

Dusk (7)

04/13/2015 § Leave a comment

Enis Cay wipes the sweat from her brow with the back of her physician’s glove, before handing it off to her apprentice. She can feel, in the heat and glow of the roaring hearth, the strain leaving her body like a parchment burning to cinders. She allows herself to relax. Drops her shoulders, lets her hands fall to her lap. Breathes in, and then out—as freely as she dares, given the chocking stench of a man who has spent years in wilderness alone, Lady only knows how.

Her work here is done. And it is the perhaps the best work she has ever done, since taking the Oath. Her patient, laid out on a worn wooden table wiped clean of soldiers’ entertainments, should be a dead man but for her involvement. Still looks like one, truth be told, stark naked and pallid as candle wax.

He had two knife wounds to his left side: one below the armpit, and another between the ribs, third and fourth. The former was only a graze, blocked by the bone, but the latter… She knows she has averted death, this day. Pried its bony fingers off a man’s life, one by one.

Enis doesn’t feel pride, looking at what she has done. More accurate to say she cannot. Not just yet. She needs to come back first, recover her own strength.

Having put away her glove and tools, Jamie, her quick-witted apprentice, offers her a cup of wine. Enis accepts it and drains it in gulps, unmixed. Cheap red wine, all bitterness with no redeeming quality whatsoever, fetched by the Watcher to wash the wounds. Normally she would have savoured it, or pretended to, to make a show of modesty and culturedness that’s expected from a fully guilded physician. The first lesson for all would-be-physicians: perception matters, when you handle others’ lives by profession. Especially when you are a woman, as she is, and have enough… to incite desire in others, as she has. She knows a great many colleagues, blessed with their male organs, who affect at old age by dyeing their beard and temples grey. It is harder for her, for obvious reasons. Takes more work, more subtlety, to achieve the same effect. But she is too weary to care about that, just now. Too far gone.

“So,” the fair-haired justiciar speaks from across the room. “Will he live?” He peels himself off the wall where he has been leaning all this time, arms folded, waiting. Takes a step toward the table.

Enis lifts her palm at him, stops him in his tracks. It startles him, she sees, her bluntness. Feels no amusement at that—she’s still coming back, a long way.

She gives Jamie a sidelong glance, who refills her cup with more wine. She drains it, too, and holds out the cup for a third. Mixes it with water this time, swirls it under her nose, and takes a careful sip.

“I have done all I can,” she says. “The rest is up to the Lady.”

“That is not an answer.” The justiciar snaps.

“What would you have me say, then, messere? Shall I fake certainty where there is none, and make a liar of myself? The laws that govern my art are nothing like those you impose. If you knew anything at all of the oath we swear—”

It is Jamie who reminds her, coughing into his fist, their agreed-upon sign for when she is losing her temper with a patron. Enis stops herself at that. Purses her lips for a moment. “Forgive me,” she offers, murmuring. “The work has exhausted me.”

“It’s no matter,” the justiciar says, after a time, magnanimously enough. “But I still require an answer.”

“You have the only answer I can give, justiciar.”

He glares at her. Green eyes, brightly lit by the fires in the room, unworthy of such an expression. They have started off on the wrong foot, she and the justiciar, having had to share a horse from the city to this place and a… discomfort, during that ride, between them. Should she have pretended not to notice? But that, she thinks, with a flicker of amusement, would have been another kind of offence. Perhaps a more grievous one.

Next to the justiciar, the Watcher, mask and helm off, too has questions in his eyes.

Enis sighs consent.

“I can say that it is no small thing that this man still draws breath. After how much blood he lost?” She shrugs. “I give no assurances, but if I were to make a bet, I would not make one against his living past this day.”

“Can you not wake him, then? I can hardly pardon an unconscious man.”

No patience at all with this one! Enis bites her tongue, keeps the words in check.

“I cannot. Would not, even if I could. He would be in excruciating pain, if he were to regain consciousness before due time. It would undo the work I’ve done here.”

At that, the justiciar throws up his hands. Laughs a short, bitter laughter. “Then this has been a complete waste of my time.”

He turns toward the Watcher.

“Send for me when the exile is awake and well, won’t you, Watcher Lowe?”

“Sir?”

“I think I should be the one to pardon him after all, having witnessed… his struggle here.”

With that, he casts a furtive glance at Enis. An acknowledgement, if not quite an apology. She nods at him, eyes downcast.

“Yes, justiciar,” says the Watcher. “I apologize for your time.”

“No need for that. You acted appropriately.”

The Watcher hesitates for a moment, then speaks up: “Might we not alert his kin, sir? We have his name. It should not be too difficult to find—”

The justiciar shakes his head.

“Out of the question. Someone made an attempt on his life. Outside the walls, this close to Nightfall. That is… unprecedented, to the best of my knowledge. I believe we will risk further attempts, if his whereabouts become known.”

“Even here, sir?”

“Best not find out, don’t you agree?”

The Watcher nods, reluctantly, his expression disturbed.

“I will take my leave, then. Doctor.” He gives Enis a curt bow, and then steps out of the room.

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