Saturday, September 1, 2007

Chaper 3c: House of Drummen

True to his word, Wellan walked from the training field to the seedy docks area where Drummen lived, hoping to find that the fiery tempered man had simply shirked his duties. The wizard didn’t know him, but according to rumor, Drummen behaved like a drunken bully. He drank heavily, fought with friends and enemies alike, and chased the women with little success, but he had never shirked his duties while working for the watch, not in his entire ten years of service. He hoped for the best, but feared the worst.

Wellan pushed Drummen’s fate to the back of his mind as he looked from house to house, in search of the correct one. He found the shack deep within the poverty stricken neighborhoods of the docks. Why a captain of the city guard would choose to live in such a poor section of the city was something he had trouble figuring out. The lower denizens of the city lived in the docks area, the riffraff. Surely a city guard of the lowest level could afford to live in a better part of the city than the docks. The pungent smell of fish was enough to make any sensible person want to live anywhere else.

As he passed through the uneven, hole-riddled streets ragged people stared and pointed. Wellan’s reputation as the wizard of Renier made him an icon throughout the city, leaving him few places he could go and not be recognized. Normally people didn't gawk so brazenly, but the Duke's wizard didn't often frequent that part of the city. Rumors would be flying soon, but that couldn't be helped.

Wellan shook his head as he stared at Drummen’s house, if anyone could actually call it a house. The entire wooden structure was smaller than Wellan's bedroom; he could have easily fit two of the houses within his study, though it would be unlikely that he would ever consider putting such a dilapidated thing within the walls of his study. The porch planks had split and crumbled with age and the posts were made of brittle logs, the bark still scarcely clinging in some spots. Observing the precarious angle of the roof he considered not stepping inside. Unfortunately his path led him to the ruin of a home. Fortunately he had survived worse.

The boards groaned as he stepped onto the wooden porch. I suppose that's how Drummen knows when his neighbors are sneaking up to rob him. The ungenerous thought crept unbidden into his mind. Wellan paused to take another look at the house. No, maybe murder, but not robbery. I think his neighbors probably have more than he does. Wellan heard that Drummen was a mean drunk and loved to gamble, but he never suspected such things could drive a man so low.

He reached to knock on the rickety door and halted as the hinge creaked with the ocean breeze. A slim black gap showed the door wasn’t closed. Not a good sign, but seeing the rest of the house he assumed it might be normal. He held the flimsy door in place and knocked. No one answered and he knocked again. "Drummen?" Still no answer.

The door creaked as he pushed it open, the gap widened and the sweet odor of liquor assaulted his nostrils. He stood in the doorway, letting his eyes adjust to the darkened room.

Filth covered the small area. Part of the room served as a kitchen, and mold-covered plates sat haphazardly near a tub scabbed with dry suds. Past the tub lay a large cot, filth-stained sheets wadded into a pile. On the floor lay a pillow that Wellan wouldn't have let the Duke's wolfhounds sleep on. A large wooden table sat in the center of the room, a chair laying on its side gave the scene a menacing aspect of something started and left undone.

As Wellan bent to pick the chair off of the floor he saw why the room reeked of liquor. A half-empty bottle of spirits sat on the floor. It had obviously fallen from the table, the spilled liquid evaporating during the night. He leaned over to pick the bottle up and saw something that was stranger than the bottle itself. Blood. Crusty half-congealed blood, splashed in large explosive patterns all around the almost empty container. He pulled his hand back without touching the bottle and backed away from the table, seeing more blood splattered there. With the faint light and all the other stains on the table, he hadn't noticed the brown splotches before.

Wellan didn't touch anything as he backed out of the house, stepped off the porch, and into the street, never taking his eyes from the structure.

Drummen had been infected. Now he roamed freely within the city. Wellan's eyebrows gathered together as he considered what that meant for Renier. The man had to be captured and captured soon or the situation would get out of hand, and Wellan didn't want to think about where that could lead.

First he had to take care of the house.

Wellan stepped back and raised his arms, as if hung on an imaginary cross with fingers locked and pointed at the dilapidated structure. Smoke flowed like wisps of steam from the palms of his hands. As the smoke thickened his eyes rolled back and his mouth whispered strange words. Onlookers backed away, not wanting to witness the the unnatural powers sorcery.

Within seconds the house began to disintegrate. The wood blackened and charred, as if burned, yet no flame appeared. More seconds passed and the roof collapsed with a thunderous crack. The walls became black dust that didn't drift with the breeze, but fell straight to the ground. Within moments the home had become a pile of black ash that seemed to be untouched by the wind. It was almost enough.

As Wellan brought his hands together in front of him, ashes piled together where the shack had stood. His fingers locked together. The ashes came together even more, forming a tight mound. With both hands clasped together, he dropped them below his stomach, and the pile of ashes sank into the ground leaving a clean area of dirt, ready for a new structure.

When it was done he opened his eyes and began a brisk walk away from the dock area. He needed to speak with the Duke.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Chapter 3b: A Hard Request

Wellan arrived at the dew-coated training field moments before the morning sun crested the dark silhouette of trees. The damp air clung to his robes and chilled his exposed skin, causing goose bumps to form on his arms. The morning walk felt good though, refreshing after spending the night stooped over a table reading tomes by candle light.

He hadn’t slept, staying awake through the night studying books, scrolls, and ancient clay fragments. Most of the text belonged to languages no longer used or even remembered by the likes of men. Wellan knew them. He could read most as easily as he read the common tongue; he had been looking out for mankind for a long time.

Unfortunately, his sleepless night had turned up almost nothing about the foul creatures that had invaded Renier.

A sandy-haired man marched up to him as he walked toward a line of soldiers standing at attention on the dirt-covered field. Though he was the smallest of the group, his confident stride showed he held command over the other guards. He stopped and tucked a helmet under his arm then saluted Wellan. In a formal military rote he bellowed, "sir, I have gathered all of the men who were involved with the lepers last night."

Wellan looked around the field. "Where is Captain Patrell?"

"He commands the Day Guard, sir. He has worked two shifts back to back and went home to get some rest before reporting for duty again, sir." The man's hand never left the boiled leather armor covering his heart. The salute would remain until he was told to relax.

Wellan hated formalities. "What is your name, soldier?"

"Stiles, sir! Stiles Milo of the Night Watch."

Wellan put his hand on the young man's shoulder. "At ease, Stiles. There is no need to be formal with me." Wellan looked over at the men. "Is this all of them?"

Stiles glanced at the men and his tone became relaxed as he replied. "Almost all of them, sir. My captain hasn't reported back yet. He was pretty upset about the whole thing."

Wellan frowned. "That would be Drummen?"

"Yes, sir. He left right after dispatching one of the lepers."

"Yes, I heard about that." Wellan walked to the line of guards. "Were any of these men injured by the lepers?"

"No, sir. Not physically anyway. We're all a little shook up. We ain't seen nothing like that ever. Are all lepers that hard to kill?"

Wellan walked down the line of men, scrutinizing every man as he answered. "No. Normally a leper would be very easy to kill. These were special, and that is why I am going to have to ask you and your men to do me a favor. A very large favor, one that I don't think you will like."

An eager smile lit Stile’s face. "Whatever you need done we can do it."

Wellan paused for a moment, measuring the character of the man. With a weary sigh he said, "I am going to have to ask you and your men to incarcerate yourselves for a few days in the city dungeon."

The eager smile fled Stiles face and his eyes widened in surprise as he stumbled over his reply, "But… but my Lord Wizard….we have done nothing wrong! We…"

The other soldiers shifted and looked at one another as Wellan grasped Stiles shoulder with a supportive grip and shook his head. "No… No, it isn't that you and the men here have done anything wrong. No, far from it. It is for your own good and the good of the city. I am probably being overly cautious, but the lepers may have been contagious. It will only be for a day or two. If none of you have shown any symptoms by that point then you won't show any at all. You and your men will receive full pay, and you can eat and drink as you like, play cards, almost anything you all would like to…."

"Ale?" one of the men yelled. The brash comment put the men at ease as they started realizing that the next two days might not turn out as bad as they had thought.

"Women?" questioned another one, causing the other men to snicker with quiet laughter.

The comment brought a smile to Wellan's lips, a badly needed smile. "Yes, yes. You men can have all the ale your hearts desire. I will make sure a keg or two is brought down to you. The women….." Wellan shrugged his shoulders "I'm afraid that one is a little out of my jurisdiction."

Wellan recieved a hearty laugh from the men. Feeling more relaxed and assuming the talking was finished, they fell out of line and joked and talked amongst themselves. Wellan turned and left, walking across the practice field with Stiles in close pursuit.

"The men are easily bribed with promises of pleasure, my Lord Wizard, but this contamination you mention bothers me."

Any humor that may have lingered on Wellan's lips quickly vanished. In a lighthearted tone he replied, "Don't worry about it, my friend. I honestly believe that if any of you were going to be sick it would have already begun."

The reassurance appeased Stiles for a moment, before his eyes saddened as a new idea came upon him. "Do you think my captain, Drummen, may have caught it?"

Wellan looked Stiles in the eyes and said, "That is the next thing I am going to find out."

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Chapter 3a: Breakfast with Martha

"It will begin as a single seed and grow among you, hidden from your very eyes. There it will nourish itself and flourish as the flowers in the spring until you realize it is among you, a great harvest. The harvest to end all harvests!"
~Secret Holy Scriptures of the Waken Book

"Are you using some new type of tea?" Malach said, a frown twisting his mouth as he questioned his wife.

She set a plate of scrambled eggs and buttered bread in front of him, wiped her hands on her apron, and answered, "No, it's the same tea I used yesterday. Why, does it taste bad?"

He set his cup down and scooped eggs onto his fork. "Well... it's just got a funny taste to it is all. A little bitter." He stuffed the eggs into his mouth and chewed.

Martha walked to the cupboard and lifted a canister, grape leaves and squiggly vines painted on the front. All her canisters were decorated with leaves of one sort or another; it was the latest style in kitchenware. She twisted open the canister and sniffed, drawing in a crisp herbal scent. The tea leaves didn't smell odd. She pulled a leaf out and stuck it to her nose, giving it a little pinch to draw out some of the scent, then sniffed again. It smelled fresh to her.

Malach frowned around a mouth full of eggs. "I didn't mean for you to start all that business. I just said the tea tasted odd is all." He pointed at her plate with a fork full of eggs. "Now forget about it and sit down and eat your breakfast. The market is gonna be busy today, and you're gonna need to eat something before we go."

Sighing, she put the canister back, making sure the leaf design faced toward the front. All her containers lined up to form a chain of leaves across the top shelf of the cupboard. She sat down across from Malach but didn't touch her food; instead she lifted her teacup and took a sip. She pursed her lips. "I see what you're talking about. It isn't bad, but it does have a bit of an aftertaste doesn't it? Sort of bitter."

Malach nodded and pointed at her plate with the fork again as he wolfed down a piece of bread. He was always in such a hurry, not listening to a word she said.

"Okay, okay. I'm eating." She stabbed a piece of egg with her fork and brought the pale, yellowed lump to her mouth.

They both ate in silence. Malach was right about a busy day at the market. In two days the festival of Gods Day would occur and people were preparing for a day of feasting, visiting, and giving thanks to whatever diety they happened to pray to. The holiday was created to keep businesses running in the face of well over a dozen temples to different deities within the city. If it weren't for Gods Day creating a common holy time, then every religion would have their own holiday throughout the year and things around the city would be sporadic at best. They would need to be at their little bakery before the sun came up, and they probably wouldn't leave until the sun went down. That was the way it had been their whole twenty-seven years of marriage, and Martha remained sure it would continue on like that for the next twenty-seven years.

Only a few morsels of egg remained and a corner piece of toast when she put her fork down and looked at Malach as he carried his plate and fork to the washing tub, "Maybe it was the water?"

He set his dirty dishes in a large sudsy bowl before turning to her. "What was the water?"

"The tea. Maybe the waters got some sulfur or something in it this morning."

Without much interest he replied, "Yep, I suppose it could be the water. It very well could be."

Following Malach’s example, Martha carried her plate to the wash tub, scraped the uneaten food into a wooden bowl for the neighbor’s chickens, and put her own bowl in the cloudy water. She frowned at the mess, but she would just have to take care of the dishes when they returned at dusk.

She didn’t realize she would never see the inside of her kitchen again.

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