Authors: Ben Galley
Farden ripped the rope from around his head and threw back his hood. It took seconds to shrug the rope from his hands. He held his knife to Forluss’ neck and pointed to the iron handle of the door. ‘Open it,’ he hissed.
Forluss bit his quivering lip. Farden could tell that somewhere deep inside him, some scrap of humanity was considering the weight of this betrayal, of giving up his only friend to Farden’s blade. He could see the conflict on his face as that little scrap battled with the thought of saving his skin. It was a short battle.
Forluss pushed down on the handle and lumbered into the room, followed closely by Farden. They were greeted by a shrill shout.
‘Oi! What’s the meaning o’ this? Forluss? I told you…’ Kint’s voice died at the sight of the dead man standing behind his comrade. A dead man holding a knife. A dead man who was very much a live man.
To give Kint credit, he wiped the look of confusion off his face pretty quickly. He had been lying on his bed, surrounded by pillows. There was a half-empty bottle of wine beside him, alongside a tray bearing a little bottle of ink, a cloth, and an array of bone needles. One still lingered in Kint’s hand, its point smeared black and dripping. He was topless. A half-finished, badly-scrawled word sat on his upper arm, in amongst a crowd of others. It was bleeding slightly. It looked like a name.
Farden slammed the door and booted Forluss further into the room. Kint’s was a tall room with oak beams spanning an arched roof. There was a crackling fire in the hearth and bottles of wine on a nearby table. Kint’s collection of wicked knives was splayed on the wall, along with Forluss’ Fiend, looking out of place hanging from a peg. Farden caught the fat man staring longingly at it.
‘Not a chance,’ he said, moving to grab the knives. The Fiend he had plans for. With a flick of his wrist, he tossed the blades on the fire, and their leather scabbards began to wither and crackle.
Kint had put his needle down. ‘How?’ he asked, simply. No fuss. ‘How’d you escape that noose?’
Farden ignored the question. He jabbed at Forluss and pointed to the ground. Forluss did as he was told. He prostrated himself at the end of Kint’s bed and mumbled something that sounded vaguely like a prayer into the carpet. Perhaps he was starting to realise that the mage had been lying. As Farden untied the rope from his hands, he looked up at Kint, and smiled. ‘Well done, Forluss,’ he said, loudly. ‘You were right. He is alone.’
Kint turned his vicious little gaze at Forluss. ‘That true, Forluss?’
Forluss simply moaned. It was enough proof for Kint. ‘You fat, back-stabbing, treacherous, weaselly fucker,’ he snapped, eliciting another moan. He looked to Farden. ‘How, I ask you? I watched you die.’
Farden shrugged. ‘The gods must like me,’ he stated flatly. ‘Now, on your feet, scum.’
Kint also did as he was told. Farden could see his skin ripple into goose-bumps, even in the warm air of the room. He hoped it was fear. He watched the man’s eyes skip about. The door, the knives, The Fiend, the window that had been cracked ever-so-slightly ajar, they were all so far away. He could see the hopelessness in his eyes, the same as he had felt on the tree.
Kint shuffled to the end of his bed. Farden tilted his head to read the half-finished word Kint had been tattooing into his arm. ‘Far…’ he said aloud. He chuckled darkly. ‘I should have let you finish. It’s the last name you’ll ever put on your arm.’
Kint visibly gulped. Like Forluss, his wicked exterior hid a snivelling coward. The man fell to his knees and clasped his hands together. Farden curled his lip at the contemptuous sight. Kint began to whine in his shrill voice. ‘Please,’ he begged. ‘It weren’t our idea. The Duke told us to follow you to Wodehallow! He was the one who set you up. Not us!’
‘No,’ said Farden. ‘But you did kill me, didn’t you?’
Kint fell silent with a wretched sob. Farden could see through the act. It just hardened his heart against them. Forluss was still mumbling something into the rug. It must have been a prayer. He didn’t sound very practised at it. Farden growled. If there was one thing he hated his victims doing before he dispatched them, it was praying. It meant somebody might be watching. Farden kicked him and Forluss whined. ‘Shut up,’ he ordered. ‘Nobody’s coming to save you now.
‘Please…’ begged Forluss.
But the words fell on deaf ears. ‘Shut up!’
Kint spoke up again, trying to reason with the vengeful mage. ‘You don’t ‘ave to do this, Four-Hand. You and I ain’t so different!’ he began, but Farden whirled on him.
‘I am nothing like you!’ he bellowed, flecks of spit landing on Kint’s face.
Forluss began to whine again. ‘What do you want from us? You want us to say sorry? You want us to beg? We’ll beg. We’ll do anything you say, just don’t kill us!’
Farden shook his head at both of the men. Both of the spineless weasels were sweating profusely now. Their eyes were red with fear. He hadn’t taken them for beggars. Fighters, perhaps, but not beggars. It made him hate them even more. All they cared about was protecting their own worthless hides, even if it meant killing the other to do it. As callous as a grindstone. As unscrupulous as a winter wind.
, said a tiny voice inside his head. It stung him like a bee.
Farden quickly silenced it.
, he told himself. He may have shared a master with these two, but he was not like them. These two had robbed and hanged him at the whim of a greedy, double-crossing master. They had rattled home and laughed between themselves at their deeds. Farden had never done that. Not the latter anyway. He looked down at Kint. This bastard even had the sick audacity to tattoo the name of his victims on his arm, like a lady wearing her jewels on her fingers. Shameless. Farden burnt with revenge and disgust. He wished he had the hours to draw it out and make them suffer. ‘The difference between me and you wretched creatures…’ he began, but he paused, suddenly unsure of what to say. On the walk from Fleahurst he had dreamt up a hundred different ways to put these two to death, but now, standing over them with a blade, he realised he hadn’t decided on one…
What did men like this truly deserve? Did they deserve a quick death? That would have verged on merciful. Did they deserve to be strung up with the ship’s rope like he had been? Part of him wouldn’t wish that on anybody.
Farden thought of the ash tree and how his feet had left the earth, how he had felt his heart flutter to its last. Coming face to face with death had taught him that the fear of it was torture enough. The mage had spent years being tortured in that way. First it had been his uncle’s madness. Now it was the grave. It was the fear of what lay beyond that made men beg, scream, and fight.
A cold river. A boat with a vulture’s head. Millions pushing behind.
But that had been a dream. A gryphon’s dream. He hadn’t had a dream like that since the night of the Battle. Ilios was responsible for that beyond, not his death. There, standing over two men he was about to put to death, a realisation slowly dawned on him. On the beach, Loki had asked him why he had wanted to live forever. Why? He suddenly knew. The dream had been fake, but the darkness and the emptiness beyond it had been real. Farden had never feared dying; he had simply feared death because after any death came the other side: the void where ghosts dwelt, where nothing spoke and nothing lived and nothing existed. It pained him to think of that, but it was true. A memory bubbled up of what he had said to Cheska on her death-bed. But she too was now nothing but memory. Farden didn’t want to be nothing, he wanted to be something. Even if it was just a hired blade scraping a living in a shack by the sea, alive was
‘Why don’t you stop wasting my time and do whatever it is you’re going to do,’ spat Kint, staring up at the mage. He had found his balls then, it seemed. Farden realised he had been staring into space. He looked down at him and shook his head.
‘I’m not doing anything,’ he said, sheathing his blade. Kint’s eyes widened, and Forluss looked up with a glint of slim hope in his teary coward’s eyes. Farden walked to the wall and snatched The Fiend from its peg. He felt the sharp tip of one of its nails. What did these men deserve? Just death. Death and nothingness.
Let them rot in the void.
Farden smiled as he tossed The Fiend on the carpet between the two of them. Then, he sauntered to the door and put his hand on the doorhandle. He looked back at the two men. Kint and Forluss were as still as frozen statues. Their eyes were still wide and confused. Farden put them out of their misery, in more than one way. ‘Whichever one of you comes out of this room alive, gets to leave alive,’ he explained, and with a casual whistle, he opened the door, scanned the corridor, and then closed it behind him.
Kint looked at the ugly weapon lying on the carpet, and then up at Forluss. Fat Forluss did the same. He blinked. ‘You called me fat,’ was the only thing he could think to say.
Farden lingered outside the door, hood up and calm. He drew his blade and spun it around in his hand so that the blade pointed backwards. Its cold steel rested lightly against his wrist. Threatening. Hungry.
Farden let the stone wall hold him up. He crossed his feet and waited, listening to the muffled sounds of scuffling and grunting behind the closed door. Only once did the doorhandle rattle, and Farden tensed, but it was followed by a thud, and then a crash as glass met stone floor, and skull met club.
Silence. A silence that gave Farden more than an iota of satisfaction.
Moments later, the doorhandle rattled again and this time the door inched open. Out stepped Forluss, heavy of breath and of heart. There was a pained look in his eye, caused partly by the long gash along his forehead, partly by the dead body lying on the floor behind him. The Fiend hung loosely in his hand. He didn’t seem surprised to see Farden.
‘Well done,’ the mage muttered. Forluss nodded vacantly. Farden swung his arm so quickly that Forluss barely even saw the steel before it slammed into his traitorous, leaden heart. Farden stepped back, letting Forluss take the blade with him. He watched him topple backwards into the room like a sweating tree, landing with a wet thud on the battered body of Kint. Farden took a deep breath. He had been waiting to do that for years.
He didn’t waste time staring at the dead pair. The door was shut, the wretches locked away, and the mage moved off down the corridor, only half the night finished.
“Why is the moon scarred so? Because of the daemons and their claws.”
A snippet from a classic Arka book of nonsense and nursery rhymes
he guards didn’t believe it necessary to guard the upper corridors of castle Tayn, seeing as its lower regions were so heavily patrolled.
How wrong they were.
Padding as softly as his wet boots would allow, Farden crept from doorway to doorway. The rain drummed urgently on every window he flitted past. There was a fresh blade in each hand. One for Loffrey. One for the Duke. He would see them both stained within the hour.
As furtively as a cat-burglar’s ghost, Farden dashed up the steps to the main tower. He hid in an alcove as a number of women passed by. Maids by the look of their smeared aprons. They nattered contentedly to each other. Apparently there had been a ruckus at the banquet. The Duke’s wife had embarrassed herself yet again, yelling for the Duke. Who had ever heard of such a thing? She needed to be locked away in her room for good, and that brat of hers too.
Farden scowled and kept moving. His body felt like lead, but as always, Farden’s stubborn mind whipped his muscles into action. There would be time for rest after this mess was cleared up once and for all. As much rest as a man could want for.
The spiral staircase led him up into the main tower, and he was pleased to find the corridors there as sparse as those below. The banquet must have drawn all of Tayn’s nobility to the lower levels. It must have only just begun too, as there were not that many drunken stragglers wandering the halls.
, thought Farden. That gave him ample time to have his way with Kiltyrin. There was a man who did deserve a slow death. Loffrey could wait, and watch.
As Farden passed a long set of steamed-up windows, he caught a glimpse of a shadow hurrying up the curving hallway towards him, thrown ahead of its maker by the hot torches in their stone alcoves. Farden looked about but found to his dismay that he was stuck in the open. There wasn’t a hiding place in sight. More jittery shadows joined the first, a little behind but swiftly catching up. Farden could hear raised voices, the familiar jangling of studded armour and metal.
The mage cursed and threw his hand into his cloak pocket, fumbling for the second half of the strange little mistfrond. His stomach cried out in protest, but Farden told it to be quiet amidst another stream of curses. He couldn’t risk raising the alarm. Not now that he was so close.
Wincing, Farden shoved the strange fruit into his mouth and chomped down as fast and as hard as he could. Just like before, the effects of the mistfrond were almost instant. Farden tucked himself into the nearest shadow as the voices and hurried footsteps came nearer.