Chapter 3: Word as law
The marketplace bustled with moving carts, stalls and barkers. The smell of roasted meats mingled, uneasily, with that of horse’s shit. Thick smoke from various small blacksmiths in the area combined with the haphazard layout of the market to make visibility low. Parrid was in a particularly foul mood this morning, having had his breakfast unceremoniously thrown out the tavern window by an irate inkeep, demanding payment. The mindless shrieks from this overweight pile of excrement still rang in his ears. “No coin, no room! No coin, no food.” Over and over again. He was sure that he was being made an example of. He had promised the keep his payment in three days and was rewarded for his oath by being locked out of his room with a promise that in three days, when the keep was paid, he would see the return of his belongings that were in the room at the time of the incident. Even if he had had the payment for the bloated innkeeper he would never see it now. To think! Charging a warrior priest for lodging? That would never do! Lord Saaban (may his name reign fire down upon the ages) did not create this world so that the people that infest it could profit from what was made to offer freely. Such an offence to a warrior priest of Saaban should not go unpunished, but it was difficult in a city where the Lord of the Red Heavens name was not known. Lashing out in self-righteous anger would not serve the cause. These ignorant sheep must be hand-held to glory. His possessions were of no consequence. A warrior priest of the Red Heavens had no need of worldly items.
As much as he was loathe to do so, Parrid approached, then mounted, the stump of a great old may tree that stood in a clearing of the market. It was used by preachers and overly enthusiastic merchants. He loathed this part of his calling. The jeers, the clumps of dirt thrown at him riled him quickly. These people did not deserve salvation. The endless time spent spreading the word of Saaban to deaf ears grew tiresome. His only audience, an occasional drunk who overheard the closing to prayer “May the taste of my enemies blood be ever in my mouth!” That usually rouses a halfhearted hurrah from boys and people who have never actually seen a battle. It was rare, however, to have someone listen to the whole of his word. He let the red hood fall behind his head and allowed his steely grey eyes to search the crowds unhindered, searching for someone with an ounce of steel to listen to his message.
His countenance did not inspire fellowship, or so he had been told. His nose was long and sharp and his mouth was tied into a constant scowl. It made him look older than his 36 summers. The streaks of grey in his hair didn’t help either. He had never claimed to be a beautiful man, nor, did he think, was that something that Lord Saaban would need. His arms were strong enough and his legs would and could carry him many miles. When he first donned the red robe many years ago, he would often have a strong mental image of it flowing around it majestically. This morning it felt listless and damp.
“Raise your ears and your swords!” He bellowed.
“The great Lord Sabban shall reign fire down upon the blood-soaked fields of battle, cleansing pure those who have given to him their lives. Your spirits shall be forged and folded into Lord Sabban’s terrible sword SOL which shall, one day be swung against the darkness and we shall all become light.”
He hefted a stick above his head. This used to be the point where he raised his sword for dramatic effect, but apparently the King’s guards frown upon waving swords about in public areas-especially so, when the crown princess is visiting the market. It took him at least a week before he could open his eye from the beating he took by the hands of the royal guard. He also took no pleasure in the dungeon’s cuisine which, due to the king’s questionable humor, was a platter of food that could only fit through the slot in the door if all of the food had been previously removed. After three days of that, plus having a cellmate that sang sea chantys incessantly, he decided that it would be in his best interest to just put the sword away in public. All would be well; the day would come when they would beg for him to hold his sword.
“The great cleanser, Sabban the fire bringer, brings you his breath from the RED Heavens! The wind that blows is one of battle. Battle for the lands, battle for the hearts of the people, battle for the blood of the ones who have come before!”
“The battle of the ages is coming! Upon his red horse he comes, club in hand, to devour those too weak to fight. He will crush the bones of the fools that dare oppose him in his teeth and from the resulting spittle-bone mix will create a new empire…An Empire of BLOOD!”
A strange old lady had stopped before him, her sunken eyes shaded by the ratty old hood covering the strings of greasy hair. She waited, politely, until he was finished talking about the battle bit before she whacked him in the knee with her walking stick.
“Come with me now.” She calmly said.
He began again, ignoring the throb in his knee and suppressing the urge to kick the old woman away.
“The walls of all cities who proclaim his name will… OW!”
She had cracked him in the leg again. “Come with me. now.”
He reached down to cup his sore leg and immediately saw a group of the king’s guards looking around the market. They were easily recognizable by their red tunics with the golden roping around the edges. The front was emblazoned with a golden lightning bolt, the personal symbol of King William. The uniforms may have looked ridiculous, but the men that wore them did not. They looked dangerous. They were dragging behind them a cage of truth. The cage of truth was a globular cage that was made of steel bands banded together jaggedly that were thin enough as to only cause discomfort at first. It has been said, however, that that discomfort would soon grow to pain leading, eventually, to madness. Parrid was surprised to see it as it was a cage usually reserved for the most vile of criminals such as traitors to the crown. The accused would be unceremoniously stuffed in the cage and dragged behind a team of horses along a rocky road until they confessed to whatever it was they did or didn’t do. It wouldn’t kill you, but your body would wish that it had.
“Here! Boy! Look here!” the old lady said with some urgency. She rapped her cane against the stump to draw his attention. She removed her hood and hissed “Those men are looking for you, and if you don’t follow me right now, they will find you. After that you will be of no use to me.”
Dragging his gaze away from the large metal ball, Parrid turned and met the eyes of the old woman. His jaw dropped. Her eyes were stunning. He had seen brown and blue eyes, sometimes green…but these were every color. Reds and yellows danced with blues and violets. The colors were moving, as well. The rest of her face just melted away beneath the swirls that radiated from her eyes.
“Come with me now, Parrid. We don’t have much time. Throw aside your robe and follow me.” She said in a voice far too young to be so old. She pulled her hood back over her head and walked between a group of stalls.
Colors dancing in his vision still, he discarded his robe and did as he was told, following her into the maze of stalls and beyond. His will no longer his own he did not think to turn around and watch as the guard focused their attention on the robe he has discarded moments before.