Monday, August 10, 2015

Bishop at the Gates - Prologue

    Osmund pulled his cloak tighter to his throat and cowered beneath its heavy hood, but his efforts did no good. The torrential rain poured down relentlessly.
    Despite his efforts, he just couldn’t get warm. The rain had been falling for three days now and showed little sign of letting up. Even worse, the weather was so cold that Osmund was surprised it had yet to turn to ice. In the black of the moonless night, he could feel every heavy, frozen drop as it splattered against him.
    Osmund clenched his hands and stomped his feet, trying to restore feeling to his quickly numbing extremities.
    His attention drifted away from the pitch black of forest in front of him to the wall on which he stood. He was alone. He knew that, if he really needed help, Sighert was hiding in the small guard’s room a little ways down. Yet, in the cold and the rain and the freezing darkness of the night, it did little to comfort him.
    Behind those stone walls, his friend was surely warming himself by the fire and drinking more than his fill of the mead. Surely he deserved it, having spent his own shift out in the punishing weather. Osmund felt jealous none the less.
    What did they expect him to see up here?
    In the darkness, without moonlight and only the limited view of few lanterns along the way, it was like he was staring into a void. He could vaguely make out the line of the trees against the horizon, but held no hope of actually seeing anyth-
    The noise surprised him. It came from the trees directly in front of the wall and was loud enough to be heard over the pounding rain.
    “Who’s there?” he called out.
    No response came.
    His hand instinctively fell to the quiver at his side and he began to play with the fletching on the arrows. He knew he shouldn’t do it, it messed the arrows and kept them from flying straight, but it had been a nervous habit since he was a cadet that he just couldn’t break.
    “We know you’re there. Come out!” he yelled, sounding less commanding than he wanted. It was a complete bluff.
    Again, nothing.
    Seconds turned to minutes as Osmund stared out into the pitch black of the forest. He became particularly aware of the tree line and how the wall was barely clear of the tops of the big Oaks and Ash trees outside. Someone could be out there, staring him in the eye, and he would never know in this black.
    He shook off the thought.
    There was no way someone could climb one of those big trees in this gloom with the branches slick from the downpour and hope to make any less than half the bloody tree shake.
    No, surely it was just some critter.
    He let himself try to calm down, but his muscles refused. They were tense with anticipation of some attack that hadn’t come.
    Osmund sighed and kept absent mindedly playing with the fletchings on his arrows.
    If someone could climb quietly, it would be really easy to hide in there. He thought, watching the vague black shape that he knew to be the great oak.
    His eyes settled on one of the larger clumps of what was presumably leaves and branches. He watched it sway with the wind and the rain.
    Swaying softly, up and down.
    Could someone climb that quietly? I’d never see them…
    His gut clenched as he stared hard at the tree.
    Was it swaying more? Or was that his imagination?
    “You know that’s bad for your arrows.”
    Osmund nearly jumped out of his skin, whirling on Sighert and going for his blade before he could stop himself.
    “Whoa!” Sighert held up his hands and took a step back. “Easy, Os!”
    Osmund’s heart was running at a mile a minute and he found himself staring with wild eyes at his fellow guard. Eyes filled with fear, not anger. He slowly let go of the hilt at this belt. His breath escaped in short, ragged gasps.
    “Calm down, Os.” Sighert said, trying to ease Osmund’s nerves. “You ok?”
    Osmund simply nodded, trying to straighten himself up.
    “What in the nine hells was that about?” Sighert said, sounding more annoyed and less surprised now that Osmund didn’t look like he was going to attack him.
    “Sorry, Sighert. You just snuck up on me.”
    “Not hard to do apparently. I thought I heard you yelling. Everything ok?”
    Osmund’s gaze drifted big oak in the rainy night. Back to the barely discernable clump of leaves and branches.
    “Yea. I just think I heard something.”
    Sighert walked to the edge and looked out as if expecting to see anything other than gloom.
    “It was nothing, though. Just the night playing tricks on me.”
    Sighert nodded and turned back to him.
    “These nights’ll do that to you. Get that rain going, no moon, nothing but the cold and the black to comfort you. It happens.” Sighert nodded again, as if agreeing with himself.
    “I suppose.” Osmund responded, not sounding very reassured but not knowing what else to say.
    After several moments of quiet, Osmund glanced back to Sigmund. He had a queer kind of look. His eyes were transfixed on Osmund, watching him with an odd intensity. The faintest hint of a smile played across his lips.
    It was unnerving.
    Like a cat watching a mouse.
    “What?” Osmund finally asked.
    “Nothing.” Sighert said, his crooked half-smile only deepening.
    “You’re full of it.”
    Sighert nodded and chuckled to himself.
    “Yea. I suppose I am.”
    Sighert turned his gaze away from Osmund back to the blackened forest. It was only then that Osmund realized he had been holding his breath.
    “It’s just…this night had me thinking.” Sighert continued. “It reminded me of an old ghost story that I heard.”
    Osmund joined him at his side.
    “Supposedly, these woods are haunted. I heard it from one of the commoners. Big, jaunty woman with an ugly blotch of a birthmark slapped right across her face. I was at the tavern over in Eagle’s Peak some years back and she told me that there used to be a witch that lived out in these woods.”
    Osmund wanted to joke, to find some light in the situation, but he didn’t have the heart. The night had sucked any semblance of mirth from him.
    “They say that she lived out here for years before the forts were built, just keeping to herself. But when the First High King started sending patrols into the woods, they found her in a little hut made of animal bones. The men were scared of her. They killed her and burned down the house.”
    “She cast some kind of spell on the men before she died though. On the way back, one of the men suddenly went crazy. He ripped out the hearts of two of his fellows with his bare hands. It took another seven to stop him and only by literally chopping him limb from limb.”
    He shuddered at the thought. Imagining one of his fellow soldiers, red eyed and covered in blood, tearing him apart like a wild animal.
    “All of the men who stopped him died from their wounds, even though most of them were superficial. Some kind of infection. Like a black death that welled up in even the smallest of cuts and ate away at the flesh.”
    “Even stranger, of the four men that were left, three of them were killed by bizarre and terrible accidents. One was killed by a poisonous spider that had hidden in his helmet while he slept. Another was crushed to death by a tree that toppled over without any reason. The last drowned in the ground itself, choking on a pit of liquid sand.”
    “Only one of the original fourteen men made it back. A man of the Gods. He told his superiors everything that happened, about the deaths and the witch and the terror he had felt in those woods. They ordered him back out there with another patrol, to show them the remains and prove his story. He refused. When he was told it was either that or the executioner’s sword, he chose the sword.”
    “He never got there though. They found him dead the next morning. He had somehow caved in his own skull. Bashed it against the wall of his cell till he was dead. Even stranger, none of the guards or prisoners ever heard a thing. And the one possession that he begged to keep, the symbol of his Gods, was missing that morning.”
    “They say that any patrol sent into that forest must never venture any farther than the fork in the river because the spirit of the witch still haunts the heart of those woods. To go past the fork is to go into her domain and every man, woman and child who ever does will be cursed and meet a grizzly end.”
    Sighert looked Osmund dead in the eyes. His gaze was predatory. Unblinking.
    “Why do you think they built this fort here? There aren’t any enemies that are going sneak in from the South East. It’s the forest. We’re here to make sure that nothing comes out. That the witch never comes back.”
    Osmund’s mouth was hanging open. He was holding his breath again. Sighert’s gaze was burning into him with threat and warning.
    In an instant, the serious tone burned away and Sighert fell back against the wall laughing, holding his stomach.
    “Oh gods, lad! It’s ok to breathe!”
    Osmund took a bated breath, suddenly realizing how foolish he must look. His hands were shaking.
    “It’s just a ghost story. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
    “No. No. It’s ok. You didn’t.” Osmund responded weakly.
    “Horse shit. You look like you wet yourself.”
    “Just the rain. I swear.” Osmund said, trying to muster a smile and a light chuckle.
    “Bah! Yea, I suppose so.” Sighert said, giving Osmund a reassuring smile. “You’ve been out in the cold too long.”
    Sighert motioned towards the guard’s room.
    “Why don’t you go get yourself warm by the fire and have some mead and pork.” He said. “It’ll do you good to get out of the rain.”
    Osmund knew that he wasn’t supposed to leave the wall yet, but if Sighert was taking his place, than he couldn’t imagine there was any real reason not to.
    “Alright.” Osmund said nodding. “I’ll be back in a bit when I’ve warmed up.”
    “Sure.” Sighert said, smiling and waving him off.
    The thoughts of witches and curses swam in Osmund’s head as he walked to the guard’s room. The forest, dark and foreboding in the freezing rain, felt more threatening and terrifying than ever it had before. Like a great, black monster waiting to rise up and swallow him. He chuckled again, trying to convince himself it was nonsense.
    Pulling the heavy wood door open, Osmund stopped dead in his tracks, trying to understand what he was seeing.
    In front of him was a great roaring fire. Around it were chairs and a great big flagon of beer that had been knocked over and spilt across the floor. That wasn’t what confused him though.
    What confused him was that, at the foot of the fire, sprawled across the floor in nothing but his bare skin, was Sighert. He was completely nude and his throat had been opened from ear to ear. His blood was spilt across the floor.
    Behind him, Osmund heard a soft, girlish giggle. It was barely a whisper against the pounding of the rain and wind.
    The last thing he felt was the blade drag across his throat.

(Just a little sample of the novel Fantasy Novel I've been working on called "Bishop at the Gates". the prologue will set up everything that is to come in the book. Definitely not child friendly. If you enjoyed it, let me know. More chapters are currently available via our Patreon if you'd like to read more immediately.)

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting; I'll enjoy seeing where you take it.