Chapter 4 - Lowe

On the dark edge of a night time city a scruffy man checked and rechecked his pockets. Just out of the lamp light Lowe sucked at the cold night air, lungs trying to keep pace with his blood. Time was just beginning to resume its stately pace after heaving and flailing, crawling as a snail before choosing to race the very starlight.Small slender hands touched dark untrimmed curls, came away with a smattering of blood. A glancing blow to the left side of his head had left him dazed, off-balance, nearly off guard. He did not however waste thought wondering why a thief had marked someone as disheveled as he was. This far from the city center folk were scarce, rich folk scarcer. A normal man might have assumed a lack of regular prey had driven the lad to desperation.Lowe was not ordinary, nor did he have an ordinary reputation, and he tried never to make assumptions. Despite his lack of visible weapons, his lack of height and his near child-like features, Lowe had walked the meanest hovels of Bridgetown unafraid since before he could talk.He had accepted Ranks Dockets’ offer yesterday however and news must be spreading about what the man was planning. Rumor no doubt had Ranks paying nine times a fortune just to recruit some lunatics to his cause. Not far wrong, with a few notable exceptions.‘I’m lucky to find myself with only a sore skull after that little bugger started swinging at me.’ Lowe thought grumpily as he pulled up the hood of his dark green knee length coat. Further out into the night, away from Lowe’s little island of visibility lay the body of an unconscious youth. Maybe ten or so years Lowe’s junior the lad had a fair face, covered in grime. His broken jaw, swelling up on one side was covered in scatterings of blonde hair. ‘Fool’ Thought Lowe with a shake of his head ‘Did the boy really think I’d be walking around with Ranks’ gold tucked behind my ears on this dismal night?’Lowe tipped his weary balance forward and his feet rambled with him, smooth as silk. He glided across the muted dirt lanes that lead toward rows of ramshackle two story houses, inns, and grocers and to the city walls beyond. After the chaos of the preceding moments, the relative quiet concertinaed in Lowe’s ears down to needle points of sound.As one direction took Lowe through the civilized barbarism of Bridgetown, the rotting buildings full of Bandmen or lone thieves, the dark eyes in dark alley ways who would do anything for anybody. Onwards over the drawbridge up to where the real dangers of Turatus City lurked, the priests, the governors, the hired assassins.In the opposite direction, the direction from whence he had come, the land similarly ascended in equal degrees to the wild and the enigmatic, the terrible. Drear Thickets ran across the Turatus River and all the way to the Guard Wall, and beyond that was oblivion. What lay beyond the guard wall was wild terrain indeed to be traveled after dark. Out there the moon took on a yellow, sickly hue. It hung in its sling, casting limp beams of light down upon the thickets. It seemed to suffocate the land; to bleach what colour was left on those pale wiry frames into the background. Stepping in the thicket at night gave the uneasy feeling of walking in a penciled drawing on aged yellowing parchment. It was one of the most dangerous things you could ever do. Wily and brave though he was, Lowe was still very glad to be firmly on the path to Bridgetown. His mind however barely touched upon the scouting he had done.‘Silly boy wouldn’t have gotten much for the trouble of cracking my skull’ Lowe thought again, regretting the tussle with the lad. Of course rumor did capture glints of the truth. Ranks’ was indeed paying a fortune, but that money was to be paid out to the men after they’d returned from the job. Or it’d be paid by the Dorkets family to the men’s widows. No one would have the chance to run off with the gold, before the job was done. No one would dare to try their luck against the Dorkets anyhow.Lowes feet had carried him past the towering outer walls, stern and impregnable. Guard posts, battlements and arrow loops. Atop the wall sat the giant three man crossbows that he himself had had a hand in the making of. Crossing under the barbican and its heavy iron gate Lowe was always aware of the murder holes above his head, waiting to open and spill out their boiling water.Lowes feet had carried him past all this, under the inner ring of defenses and into the soft bosom of Tarutus. They’d carried him away from the rough and scruff of bridge town and close to the glow and hum of Mid City. Here it seemed as if from every second doorway warm light and laughter, shouting and music, danced out into the street. Catching up work weary men and women, who should know better than to follow. Lowes feet felt the drag as well, the pull towards hot food and safety.

‘Safety?’ The word rolled darkly in Lowe’s head. Hurrying on Lowe pulled his baby face into a grimace at the thought that no doubt he was a marked man to all the cities thieves and fools. No one would try anything in a tavern common room but he would draw attention, and he could do without that feeling after the night’s events.

The whole city was growing increasingly tense since Ranks had his little meeting yesterday morning. Many naturally thought their living legend had all but elected to commit suicide. The mutterings about success were murkier still; success held perhaps more peril for this city then failure did. ‘Well I have my own plan for Ranks’ bravery. Tangling with the nightmare women really is suicide’ The impending events bounced and ricocheted; hard to pin down, impossible to ignore. Flickering and blazing, his thoughts whirling faster and faster, till his boot landed on the bottom step of the inn he’d called home for nigh on half a year.‘The Soldiers Kip’ was a small two storey inn with flaking white paint. A step on any part of its withered wooden frame elicited a pained creaking groan and a squeal. Even in one of the cheapest inns in Turatus City Proper, Lowe might have raised a few eyebrows. But Mrs. Hardesty knew not to be too squeamish concerning a bath and a shave from Lowe, as he paid well and paid in advance. Lowe could have afforded something more well to do but he rented here for a touch of anonymity. Besides, the areas where Mrs. Hardesty didn’t skimp were cooking, common courtesy and security, and who needed more than that?As He walked through the doorway a young brunette snapped shut a book bound in red leather and climbed down off her stool. Placing the book on her seat and snatching up a long wooden pole that had rested in an ornate vase beside her she stepped quickly forward from her place near the doorway. The pole was about half her height and as thin as her ring finger, the light from the fire place added to the poles already ethereal pale golden glow.Bundled up in warmer clothes than anyone else in the room she didn’t say anything at first, merely gave Lowe a friendly smile and spun the pole upside-down. The end of the pole that had been in the vase was charred black.

With weary diligence the serving girl held the pole in her right hand and used the charred end to coat the forefinger of the other. Lowe didn’t move or make a sound as she stepped forward and drew a simple curving line above his right eye whilst earnestly saying ‘May the Right Eye of the shrine faithful protect this man tonight.’ She gave him a last smile which he returned and carried her talisman back to her perch by the door.

Lowe’s smile lasted until the girls back was turned. He knew the churches baubles protected no one, but few had seen what he had. Lowe knew there wasn’t a single house in Turatus or Bridgetown that didn’t possess a warding pole and he couldn’t really fault them. After a thousand years of hubris, to go against the church’s word in these days was to incur the distrust and outright hatred of neighbors, friends, even family. In the eyes of the faithful, to have an unblessed in your home was tantamount to inviting the Headless in yourself, and who would be crazed enough for that? The church itself made life more than merely uncomfortable for anyone who questioned the safety of their rituals too closely. No one openly dealt with the realities of the women save the Dorkets Family.Making his way quickly to the kitchens Lowe ordered dinner in his room; a thin fish soup, steamed vegetables and a little wine which he didn’t intend to drink. Hurrying up the stairs Lowe ran his gaze over the room below; more than one pair of eyes was lifted to follow his ascent. Some turned their looks of curiosity back to their tables, some met his stare coolly, considering. Upon reaching the top of the stairs Lowe saw Mrs. Hardesty down the hall to the left. She was explaining the inns rules to a short, graying man with a timid air about him. The small fellow clasped his cloth cap between gnarled hands, nodding at regular intervals while words flooded out of the innkeeper’s capacious mouth. Lowe hurried quietly away, thankful his room was at the opposite end of the hall.Lowe opened the door to his room no more than half an inch before he became aware of someone waiting for him inside. ‘Six paces in and a few feet to the right, sitting in my damned armchair like he owns it’ Thought Lowe in the split second it took him to smoothly draw the miniature crossbow from inside his coat. No more than 8 inches long and of his own design, the weapon though small was sufficient to puncture skull or breast plate. In the same instant a push on the door made it swing open. Lowe moved in unison with it, smoothly stepping to the right as the room was revealed. One eye stretching around the door frame, left hand pointing his crossbow steadily at the man sitting comfortably in front of the fireplace, Lowe grimaced ruefully.‘Your manners will get you skewered one day yet Jak’ Lowe said without rancor as he walked into his room and pulled the door closed behind him. The crossbow went back into its hidden holster within his coat, and the coat itself was peeled off and hung on a rack in the corner.‘Just keeping you on your toes you grubby little Mossafer. You look like a lump of coal Lowe, and a lump of coal that’s spent some time in the furnace.’‘Men like us can’t even go for a stroll these days Jak, not without some young pup trying to carve a piece’ said Lowe with a sigh. He perched on the side of the single bed and pulled his boots off.‘Men like us? Since when have you been a man Lowe my lad?’ Jak said in a nasty tone. As usually Lowe ignored the allusion to his small stature and uncannily youthful appearance. He was older then Jak truth be told. Instead he answered with ‘You had any trouble yet?’‘Just one or two fools who paid for their mistakes’ said Jak casually. Everything about Jak was casual. From his clothes to his mannerisms, from the way he spent money to the way he acquired it. He even killed casually. ‘These peasants should be treating us like heroes not trying to game a few gold pieces’ snorted Jak‘Maybe they will when the jobs done. But what odds would you give this scheme if you weren’t involved? Most see us as dead men walking and I don’t know if I disagree.’ The mood in the room had darkened as Lowe spoke. Before the prospect of the Headless even Jaks nonchalance was humbled, if only for a second.‘Backing out? Getting too old for Trapping? Don’t make me laugh, if you valued your life the way those cowards do you wouldn’t even have shown your face at Sevrai Grounds yesterday. So don’t moan yet, save it a minute so you can get it all done at once. You see one of the vipers that accosted me this evening Lowe, happened to be one of the Faithful’‘Keep it down’ Lowe whispered furiously with accompanying glare. ‘The innkeeper has two sons in service, and if you bring the blasted Left Eye down on my head you’ll be ‘accosted ’ for the last time.’‘Listen! Are you thinking?’ Said Jak one syllable at a time, there was anger in his voice yet he spoke in a whisper. He knew Lowe kept a great deal more than a crossbow about his person. ‘This fellow spent a lot of time buying me drinks, asking about the 10th, even after I got a whiff of his breath and told him what he could do with his blessings, he still asked and offered and bargained.’ Lowe’s eyebrows rose despite of his efforts. ’A Shrine pig was bargaining with you? Lowe asked slowly.‘That’s right.’ Jak sat back with an air of smugness. ‘Glad I have your undivided attention, now how bout you put that trick some mind of yours to figuring out why the very people who are patronizing this business would be trying to wheedle slivers of information about a plan they themselves helped devise?‘I see a number of possibilities’ Lowe said quietly ‘and none of them bode well for us, some I dare not voice within the city limits’‘Then speak what your discretion will allow my dear Lowe, but please keep it brief I must make my way home to the east quadrant yet, and I’d like to reach my blankets before I grow old.’ This was said with an easy smile and a wink the belied the tense undercurrent in Jak’s voice.‘We all know the history, the tension between the Dorkets family and the Shrine Faithful is older than my great grandfather. Yet naturally they share the same goal as all citizens of Camdus do; to rid this land of the Headless Hunters, and The Giant himself.‘Naturally’ said Jak with more than a touch of sarcasm. Lowe continued as if uninterrupted, his thoughts travelling far away and long ago. Away from his little room, far away from Tarutus City, past where Camdus town proper had once stood, to a memory of a little farm near the Drear Thickets. To a night with a full moon on the horizon. ‘The Shrine has been maneuvering Ranks into a corner since his conception. I think we both know this is about the possibility that victory may bring a Dorkets throne with it.’‘Ranks has no interest in leading this tattered city, even the Shrine Faithful must see that by now. More likely they suspect us, his oh-so-honest cabal of hunters of using the situation to suit our own ends don’t you think?’‘Perhaps you’re right Jak.’ Lowe doubted it. He wanted to appease Jak and steer the talk to other possibilities. Jaks line of reasoning cut a little too close to what had been growing in Lowes mind since yesterday.Besides The Shrine DID have more to worry about then thieves using the Headless for their own ends. The very notion sounded fanciful even to Lowe. No, in truth the biggest threat that Shrine could face would be victory. Near one thousand years of power and mystery built upon their opposition to the giant. They existed to destroy it. Few knew how symbiotic their relationship to that monster had become.Victory would bring Ranks to the throne whether he wished it or not, and where would the Shrine be without their eternal enemy? Would they languish as some archaic society that existed to defend against something that no longer lived? No…they had built a castle on the sands of fear; now that those sands were shifting they could only be counted on to fight tooth and nail. Yet who would they be fighting? If the Shrine were beginning to move, even covertly to preserve their everlasting enemy, it would be the most perilous thing possible. To perilous to be spoken, even to a fellow vagabond such as Jak.

Clovis McEvoy © 2009

Chapter 4 - Lowe


Joined April 2009

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Artist's Description

I’m working on a dark childrens/adults fantasy. It’s very discombobulated at present, not cohesive but I thought I’d maybe get some opinion on the general voice of it.

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