Lamoria: Bay of Chains (chapter 2)
Updated: Nov 22, 2018
I figured I'd share a chapter of one of my newer stories, after having work-shopped it with my writing group last week. Take a look and- as always- let me know your thoughts!
CONTEXT: This is from a high fantasy fiction novel intended for a mature audience. This chapter is a character introduction chapter in the beginning of the book. A reader would’ve only read one previous chapter, which is unrelated to this chapter, so you’re not missing any info a reader would have. Formatting is a bit janky with this blogging software, I made it as clear as I could. I hope you enjoy and thank you in advance for reading.
Chapter 2: The Guillotine
A wooden door nearly burst off its hinges as a short, black-haired man threw it open. He was dressed in a flamboyant gold and white tunic which made a swishing sound as he walked quickly down the corridor. A boy hurried along behind him, carrying a satchel overflowing with parchments.
“The high priestess!” exclaimed the man, “What could she possibly want with me? Doesn’t she have any idea how busy I am?”
“I don’t know sir,” said the boy meekly, “She didn’t say. She just seemed too important to turn away.”
“The right thing to do would have been to tell her to shove off!” said the man, “Take note of that for next time or I’ll have you replaced.” The boy seemed to take no offense as the duo continued walking at speed through the narrow hallways. The man pushed his way through a group of peasants in his path and the boy apologized to them and quickly ran to catch up.
“Did you at least pour some wine down her throat? Or did you muck that up too?”
“No sir, I didn’t muck that up. I had someone get her some wine.” They walked a bit further then stopped at a large, decorative door. The man paused and took a few deep breaths.
“Okay, how do I look?” asked the man as he straightened his tunic and turned to face the boy.
“You look fine to me sir, er-” the boy paused, “Let me fix your hair.” The man knelt down and the boy straightened out his black frazzled hair. He licked his palms and wetted down tufts of the man’s hair so it was slicked back behind his ears. “There, all better sir.”
“Alright,” said the man as he lowered his voice to a whisper, “Now in case this old hag drags on for eternity, if I send you to go fetch some wine give these letters to the courier and give this list to the armourer before you come back. This priestess can die of thirst for all I care, but something needs to get done today!” With that, he handed the boy a stack of papers, took one last deep breath, and opened the door to the courtyard.
In contrast to the dark, dusty hallway they had just emerged from, the courtyard was open, sunny and warm with flower beds and a fountain in the center. Beside the fountain a woman stood gazing into the water. She wore a silver dress that flowed to the ground and sparkled like starlight. The most striking feature of her appearance was a silver, vertical halo behind her head in the shape of a seven-pointed star. Her hair was also silver and she wore it in such a way that it wrapped around and twisted through the halo. It was hard to see where her silver hair ended and the metal halo began.
“Ahhh, High Priestess Elaineh of the Seven Sisters, how lovely to see you!” said the man as he approached and gave a deep bow, “I could hardly believe my ears when my boy told me you were here! I apologize for the poor welcome. Had I known you were coming I would’ve had a proper reception prepared. To what do I owe the pleasure of this delightful surprise?”
“Lord Quant, it's been so long since my last visit. I wondered if I was in the right place, what with all the renovations. I do like what you’ve had done,” said the priestess with a gracious smile. “And I admire your servant. He knew just who I was as soon as he saw me, smart boy.”
“Yes, that he is. I am quite fond of him, although I must admit he is not without fault. He failed to recall what you said was the reason for your… impromptu visit. Have you changed your mind? Will you attend The Games this year?”
“I’m afraid not, I must set sail tonight. I had business in the city and found myself with a moment of spare time. I thought, ‘What better way to spend it than examining the preparations?’ But I won’t stay long, I don’t want to spoil your productivity Lord Quant. I am keen on your industrious nature.”
“It is no problem at all, High Priestess. I only wish you could stay longer. Would you like to tour the stands and see the view of the harbor from the top? Or perhaps a quick taste of the vendors’ delicacies? We have food from every corner of the world! You name the dish, and I’ll have a plate of it brought at once.”
“Actually… a thought just came to me,” said Elaineh, “Perhaps I could see the fighters. Give them the Sister’s blessing before they meet their fate?”
“Uh, Priestess I-,” Lord Quant stammered, “The fighters are not ready. They are a crude, brutish lot. They prefer to grovel in their own mire. It is with great effort that we scrub the filth from them so they become presentable to the public. I fear the cells are not fit for a lady to visit. The entertainers, though, they always have their boots waxed! We could see them instead.”
“Please don’t be embarrassed Lord Quant,” said Elaineh, “I will think no less of you for a few filthy cells of fighters. Perhaps you forget, I spent much of my youth as a Sister traveling the frontlines, easing the pain of passing warriors. I’ve lived in the war camps, I know well the horrid conditions these violent beasts prefer. Please, I insist on seeing the fighters. It intrigues me so. I believe it will bring my mind back to times long past, where fond memories of mine have hidden themselves.”
Lord Quant sighed and looked around the garden for a moment. “Well of course, Priestess, I understand your desire. I too do the same to spark my memories. I oft return to the docks and watch the merchants ply their craft.” He turned to the boy and said, “Run along and fetch us some wine boy. We may need something sweet to cleanse our pallets from the stench.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The corridors leading to the cells were cold and damp. Here and there blood dashed the walls or floor. It was a miracle the priestess could maintain such grace while traversing the horribly cobbled stairs. There were four people in the procession. The jailer led the way and carried torch and key. He was followed by Lord Quant, who could not have looked more distressed and irritated. High Priestess Elaineh followed the lord, seeming not to notice the stench nor the cold. And the servant boy followed carrying another torch and some wine.
“Ere we are my Lord,” said the jailer, “And uh, my lady,” he added awkwardly. They had reached the final iron door before the cells. Some ruckus could be heard beyond the door and two guards stood watch at the front. When they saw the lady approach they quickly bowed.
“Uh, sir?” asked one of the guards to Lord Quant, motioning towards the priestess.
“The High Priestess of the Seven Sisters is here to pass the Sister’s blessing on to the fighters,” said Lord Quant in a voice that could not have been less enthusiastic, “Make sure none of them lay a hand on her. If one of them so much as reaches for her through the bars, I want you to lop off his hand.”
“Of course, sir,” said the guard. “Right through here m’lady.”
“Actually, I prefer to work alone when passing on the blessing of the Sisters,” said Elaineh, “The Sisters will find it hard to hear my call if I am at all distracted by company.”
“Priestess!” exclaimed Lord Quant, as his face contorted with objection, “I must insist they go with you! These are not dying men on a battlefield, they are the most lethal, ruthless fighters from the deepest, darkest fighting pits I could find. Their spit alone could bring you illness, let alone their strike. I cannot let this danger befall you while you are in my care.”
“Your care!” the priestess shouted. Suddenly the room grew dark and the torches went out. The priestess glowed like starlight and seemed to hover in the air. Her dress flapped about and her silver hair writhed through her halo like a nest of snakes. Her eyes were pure white like glowing Tardarian pearls and she shouted, “I have ever been in the care of the Seven Sisters! I need the protection of no man!”
The men were terrified. They stepped back and pressed themselves against the walls, all except the boy, who stood immobilized by fear. She appeared like a terrible wraith as she floated in the air, an intangible wind blew at her hair and clothes. Then suddenly she took a graceful step to the ground.
The torches alit as if they were never extinguished. Her hair was still and perfectly in place as it was before. Her eyes were back to their kind, light blue color. She smiled gently and said, “Won’t you reconsider Lord Quant? I am sure the light of the Seven Sisters will protect me.”
Lord Quant stepped forward from the wall and caught his breath. “Y-yes, High Priestess,” he stammered, “Yes, of course. We have faith that the Sisters will protect you.” Lord Quant turned to the jailer, “Unlock the door for the Priestess. Take as much time as you need Lady Elaineh.”
“Thank you Lord Quant. I won’t be long.”
The jailer timidly walked to the sturdy iron door and unlocked it. He gave it a great heave and swung it open for the priestess. She swiftly crossed the threshold and made her way into the dungeon. “Jus’ holler when yer done m’ lady,” said the jailer as he locked the door behind her. She steadied herself and began her search.
The cells were inhumane. They smelled of the rancid meat and moldy loaves that made up the prisoners’ meals. Stale water pooled on the floors and rats scurried between holes in the deteriorating walls, searching for a corpse to nibble on. A light blue glow cast a dim light throughout the place, but its source was hidden.
The fighters reeked of their own piss. They called names at the priestess as she passed and reached at her through the bars. As she navigated the rows of cells, they hailed her. Some recognized her halo and begged for mercy, or freedom, or death. Others screamed what they would do to her if they had her alone. Some cried as she passed, others cackled hysterically, a few thought she was an angel or an illusion.
The High Priestess ignored them all. She gave them no blessings. She simply glanced over the cells and moved on to continue her search. Her shoes echoed off the stone walls as she strode through the maze of cells. Eventually she made her way to a secluded wing of the dungeon. An unbolted door separated the wing, which she opened and passed through.
This section of the cells was of substantially higher quality. Dry straw lined the floors. There was crude furniture inside the cells. The smell wasn’t so bad, and it was a bit warmer. This was where the prized fighters would be held: the true attractions of The Games.
These were not like the dying men clinging to life in the previous cells. They were quartered one to a cell, instead of ten or twenty. These were tested warriors. The few without broad shoulders and strong arms had quick eyes and nimble feet. Most of them were criminals who chose to fight for freedom in the arena rather than face the rope. A few of the fighters called out to her, but most just watched her pass.
At the end of the row of cells, with an empty cell separating it from the adjoining cells, was a cell void of the primitive pleasantries of the other cells. The cold, stone floor was bare of straw and there was not so much as a stool to sit on. Even the torches had been removed from that end of the hall so as to deprive the cell’s inhabitant of light and warmth.
The fighter in this cell was smaller than all the rest. They were curled in a ball in the corner, with a tattered robe drawn up about their body covering their head and shoulders. As the priestess approached the cell, the fighter inside gave no indication of noticing her arrival, nor any indication of life for that matter.
The priestess stopped outside the cell and stared through the bars at the prisoner. Her eyes were full of scorn and disgust. “No straw for you I see,” said Elaineh. There was a long pause. “Lord Quant told me they like to ‘add challenge’ for the fighters during their last ten fights or so. I guess that is part of it.”
The fighter remained motionless, still covered from head to toe by dirty robes. The priestess began to wonder if the prisoner was alive, but decided to press on, “And this empty cell, were your neighbors not playing nice with you?”
“No m’ lady,” answered a fighter a few cells down, “Other way around.”
The priestess ignored this comment, took a step closer to the cell and continued, “I heard a most disgusting nickname of yours the other day. Removed the head of a man with your teeth? My, how foul you have become without the light of the Sisters to guide you. I can only imagine what else you have done without our knowing.”
In a flash, the prisoner threw the robes aside and was on her feet dashing towards the priestess. Her arm shot through the bars and her hand grasped for the priestess’ throat. The priestess was prepared and stepped back just in time to dodge the attack, though the prisoner did snatch the talisman from her neck.
The fighter withdrew her arm and examined the talisman she’d stolen. Without the robe she had discarded, her tall, slender form was bare except for her dark brown hair which swirled around her neck and face. Her pale skin was covered with a tapestry of tattoos, one of which perfectly matched the shape of the halo the priestess wore.
“I did what I had to in order to survive, to protect my honor,” said the fighter in a rough, dry voice that sounded like it hadn’t been used in months, “It was all I could do after you… betrayed me.”
“Come now, Sarsarah, we both know you haven’t a shred of honor left,” said Elaineh, “No honor follows an exile.”
“Even now I have more honor than you and your Sisters,” said Sarsarah, “My conscience is clear.”
“And so will ours be, when we finally hear of your death in the coming week.”
“Why are you here? To torment me? Surely you have worse evils to perform Elaineh.”
“If the Sisters could cast curses, I promise I would use one on you now. But since the Sisters know no evil, I will instead grant the Sisters’ blessings upon each and every opponent you will face in The Games. I pray that their strength is true but their blades are dull, so as not to finish you too quickly.”
“When I earn my freedom, I will spread word about the truth of your coven. No amount of lies will hide your deeds then.”
The priestess turned and began to walk away. “Sarsarah,” she called over her shoulder, “No one believes the words of a murderer. Not even one who earns her freedom by murdering.” Her shoes echoed down the hallway as she left and shut the door behind her. Sarsarah stood still, staring at the talisman in her hands.