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Red Hair and Hazel Eyes

The underknights butchered the prince just the same as Glump’s brothers had butchered his first pig.  With the young prince’s head gone and his body stripped of clothes he might have passed for a pig.

            Glump sat on the crumbled wall of the bakery and watched as the six underknights tossed the prince’s body parts onto the fire.  Again, that was the same as what his brothers had done. It had been a summer night like this one.  The only difference then was that his brother’s ate the pig and forced him to eat it too.  Now the six underknights just let the prince burn.

            “Which one was he?” Glump asked the big underknight. The big underknight had no nose and said his name was Rook, that he had served with the Maladrians in the north but Glump didn’t believe a word of it.  Each of the six had monosyllabic names that stank of a lack of imagination; big Rook, hook-handed Beck, sly eyed Gale, fat Hark, silent Yont and the drunk Long.  And then there was Glump.  Glump, he rolled his name around his mind. It was as flat as theirs and uglier too.  It was a bad name but then at least it was his.

            Rook shrugged and spat into the fire.  The prince had been fat for his age and Glump could hear all the layers of high born fat sizzling.

            “Makes no difference,” Rook said, “maybe he was Garren and maybe he was Surren.  Could have been Andren for all I care.  Another little shit dead, that’s all that matters.”

            “But you’re sure he was a Runehawk?” Glump asked and Rook shrugged.

            “Fucked if I know,” said the underknight, spitting again into the fire, “that’s what we was told.  When they gave us him he didn’t have no tongue but he looked princely enough to me. Fat little shit he were just like all little princes.”

            The fire burned down and the underknights drank some more ale.  Beck and Yont started to fight with the prince’s leg bones. They were only playing at fighting but Glump knew well enough that men like those would go from playing at fighting to slitting each other’s throats in the blink of an eye. He didn’t mean to be around when the blood was spilling.

            He rode Gunner away from Wednesdale.  Or what was left of Wednesdale.  The place had been a fine market town with two inns, three bakeries and a little castle up on the hill before Cryspin’s army came.  There were two bridges over the river, a good mill and a solid wall.  None of that remained.   All that was left in Wednesdale were the bones of a fat prince.

            The roads south to Walvale were deserted.  He saw a dead girl by the roadside just past Gormleyguard and a dead dog hanging from a tree somewhere between Ridley and Waltherall.  Even the bridge was empty of travellers.  It was only when he reached Walvale’s northern walls that he saw life.  The guards knew him and when they opened the gates for him he entered a different world. The streets buzzed with activity.  It was morning and the traders had set stalls all along the Black Road right up to the Black Arsenal.  Glump could smell spiced sausages grilling, flatbreads and beans, baked morning cakes, rose infused milk, peppered eggs and lastnight soup but none of those smells woke any huger in him. He was never hungry these days.  Most days he would forget to eat and when he remembered the most he could manage was usually a bit of hard cheese before he started on the ale.            

            He dismounted when he reached the Citadel and led Gunner past its white washed walls, following its curve until the cobbled street took him up past the windowless College and onto the Faden Rise.  He passed more underknights and a fair few Road Earls too with their copper breastplates and longbows. The silly bastards, thought Glump, how could they stand being called that; Road Earls, they were arrows for hire and not one of them would ever live long enough to buy a yard of land let alone have anyone bow before them, say thanks very much for all your road walking.  Most of the Road Earls were young men. He saw one who couldn’t have been older than fourteen, his breastplate too big and hanging slack.  Was I ever so young, Glump thought?  If he had been he had blocked the memory out. The only memory he kept from those days was what his brothers did to Trotter.  He loved that pig.

            At the top of the Faden Rise was the old Domenard.  Glump had read a book once, one Kylean had forced him to finish, that said the Domenard was older than any other building in the city.  It was where the first Realm Knights sat in their impartial governance of the whole of the Arqary.  No one Lord, no one Power.  Those had been the words that Walvale was founded on and for centuries they could be seen above the great arched entrance to the Domenard.  Not anymore, Cryspin had long since had them chipped away and replaced with his blood red phoenix.

            He lifted the leather bag from his fleetsteed’s saddle and ordered one of Cryspin’s men to take care of Gunner.  He made his way through familiar corridors denied of light, every window covered, until he came to Cryspin’s throne room.  The king shunned even candlelight.  That was only to be expected from someone with such a ruined face.  Light would only draw attention to the scars.  Cryspin maintained it was so any who might come to kill him wouldn’t be able to see the hidden guards skulking in alcoves and niches but Glump never bought that story. He had told the king so once. You’re talking shit, he’d told the king and every man in the room thought Glump would finally lose his head then.  Glump was never worried. Cryspin wouldn’t have dared.

            “Do you have it?” asked the king when Glump knelt before the throne.

            Glump didn’t look up at Cryspin’s face, he knew how much the king hated that and besides it would more than likely be covered.

            Glump opened the leather bag and emptied its contents onto the stone floor.  He couldn’t see the blood but he could feel it. The bag was soaking with blood and as the head rolled out onto the floor the young prince’s royal blood covered his hands too.   Glump didn’t mind that too much, he’d long since gotten used to having blood on his hands.

            “Is it one of them?” asked Glump. He still didn’t look up at Cryspin but he heard the king rising awkwardly from the throne. Somewhere in the shadows of the throne room a guard breathed.   How many are in here, thought Glump, how many knives does Cryspin hide in the shadows?

            Glump could feel the king studying the head.  He didn’t come down from the dais though.  He wouldn’t look that closely at death.  Glump looked at the head.  The boy had long red hair, the curliest hair Glump had ever seen.  That didn’t seem right somehow, the Runehawks were men of the east and men of the east were known for their black hair. It was the Lacks who bred them red, that was the saying anyway.         

            “It’s Garren,” said the king at last, “he was the youngest of them.”

            Prince Garren Runehawk’s lifeless hazel eyes looked up at Glump. It was almost like those eyes were begging Glump to help him, the mouth parted slightly in mute appeal.  It’s too late, Glump wanted to tell the dead boy, it’s much too late.

            “Is that the last of them?” Glump asked. “Are we done?”

            The king didn’t answer.  Glump heard Cryspin collapsing into his throne and then there was silence for a long time.

            “You best go,” said a voice from the shadows, “when he sleeps he don’t wake for days sometimes.”

            Glump left Cryspin to his sleep.  Soon enough, he thought as he rode Gunner back down to the Black Arsenal, the king would sleep and not wake and then the real trouble would begin.  As he neared the Black Arsenal he slowed Gunner to a trot.  He looked out over the city and beyond its walls to the bridge and the inland sea. Beyond those calm waters he could ride Gunner to the coast and find a ship. He had money enough. He could sail it to where they all said the Mist came from. If the Mist was there then he would sail into the Mist. If not he would find somewhere and he would rest.

            He didn’t ride on.  Instead he rode Gunner into the covered streets of the Black Arsenal.  He slept well that night and when he woke in the morning there was a Doctor waiting to speak with him. 

            “The King asks this one thing of you,” said the Doctor as he handed Glump the parchment. 

            Glump read the name and sighed.

            “I thought Garren was the last,” he said but he knew the Doctor had no idea who Garren was.  He was a boy, Glump wanted to say, a boy with red hair and hazel eyes.  Instead he said nothing.

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About michaeleganpoetry

Liverpool based poet and editor. I have had four pamphlets of poetry published, most recently After Stikklestad (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2010). Penned in the Margins published my first collection, Steak & Stations, in 2010.

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