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Within Half Shadow of Red – rewrite

The isle was heavy with death.  Blood stained the old cathedral lawns.  Once, years before the College had claimed it, the isle had been a holy place.  Not any more, science had taken all the holiness out of the place and all that remained of the gods were their headless vine covered statues.

Glump couldn’t walk ten yards without coming upon another body.  All the Doctors were dead.  That didn’t bother Glump.  He hated the bastards with their utter faith in Knowledge.  They didn’t know they’d die like this, he thought as he passed another a black smocked body.

It wasn’t just Doctors whose throats had been opened.  Every second body was a Halfborn.  He looked down at one, a naked boy of no more than nineteen.  The poor bastards.  Mute, loveless, enslaved and now dead.  He touched Blackheart’s pommel.  I shouldn’t make a habit of that, he thought, it’s just a sword, it won’t listen to my prayers.

When he reached the library his boots were red.

“Is he ready?” Glump asked his boy. The boy was pale, he had never seen death before.    Glump had been like the boy once. Runt was what Kylean had always called him and a runt is what he had been.  Skinny, sallow cheeked, not an ounce of muscle on him but even all those years ago when he truly was a runt he had killed a knight and saved Kylean’s life. The boy could never have done that. The boy wasn’t just a runt, he was a cowardly runt and no long hours of sword, shield and lance practice could change that. When Glump rode away from the Point of Time with Kylean as his lord and a promise that he would be a knight, he had expected it to be a simple thing, expected to be given a sword and some armour and made to bow and swear some oaths.  But it had been far from simple. Years of toil in the swordmaster’s yard with young men stronger than he could he ever dream of being lay at the end of the dune snaking roads beyond the Point of Time. Years of bruises, cuts and embarrassment, of the other boys calling him Squire Piggy until the day he almost killed Rowan Goulder.  Near knocked that fool’s head off. They hadn’t realised how strong he was getting or how much he was learning from his lord.  Kylean would make him join him in the library each night no matter how battered he was.  Within a year he was reading.  Within two he knew battle strategies, histories of all four realms and he could name all the great families and every Realm Knight there had ever been all the way back through the ones Kylean’s had murdered to the first six who ruled the Arqary from the Domenard of Walvale.  Then there was how Glump spoke. Kylean had never liked that.

“You speak like a pigsty boy, runt,” he had told him, “you need to learn to speak like a knight.”

That wasn’t so hard once he shook off the words his brothers had taught him, the hard words. Soon he was speaking like the rest of the little lordiess. Then came the day when Kylean had taken him to a Doctor of All and the Doctor had given him cup after cup of sleepberry so when Glump woke he wasn’t toothless anymore; two rows of perfect white teeth he was given and that meant even the girls didn’t could no longer laugh at him. He had changed in his years with Kylean but there was one thing Kylean hadn’t had to teach him; courage. Glump had always had that, too much of it sometimes.  Kylean had called him arrogant more than once and maybe that was it, maybe it was all just foolish arrogance but even when the other knightlings were battering him, even when every whore laughed at him, even when Kylean threatened to send him home he never regretted following Kylean down from the Point of Time; he always knew he would be a knight, he had seen it in his dreams after all. He just had to get there.  Follow the road, put up with the saddle sores.  The boy would never get there no matter what his father expected of Glump. The boy was a runt and a coward and would never change, could never change.  He would never make a knight like Squire Glump Branch, not even like Squire Piggy.

The Halfborn was drinking sweetened wine, his hand shaking.  Wine dribbled down the mute’s chin.  Glump studied him. The Doctors never say him, he corrected himself, they say it. The Halfborn was the image of his brothers.  Glump wondered if the Halfborn even remembered who he had been.  When the wine had calmed him, the Halfborn wrote a word on a piece of parchment.  His hand was still unsteady.  The boy didn’t recognise the word but it was the word Glump had expected.  It was why he had come here.  He needed confirmation.

“What’s one of them?” the boy asked. Glump ruffled the boy’s hair.  Kylean had never ruffled his hair but then he’d never given up calling him runt even when Glump stood a foot taller than him and could down three pints of Woldean ale to every one of his lord’s.  On their ride back across the bridge he told the boy not to think of the dead anymore.

“They’re dead, that’s all,” Glump told him, “don’t let them live in your dreams.”

They were in Glump’s dreams that night. He was walking on the Cathedral lawns.  He wore no boots and his bare feet were wet with blood. The dead bodies rose, Doctors and Halfborn both.  Every one of them spoke the word as they closed in on him.

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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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