The sky looked like a dark slate, bulging and sinking until it looked like Henry was under the sea, staring up at a tumultuous ocean from the bottom of the sea. He blinked as the first, fat drop of rain smacked against his forehead. Henry blinked and stared at the sky, feeling the next strike his cheek. Henry’s eyes burned. His exhaustion felt thick inside of him, like it was replacing every fiver and muscle. It was as if his whole body was turning to stone, slowly forming him into a brooding, dark statue on the side of the Chapel of Mirna, waiting for time to pass, his eyes fixed angrily on the guard who had informed him that he would have to wait.
Darkness was coming and the Umberlyn refugees that were still at the Chapel of Mirna were marooned, locked on the grounds until the dawn came and they were allowed to go search their families in Boglin. Henry did not group with the others. He did not move when he felt eyes watching him, studying him. He didn’t flinch at the guards who glared back at him, scowling at his impudent stare. Henry didn’t care.
The hollowness of his circumstances ripped him open like a sinkhole forming beneath shattered ground, growing to the critical point where Henry wasn’t afraid anymore. He wasn’t scared or fearful about what needed to be done. He wasn’t panicking or desperate for answers or to justify a hope that was no longer there. Henry’s world was shifting, settling after the violence and the destruction he’d endured. It was a new world for Henry and he had yet to find his place.
Trennon was a miserable place and the rain only made it worse. Surrounded by a swamp and bisected by a slow moving river, the whole place felt dank and damp, coated in moss and anything that might be pale or bright was darkened by black mold that formed into crusty lichens. When the rain started to come down, it drove people indoors, behind their wooden walls faster than the darkness had. The guards grumbled and took shelter across the broad streets that surrounded the Chapel, lurking beneath awnings with their arms folded.
Henry’s blonde hair stuck to his face and the grime that he had accumulated over the previous days began to drip off of him, accumulating in his clothes before running out into the street until he was fully saturated, shivering in the cold wetness of the evening, but he didn’t mind anymore. His stomach ached and felt like it was eating itself. The cold did nothing in the shadow of hunger. It was insignificant. Henry needed to find something to eat soon.
“You should come inside,” a voice called to him over the splatter of the rain smacking the stones and steps of the Chapel. Henry turned and looked at Tyla, who stood in the shelter of the Chapel’s awning, next to a pillar of brown stone. He looked at her for a moment before turning back to the gloomy world that surrounded him. He wasn’t interested in talking. He didn’t want to go into the Chapel either. He’d already studied every face that had come out of the Chapel, trying to place them. No one fit in his old life. “You should really come inside, Just Henry.”
“Stop calling me that,” Henry said. His voice was sharp and annoyed.
“Fine, Henry,” she said. Her tone was apologetic, but Henry didn’t believe it. Everything about this city had been cruel and unwelcoming since he’d arrived. Anything that wasn’t became immediately suspect in his mind. “Why are you sitting in the rain?”
Henry wasn’t sure how to answer that. Because it didn’t matter, because Mother wasn’t there to yell at him for being a fool, because Claire wasn’t there to hug him and tell him it was going to be okay, or maybe because William and Percy weren’t there to tease him. Not even little Quinn was there to sit with him, babbling and staring at whatever fleeting object captured his attention. He didn’t have anyone. So it didn’t matter if he caught sick and died or if he drowned like a turkey. Who would even care?
“The sulky, broody act is getting tiresome,” Tyla said.
“Act?” Henry turned and glared at him. “You think this is an act?”
“No,” her eyes were alight with life and warmth. The smile on her lips was mischievous and playful, the kind of smile that would have made Henry blush and feel weak in a different life. Now, it couldn’t penetrate the gloom. “But at least you’ll look at me.”
“You’re annoying me,” Henry said.
“I’m getting you to talk, silly boy,” she said to him. Henry turned back to the darkness inside of him, glaring across the street to the awning of a furniture shop where a pair of guards sat on crates. “Everyone who came through those gates have suffered loss and loneliness. You’re not the only one. The Woodlanders have taken so much from all of you. Giving in to despair now will only lead to more pain.”
“You don’t even know,” Henry answered. The faces of his family lurked in the deep recesses of his mind, staring at him from the shadows. “They’re all gone.”
“Did you see it?” Her voice was softer, barely a whisper above the slapping of the rain.
Henry shook his head. “I woke surrounded by fire at the camp. They were all gone or dead.”
“Maybe they escaped,” Tyla said. “Did you check the boards? They might have already been sent to Bogland.”
“No,” Henry shook his head again. “I can’t read.”
“Well, I can,” Tyla said. Henry heard her footsteps on the wet stone next to him, drawing closer to him. He looked at her, not sure what to think of her. Why would she be interested in helping him? She’d practically ripped his arm off and had done nothing but taunt and mock him. She was a resident of this godless city too. The rain stung the gash over his right eye and he remembered what kind of kindness and compassion this city had for people like Henry. “Come on,” Tyla said to him. “Let’s see if we can find you some answers.”
The flicker of hope deep inside of Henry’s heart flickered and sparked in the darkness. The pain and the sorrow inside of him bounded, wrapped it in thick ribbons of smoke and shadow, locking it away, but he could feel it inside of him. Maybe they were alive. Maybe they were waiting for him. Henry rose and followed Tyla back down the street.
He looked at the stones, not wanting to draw attention to him as he headed back down the route he’d taken earlier. Before they could even cross the street, one of the guards shouted from an awning.
“No leaving the Chapel grounds,” the guard shouted.
“He’s with me,” Tyla called back. “We’re checking the boards. We’ll be back.”
“It’s dangerous, girl,” the guard replied. “He might overpower you. Umberlyn folk are savages.”
“He’s a dislocated shoulder and a limp,” Tyla answered. “I can take care of myself.”
“Suit yourself,” the guard threw up his hands. “Don’t come crying to me when he beats you and robs you blind.”
Tyla looked at Henry and offered him a smile. “Fair enough.”
Henry walked behind her, keeping his distance. The guard had noticed him almost immediately and Henry didn’t want other attention, the kind of attention that came with folk like Pad. The chill of the storm began to seep into Henry’s bones and no amount of apathetic numbness could keep the chill away from him now.
“People are scared,” Tyla slowed down and walked next to him. “Two thousand Umberlyn refugees showed up at our gates and begged for sanctuary and travelers spin tales of barbarian hordes in the foothills, heading for the lowlands. The Watch thinks you’re all spies and saboteurs, merchants think you’re all thieves, and workers and laborers think you’ll steal their jobs and undercut them. In a few weeks, everyone will be back to their normal, kind selves. I promise.”
“Do you think Dorothea was as welcoming?” Henry’s teeth chattered.
“What do you mean?” Tyla raised an eyebrow.
“Half the city was evacuating to Dorothea,” Henry elaborated. “Do you think the Dorotheans were as unwelcoming?”
“Henry,” Tyla said with a kind voice. “The road to Dorothea was an ambush. Word is that no one made it. Everyone in Trennon is all that is left of Umberlyn.”
A cold chill pierced Henry’s heart and he closed his eyes as they walked. Less than two thousand people from Umberlyn. That was all that remained of their thriving home? That was all that would remember what a beautiful and loving city that it was? There would be no attempt to retake Umberlyn now. There would be no armed militia, thirsty for vengeance. They were stuck here, at the mercy of whatever marauding warlord pried the city from the Woodlanders. It could be years before Henry and the others could go back.
“It looks like the Bertrandines left,” Tyla said. The plaza was empty. The mob that had been roiling at the gates was now gone, driven back to Boglin where the rest of the Umberlyn refugees were tucked away. Henry looked at the boards and knew that it was foolish to hope, foolish to think that there was a chance. There were so many dead in the foothills. Mother was carrying Quinn, Claire was just as exhausted as Henry was, and William was too stupid to realize he couldn’t defend them. Just like Father and Percy, he knew that they were dead. “Old men can’t stand the rain.”
Clair hopped up the steps and looked at the list of names. The awning that hung over the boards protected her from the rain, but she wrapped her arms around her soaked waist and shivered as she studied the lists of names. “What were their names?” She called to him.
“Violet, Claire, William, and Quinn,” Henry answered. What good was it to ask for Father or Percy? It was a waste of time and hope. It was a precious commodity to his soul and he couldn’t spend it, not that he was wasting any of it on this hunt. Henry had already started thinking of how he was going to find his aunts and uncles who lived in the city. How was he going to get to them? Maybe one of his cousins or aunts made it. That was the best he could truly hope for.
“What’s your surname, Henry?” She asked him. Turning around, she looked at him, watching him as the rain pelted Henry. “Saints, Henry, come stand under the awning. Do yourself some kindness. Saints know you’re not getting any from the world lately.”
“I don’t have a surname,” Henry said as he walked up under the awning, teeth chattering. “The old man listed me as Henry Tanner.”
“I’ll look for Tanner,” Tyla answered.
She was relentless and unstoppable. She chattered while she looked, her finger tracing every name that she searched on the boards. She would stop now and again to look at him, offering him a smile to try and comfort him, but Henry was immune to niceties. Mostly, it was baffling that she would even waste her time on this. Henry didn’t like the idea that he was going to owe her for this, especially since she was an initiate. If he had to come to sermons to repay the debt, he was going to throw himself in that river. For the life of him, Henry couldn’t recall a single thing that she had said during that time. Mostly he watched her lips move and looked at her glassy eyes or the way her finger gracefully searched, vainly hoping where Henry did not.
There was something admirable about the way she searched, going from board to board, each plastered with parchment after parchment of names. It wasn’t something that could be done quickly and when the darkness filled the plaza, one of the guards from the gate provided Henry with a torch to hold for Tyla. The man said nothing, just offering Henry a curt nod and the torch. Henry held it for her, watching her shiver.
Finally, when the last piece of paper had been searched, Henry felt the cold validation of what he already knew. Tyla, however, was being hit by the weight of the results. She looked at him with a mortified expression. “I’m so sorry Henry,” she said. “Maybe they missed the lists or they might still be out there. We have stragglers coming in every day. Please don’t give up hope.”
“It’s okay,” Henry whispered. “I know.”
“You can stay with the others in Bogland,” Tyla stepped toward him. “The Chapels will all be looking for recruits and in a few weeks, I’m sure the craftsmen and workshops will all come looking for anyone with skills. You said your father was a tanner? Do you know the trade? I can speak with some of the local tanners and leather-craftsmen on your behalf.”
“No, I’ll be fine,” Henry told her. “I’ll just deal with this on my own.”
They walked back to the Chapel of Mirna in silence. The rain had reduced to a light sprinkle, but the cold was settling in over the city, drawing up a mist from the river at the heart of Trennon. It spread through the city like a cancer and Henry let the hollow echo inside of him reverberate and settle. The tears that ran down his cheeks were silent and he knew that Tyla could see them. She was a caring person, but Henry wanted to be alone right now. He didn’t want a silent specter walking beside him, watching him weep.
When they returned to the Chapel, Henry sat down on a bench beneath the awning. Tyla placed the torch in a sconce and looked at him for a moment, fidgeting with her hands as she mulled over the question that he could feel coming.
“We have services every other day,” Tyla told him as she sat down next to him. “You should stop by. The Guard will let you come. And if you’re ever ill or injured, we’ll give you the best help that we can. Dominus Gareth might make you listen to a few lectures and try to make you an initiate, but it’s worth the long hours of him preaching, I promise.”
“Thanks,” Henry said. “I think I’d like to be alone now.”
Tyla looked at him like she was the friendly stray that had just been kicked. Henry didn’t care. He wasn’t looking for friends. He’d been looking for his family and he’d found only death and loneliness. In fact, all she had done was kill the little hope that he had inside of him that tomorrow he might find them in Boglin.
“Okay,” Tyla said. Her voice sounded upbeat, but it couldn’t hide the wounded tone. “Please come say goodbye tomorrow before you leave. Won’t you?”
Henry nodded to her.
When morning came, he broke his promise.
The guards rounded up the refugees and assembled everyone on the corner of the Chapel that pointed straight down a road that crossed the river, leading to the west side of the city over a bridge of moss covered stone, large enough for two wagons to cross. Henry, keeping his head low and trying to hide, avoided the gaze of anyone who might be looking for him. He was ready to move long before the guards rounded up everyone and waiting like cattle was getting to him, burrowing under his skin and wriggling. Why were they waiting?
But, when the Captain and the men with staves arrived, Henry and the others were quickly mobilized and ushered down the street. As far as Henry knew, she never even saw him leave. That was fine. Henry was beginning to understand how dangerous it was to have people like her in his life, people who cared about him. They needed to be carved out of his life. Henry could take care of himself. He didn’t need others worrying over him.
The bridge and the districts of the city that they were marched through would one day become as familiar to Henry as the back of his hand and their secrets would be lay bare to him like the stars to a sailor. But the first time he walked through the West Riverside, where wooden cranes hauled up nets of cargo from barges that had floated down river. Great blocks of stone, barrels of catfish, bundles of wool, and bails of wheat and barley. Workers shouted and continued their work, loading wagons and toiling under the gazes of foremen and delivery crews. Their trail led them through the textile streets where spinners, looms, tailors, and countless other workers carried their bright and vivid reams of cloth and transformed them into the clothes sold all across the Territories. There was the Forgeworks farther away where smelters and refiners prepared ingots that made their way to specialized smiths interlaid with dye workers and tanners who propagated their stench upon the river banks. It was at the very end of the road, right up against the great stone walls on the south side of the city where the Penny Market lurked, where the poorest of the poor lived that the group of refugees were clustered together on the stone docks of the river.
Ferrymen, grizzled and clad in rags stared with eyes that sized up each of them, like sheep ready for the slaughter. While Henry stood there, staring back at the ferrymen who stood on their barge, wielding their great staves like weapons rather than tools. With a grinding, groaning roar of metal, the slow-moving water of the river began to tremble as the great iron gate of the river began to rise, opening the road for the ferry and the trembling, terrified refugees.
The Captain of the Watch stepped on top of a crate and shouted for everyone to stop mumbling and murmuring to each other. “Quiet!” He shouted. “Hear me, people of Umberlyn! Beyond this gate is Bogland. You are allowed to leave Bogland, through the ferry. It is the only way in and the only way out. The Watch will allow you to come to the Penny Market, but you are not allowed elsewhere in the city. You are not Trennonites and the city does not want you. As for Bogland, you can have it. If we catch you outside of Bogland or the Penny Market here, we’ll lock you up and send you to the quarries. Don’t let me catch you. Rebuild your lives, do as you please, but do so in Bogland. Understood?”
No one responded and the Captain didn’t linger to see if everyone understood or not. He didn’t care. If Tyla really thought the city would welcome them one day, it was hard to find any evidence that supported this. The ferrymen who blocked access to the barge stepped aside and Henry joined the first group that stepped upon the soggy, rancid smelling planks. The ferrymen didn’t smell much better. The metal bars that stuck up around the edges of the barge held the thick ropes that kept everyone from falling into the murky slow moving flow.
The barge pushed off from the river bank and slowly made its way under the great iron teeth of the gate. Rust and calcified growths clung to the gate’s teeth, dripping on the refugees as they made their way under the stone arch that held the heavy metal door for them as they crossed the threshold and were outside of the city again.
Blinking, Henry stared at the world that was waiting for them on the opposite side of the wall, surrounded by swampland, moss dripping trees, and bogs that Henry knew too well. Suspended up out of the waters of the swamp, Bogland rose, propped up on supports where slanted, drooping, and tilted structures rested on planks, connected by roads of rotting piers. It looked like a child had designed Bogland, stacking buildings on top of each other, supporting them with diagonal poles or letting them lean on the structure next to it. The rooftops were covered in black moss that dripped like witches hair.
Like Trennon, Bogland was built on both sides of the slow moving river, though it spread out in a larger fan, feeding the wetlands around them. It was connected by narrow bridges where filthy children chased each other over, the whole thing rattling and shaking with each excited footstep. Enveloping the entire shantytown, high wooden walls with watchtowers served as their only defense against whatever lurked out there in the swamp. Henry could feel the fingers of his would-be killer around his throat. They would be nothing more than a fattened calf for the angry Woodlanders that were out there.
“Welcome home,” the ferryman nearest Henry cleared his throat and spit a glob of yellow phlegm into the water as the other ferrymen tethered the barge. Henry let the majority nervously climb the wooden steps to the opening that sat in the shadow of the walls of Trennon where guards looked down like apathetic gods, disgusted with what they saw.
Henry climbed out of the barge and watched as they shoved off again, fighting the slow, sluggish flow of the current. The men on the barge pulled a rope along the sides of the wall’s gaping hole. Henry couldn’t believe that this was the only way into the city. Was this how they treated their unwanted denizens?
“Gather round,” a voice called, drawing Henry up the rest of the steps until he was standing on a great, sagging courtyard of wooden boards all nailed atop one another, making a bit of a clearing that served as a market. It was line with stalls with tattered awnings, people who looked too filthy to be handling the goods watched with hands on their hips, their eyes discerning and unwelcoming, just like everyone else in Trennon. “Gather round. I’ve a speech for you.”
A heavy set man with muttonchops and a bald pate wearing a stained green jacket motioned for all of them to gather around him as he stood on what looked like a permanently grounded cart. “I am Cyrus Taylor, the representative of Boglin. Welcome to your new home. We’re glad to have you. We have blankets and plenty of room for each and every one of you. It’ll be a bit snug, but trust me when I say that this is a very good day.
“You see, Trennon, like Umberlyn, is a commune and each district has a representative who speaks on the City Council. As of three days ago, Boglin just became the largest district in Trennon. No one enjoys losing their homes and friends and dare I even say loved ones, but you can rebuild here. We can find lives for all of us to work toward a brighter future. Here in Boglin, we have jobs for all. Tomorrow, I’m sure some of the craftsmen and foremen will come looking for labor and skill, but they will not let you stay in the city. No matter where you work, they’ll expect you to stay in Boglin and we’ll make sure you have a home.
“So please, ask your questions of the locals. We’ll help you out in any way that we can. If you have any need, my door is always open for you.”
There was a roar of voices and questions. Most of the voices were furious and demanding of something better than this swampy hell that they had been thrust into. Beneath their feet, the waters sloshed and it sounded like creatures were moving in the waters. The slightest breeze registered a myriad of groans and moans from the wooden structures all around them. Henry felt seasick just looking at the new home that he was offered. People shoved and pushed their way out of the courtyard and went in search of family. Henry stared and watched them, lacking any motivation to find someone. The ones he cared about were lost. Tomorrow, he’d see if he could get work at the barges or the warehouses, maybe a tannery. He’d find some meager job to try and make the most of his life here.
He hardly noticed the shadow fall across him and when he turned, three towering men looked down at him. They had scraggly facial hair and scars coated their bare, muscular arms. One of them had an old, filthy pipe between his lips and he was the first to speak up.
“Ain’t you got any kin?” the Pipe asked.
Henry shook his head.
The three men exchanged glances and stared at Henry, studying him.
“Want one?” He asked.