Chapter XIV: Retribution

The sewer was a wretched smelling place, and when Henry descended down the path that he had followed Red Hair and the other Bog Lords through, he was painfully reminded of just how horrible it smelled. He had slipped down the side of the Chapel, carefully making his way down, past the windows that were filled with fog, beaded with droplets, and hiding him from those inside. He had watched for patrols or the drunks who were out despite the curfew that had been set in place by the Council.

Once he was on the streets, Henry moved through the shadows, avoiding major streets and navigating his way back to where he remembered the access to the sewers. There was no one watching him as he walked down the steps, leaving the iron gate open for him. The guilt that he had felt for lying to Glenda, for being deceptive, and for stealing wore off while he was in the sewers. He didn’t care about any of that. As his feet squished and sloshed through the murky waters, he navigated through the dark with the memory as his only guide.

For weeks, Henry had watched and listened as Monra shouted his orders to the members of the Watch across the street from his window. He heard him shout the tenants and the beliefs of Watch, their responsibility, and their duty. As words took shape with the foundation he had been taught from Firat, Henry had learned the words that hung over the arched doorway leading into the Watch’s training grounds.

To protect and defend all of Trennon.

The Watch had forgotten those words. They had shoved aside more than a quarter of Trennon, leaving it in the hands of criminals and ruthless, heartless tyrants. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t what Henry could stand for. He had been given a huge blessing, a great opportunity, and he had to give back. He had little, next to nothing, but he was going to help those who needed his aid out as much as possible. He was going to do what he could and he would hope that it would make a difference.

No, that wasn’t true. He didn’t need to hope. As he marched through the sewers, Henry knew that it would make a difference. The only way that it wouldn’t make a difference was if he did nothing. Action demanded reaction, that much he believed in. He didn’t need hope when he knew that if he started somewhere, others would take up the call, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not the day after that or weeks, or months down the road, but one day, someone else would take up his call. He just had to keep doing.

So, when he dropped into the swampy waters that sloshed and slopped below Bogland, Henry made sure that his pack was dry and that he wasn’t ruining his smuggled cargo. Surfacing through the hole that Henry had come through originally with the Bog Lords. Part of Henry was nervous that the Watch would spot him, that they might lift an unusual interest in him, but as the loaves of bread thumped on the wooden planks and Henry gripped the edge. No one seemed to care or worry. Hoisting himself up, Henry strolled through the cramped and moist alleys of Bogland.

It was a silent world, beyond the stone, mossy walls of Trennon. Henry passed darkened windows with mildew scented curtains and covers.  There were sounds of dogs barking or growling across the swelling Yavas, but Henry didn’t see any. There was no one staggering around, no ruffians in the shadows or drunks wobbling about. There were no members of the Watch wandering around or anything like that. Henry didn’t know where he was going to find the man who had been beaten brutally, but he was determined to find him.

He walked the streets, hunting for sounds or noise that might indicate that there was anyone living in the shantytown, but that didn’t make sense. Henry hadn’t spent more than a few hours in Bogland before he was convinced to become a criminal. He didn’t know the layout or the features. It was like coming to Trennon all over again. The narrow streets, the crooked buildings, the sagging rooftops, and the smell of rot filled Henry’s nostrils. He was suddenly grateful for the cuts on his knuckles, the cruel stares, and the unappreciative fame that he had acquired. This was a bad dream, a world of tilted familiarity, wreathed if fog and mist. Henry could hear the sounds of the swamp, the chirping of insects, the groaning of frogs, the calls of strange, unseen birds, and the distant shriek of something ferocious and vicious.

Then he heard the shouts.

He made his way toward them, not thinking that they sounded particularly angry. He could feel the coin in his pocket and the flat of the blade hidden in his robes. If things got out of hand, Henry could run. He could ward them off with the kitchen’s butcher knife and make short work of them, just like he had the Vark that had come hunting for him in the swamps. He shuddered at the memory, feeling slippery tendrils of phantom memories wrapping around his shins and calves. But, Henry didn’t think it would need to come to that.

The shouts came from a large building at the heart of Bogland, looming over the Yavas’ somber waters. It looked like a hall, but it was smaller than the Chapel even. The supports and posts that supported the porch that wrapped around the hall were all carved with the faces of strange men and figures that Henry couldn’t identify. Maybe they were heroes of Bogland, maybe they were Saints that they worshipped or something more pagan. Henry didn’t know. But what he did know, was that the men and women who stood against the railing of the porch and leaned against the posts regarded him as a phantom walking among the gravestones. Their dirty faces went pale, wherever skin was visible, their eyes widening in the dark. None of them looked menacing, or threatening like Henry had worried. These people were more terrified than he was.

“I’m looking for the man who was beat,” Henry said. His voice was loud, clearer than he had thought it would be. They regarded him for a moment before a gaunt man, whose shirt was rotting off of him so badly that Henry could see his ribs, jabbed a boney thumb over his shoulder to the interior of the hall.

As he approached the doors that bled golden light through the gaps and breached knot holes, the Boglanders parted. He looked at their faces before he noticed the sign hanging above the door that had once been burned to read “Bogland,” but that had changed. Now, it was painted over in red letters that he could read thanks to Firat.

New Umberlyn.

Henry didn’t like the look of that. There was something threatening about those words, something that tasted of revenge in his mouth when his eyes rolled over the scrawl. Bogland was not full of the diseased and the poverty stricken, the run down and the forgotten like it had once upon a time. It was bursting at the seams with people who had once been craftsmen, traders, scholars, and yeomen. There were men here who had been masters of trades or at least competent enough for employment. There were apprentices and journeymen who were now at the helm of their own lives, plying their trades to survive. But Henry didn’t forget the wives, women who had watched their husbands night and day with their tasks, women who were just as skilled and dedicated as their dead husbands and even more level headed. They were all here and that made Henry worried.

The hall was full of people who had been surviving in a world that was not their own. Their faces were carved with outrage and fury, their eyes burning with a fire that told Henry the same tale as the sign outside did. He walked into the hall, relatively unnoticed, but slowly, the faces turned and glanced at him with the breath of cool air that slipped in through the door with him. One by one, the faces turned and stared at him.

“The longer we let the Brogans treat us this way,” a man shouted on the stage at the far end of the hall. His dark hair was pulled into a knot and his beard was long and wiry, but his eyes were full of passion and determination, “the harder it will be for us to make our voices heard. Taylor has no authority at the Council, because the Brogans own four districts, not including the Traveler’s Bend, which he sits in for! Now that the Bog Lords are planted in the swamps, we have no one to stand up for us. I say we take this to the streets. I say we fight.”

“And you don’t think we’ve thought of that?” Taylor, the familiar face that Henry recognized, rose form his stool and took command of the stage. “The Bog Lords had the protection of the Watch. You don’t. The Watch fought a proxy war through the Bog Lords with the Brogans. If you go to war, then it will be seen as an uprising and they’ll torch all of us. They’ve done it before and they’ll do it again.”

“This time it will be different,” a woman rose from her stool. She was seated next to another face that Henry recognized. It was the swollen and bruised face of the man that he had watched get beaten to a pulp. He had a rotten, old blanket over his shoulders and his arms were wrapped around his ribs, his puckered eyes pinned to a point in the floor as his whole body shivered. “We have been collecting bog ore, Varlen has been making a smelter, soon we’ll have a smith that actually works. We can build weapons and steal whatever else we can.”

“It will take more than sharpened sticks to take on the Watch,” Taylor shook his head. “This is treason to even entertain. Over a month ago, Ryler assassinated a handful of Faolan’s men and he rang the bell, calling in anyone who owed the Brogans a favor. Do you not remember them kicking in your doors and tossing your homes? Do you not remember them lining up Ryler and his men on the banks and slitting their throats before tossing them in the river? I do! That is what you’re inviting, even if the Watch doesn’t get involved.”

“So what do you purpose we do?” the woman demanded.

The stage exploded in shouting as Henry felt his heart pounding faster and faster. There was a war brewing here, just like a war had been brewing at home when he would listen to Father and his uncles. He didn’t like this one bit. His palms were sweaty, his eyes stung, and he gripped his homemade pack tighter. He didn’t know what compelled him specifically to take that first step, but as he was making his way toward the stage, he could feel the eyes that were already on him focusing. It wasn’t a curiosity or fearful host of eyes now, it was baffled and dazzled eyes.

The three debating on the stage didn’t seem to realize that Henry was there until he was standing in front of the beaten man, unravelling his pack. The man’s swollen face lifted, studying Henry’s robes and then crawling up to his face. The man didn’t stare at Henry’s face for long, his eyes scrambled back down to the loaves of bread.

“I saw what happened today,” Henry said to him as the other three on the stage silenced. “I’m sorry I didn’t act. Please accept this as an apology. I have two loaves of bread and a poultice that you can spread on your wounds. It will help with the swelling and infection, bind it tightly.”

“What is this?” The other man shouted. “How did you get in here? No one invited a monk to this gathering.”

“He’ll alert the Watch,” the woman shouted.

“He brought the man food,” someone from the crowd shouted. “Be silent!”

Other cheered and shouted with in agreement, forcing the woman back. Henry stared at her, not sure how he felt about her. She was scared and that made a lot of sense to him. They were in a terrifying place. They were surrounded by people who want nothing more than to see them forgotten and starved to death. He was scared too. Every day that he walked through the streets of Trennon, he had been scared, but not for the same reasons.

Tonight, Henry was scared that if he chose poorly, terrible things would happen. He was scared that inaction was a declaration that was more cutting than participating in the cruelty that hurt his people every day. Henry was scared, not of the Watch or the apathy of the people toward him, but toward his people. Because in the end, people could only take so much, especially if they’re good people whose family and friends suffer every day.

“I’m sorry,” Henry said to them. “I am from Umberlyn too. You are not forgotten.”

Henry didn’t know what else to say. He looked at them, their eyes studying him for a moment, and then they all seemed to fade, as if their thoughts drifted from him and to something else. Henry could see how fragile their lives seemed, how dangerous everything appeared to them. He pitied them and Henry refused to let them suffer from that. He was going to do everything in his power to make things better for them.

“Do not give up,” Henry said.

As he left the hall, Henry felt as if he truly were a ghost, drifting among them, a visitor from a world that was completely different from this one. They stared at him as if he were a vision, a glimpse of something that might have been, or might still be. It was painful, for both sides. But as Henry walked out of the hall and back into the damp, cool air of Bogland, Henry didn’t mind the stench of fish, the smell of mildew, and the odor of rot that hung over everything. As the wraith he was, he wandered into the shadows and felt the tears brimming in his eyes.

This was not a life that his people deserved. They deserved Umberlyn. They deserved the spring festival, the autumn, harvest parties, and the Flowering Festivities. Each of them belonged in their old homes, enjoying the welcome of friends and family members who weren’t awaiting them beyond the grave. Henry felt the crushing gratitude and relief that Claire and William weren’t alive to live in this swampy hell. Death had spared them this fate and Mother didn’t have to raise Quinn here either. But there were others still here that deserved better. He had given them two loaves of bread and a poultice. That wasn’t good enough.

Marching through the streets, Henry lost track of where he was, but when he looked up at the wall and saw the black silhouettes atop the walls, moving with the deep, gray clouds, his rage burned. They deserved something and he wasn’t going to stand by. He couldn’t. Across the fog, the voice that drew his attention felt like fate. It felt like it was the point where Henry was seeking, like an arrow hunting its mark. Henry’s fingers wrapped around the handle of the broken oar and his mind calmed, stilling itself like murky waters that held an awful hunter. He took a step toward the voice.

“Oi, if they don’t start paying, I’m not pulling this worthless barge back up the river again,” the man raised the bottle to his lips and took another pull. “Brogans want coin and these bastards ain’t got any coins. Where the hell are Bog Rats going to get coin?”

“I don’t know,” the other Ferryman took the bottle and had a pull.

They leaned against the wooden edge of the dock that served as the barge’s landing. The lantern that hung next to them on the crooked post glowed in the mist, radiating a blossom of orange as Henry moved silently across the soggy planks. His fingers tightened around the shaft of the oar. They didn’t see him. He could see the empty bottle at the shorter Ferryman’s feet. They were almost done polishing off the second. They were drunk. That was good for him, and bad. He had to make it count.

You couldn’t walk through the bathhouse in the evening and at night without noticing the deep rooms, the dark rooms where Glenda and her students worked. Dock workers, barge crewmen, laborers, and anyone else who came through, savaged and brutalized by unlucky turns all came looking for her help. They were too poor for the Physickers and too injured for the apothecaries. Glenda was their only option. Just by walking by the rooms or listening to her pupils talk in the hall at the Chapel, Henry had picked up a thing or two.

“These Umberlyn types,” the Short Ferryman continued, finishing off the bottle. “They’ve got balls. The whole lot of them are grumbling and griping. I see them going off into the swamps when they think we ain’t looking. I’ve told Faolan they’re out there looking for bog ore. They won’t find none, but they’re looking for it. I tell him, take a tooth from each of them and they’ll know who they’re dealing with.”

“Good idea,” Henry said.

The taller Feryman turned and caught the edge of the oar in the jaw. The point of contact rippled through Henry’s arm, vibrating, but he kept his arms tight and steady, just like Monra taught the Watch. The Ferryman’s mouth burst with blood as his head whipped to the side and he hit the planks of the barge with a thick slap. Henry noticed the white pears spread across the planks of the barge.

“Who the hell are you?” The Stout Ferryman took a step back, his eyes wide. Henry followed through and hit the lantern, shattering the smoky glass and filling the dock with darkness. The Ferryman watched Henry for a moment, contemplating using the bottle in his hand.

“You work for the Brogans?” Henry asked him.

“What are you? A kid?” The Ferryman asked. “A bloody kid broke Eirhan’s face? You’re a dead kid, you hear me? You just messed with the wrong crew.”

Henry charged. The Ferryman hurled the bottle, his aim was perfect for Henry’s head, flying straight at him, except it was the double the Ferryman was seeing. The bottle thumped against the soggy planks behind Henry and he whirled the oar, catching the man’s hand. The smack was sharp and painful sounding, the impact barely registering for Henry, but the sound was clear as a bell. The man’s hand was shattered. Henry swung the butt of the oar and caught the Ferryman in the face, cracking hard against his teeth. The man stumbled backwards, dazed by the blow.

The man crashed hard against the last of the rotten planks on the dock’s edge. They splintered and cracked under the impact and the man let out a yelp as he whimpered and writhed in pain. But, Henry wasn’t done with him. He brought the edge of the oar down on the man’s shin, cracking the oar with the blow and the man let out a howl in pain.

“Your shin is fractured,” Henry told him. “Your hand is broken, and you’re missing teeth. You’re not good for the ferry. If I see you here again, I’ll drown you. Do you understand? I’ll sneak up behind you, no matter how careful you are, knock you out, and when you wake up, I’ll have you tied to a plank and I’ll slowly dip you into the river, with the rest of the filth. I’ll drown you in the sewage, nice and slow, Ferryman. I’ll take my time. You’ll beg that I just end it, but I’ll just ignore you. I’ll wait until the rats come and start eating away at your face before I end you. Do you hear me?” Henry jabbed the oar into the man’s ribs hard. “Do you?”

“Yes,” the Ferryman sobbed. “Please, what is wrong with me?”

“You think this is bad?” Henry walked away from the Stout Ferryman to the barge where the Tall Ferryman lay unconscious. He slammed the oar down hard into the man’s hand, breaking it so that he too was worthless for the Ferry. “Then you better hope I never see you here again.”

The next day, when Henry followed Soti, who was particularly silent toward Henry that day, nursing the bruise on his cheekbone, Henry looked for the Ferrymen. The market was full of whispers and lively talk about how someone had attacked the Ferrymen, that they were scared for their lives. From what Henry had heard, it had been a knight, dressed in full plate and mail. He had beaten them within an inch of their lives and the Brogans were none too pleased about it. Henry saw Pad and his crew stalking around with frowns and scowls. He felt a twitch of pride for that, but it was nothing compared to the empty barge. They had learned their lesson and the Penny Market now had a legend that was filling the ears of everyone who walked near the stalls.

The Penny Knight was on the prowl.

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