All around Trennon, it was known as the Bishop’s Stand and it was as heroic sounding as the name implied. There were wild rumors at the taverns and alehouses around Drunkard’s Avenue and Innkeepers’ Row. There were dramatic retellings with the Bishop calling down Mirna who stuck a fiery sword through Faolan’s right hand man’s guts. There were also tales of Faolan spitting on the Bishop and beating him within an inch of his life, but the Bishop still crawling toward the ferry to deliver his offering to the poor Bog Rats. But, Henry’s favorite was when Saints of Old descended from the Eternal Paradise and stood guard over the monks as they delivered their offerings.
It was madness, no matter who was spinning the tale, but there was an equal result no matter where it was told. Faolan grew angrier and angrier. He had been silent and almost compromising when the Bishop had confronted him at the Penny Market. Now, however, the war had begun.
Every night, Boglanders were dropped off, beaten and bloody, near the doors of death, but Glenda and her team refused to give them entry. They fought to save every man that was dropped off. But, it appeared that the wrath of the Brogans didn’t end with those who lived in Bogland. There were rumors of citizens of Toiltown and the Penny Market starting to show signs of resistance to the Brogans and their lackeys who came calling for their collection money. This, of course, was a stupid move that ended up with people beaten and made an example of. Things were getting tense and for a week after the offering was provided, all Chants were called to a halt through Toiltown, the Ironworks, and the Penny Market.
When the Watch fished out a worker from one of the smelters out of the Yavas, the Watch broke the treaty that had silently been observed for over a decade and started marching patrols through the Ironworks and Toiltown, never pushing toward the Penny Market though. The Brogans were trying their hardest to keep their grip on the power that they had amassed. They had started letting it slip with the Penny Knight, then the Bishop’s Stand, and now the Watch was back in the Ironworks and Toiltown. A war had started, but a bigger one was brewing.
Bishop Albert kept to his chambers in what Father Brogan and Father Slanin claimed to be thoughtful contemplation and meditation upon the words of Mirna. They took over the Nocturnes. This absence only added to the mounting tension. They were leaderless and that only left everyone to their own devices, devices that Henry didn’t trust.
Henry was forced to keep his vigil in the Archives with Firat’s students while he was ignored and kept to the shadows. Soti, on the other hand, spent his time near the Iris Market where his betrothed was more than happy to keep him company and teach him how to break a few of his vows. Henry didn’t mind. Soti was a man who refused to relent when it came to prying at the locked box that was Henry.
The mathematics that Firat was teaching reached well beyond what Henry could eavesdrop on and so he rose and stretched his arms, making his way through the shelves and stacks of the Archives. He had spent so many months in the Archives that he felt like he knew it better than he knew the Chapel of Mirna itself. He wandered the cramped corridors, avoiding knobby scrolls and rolled parchments as he wound his way. There was no knowing where he was going, because he didn’t have the slightest idea what he was looking for. He wanted to stretch his legs and get free of the arithmetic lesson. Soon they would be back to commercial sums and then Henry would want to fling himself from the rooftop.
It would snow soon. People had spoken of how the Yavas was getting colder and the faster fish were getting fatter. Soon it would be First Frost and people would be drunk in the streets and everyone would scramble for Final Folly. In Umberlyn, this had been a joyous time. It had been a time of singing and merriment, when the air smelled of pies, pumpkin and butternut squash, and cider. It had been a time of roasted fowl and enormous feasts with all their neighbors, family, and friends. The thought of family resurrected the faces of those he had lost, branding their voices in his ears, and tormenting his heart. He pushed them away, feeling the shadows grow as he thought about them. They were never gone. There were never peaceful days or quiet nights. There were never hours where something didn’t remind him of his family.
He turned the corner and nearly ran into a man in a black and green robe with light green embroidering and embellishments. Henry had shared three conversations with different Bernardines and his opinion of them shrank with each conversation. They were philosophers, artists, and brewers, who existed only because they were a guarantee for a drunken debate or laugh. They survived only because poets, bards, painters, and sculptors were given free stay and nobles found the Chapel of Saint Bernard easy places to woo prospective agents of their court or home. Here in Trennon, they were no different.
However, Henry caught himself from exchanging a sharp word with the man standing in the way and studied his balding pate and his swollen gut. He recognized this man, which was something completely striking to Henry. Why he would recognize a Bernardine was beyond him, but this man stuck out to him.
“Excuse me, Brother,” Henry cleared his throat and drew the man’s attention. His nose was a sharp, upward hook, and his eyes were heavy with dark bags. Henry’s memory turned and he placed the man’s name. “Brother Albros is it?”
“Yes, why do you ask?” The man said off put.
“I saw you a year ago,” Henry confessed. “I saw you speaking with that man, the Numbawi, or Hawathi.”
“Administer Nabu?” Albros raised a nearly obliterated eyebrow. “Did you now? That’s quite a sharp memory you have there. I haven’t seen Nabu since then.”
“I heard him mention the Vark,” Henry said.
Albros turned pale at the mention of the Vark. Henry quickly assumed that there were only two reasons that Albros would turn pale at the mentioning of the Vark. The first being that a thirteen, going on fourteen, year old Initiate had just mentioned the Vark in a serious tone of voice, something that was synonymous with talking about farts or puke in an adult conversation, which is to say, not accepted at all. Or, like Henry, Albros knew all too well that the Vark were far from the children’s tales that people would have them believe.
“I’d advise you to keep your voice down,” Albros said. “It’s not wise to speak of the Vark out loud.”
“And why is that?” Henry looked at Albros with his doubts. Had Albros seen the Vark before? Did he know just how unwise it was?
Albros studied Henry with the same amount of scrutiny and interest. There was something about his deep brown eyes that suggested to Henry that Albros probably had more questions for Henry than the other way around. “I’m meeting an associate, Initiate…” Albros probed for Henry’s name in the dark.
“William,” Henry lied.
“Initiate William,” Albros nodded. “A strong Fenkish name, if I’ve ever heard one. If you’d like, I’d be more than interested in discussing such matters at a later date. There are so few among the Faithful who even dare utter their names aloud. Administer Nabu and I share a common,” he paused, looking for the right word, “understanding for the creatures. If you are interested in discussing things further, meet me at the Chapel of Saint Bernard after nightfall on Thulday. You know my name, give it to the doorman. I’m sure you’ll understand the routine.” Albros turned from Henry, moving back to the book that he had been pondering on the shelf before he swung back around. “I hope you don’t think me too formal, but have you seen one? You have the look of a man who has seen one.”
“I have,” Henry kept it brief. The story of how he killed a Vark would wait for another time, when he trusted Albros more.
The smile that spread across Albros’ lips could only be described as gluttonous, a look of a man who discovered a glorious dish waiting for him. He might have started drooling had Soti not appeared behind Henry. “Excellent,” Albros muttered. “Until Thulday.”
“Until Thulday,” Henry said, less excited than Albros.
“Henry,” Soti exhaled. “There you are!”
Henry turned and faced the huffing Initiate who froze the moment he saw Henry speaking with Albros. For a moment, Henry thought that Soti was going to bow or do something weird. He had a wild, unpredictable look in his eyes before he stood rigid and tried his hardest to compose himself. Henry wasn’t sure what kind of decorum was expected for speaking with Albros, but it appeared that he had been brash and bolder than he probably should have. Only then did Henry realize that he had stepped into the jaws of the lion.
“It appears you have someone who wishes to speak with you,” Albros cleared his throat. “I will leave you to it, Initiate William. Until we meet again. Initiate.”
Albros offered Soti a nod as he passed and Henry noticed that Soti’s eyes never left the floor of the Archives as Albros tucked the tome under his arm and went on his way. Soti looked up with wide eyes.
“Why did he call you William?” Soti rushed over to Henry, looking over his shoulder as he walked, as if he were conspiring to kill a Saint. Henry furrowed his brow and shrugged.
“He’s old,” Henry said. “He’s probably senile.”
“What?” Soti grimaced as if the words were physically off putting to him. He shook his head and waved his hands. “We’re going on the Chant. A whole group of us were talking this morning and we’re all going to walk the Chants. We’re going to show the Brogan’s we’re not scared of them.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Henry said flatly.
“What?” Soti took a step back, the offensive assault continuing. “I thought you’d be all about this? We’re standing up to the Brogans and they’re oppressing your people.”
“Yeah, with knives and clubs,” Henry reminded him. “If you guys go on the Chants, they’re going to beat most of you to a twitching pulp and probably kill one of you just for fun.”
“Why do you think I came to get you?” Soti grinned. “I figured if anyone showed up, you’d sock them in the jaw.”
Henry wanted to remind Soti that he was only a thirteen year old kid who like watching the recruits train, he wasn’t actually a member of the Watch. But then, Henry had a thought. He wondered how old Soti thought Henry was. How old did any of them think that he was? Henry thought he was older looking than he had been in Umberlyn. In Umberlyn, he had these annoying puffy cheeks and these bright eyes and no matter how hard he tried, he never could get any bigger. He was all arms and knobby knees. But since he the Chapel of Mirna, all he had done is grow and pack on muscle from his exercises. Whether he was throwing wood or running drills in his room, Henry honed his body and then stuffed down the tough meat and vegetables that Gaullie served up daily. Now, the face that looked had eyes that looked unfamiliar and features that looked sharper, harder than Henry remembered. The scar over his left eyebrow from Padraig’s rock was a whisper of white that carved through his sandy eyebrow. How old did he look? Beyond his years.
The truth that Henry could find inside of him was simple. Sotiris was a pampered son of a noble or maybe a merchant that had done very well and he didn’t know the first thing about fighting. Henry, though it had been a bit more serious as of late, had been fighting his entire life. Whether he was throttling a thieving urchin or he was gutting a Vark in the swamp, Henry knew more than Soti or Hubert, or any of the other Initiates about getting his hands dirt.
Plus, he couldn’t help but feel the butcher’s knife wrapped in an oiled rag, tucked against his shin inside his boot. Since the Bishop’s Stand, Henry never left the Chapel without it. He looked at Soti and knew that this hope that was infecting the Initiates was actually pride. They wanted to show that they were as brave as the Bishop. They wanted to be able to say that they stood eye to eye against the Brogans and didn’t blink. People were going to get hurt, one way or another. All Henry could do now was make sure that Soti didn’t end up on Glenda’s slabs.
“Fine,” Henry sighed. “But if things get hot, we’re out of there. Deal?”
“Deal,” Soti grinned. “I knew you couldn’t resist it.”
“What does that mean?” Henry frowned.
“You just have a look,” Soti shrugged. “And you fixed me good.”
“Sorry about that,” Henry said as Soti held the door for him out of the Archives. “I shouldn’t have hit you.”
“I was being an ass,” Soti waved off the apology. “You were right and someone should have hit me a lot sooner.”
Henry didn’t think that was true. Soti had a good head on his shoulders. He simply acted like every other Trennonite that Henry had ever met. They had a superiority complex that Henry didn’t understand, but he came to accept it. Hubert had it, Tyla had it, so why wouldn’t he expect Soti to have it. You just learned to appreciate the person around the misguided concepts that they had for themselves. But then again, there were plenty of things that they were misguided about. Henry was reminded of this as they crossed into the Ironworks and were glared at by the Watch who shook their heads at them. Henry could hear others shouting the words that he had come to recognize too easily. They were in the Ironworks and as they pushed toward Toiltown, he could still hear them, among the houses and the smaller pubs and workshops.
Life continued in Toiltown as it had for the entire time that Henry had spent shadowing Soti. People looked grim and angry, escorting carts and wagons from the Docksides to the shops and warehouses that they were needed at. They looked at Henry and Soti with a level of disinterested that made Henry feel like all of this was wasted energy. Maybe they didn’t care. Maybe this act of bravery was too late. Maybe the Brogans have moved on to larger issues.
By the time they approached the Penny Market, however, things had changed. Word had travelled through the invisible network of whisperers and listening ears that filled Toiltown and the Penny Market, winding their way to the Brogans who stirred the moment Henry and Soti turned the bend in the street to reach their destination.
“Afternoon, monks,” Pad met them with his large friend and another man who looked to be twice as old as Henry. His face was covered with prickly stubble and he looked like he only had a handful of green teeth left in his mouth. He was too busy to even look at them as he was preoccupied with scraping under his fingernail with his curved dagger. The larger man, with his darker skin looked like a mountain of flesh. Henry felt himself feeling like this was a worse idea with every passing second. “Not sure men of faith are welcome in these parts today, or ever.”
Henry looked at Soti. A smart man would slowly back away. A smart man would apologize and try to talk their way out of the situation. A smart man would never have come down here, looking for a fight.
But Soti was not behaving the most intelligent right now.
“Lo, the minds of the wicked are bent toward selfish desires,” Soti declared at the top of his lungs. “Yet, the minds of the Faithful reflect upon those in need, those who suffer, and those who are lost.”
Padraig and his pack moved in. Henry already saw the other two coming from the wings, slipping out of alleys to flank them. They were smaller, ratty looking lackeys who looked mean, but faster than that. They were like wolves, sending the fastest to cut them off. Henry didn’t like this. They were outnumbered and unarmed, well, Soti was. Henry dropped to one knee, his forearm brushing against the handle of the knife. He pushed the cloth of his robe up around his shin, letting his hand slip under the hem and feeling the handle of the knife.
“Soti, you need to run,” Henry hissed.
He was too busy shouting about compassion.
“You better pray, monk,” the squirrely man near him hissed. Henry saw the dagger in his hand and felt the tension of fear spreading through him like a heavy frost, chilling his nerves and his calm. “But don’t worry if you muck it up. Mirna ain’t listening.”
The man took a step closer to Henry. He was far enough that if he swung that rusty dagger in his hand, that Henry would still be out of range, but he was close enough for Henry to do some damage. It was at this point that Henry had to make a decision and he knew it. He knew that the decision was lingering in front of him, like a key to a door that would let him out of a locked room. It was a key that was telling him to just reach out and take it, to do what needed to be done, to embrace it, and get free.
But it wasn’t without a price. Henry had done things that he knew his parents would never approve of, that no one in the Chapel would approve of, and things that Henry himself didn’t necessarily approve of, but understood that they needed to be done. This, however, it was crossing a line. This was the line that would make him notorious, that would have witnesses, and there would be consequences. The only problem with that was the fact that Soti’s life hung in the balance, not to mention his.
Henry felt the weight of the coin in the little pocket he had stitched inside his robe. It had been given to him by a man who looked like a walking nightmare. It had said that Henry had been curious, that it had been watching him. Well, Henry decided that it was time to give him a show.
His fingers tightened around the handle of the dagger and he pulled it out in a smooth motion, lunging at the scraggily man next to him. It was the snap that broke loose all chaos around Henry. He could hear a whistle, the sound of a Watchman calling to their attention the fact that they were breaking the law right now. Henry wasn’t sure what law that was specifically, but it was being broken. It was too late though. Henry couldn’t see the Watchman or Soti, or the lackeys Pad had brought. All he could see was red and the man who was threatening his life.
The man yelped as Henry plunged the dagger and Henry didn’t hesitate to let it sit inside him. He gritted his teeth and twisted the blade before raking the dagger across the man’s abdomen, ripping open his guts and pulling the dagger free. The man was wide eyed and mouth agape, staring in horror as he felt the hammer of death hit him, stunning him. There would be no stitching the wound up. There would be no cauterizing or bandage. It was fatal and Henry was certain it hurt like the fires of hell. The man dropped his dagger as Henry planted his shoulder in the man’s chest and shoved him backwards, feeling the warmth of the man’s blood seeping through his clothes.
The Watchman slammed into him, ploughing him over and hurling him onto his back. The impact felt like Henry had been hit by a bull and his head smacked against the cobbles of the main street. His eyes flashed white and the pain stung all throughout the back of his skull as he blinked and stared at the guard above him.
“Stay down!” the woman’s voice commanded him. Henry noticed the strawberry blonde wisps of hair that had escaped from the visor in her helmet. They were wearing full armor. They must have been expecting a brawl or knew something would spark it with the Chants. They must have followed Henry and Soti from the bridge.
“Get off of him!” A commanding voice boomed to Henry’s left where Soti had been.
The woman’s helmet glared down at Henry, a truncheon hovering just inches from his face. Henry’s chest heaved and the man writhing to the right of him whimpered and let out an animalistic hiss that boiled into a shriek. His eyes stuck on the wound in his stomach that was exsanguinating him. He’d be a husk soon. The woman was watching him too, fixated on the wound with the dying man.
She never saw the axe shaft as it whipped across her face and sent her tumbling. Henry’s fingers still gripped the dagger, having learned from the Vark in the swamp. The woman tripped over Henry’s legs and went down as the older man pounced, straddling her and pinning her arms under his knees as he sat on her.
“You pretty under there?” The man asked, his voice rancid, worn from years of drinking and smoking. “I like a little mystery. I’ll keep it on.”
The woman was struggling, trying to get free, face down in the street and pinned by a killer whose fingers were dancing along the handle of his sheathed dagger. Henry scrambled up and looked at the man as he rose. He was too preoccupied with the woman that he didn’t bother with Henry.
“Shouldn’t have come down here,” the man shook his head, slowly drawing the dagger. “Should have kept to your streets, girl.”
The axe handle was heavy, weighted at the edge where the axe head should have been, but had broken off long ago. The impact rippled through Henry’s arms, reverberating through his bones as the man’s skull cracked and hurled the man to the ground like dead fish landing on a fishmonger’s stall. He hit the cobbles and Henry was already bringing the handle down again, slamming it into the man’s head again. His whole body jerked and twitched from the impact. The gutted, squirrelly man stared with lifeless eyes as his fellow. The man’s ruined head rested on the woman’s shoulder and she tried her hardest to scramble to her feet, but she was still pinned.
“You’re turn,” Henry gasped. “Stay down.”
Behind him, the woman’s cohort was gripping his side and bleeding everywhere as Padraig ripped the dagger from him, shoving him back. The Watchman tumbled backwards as Pad’s Big Man swung his own club and hit the Watchman’s head. His helmet whipped violently and the man went down hard on the street. The other ratty man had Soti pinned against the wall of a warehouse and was digging his fists into Soti’s sides as Soti screamed in pain. Big Man turned and looked at Soti chuckling.
Henry crouched down and picked up the attacker’s rusty dagger and stood up. No one cared about him. He was dead as far as they were concerned. Padraig was bent over, his hands on his knees as he was watching the Big Man take over for the squirrelly man. He was laughing as he was catching his breath, dragging the sleeve of his green jacket across his lips. The Big Man punched Soti and shut him up. Soti stopped screaming as his lip split and blood poured over his chin and mouth.
Padraig swaggered over to the Big Man and patted him on the shoulder. “My turn to teach this monk a thing or two about god.” The Big Man stepped back and wiped the sweat from his brow. “The thing about god, monk, is that god don’t care a lick about your worthless ass. If you want something done, you got to do it yourself.”
The Big Man dropped to his knees, clutching his throat. The blood spurted through his fingers and hit the back of Pad’s legs, but he was too busy pounding Soti’s face to notice. Soti gurgled and barely raised his arms before the fist slammed into him again. His head whipped to the side, his eyes swollen.
“Where’s your chant now, monk?” Pad laughed, shaking his fingers, whipping the aches from the punches out of them. The ratty man was too busy undoing his pants to piss on Soti to notice that Big Man was now dead, a pool of his own blood behind him. The crowd that had been watching was officially gone and only one person remained. Padraig laughed again. “You tell your Bishop everything that happened here. You let him know we’re through with your kind. We own the streets. Go it.”
“Yeah,” Henry’s fingers tangled in Pad’s hair under his ridiculous hat and squeezed tight, pulling his head back and opening up his throat. “I’ve got a message too.”
It spread like wildfire through the streets. They said that Henry drank Padraig Brogan’s blood like a vampire, feeding on him while a hundred people watched. Others said that Saint Mirna had come down herself and opened Padraig’s throat. People began to question the monks who walked the streets, wondering if they were all capable of butchering four Brogan lackeys in a single fight. The investigation would find no conclusive evidence as to who killed who in the fight. Some would say that the Watch assassinated Padraig Brogan and framed the monks of Mirna as the killers to send Faolan a message. Henry didn’t remember what happened.
Because, when the blow hit the back of his head, the whole world went dark.