He couldn’t shake the feeling of the eyeball, burst and coating his thumb in a warm mush that made Henry want to gag. The way his head had jerked and he could feel the vibration of Naty’s scream as he gouged out his eye while Gorell gnawed his wrist before Henry had bashed his head into the stone wall while Pikey and Turen pounded his ribs with fists and kicks. He’d thought that he’d killed Gorell, but Lufti the guard had told Henry that Gorell was in the infirmary, still not awake.
“Your friends bandaged him up real nice,” Lufti chuckled as he munched a soft apple with what teeth he had left. “Naty’s spouting vengeance, fuming and blind pissed in the only eye he has left. You keep this up, and Faolan’s going to run out of trash to send to Bedrock to deal with you.”
Henry wrapped his arms around his legs and stared at the wall across from his cell. They had isolated him into the holding cell that was reserved for nobles that were accused of crimes, yet still entitled to be separated from the pickpockets and cutpurses waiting to be lashed, placed in stocks or gibbets, or hanged. Henry didn’t know what his fate would be, but he had grown weary of fighting, more so than the Warden, Mahir, was of Henry beating criminals.
In the days that had spread out into two weeks, Henry had come to realize that fighting was a matter of desperation, a matter of survival. It wasn’t about pretty pirouettes or graceful footwork. That was nice and had its place, but a good fight was about hitting harder, crossing lines first, and putting your enemy down. He’d come to learn that making an example of one opponent paid out in spades of the others ran in terror. On the first day, when Gulam had approached Henry with the other arrested thugs that Faolan had sacrificed to make Henry’s life hell, he learned his lesson through fire.
Gulam was taller than a horse and built like an ox, though it was a cliché, it was true. The man’s neck was a billowing mass of muscles that rolled down his bare back, across his shoulders, and spilled down his chest. His veins swollen and pushing against his skin, Gulam had approached Henry and cracked his scarred knuckles that were meaty battering rams, hewn through a dozen fist fights. His tan skin made him appear malevolent in the darkness of the large holding cell where all the other vagrants, thieves, outsiders, and drunkards. Gulam, leading his pack of criminals loomed with lips that explained to Henry all sorts of twisted tortures he had waiting for the youth.
The blows were slow, but powerful and after Gulam shattered his knuckles and wrist against the wall where Henry’s head had been just seconds before, bent over and screaming, Henry bit off his cheek and spit it at the horde of lackeys waiting for him. Gulam had gripped his cheek as blood poured out between his fingers, turning on Henry to strangle him. His face bloody, Henry took plenty from Gulam, but he also took hold of Gulam’s wrist and broke it more, to the point where Gulam would never deliver a right cross again, or hold anything with a decent grip. With tears streaming down his face, Gulam had been reduced to a writhing mass of quivering sobs before the guards dragged him to the Chapel of Mirna.
Warden Mahir had left Henry in the common holding pen where Henry fought every day, maiming and mauling anyone who dared to attack him alone, who dared to make an example of him. So they started attacking him in groups and Henry would make sure to cripple or grievously wound one before blacking out from the pain. He never received a beating so bad as to send him to the Chapel of Mirna. They had strict orders. Herny was to live, but suffer.
But, Henry shared his suffering and Mahir eventually had enough.
“You have a guest, sir,” Lufti spat. Lufti treated Henry as one might treat a prized fighting dog, with amusement, but also the understanding that the dog would need to die one day, regardless.
Henry looked over to the bars where a woman stood, but she didn’t look like the kind of woman that Henry would have expected. She was clad in boiled leather and mail, the attire of the Watch. When he saw her face and the curls of strawberry blonde hair, he placed her appearance to the woman who had thrown him to the ground, whom he had seen a year ago, when the Stranger gave him his coin.
“You may leave us,” the woman said.
Lufti sniffed and gave Henry a look that warned him to do nothing funny. Henry wasn’t a comedian or a juggler, so he simply stared back at the filthy guard. He left after sharing a glance with the woman and closed the door behind him.
“Do you remember me?” The woman asked. “I remember you. You fell in the street once, a year or so ago. I watched you stare at the air and talk to it and I thought that you had been struck by the gods and that was why you served at the Chapel. When I saw you cross the bridge and go through the Ironworks, I feared that you were insane. But, when I saw you kill Koray. I knew that they would kill you.” The woman was silent, staring at Henry, waiting for some kind of response, some kind of reply. Henry would give her nothing. “I didn’t expect that you would save my life. I’ve come to thank you for saving me. They would have killed me.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” Henry reached up and probed his cut gums under his bruised lips. “I would have killed him anyway.”
“So you’re just a blind killer?” the woman shook her head. “I don’t believe that. I think that you’re young and stupid, but you’re a good man and that you thought you were doing the right thing. Please don’t tell me that I am wrong.”
Henry looked at her through his bruised, swollen eyes. He slowly stood up and stretched like a cat that had been relaxing in the sun for too long. “I don’t know,” Henry shrugged. “I have intentions to be a good man, but actions are rarely boiled down to good and bad. So I don’t know if it matters.”
The woman looked at him for a moment before she spoke again. “I feel the need to apologize. I testified and named you as the aggressor and instigator in the fight. I fear that they will hang you, so I have come to ask for your forgiveness in any part I have played.”
Henry shrugged. “I forgive you.” Henry didn’t think that he rightly cared what happened to him. If he danced the jig and gave up the ghost, he didn’t know what would happen to him. He didn’t know if there was an afterlife or if there was hell. He just knew that whatever happened, be it nothing or paradise, his family had taken that road and he would too. It was all he truly cared about right now. So let them hang him and be done with him.
“That’s it?” She shook her head. Her eyes were bright and piercing, but Henry was numb to any charm they might have. “That’s all it takes? You’re not angry?”
“Why would I?” Henry shrugged again. “What’s your name? I don’t know if I ever asked it.”
“Merribell,” she said.
“If they hang me,” he said. “Make sure Faolan finds justice too.”
“I’m not sure I can make that promise,” Merribell said with a strong voice that was painfully honest. “Trennon doesn’t seem to care much in justice anymore. I bid you farewell, Henry Tanner.”
Henry watched the jaded guard, too young for such a mindset, but Henry didn’t have much of a better outlook toward the circumstances. This city was diseased and it was impossible for him to understand how you could cut away all of the rot and decay that was seeping into this city. He knew about sepsis from Glenda and the others who worked with the sick and injured. Sepsis led to death after an infection ran too deep. Henry wondered if it was too late.
Henry life became a boring tapestry of gray, shadows, and the glow of the orange torchlight across the wall from the torch that burned day an night, making the days and nights fade into a single torturous blur. Every now and again, Lufti would come into the corridor of solitary cells, where Henry was given a lonely sentence while everyone else was thrown into the commons. So, Henry had no idea how long he was locked away, waiting for his fate that Merribell had confirmed for him. He picked at the hard bred that cut against his fingers as he dug at it when Lufti brought him cold porridge and his lump of bread.
It was strange to think that he would hang a criminal. Henry’s life was not the life that he had ever predicted for himself. Over a year ago, Henry had seen such a simple path laid out for him. He would have owned a business, one that he was good at and that his hands missed. He would have married, probably a merchant, vendor, or supplier’s daughter that would help solidify his father’s business that he would inherit. He would have friends, friends that he had grown up with who were now dead and ghosts. He would share drinks with his wife at the local pub, sing songs and share laughter with those friends. All of that was gone and now he was a murderer and criminal, waiting for the gallows.
Strangely, being a murderer did not haunt Henry like he thought that it would. He had always thought that murderers saw blood on their hands, that the ghosts of the men that they had killed lurked like cruel specters in their minds. But the truth was, he didn’t even think about the men that he killed. He didn’t murder children or innocents. In fact, he didn’t even think of it as murder. He was a killer, a man who had done what needed to be done. There had been no other choice. He didn’t know how to deal with the situations in any other way. If he ever found a better way, Henry would be more than happy to deal with it, but predators were killed and vermin were trapped and exterminated.
The hinges croaked and screamed as Lufti opened the door to the corridor again and strolled in. He was rubbing his face and staring through baggy, droopy eyes at Henry as he yawned and Henry got his first hint of what time it was. It felt late enough and that was enough to confirm it.
“You’ve got a guest, monk,” Lufti said through a second yawn. He stretched out his arm and let a cloaked figure enter the room. There were others through the doorway that Henry’s craned head could see, but Lufti closed the door before he could get a good look at the figures.
The man left in the door stood with his hood covering his head, the shadow from the torch coating his face in shadows of black and deeper black. His cloak was a deep green and his boots were muddy and his pants soiled as well as if he had been dragged through the swamp before throwing on his cloak and heading into Trennon. Henry stared at him and narrowed his eyes, expecting the man to pull out a crossbow and pin him to the wall his back was rubbing against. Would Faolan murder Henry in his cell to make sure nothing happened? Or would he want the public to see Henry’s tongue swell and eyes bulge as his face turned purple?
He thought about saying something witty, something fancy like the captured heroes always did in the mummers plays or the poets’ tales. He expected the right words to form in his mind and roll of his tongue, but instead, he just stared at the man who had come to visit him.
It was a man, after all, hidden under that black cloak, or perhaps it was a dark gray. Very rarely were there actual black cloth. It faded the moment it hit the sun, withering like overly delicate flowers and fading away. But, underneath that cloak were shoulders that were broader and the man’s pale hands were hooked into his belt and Henry noticed the emerald waistcoat that he wore and the green jacket. The glint of dirty brass buttons caught his eye and Henry felt a cold chill run down his spine, a chill that he had never felt before.
“How is this possible?” Henry asked, feeling phantom vibrations of the blade slicing through the resistance of flesh, tendons, and sinew. He felt the grating of metal against bone and his eyes widened.
“Surprised to see me?” Pad pulled back his hood and grinned. Henry could see the pale, purple flesh of his ruined neck, stitched together by catgut. It was a morbid sight, something out of a nightmare—an exhumed corpse back for revenge. His eyes were dull, darker than they had been in life and his lips were a pale purple.
Henry through about calling to Lufti, shouting for the guards or anyone to come and see, come and save him from this corpse that stood before him. But, Lufti had been right there. Lufti was close enough that he had to have seen the pale face, the discolored skin, the purple lips. Lufti was part of this.
“I remember you now,” Pad said, leaning against the bars, his pale fingers wrapping around them as he pressed his dead face between the cold iron. “I remember pelting your stupid face with that stone. I remember watching you whimper and stumble into the city with the rest of that Umberlyn trash, cowards and degenerates. I never expected you to be in a monk’s robes. I figured you’d died of starvation in Boglin. I waited in that stupid market for months, hoping you’d show up and I could toss you in the Yavas. Should have been looking the other way.”
He drummed his fingers on the bars as a sickly grin spread across his slips, pulling back to reveal his yellowed teeth. Henry didn’t know what to think. He didn’t know what to even call upon in his memory. He thought about the scary stories he’d heard on Grave Night, when the leaves were fiery orange and sunny yellow in the trees and the bonfires stretched the shadows and the spirits of the dead were welcomed back to the realm of the living. He had heard stories of soldiers on the battlefield rising in vengeance or crypt walkers to scare off the living. But those were just stories. Stories, much like the Vark.
“I’m going to watch you hang,” Pad told him. “I’m going to watch your eyes pop out of your head and your feet kick. I’m going to watch you as you struggle and scream and then, when you’re dead, I’m going to have my boys piss on your corpse and drag you out to the swamp for the cats to gnaw on your bones.”
“I’m going to tell them,” Henry said with a dazed and baffled voice. “I’m going to tell everyone what I saw. Even if they hang me. I’ll tell people that you’re still alive.”
“Go ahead,” Pad snarled. “No one’s going to believe you and I’ll be long gone. Can’t live in a city where everyone thinks you’re dead. People will start asking questions. Have fun in hell, Bog Rat.”