Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Unseen Promise by Ellen Mae Franklin

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In the beginning

What is curiosity? Is it a beginning or is it an ending? Should you embrace itor do you shut your eyes and pray for the love of whatever god you hold closethat it disappears? It is a thing without limitations and restraints, for itcarries no conscience, other than what its bearer holds. So I ask, should it bevalued or feared? For it begs to be heard and it never, ever, no matter howmuch you should wish it, offers even the smallest measure of mercies.

Even the gods feel thetug of its call, its alluring charm. All except for one. He believed that healone held its secrets, and valued curiosity as a favorite trinket to be keptclose until such time as it was needed.

So, be warned friend, for to answer itscall - curiosity’s enticing song - it must be with wide eyes and a steadyheart, for trouble always follows.
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Blame, guilt and a warm fire

The sound of steel on stone shook thenarrow laneway where the two brothers lay in hiding. Voices, dark growlsthreatening death and a most certain bloody end, roared in Roedanth’s ears. Thehand clamped over Peetra’s mouth trembled, partly in fear, but mostly in worry.There would be no going anywhere now, not with half the cityguard after them.

“Peetra, why did you do it?” It was a shaken whisper into the still ear ofhis only brother. “We had it all, a roof over our heads, two meals a day, and Iwas learning a trade. Why, Peetra?”

Blood stained his hands; it had soaked through to his under garments andthe sticky feeling of Peetra’s life on his skin made him feel sick. Roedanthshifted, the damp, coarse stone against his back a chafing reminder that theywere up to their necks in shit. Peetra groaned, the sound escaping from inbetween Roedanth’s fingers. Startled, Roedanth wriggled again, pulling hisbrother in closer and the bolt in Peetra’s breast thrummed.

“By the stars, I’m sorry, Peetra. I didn’t mean it.” More whispering, butthis time Roedanth stroked and smoothed out his brother’s sweat-soaked hair.“You’re burning up.”

The voices were closer now; two in particular set his heart racing.

“I told you Sam, the old woman pointed down this-a-ways.” A Tolerian slurmarked the man as a mercenary; half the city guards were mercenaries, paid forby the taxes collected by the current King of Crow’s Nest.

“So you’ll take the word of an old woman instead of a warm fire and a mugof beer,” grumbled the other.
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Truth or dare

He had watched as the figure struggled to push the cart, had grinned withgleeful eagerness as the shadow man pulled out the rags to scoop up anothershadow man. He could almost smell the grief and worry as the figure stood for atime staring up at the workshop. Jolien had left a candle burning in thewindow, a mock display of respect, for he hoped that someone from the BiscopHouse would see. He watched the shadow man eye off the flickering light, and hesmiled.

Pimply faced and sallow skin weren’t Jolien’s only faults - his lips weretoo thin, and with arms were too long, he looked like a carnival freak. Envyand greed were pivotal to the former apprentice, and as he watched the figurestruggle with his load, he came to a dangerous decision.

Down the back stairs he crept, careful step by careful step, and made hisway into the kitchen. It was the only bright room in the entire building.Peetra had seen to that. It had been his duty to care for the cooking, and sucha position he had loved, even if he had hated Mr. Bicky. He was a passable cookfor someone so young, and quite often Jolien would sneak in to snatch upPeetra’s bread cakes for his own, yielding in those briefest of rare moments tothank the young man for his efforts. Yes, he would miss Peetra’s cooking.

“So the lawbreaker returns.” He sniggered behind his hand.
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You can never have enough friends

To a free man, the tenth bell might have meant that he hadover–slept, or that he had forgotten some important appointment. For Roedanth,however, it meant death, each clear ring a reminder that within the hour, afterthe ninth sounding, he would burn. Maybe then they would leave him alone.

A different guard came to collect him, young and smartlydressed. Smelling fresh and clean, Roedanth envied him that. Like all theothers, he too wore the yellow crow insignia on his breast.

“Crows aren’t yellow,” he muttered.

“I know,” answered the guard cheerily as he kept pace withRoedanth’s shuffling.

The cage this time was to be drawn by horses, big, coarse, hairybrutes. It was to be a real spectacle. The drays stood patiently, obviously happyto be of service as thiswas far easier work than ploughing the terraced fields. It was a much largercage, room for more than a few. From out of the same door came five others,each as dirty as Roedanth, all condemned to the flame.

They were chosen at random, two prisoners shackled togetherside-by-side like dogs. Up and into the cage they were all pushed. There waseven a black skinned man amongst them. Tall and proud, he bore the scars ofmany wounds, some fresh but mostly white crisscrossing welts and lines of pastbattles. He never spoke a word, not even when the shortest of guards whackedhim soundly with the butt of his spear.

Roedanth was chained to a man with a hand heavily bandaged,blood still seeping from his wound. Afraid as he was, Roedanth couldn’t helpbut let curiosity win him over.

“Did they do that to you?”
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From his sick bed

Kailen chattedincoherently, rolling from side to side, gesturing wildly with a blunted stickdarkened at one end with ash and red Jarggen. Images hung like cobwebs,clouding Kailen's dreams. His head pounded, and he felt the rise of nauseabuilding. Visions of the young heir crowded up against a black background and awall of fire.

Wasthe Prince safe? Could he take comfort in believing that he was? Or was theJarggen telling him otherwise? His dreams were all fire and black heat. He’dbeen locked away for hours, eating only the nuts and dried fruit Georgette haddutifully laid out, sipping cocomeal from a small wooden cup. Eventually thebabbling slowed, then ceased altogether, leaving the Seer weakened and in astate of hazed confusion. There were no answers here.
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Aspitting gift

Roedanth rocked on the back legs of his chair while inside the palm ofhis right hand spun a stormy twister.

“Stop that!” spat Knat.

He looked sideways,afraid. Lately, fear was the only thing he felt. It kept him upright andbreathing. Fear for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The friendship with Roedanthforced upon him by Kahlu terrified him, for it was tenuous at best. Kahlu hadmade sure of that. The Fire Sprite’s death had cemented his fate, silence inexchange for obedience. “You will, if you value your hide, befriend this boy,Knat. Watch him, for I want to know his every word, his every step.”

He was in a bucket oftrouble and from where he stood the lip of the pail was far from reach.

“You’re a fool, Knat.”Roedanth’s voice broke the young man’s maudlin thoughts.

Knat didn’t offer up areply. What for? It would have only earned him another snipe. He wondered, notfor the first time, if the twisting of Roedanth’s lips were a sneer instead of a smile.