The City of Berian

It was just before dusk as the sky ship swam lazily through the oppressive summer air towards our destination. The amber glow of the setting sun highlighted the needle like spires of the docks that rose even higher than the grand dome of the ancient cathedral, or the highest towers of the palace of Prince Ethaniel. This was the first time I had visited Berian, the capital of our grand province, and though I considered my self to be fairly cosmopolitan I must confess I was awed by its size and majesty. Taggart, my family’s trusted servant who had been charged to ensure my safe arrival at the university, pointed how many of the buildings boasted new construction to raise them up closer to the activity of the sky docks. There were even ladders and walkways built to span the gaps between structures, roadways and avenues were being made among the rooftops of the city. If one were to look closely you could see tents and stalls of merchants littered a midst the gargoyles and crenelations of the newly found elevations of the city.

Once our vessel was securely hooked to a spire we disembarked and took the long basket ride down to the more traditional streets of the metropolis. As we descended I became familiar with the various layers of smells that blanketed the capital. The heavy damp summer air of the afternoon mingled with the odor of coal and wood smoke from the chimneys of the residences and workhouses. Travelling lower down the floral perfumes of the higher classed bordellos and hotels of leisure were added. Finally, once on the ground, the ripe pedestrian smells of food, alcohol and sweat from the taverns and inns that surrounded the sky dock completed the bouquet of the city. I began to marvel at the naivety of my beloved parents for thinking that this wondrous and sinful locale might somehow provide distraction from my own natural curiosity and  reckless behaviors. After all, attending university would hardly be akin to being sequestered in a monastery.

Taggart and his cohort fell in around in an effort to shield me from the dangerous and immoral activities of fruit vendors, street tumblers, jugglers, and tavern goers, as well as the occasional prostitute and potential sneak thief as we traveled through the cobbled streets and alleyways towards the more desirable, wealthier, and better smelling areas of the city. We traveled uptown past the provincial palace it’s wonderfully clean stone facade, behind its stone walls and black iron gates, complimented by the nearby lush gardens of red and yellow flowers, the same hues that occupied the crest of the royal family. Farther away on another hill we could spy the gilt and stained glass dome of the Cathedral of the Patrons that we had seen from the distance as we flew over the city; one of the many marvels of the empire, not just of our humble province.

Just a little further on and we passed through the gates of the University of Berian, its white marble edifice shone in the last of the days dying light. The fabled Ivory Tower of education in the province. Here less than hundred years ago Leumas Nerals created his magnificent device, that gave to the empire the power of flight. Here in the dormitories of this fine institution I would reside for the foreseeable future, far from my family’s home. After being received by the Deans, and explaining the lateness of our arrival, I said my goodbyes to Taggart and the other men that had accompanied me here. I was escorted by one of the schools porters to my room. It was a small space that I was informed I would be sharing with two other young men, who I was quite anxious to meet. As I unpacked my things and tried to settle in I found myself staring out of the singular window of my new bedroom, past the rolling green lawns of the campus below and out into the city that would be my new home.  My mind wandered back to the events at Persley Station some days ago, and the horror, and carnage I found at that old barrow. Though I was still haunted by the images of that night, my mind held an odd fascination of the experience. I began to wonder,perhaps with a touch of hope, if that would just be the first of such adventures for me.

This narrative inspired  by a Weekly Challenge.

The Forgotten Barrow

When the summer came to a close on my sixteenth year it was decided that I was to leave the pastoral splendor of my family’s plantations to travel to the capital to attend the university there. It would seem that I had, unbeknownst to myself, exhausted the knowledge of what erudite citizenry could be found locally; and my beloved parents had begun to fear that, if  left idle  too long I might be tempted to become a wanderer and a wastrel. Such was the fate had befallen my great grand father, who I am named for.

I have often marveled at the frequency and convenience of which the fact that it was elder Penumbra Finefellow, the great scoundrel, who bore the greater responsibility for our families good current fortunes. It was no great secret to my beloved parents that I was filled a great desire to follow in his footsteps and experience life on more or less reckless, and carefree terms so, bearing my best interests to heart, they made every attempt to distance me from his legacy.

It was a several day journey from my family’s home to Persley Station, a town of moderate size that would be little more that a hamlet full of pig farmers were it not on the main artery of the sky ship lanes headed to the capital from the southern reach.  It is quite frankly, a dung heap but some of the amenities near the sky dock are quite nice, if a bit on the rustic side. When our party had arrived we attempted to secure lodgings for the night at an establishment that was of some good repute. When we entered the common room it was full of men with dour faces, talking of dark events.

For some time they had been occurrences where small numbers of the livestock had seemed to have wander off, or disappeared from their stables and pens at night.  This at first was credited bolder actions of local poachers and rustlers. That was until they began to find the corpses, butchered, dismembered, and left to rot in the countryside. Soon after that the first of the citizenry vanished.

It was the son of one of the assembled men, ten years of age. Over the following days others came to be missed as well.  The wife of one, the brother of another, and a handful more. Upon the previous nights, fires and hooded men were seen to congregate around the old barrow on the outskirts of the town, it was here that they were convinced that their kin or those who had captured them. They had sent for help but the authorities were too slow in arriving, and so it was here in the saloon, armed with farm implements, hunting bows and whatever crude weapons they could muster,  they gathered to go and do something about it.

 Now, my family are respected members of the community at large and so, despite the objections of my fathers employees, that were my companions, I felt it was our civic duty to assist in this endeavor. Taggart, our coachman and a man of great spirit and compassion , took charge of the rabble. He agreed to allow me to accompany them provided I stayed towards the rear and away from the fray; this suited my plans as physical combat was not something I excelled at, yet would give me the opportunity to witness this heroic act.

This band of unwashed men could by no stretch be called an army, yet they walked silently and with grim purpose through the fields and forest to that ancient burial place. As we traveled I could see in the eyes of each man the hope held on to that they might see their loved ones safe, and also the fear of what horrors they might find at the end of this nights march. When we drew closer to our destination Taggart slowed us on our progress. Creeping slowly up to the barrow we spied only two of the hooded figures standing about near the entrance. Through the portal they were guarding emanated an orange glow. The smell of smoke told us this was the light of a fire, yet one could not but imagine that it was the passage to a deep and final hell as we looked upon it.

A long moment of quiet hesitation fell upon the group of us, with the exception of my coachman I had doubts that any of our number had ever bore arms against their fellow-man; and now, here, their courage was to be tested. Taggart raised his hand and all drew in their breath in anticipation.When his hand fell, they expelled a roar and ran forward.  The dark figures at the entrance tried to run inside to raise the alarm but the first wave us closed the gap before they could make it inside.

As we pressed through the opening into the old tomb, I was tripped by one of my fellows and was sent sprawling to the ground, knocking the wind out of me; it was only by luck, and my position towards the back of our troop, that i was not trampled in the ensuing melee. By the time I was able to regain my feet the fight was done and my compatriots had won the day. Few of our band had fallen as they had the advantage of both surprise and numbers. Taggart and a few held at bay the survivors of the dark brotherhood we had sought out, including one wearing a headdress adorned with the horns of a ram, we presumed him to be the leader of their foul cult. Others tended to our few who were wounded, still more stood agape or weeping as we took in the gruesome horror of that old chamber.

Their loved ones, children, wives, and parents, hung from the ceiling like animals in a slaughter-house or were splayed on altars as fresh corpses posed in unnatural positions, screams of agony frozen on their faces and entrails filling bronze bowls.Those face haunted me as we marched our prisoners out into the grey light of that dawn. Those faces looked out from behind the eyes of the townsfolk as they strung those villains by their necks one by one when we came to the treeline, and it was those faces that must have spoken to the honorable and just heart of Taggart as he let it be done.

It is those contorted faces of pain that have been constant companions in my slumbers since that day.