I've been writing
All my life I've enjoyed writing. From poems to prose, I've dabbled in writing as long as I can recall. A few years ago, I decided I'd write a book. A novel. I'm about one third of the way through it, and I'd love feedback. Here's the prologue. Be brutally honest in the comments. Would you be interested to read more?
Bhism fumbled slightly, dropping the key in his haste. Torn between locking up securely and hurrying to the Palace, he considered for a moment just leaving the store unlocked—who after all, would steal at a time like this—when the Palace guard stepped forward and picked up the key. “Up juld huzr joo, you go on and hurry sire, I shall ensure that the store is secured.”
Smiling gratefully, Bhism turned towards the Palace and wrapping his cloak about him, made to leave. As though struck by a sudden thought, he paused and turned towards the guard, “Have you had your evening meal friend? Go to my home, Rovati is still with us. Ask her to give you supper. Who knows when you will get a chance for a hot meal once the fighting begins…” Almost as an omen, cries of alarm sprung up from all corners of the City “Svdhun! Dshmun nzur hu! Beware! The enemy approaches!” Shivering slightly, Bhism smiled weakly at the guard, and hurried away into the darkness, thanking the Gods for their kindness – if his wife had not worked in the Queen's chambers, there would have been no guard sent to fetch him, no physician by his wife's side, and quite realistically, little chance for his soon-to-be-born child to survive.
Striding towards Bhism's house, the guard wondered at the merchant’s graciousness and shook his head in disbelief. With his wife in labor, hundreds of thousands of gold nuggets worth of stock in his store, and Jhang's army of demons outside the city walls, the old man was concerned about whether he'd eaten! Resolve strengthening, the guard picked up his pace. He wouldn't have time for supper, what with the enemy beating down the door, but he would at least deliver Bhism's key to his home.
The Empress Mumtaaz gazed silently into the mirror. Staring back at her was someone she didn't recognise. Dark haunting shadows under her eyes, wrinkles where none had been a week ago, and whispers of white strands appearing in erstwhile raven-black hair made the image in the mirror appear a stranger.
“The city has fallen my queen, Jhang stalks the corridors of the palace.” These words, spoken to her no less than five minutes earlier, echoed hollowly in her head. “And the King?” she had asked. Her question had been met with silence. “I do not know, my queen” the messenger finally replied, “I last heard he was injured, but alive.”
Knowing that she needed her wits about her, Mumtaaz bowed her head slightly and murmured a quiet prayer, “Holy Dayl, watch over my people, give them sanctuary and strength for what lies ahead. I pray also that you embrace my husband the King in the safety of your heart. Let him live Lord, so that he may balance the scales that have been tipped this day.” Rising, the Empress Mumtaaz turned towards Bhism and the infant he held in his arms.
“A boy, your majesty” the shopkeeper said quietly “who's existence is likely to be but a few hours. Even if he survives, I am certain we will not. Better that he had not been born at all.” Pain, anguish and a father's fury made his words bitter and drawn out. Wincing slightly at another thought, Bhism added “His mother, your maid, did not survive to see him.” Crumpling to the floor Bhism cried “Oh Majesty, what shall we do? What will my son see in his life? What life will he have? He is born cursed!”
The Queen smiled gently, and raised Bhism to his feet. “Look at him shopkeeper”, she said, “see how his eyes glow with innocence and peace. Find solace in this moment, and let me consider what I can do.”
The child gurgled softly in his father's arms, filling Bhism with paternal love. “I name you Rukshus, my cursed son,” he said “and pray that you outlive the name.”
Smiling at the irony of naming the child “demon” the Queen turned towards her guards and whispered “Send word to the bard. He alone can save this child. Go quickly.”
Watching the exchange thoughtfully, the Royal Physician lowered his eyes. He was a firm believer in the power of words, the power of names. Words had the power to heal, to communicate, guide and inspire. When used deviously, they could also diminish and dishearten. But it was a father’s right to name his child, so he readied his inks and needles.
The fighting ended long after sundown.
By the time the sky in the east began to lighten, Jhang’s demons had captured, bound and shackled any surviving Mullein soldiers to one another. The prisoners had been lined along Kingsway, forced to their knees, and ordered to remain that way until Jhang arrived. Anyone who couldn’t kneel, was gutted and thrown on a pile of bodies, raising a dark cloud of vultures and ravens. The gutters lining the wide avenue were overflowing with filth, and the putrid smell of death filled the air.
By the time the first golden rays of the sun began to shimmer on the palace walls, the city was still and quiet. The occasional sound a soldier crying out in pain, was followed by a curse, a slap, and an admonishment to make no sound.
Finally, once the sun was visible above the horizon, clickety clack, clickety clack, the sound of a horse’s hooves on the marbled avenue of Kingsway punctuated the silence.
Clickety, clack, clickety clack.
A pitch black imperial warhorse, battle trained and battle scarred, clad in shimmering silver armour, made its way up the avenue. It neighed and tossed its head impatiently. Mounted on the magnificent beast was a tall but surprisingly thin man. Sharp featured, with a cruel hooked nose, Jhang had a pencil-thin moustache, waxed to perfect points, and dark, beady eyes that didn’t rest. Jhang’s eyes moved constantly, seeing—and noting—everything. His closely cropped hair was snow white, but his skin was smooth and unwrinkled.
In a sudden movement, he flicked his whip, and his thin lips pressed tightly into a smile, as one eye of a too-boldly-staring soldier was pulled out of its socket.
The attendant walking behind him, quietly pulled a dagger and slit the soldier’s throat, lowering him gently—and silently—to the ground.
Jhang flicked his whip absent-mindedly and surveyed the remains of the city. His army had carried out his orders meticulously – not even a shack inside the castle walls was left standing. A dozen severed heads of prominent Mullein officials had been washed and were strung up by their long locks of hair, around the courtyard. He paused by each one, listening with rapt attention to the words of his attendant, describing the roles each dead official played in Mullein’s government, and the manner of their deaths. Coming to an empty hook, he frowned, and asked, “The King? Have we not found the King?”
“No Sire,” rushed the attendant. “We are still looking.”
Grunting, Jhang said, “Find him. Dead or dying, it doesn’t matter. Now, take me to the Queen.”
Nudging his horse onwards, Jhang followed the attendant across the courtyard and into the gates of the palace. “This must have been a beautiful palace,” he thought to himself, looking around. “It’s no surprise they were so proud of it.”
Pausing at an immense gilded double-door, the attendant asked, “Would my Liege like to see the Throne Room?”
Jhang nodded curtly, “Briefly, yes,” and guided his horse through the gates.
The Viewing Hall was small and intimate. At one end was a series of steps leading up to the throne. He saw that the Lunar insignia of House Reshaam had been removed, and his own, a black trident with three eyes—one on each prong—was now above the throne.
“Remove my colours,” he ordered, “we will not be staying.”
The attendant paused briefly, then nodded, “Your will be done, my Lord.” He passed the order to an underling, and gestured back out towards the hallway, “If my Lord will follow me.”
Further along the hallway, after a few turns, the attendant stepped aside and said, “These are the Royal Chambers, my Lord.”
Jhang dismounted in a easy movement, pushed the doors open and strode into the Queen’s Antechamber. There were a few handmaidens cowering in a corner, and one of his guards watching over them.
Opening the door to the queen’s private chamber, Jhang stepped in and looked about, expecting to find her standing tall, ready to face him. Puzzled, his eyes darted around the chambers, seeking her out. Stalking across the room, he came to the Royal Bedchamber, saw her lifeless form and felt the blood surge to his head in rage. He growled angrily, “Am I mistaken, or did I not say that I wanted her alive?”
His attendant said quickly, “My Lord, by the time our soldiers reached the Queen's Chambers she was already dead. She had this flute in her hands, and a few maids in the antechamber. The only anomaly was a local jeweller, who I have detained, as I thought you may like to question him.” Gesturing towards a soldier kneeling on the ground he added “The officer who first entered the Chambers is also here.”
Shivering on the ground, the officer looked up at his Liege, “I beg you Lord, show mercy on your servant. The Queen took her own life before we reached her chambers. It was impossible to capture her alive. We found her lifeless body on her bed, with that instrument in her hand. I did all I could Lord, please show mercy. My family has served you for 7 generations. Mercy great Lord, mercy!”
Jhang ran a finger over the intricate carvings on the flute, the detail and workmanship was exquisite. He tried to ignore the cold chill that ran up his spine, and the unbidden image that came with it. The image of a man, tall and lean, muscular yet lithe and flexible, strikingly handsome, yet cold and dangerous. A shadowy image walking towards him, his gait slow and confident, one hand resting upon the hilt of a sword and the other casually twirling a flute. “His smile, oh by Rudir, his smile!” Jhang felt the hair on his arms prickling, each pore contracting and his body stiffening with the memory. The memory of meeting a man, rumoured to be a practitioner of Blood Magik, leaning towards him, eyes cold and grey, blood red lips drawn in a wide mirthless smile, torchlight glinting off pearl white teeth as sharp as daggers, and his voice, like crumbling leather, whispering softly, as though to a lover, “What do you desire, great king? Shall I grant you what you seek? Do you understand the terms?”
Shaking his head and forcing the memory to the deepest recesses of his mind, Jhang brought his attention back to the present and considered the officer, on his knees, trembling in fright, “Took her own life?” He thundered, “How could she have taken her own life? The woman's vows prevented it!” Pausing for a moment, brushing a strand of blood-stained hair off his face, Jhang thought to himself, “He could not have been here. Not here. Not so fast.” He barked the order, “You said there was a merchant in the Queen's chambers? Bring him to the courtyard.” Gesturing to the officer on the ground, he added, “And hang this fool.”
Bhism eased his shoulder, sore from the manhandling, and stood still in the courtyard of the Palace, before Jhang. He was filled with hatred for this monster in front of him – a monster of a man that symbolised the destruction of all he had lived and worked for.
“For the one hundredth time,” he said woodenly, “my wife worked in the Queen's chambers. Given that your army was outside the walls of the city and many citizens have fled the city, she summoned her personal physician to facilitate my wife's childbirth. I do not know how the Queen died. I did not see anyone enter the chambers. The Queen was alone in her private chambers, I was outside, speaking with the physician in the guest chamber and mourning my wife. I do not know anything.”
Jhang smiled warmly. “No-one entered the chambers, no-one left her chamber. You do not know anything. Is that correct merchant?”
Leaning forward and looking intently into Bhism's eyes, Jhang said quietly "In that case, merchant, where is your new-born child?”
Bhism frowned, confused. Then realisation struck and a smile hesitatingly spread across his face. He knew he was about to die, but he didn’t care. The Queen had somehow saved him. The boy was safe. His son would live to see grey hair. He began to chuckle, and then, began to laugh. As his laughter grew, so did Jhang’s anger. The blood surged to his head, contorting his face into a mask of fury. “You find this amusing, fool? Do you think this is FUNNY? YOU THINK THIS, IS FUNNY?”
Jhang leapt of his horse and drew his sword in a single motion, before his feet touched the ground, he had spun around, his blade striking three times, hacking off Bhism’s arms and legs. Bhism’s limbless torso spurted blood, as he gagged, drowning in the blood coming up his throat. Dark with anger, Jhang stretched his arms upward, looked up at the sky and screamed loudly in frustration. Gripping his sword in both hands, in an uncontrollable rage, he hacked at Bhism’s now lifeless corpse, until the flesh and bone were mush, and his arms ached from the effort.
Leaning heavily on his sword, panting for breath, he barked an order “Bring everyone from the Queen’s Chambers. Feed them to the hounds.” As an afterthought he added “And raze this city to the ground. Kill everyone and everything. If you see a dog, cut off its legs; take babes from their mother’s embrace and crush their skulls; skewer the pregnant women; castrate the men and feed them their cocks. Burn it all. Rape the women, rape the men if you want. Break their fucking spirits.”
Stalking towards a tent that had been erected for him, he barked “And bring me some food, I built up an appetite with that.”
An advisor nervously entered Jhang’s tent. “My Lord, your orders have been carried out.”
Emptying a flask of wine into his cup, Jhang turned towards him and asked “Have the contents of the royal treasury been loaded?”
“Has the city been entirely razed?”
“Is the purging complete?”
The advisor hesitated. “Mostly, my Lord. There are still some children hiding in the forest.” Pausing, he added, “Forgive me Lord, but the men are nervous. They hear children giggling and a babe crying, but are not able to find them. It is as though they skip in and out of shadows, their voices floating in the breeze. Forgive me sire.”
Jhang felt a shiver go down his spine as blood began pounding in his head. “He is here!” he thought to himself. Aloud, he ordered, “Rally the army. It is time to leave this place.”