Song of Justice
A Tale of Altiva
Teel James Glenn
The Reverend Lord Shoutte was singing a truth chant of remembrance when King Mikal went down with a crystal quarrel through the brain.
The golden-coated vorn was at a full gallop when he cartwheeled in a spray of sand from the penetrating shaft. His rider, Shoutte, attempted to jump free but his foot caught in the left stirrup and he was carried along with the cascading corpse of his mount in the maelstrom.
The Altivan horizon whirled and danced before the trapped man’s eyes as the mass of living and dead flesh tumbled several times before the world went black.
“He’s coming to, Welcome,” a gruff voice penetrated the veil of haze as Silence came to consciousness. Two figures stood silhouetted against the late morning suns, one holding a long knife and one a crystal stringed crossbow.
“The Kovar priest sure danced pretty, Precious,” a softer voice from the larger shape, said.
“Ain’t just any Kovar, brother,” the first voice said. “This here is the one they call the Dragon of the Kova; he enforces all their laws in this territory.”
“Don’t seem like so much to me, Precious. Looks like he’s gonna be just like a dragon himself real soon; just an old story for little kids.”
Shoutte was fully awake now and became painfully aware of the seriousness of his situation; he was on his back with the body of his mount fully across his thighs, pining him to the ground. His long black hair had come free from his travel braid and was spread around him and across his face like a veil.
Welcome nocked another quarrel in the crossbow and leveled it at the trapped man.
“I’m gonna be the man that gets to claim your scalp, priest.” He said. “Make me pouch out of it, eh? Maybe I’ll take your ears as a souvenir too.” He started to squeeze the trigger but his brother’s voice stopped him.
“No, wait,” Precious said. “Don’t’ waste the shaft; let the suns do it.”
He stepped closer and pulled Shoutte’s saddlebag from the haunches of the dead mount. The two suns were not yet at their zeniths and in the barren lands of the high country were already baking the soil around the trio.
Welcome laughed. “Yeah,” he said. “Like the Victish do—let the high desert do it for us. Slow and painful like.” He leaned in just out of the trapped man’s arm reach and smiled a gap toothed smile. “Serve you right for following our trail these two weeks since we robbed them Kovar svor herders north of Spafon.”
The two brothers proceeded to strip what they could from the fallen vorn, making sure they took the saber from the saddle scabbard, food pack and the partially full canteen.
Shoutte’s belt dagger was ten feet away on the hard baked sand and Welcome walked over to pick it up.
“I wonder how many throats this blade has slit, eh brother?”
“Plenty from what I hear about this law-giver priest,” Precious said. He kept his eyes on the trapped man, working a chew of thodis weed in his mouth as he did. “How many, Shoutte?”
The pinned priest glared up at his tormentor, his eyes chips of flint and said nothing.
“I’m talking to ya, priest,” Precious said. He kicked the dead vorn that sent a bolt of pain through the prisoner’s body. “How many?”
“Two fewer than when I visit a transition on you for killing that family,” Shoutte hissed. As a triple banded priest of his religion—singer, healer and warrior he was bound to be attend all the needs of his flock—including justice for them.
Welcome leaned in and backhanded the trapped man. “Shouldn’t never talk back to your betters like that, boy,” the bandit said. “’Cept that I shot your vorn between the antlers when he raised his head or I’da put my bolt in your gut.”
“Come on, brother,” Precious called as he remounted. “I want to make it to the waterhole by night fall. We can take it easy now with him off our back.”
“Think of us while you’re roasting, law keeper,” Welcome yelled as he joined his brother and the two rode off. “And when you freeze to death tonight. See you in the third Markoffan hell, priest.”
“Sooner than you think, sirah,” Shoutte whispered with impotent bitterness as the two bandits crested a rise and were out of sight.
His head was fully clear now and he took grim stock of his full situation.
The priest’s left ankle throbbed at the edge of pain but despite the weight of the mount pressing on him not really able to be sure if anything were broken or not. His ribs, at least were bruised he was sure.
He had the good fortune—in one could call him that—of being pinned in a shallow depression so that King Mikal’s body was actually slightly arched over him. This fact and the fact that Shoutte was pinned at the point where the vorn’s’s haunches met the belly meant that he had some slight play for movement. Some.
Shoutte began, by inches, to wriggle and squirm, pushing against the baked surface of the sand with his hands and right boot heel.
It was grueling work with each movement bringing a lance of pain from his left ankle.
He began to sweat profusely but the merciless suns sucked the moisture from him like a sponge so his skin felt dry and parched at the same time. The sweat had no time to pool as it was baked off him like grease in a skillet.
Shoutte gritted his teeth and kept squirming until he was able to pull his right foot free of the corpse. The effort left him exhausted and he lay twisted on his left side now, the awful suns sucking the vitality from him.
The hot pain of the still trapped ankle was constant now so Shoutte felt as if he were cooking inside and out. His lips were parched and cracked, his eyes slitted shut against the murderous orbs in the sky. The searing heat made it hard for him to even think and he had to focus hard to have coherent thoughts.
“Gonna be a long hot afternoon,” he thought, “And beyond that a cold as the Markoffan hell of a night.”
The Kovar priest knew the temperature would be near freezing on that night, the parched surface of the badlands incapable of holding onto any of the broiling heat of the day.
“May not matter much,” he thought wryly as another bolt of pain from his ankle wracked him. “I’ll be cooked like one of Sister Auda’s biscuits if I can’t get out of this sun soon.”
The thought of his friend waiting for him back in the town of Spafon filled the injured man with a new determination to escape his predicament and make it back; her biscuits were terrible but the Kova nun served excellent wine. He smiled at the thought.
Lying on his side he could at least shade his eyes with his hands and it gave him the illusion of relief but thought with realism, “I have to free my left foot or I’ll die here.”
He pressed his free foot on the mount’s back and tried to push himself free. The effort caused him to scream in pain and brought him to the edge of passing out again.
“No good!” He thought, “I can’t lift a mountain like the King.”
With the thought he suddenly had an idea. “If I can’t climb the mountain, perhaps I can tunnel under it!”
With some difficulty he unbuckled his swordbelt then elbowed his way as close as he could to the dead animal. He used the large buckle as a spade and began to dig away at the earth under his left calf.
Even as he dug the plan evolved, for just below the surface of the parched sand was cooler, dark earth.
He dug quickly as he could and soon had cleared enough space for him to work his left boot out.
There was a flood of pain mixed with relief at being free but he lost no time celebrating. He dug until he had a larger hollow beneath the body of the vorn after which he crawled into the relative cool of the animal’s shadow where the sub surface dirt was degrees cooler than the topsoil.
It was like a trip to heaven for the injured Shoutte and he hugged tight to the body, the relief and the exhaustion making it impossible to stay awake.
He said a prayer of thanks to the Kova saints and then slept through the worst of the afternoon heat. When he woke he was hungry and thirsty, but had a clear plan for what was next.
It was near suns set.
First Shoutte gave a prayer to setting suns, a low toned song that celebrated the change of the day to night, for the transition points of the world—day to night, night to day, life to death, were celebrated in his religion.
Afterward he tried standing—it was shaky occurrence but he was able to just barely put weight on the injured foot. It was at least certainly sprained but couldn’t be sure it was not broken, though he dared not take off his boot to find out for certain. Still, it allowed him to hobble around.
Next he set about, with some effort, to unbuckle the saddle on the King and tried to free the saddle blanket from beneath it. It was partially pinned beneath the dead animal so Shoutte had to use a piece of sharp (stone he scraped )sharp to cut most of the blanket loose.
By the time he was finished and was able to cut a slit in the remains of the blanket to fashion an ad hoc poncho it was almost nightfall and the temperature was already dropping, he knew his riding leathers would not be enough alone against the cold.
The last thing he did before hobbling off after his tormentors was to remove the reins and bridle from the fallen mount. He patted the animal’s neck and said, “Sleep well, old boy, I’ll make’m pay.”
Precious Har Tan rose before dawn, did his necessary down by the watering hole then put on a pot of coffee over the smoldering fire before he kicked his brother awake with a laugh.
“Get up, lazy,” Precious said. “It’s your turn to make—“but the sentence remained unfinished. There was a popping crack and the bandit flew backwards off his feet to slam to the ground and lay still.
Welcome Har Tan snapped awake and dove to grab his crossbow by his bed but his hand exploded with pain as a rock smashed into it with enough force and speed to break bones.
“Damn!” Welcome screamed. He started to reach for the weapon with his left hand as he became aware of a whirring sound.
“Do not go for it,” the voice of Lord Shoutte croaked hoarsely from out of the morning gloom, “By the Rythem I declare I will drop you if you do.”
Welcome went for it.
A rock, propelled by a sling that Shoutte had fashioned from King Mikals’ tack, impacted Welcome’s temple at an arrow’s speed.
Welcome Har Tan toppled over dead with a cracked skull.
“I told you not to go for it.” Shoutte said over the body of the killer.
Then the Kovar priest took a long drink of water, sang a beautiful transition song for the two brothers as he had for the family they had killed and took a long bath in the watering hole.
Teel James Glenn has traveled the world for forty years as a stuntman, fight choreographer, swordmaster, jouster, illustrator, storyteller, bodyguard, actor and haunted house barker. One of the things he’s proudest of is having studied sword under Errol Flynn’s last stunt double.
He’s stories have been printed in over a hundred magazines from Weird Tales, Spinetingler, SciFan, Mad, Black Belt, Fantasy Tales, Sherlock Holmes Mystery, SciFan, Sixgun Western, Crimson Streets, , Silver Blade Quarterly, and anthologies in many genres. His short story “The Clockwork Nutcracker” won best steampunk story for 2013and has been expanded into a full novel.
He is also the winner of the 2012 Pulp Ark Award for Best Author.
His website is: TheUrbanSwashbuckler.com