18

Mar

by thefourpartland

The fourth installment in a new short story, one of three from the upcoming Splintered Lands: Volume One.

Fryca knew she had a few days before the trial. Well, farce. The Knights would accuse Ellgis of trying to create another cataclysm, and nobody would say a thing. They’d all be too scared of the Knights.

Chuckling to herself, she lifted a heavy crate into the skiff. She’d need a horse to use what was in that box, but she and Ellgis had been stealing the goods they needed for a long time. With luck, she’d sneak a Knight’s warhorse from the stable.

The skiff bumped gently into the harder ground that marked the edge of the bog, and Fryca hopped out, dressed in peasant rags and carrying a sickle she’d taken from the dead villagers. Soon she fell in with the thin stream of peasants heading down the single track of mud that led to the small town that squatted on the outskirts of the swamp.

The lands hereabouts were poor, blessed with little more than scrub farming. Once it had been a lush forest and bounteous plains, but the forest had slipped under the waters and become the salty swamp, while the rich topsoil had faded into a thin dust, stolen away on the winds. From the tales told, this land had been spared the worst of the plague, only to see famine wipe away all but a few of the populace.

The terrain had never recovered, which was why the technologists had chosen it as a place to work. Here, they had thought themselves safe from the prying eyes of the Knights, but in every community a peasant had become frightened of the new villagers and their experiments, and told the nearest protectorate.

She shook her head. Bastards couldn’t see that if Ellgis and she were left alone, they’d create tools that helped people. As it was, much of the time they spent constructing elaborate traps and defences around their homes. And portable devices, like that crate she’d hidden in the skiff.

Fryca was passed through the small gate in the town wall with nary a glance from the Knight at the entrance. He took in her simple attire and farm tools and waved her on by, his attention clearly elsewhere. She pushed her way through the jumbled mass of humanity to the little patch of trampled dirt that called itself the town square.

Ellgis was there, guarded by two Knights in gleaming armour, the Broken Wheel symbol stamped prominently on their shields and helmets. He looked much the worse for wear, staked to the ground, and it was clear the Knights had beaten him, although whether for interrogation or their own amusement she did not know.

A meander about the town showed her three other Knights, making a total of six. Usually, the inquisitors came by twelve, which meant the other six were either rounding up people from the outlying villages, or still hunting for her through the swamp.

As she’d expected, the Knights had stabled their horses at the one inn, and taken it over completely. The thieves probably weren’t even paying the owner. They usually didn’t, self-righteous ingrates.

With the town scouted, Fryca settled down to wait, tucking herself in a dim corner near the inn. Soon, others began to settle down as well, and the town grew silent as twilight cast a blanket upon the populace. When the stars spoke of midnight, she would begin.

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