It has been some time since I have posted here. But I have been working. I did a review of my previous books, to include some minor editing, in preparation for completing The Serpent’s Song.
So, with that in mind, I thought I’d offer a little glimpse into what is to come. This is just a part of the first chapter of “Redeemer”, and it doesn’t contain anything I would consider a “spoiler”, but read it at your own discretion.
Excerpt from “Redeemer” – 1,627 words.
Nusiki ran. He ran with a speed and purpose unknown to him. No pursuer in his past could measure up to the boy’s own panic as he navigated the twisting, semi-permanent streets of the Great Fair. He had to find Mel’k and Bes. He had to tell them what he saw. What the people said. It shouldn’t be true, it couldn’t be true, but he saw it with his own eyes.
“Bes!” His words carried through the throng of people to the dwarf.
The twisted dwarf sat astride his donkey, riding next to the tall Galkin of the Igibarra, Mel’k. Both men wore traditional black Bedda robes, favored for desert travel.
“Thief,” Mel’k replied. “Slow down! Who did you rob?”
Nusiki slowed to a stop and bent at the waist, gasping for breath.
“No,” he gasped out. “Not me. Emyni.”
Bes’s head snapped up.
Nusiki shook his head.
“Gone. But…she…I don’t know.”
“Spit it out, thief.” Mel’k snapped.
“Just…come to the slave market.”
The boy’s mind reeled while he backtracked to the slave market, Bes, Mel’k, Datena, Sargon, and Haseen in tow. The past several months of Nusiki’s life had been with this group, in one form or another, as they trekked across the Abraq desert in search of Emyni, Duseg, Mardukai the Serpent, and the elusive Mualan. Sargon and Haseen joined them only recently, complete with a retinue of several dozen elite Igibarra and Kin, the scouts and soldiers of Nun-Ki’s army.
They arrived in Adummatu on the first day of Gi-Gidim Ezem, the Festival of the Ghost Night – a celebration of the dead. They spent the evening in an inn outside the city walls with the intention of going to the slave market today in hopes of catching Mardukai in the act of selling his ill-gotten goods: men and women stolen from their homes in Nun-Ki. Nusiki wasn’t content with sleep that night, however, and slipped out of his room to explore the city. The instincts of a thief are hard to deny, especially a thief in a new land brimming with riches.
He didn’t intend to steal that night, of course, he planned to do nothing more than explore and listen in hopes of learning about Mardukai, Duseg, and Emyni. His intentions were left by the wayside when he encountered his first batch of revelers.
Nusiki was no stranger to the celebration of the dead. It was practiced in Nun-Ki as well. Not with the same level of enthusiasm, perhaps, but it was still a festival. And a festival meant more people in the streets than the watch could possibly keep track of. It meant drink and good cheer and lots of jostling and bumping into each other. The kind of jostling and bumping that made for the gilded dreams of any pickpocket.
But the boisterous celebration in Nun-Ki was sedate and muted in comparison to the party atmosphere of the Great Fair. The semi-permanent streets, lit by torches, gaily-decorated lanterns, and bronze oil lamps, overflowed with humanity. People of all shapes and sizes, of all classes, of all nations, mingled with one another. Wine flowed freely from dozens of market stalls. Musicians played dancing tunes. Somewhere to his right a fight had broken out between two large Bedda. Their friends, and complete strangers, made plenty of room for the two drunken combatants and cheered them as they took turns pummeling each other with calloused fists.
Nusiki couldn’t have contained his instincts if he tried. And he didn’t try. He made his way through the crowd with the lithe grace of a cat, slipping unnoticed between revelers, his hand dipping into a pocket here, retrieving a piece of dangling jewelry from an unsuspecting mark there. The master of a dangling coin purse was rewarded for his carelessness by discovering it missing.
In short time, Nusiki had amassed more than the pockets of his over-sized robes could hold. He returned to his original plan of scouting.
It was only natural his wanderings would take him to the slave market. It was nearly dawn when he arrived. He was puzzled by the amount of guards in and around the square. There would be no slaves nearby at this time of night and nothing to steal. There was also a rank smell hovering in the air – burned cloth and rotting flesh. Not an altogether unexpected smell considering the location, he thought. The square itself was steeped in shadows, the only light coming from the few torches carried by some of the guards and a small fire in a brazier near the main entrance. Three guards congregated around it, leaning on their spears and talking. Nusiki hugged the shadows and inched close, painfully aware of every jingle his laden pockets made.
“It stinks.” One of the guards said.
“Yeah, why don’t they get rid of them?”
“You know the Bedda. They don’t like it when we touch their dead. They have their own rules about death.”
“Yeah, but don’t they do it before the sun sets? They’ve been here all day.”
“The Naguod says he don’t think the Bedda will touch the bodies. Not after what happened.”
“Then why don’t we get rid of them?”
“He also says we have to wait for someone to make a decision one way or another.”
Two of the guards sighed.
“It will be a while, then. I guess the market will be closed tomorrow.”
“That’s fine with me. I can’t stand this place.”
Nusiki sidled around the guards, using the flickering shadows cast by the brazier to his advantage. He kept an ear out for more information while his practiced eye scanned the dim square and raised dais. Now that he knew where the smell was coming from, he could guess at what his eyes were seeing. Three man-sized lumps lay in the square, the stones around them noticeably darker than the others. Upon the dais was a third mass, but this was not the size or shape of a man. It was too big to be a regular person, and it was more a rounded pile than the form of a body.
Maybe it was more than one person.
Nusiki knelt by the nearest body. In the pre-dawn twilight he couldn’t make out specific features, but the clothing suggested the man was Bedda. This agreed with what he overheard. The man had two obvious wounds – one to the back of a leg, the other to his throat. Both wounds looked like they were made by a savage beast. They weren’t clean at all; rather, they had the ragged appearance one would expect from an animal tearing the flesh of its prey.
A guard moved from the opposite end of the square towards the dais, towards Nusiki. He froze in place and, with no easy option, went prone beside the body of the Bedda.
“Do you believe their stories?” One of the guards behind him, at the brazier, asked.
“Did you see the one on the stage? What else could have done that?”
“No, I haven’t gone and looked yet.”
“Do yourself a favor. Don’t. I’ve never seen a man burned like that – it looks like he was cooked. Like someone threw him in a pot to boil.”
“Shh!” The third guard hissed.
“Some say it was the Dread Goddess herself who did it.”
His voice was barely a whisper. Nusiki strained to hear. The words dropped like a stone into the depths of his stomach.
“That’s not what I heard. I heard it was just a girl. A nobody.”
Nusiki swallowed hard, his mouth suddenly dry.
“Not true. Naguod Siqma’al was with her, wearing his house armor. I heard he left the guard. He wouldn’t do that for just a girl.”
The lone guard moved away from the stage. Nusiki began crawling towards it. He had to see what was up there.
“Yeah, she was also with a priestess from the Temple of Inanna.”
“Wow. Who was she?”
Nusiki feared he already knew the answer.
“Al’tir may know. He was one of the first here.”
Nusiki passed between the two other bodies. He paused for a quick glance and saw both were clearly killed by swords. He moved on.
“Yes?” A voice from across the square echoed.
“Did you find out who the girl was?”
Nusiki reached the stage and risked rising. The stage itself was waist-high on the boy. There, in front of the silhouette of a chair, was the slumped form of a dead man. He didn’t look like a man anymore, however. He was bloated and covered in oozing pustules. His lips had cracked open and split and his eyes were popped. Nauseating fluids still leaked from the ruins of his face.
Most of the hair had been burnt off, and the body was bloated and contorted into a mass of meat, but Nusiki had heard enough stories to know who it was just by his size and visible scars. Especially, he thought, when he considered what happened to the man.
“Someone from Nun-Ki supposedly. A priestess. Said she serves Erishkigal. I didn’t know anyone did.”
“Shamash’s Beard! Did anyone hear her name?”
“Yeah, but I forgot it. She was trying to find her father, they said, a brick maker.”
Nusiki closed his eyes. His heart raced.
“I told you it was the Dread Goddess,” a voice hissed across the square. “Which is why I am not touching anything.”
When he opened his eyes, he noticed the sun had begun to lighten the sky. It would be dawn in a few minutes. He had to find Bes and Mel’k and tell them what happened. He turned and ran past the guards, ignoring their cries of alarm.