As before, there isn’t much for spoilers here, unless you haven’t read “Snake Charmer” – the second book in “The Serpent’s Song” As always, I enjoy any feedback – positive or negative. Please do not hesitate to post comments, send me email, or go to my Facebook Page and like/comment there. Also, I am still looking for answers on your favorite character from the series so far – please take the time to fill out the simple (one page) survey:
A Lonely Wake
“Well,” Mel’k said at last, “what do we do now?”
Sargon agreed with the frustration in the other man’s voice. They spent most of the summer, in one fashion or another, tracking Mardukai in hopes of recovering the slaves he captured and divining the reason for his bold attack so close to the garrisons of Nun-Ki. Now, it seemed, they had lost the chance to succeed in either endeavor. With Mardukai dead it was not possible to capture or interrogate him and it appeared the slaves had already been sold off. Tracking them down now would be next to impossible.
Sargon stood up, his examination of the body of a Bedda complete. The man had died from having his throat ripped out by a dog according to the guards, and the wounds certainly bore up that story. The other two bodies were killed by skilled swordsmen. The fourth was Mardukai himself and there was little doubt as to his fate.
“It is the same,” Bes muttered as he knelt beside the body of Mardukai.
“How’s that?” Nusiki asked.
Sargon looked over at the young thief. He was at the edge of the slave market facing outward. The boy didn’t have the stomach for the death in the square, despite the rough life he had lived. Sargon didn’t blame him. The old soldier wasn’t prepared to face the remains of Mardukai himself and he thought he had witnessed every possible way a man could die.
But the once feared chieftain of the largest Bedda clan to raid the wastes looked like he had been boiled alive. A horrific fate.
Still, Sargon had to face him. It was because of Mardukai, in more ways than one, that Sargon was there. He straightened his akar armor and turned towards the raised platform where Mardukai’s body remained, untouched, from the previous day.
“There’s no spark, no memory, of Mardukai here. Like the one in the desert.”
“What d’ya mean by that? Ya said that before, but it don’t make sense.”
Sargon approached the dais. Bes looked past him to Nusiki.
“How do I explain it? Okay. People leave behind a mark, a trail, as they move around. I think of it as their soul painting the landscape. That may be a little romantic, but I’m allowed my eccentricities.”
“Like the trail a dog follows? A scent?” Mel’k prompted.
Bes nodded. “Much the same. Only this is a trail only trained magick users can follow. And this trail never fades away, rather, it blends in with the others. But there are points where a brighter mark is left – one that doesn’t fade with time, or fades slowly. For a normal person, those points are usually intensely emotional or spiritual parts of their lives. A wedding, for example, will leave an imprint on the ground for years. A death, especially a violent one, stains the earth for decades. Magick users leave a different trail, one that reflects their power. And when they really use their power to its fullest, it can color the landscape for generations.”
Sargon reached the dais but avoided looking at the body. He turned to Bes instead.
“But not him or the one in the desert?”
“No. It’s like they were never here. I can see the others that were here clearly. Over there,” he pointed vaguely to a corner, “a woman prayed with more fervor than ever before in her life. Those two Bedda died angry, the third one was terrified – probably because being mauled by a dog would terrify anyone. Around Mardukai there are the stains of fear and helplessness – the memories of the slaves sold yesterday. But the body itself, and the ground it is on, is barren.”
“Nothing at all?” Mel’k asked.
Bes shook his head.
“And that confuses me. There should be something – not just from Mardukai, but from the others who stood on this spot. From decades of pain and suffering. But that spot is as if it was washed clean.”
“Did the glove do it?”
“I would say it is likely the glove was the cause of this. I don’t know how, or why. But I do know that attempts to scry the glove in the past produced nothing – as if it wasn’t there. Why Emyni would allow it to do these things, I don’t know. But if it truly is some form of relic of the Dread Goddess then it could be doing something as horrific as erasing the person from history or consuming their souls.”
Sargon felt his stomach churn.
“How do we combat something like that?” Mel’k asked.
“With knowledge,” Bes stood and answered. “We need to learn more about the Gage and what it could be doing to Emyni.”
“So we need to find her.”
Sargon moved past Bes and stood over the bloated and crumpled form that was once Mardukai the Serpent. The body was swollen to the point that the fine robes, stained by the dyes as they overheated and ran free, had torn open to make room for garish protrusions of white flesh. Odd, he thought, that a man as dark of skin as Mardukai would be so pale in death. Then again, most meat turns white or grey when boiled.
He tasted bile in his throat and swallowed hard.
Mel’k and Bes continued their conversation but Sargon heard none of it. His eyes reluctantly traveled up the ruinous mass of flesh to the face that once inspired such fear and hatred from Adummatu to Nun-Ki. One eye was still open, but the socket was empty save a filmy sack hanging loosely out. The cheeks were puffed and riddled with open sores and boils. His mouth was contorted into a permanent rictus, a grim mockery of a smile.
“You earned every second of this, dilibsed.”
His hands began to shake.
He ignored Bes and continued to stare at the dead chieftain.
“All my life I’ve dreamt of this day. Of seeing you dead.”
He didn’t feel like the aging Galkin. He was a boy facing a terrifying attack by brutal raiders. He didn’t hear Bes or Mel’k; he heard the screams of his fellow soldiers, mentors, as they died.
“I thought of a thousand thousand ways to kill you. But none were so vicious, so horrible, as the way you died.”
He was aware tears had begun to form in his eyes.
“And for that I will thank the Gods – whichever God or Goddess who did this – a thousand thousand times.”
He balled his hands into fists. His nails dug into calloused palms.
“Every prayer I utter will be thanking them for your fate and begging them to let your suffering continue.”
He snapped up and saw Mel’k close by. Bes was watching him with a curious look of compassion. In the distance, Nusiki’s eyes were fixed firmly on the scene. Several of the guards had ceased in their activities to stare at him as well.
He opened his mouth but nothing further escaped. Instead, he turned and spat on the face of Mardukai the Serpent.
Wiping his eyes, he turned back to Bes and Mel’k.
“Yes, we must find Emyni. So I can thank her. In the meantime, I will go wait for the Naguod to arrive.”
You can find more from “Redeemer” here.