Jonathan Oliver

Wrath of Kerberos


A World Away From Home


When the first boot crashed against the door, Stanwick Tassiter dropped the candle. The flame caught the folios he had been reading, and the scholar was caught between the horror of the unexpected intrusion and the sight of his precious scriptures burning. As he batted at the pages, a blade appeared through a rent in the wood panelling of the door. He looked up, dismayed to see the design on the weapon. He now knew exactly who had come for him, and he wasn’t at all surprised; the texts he had been poring over were high on the Final Faith’s list of prohibited works. Stanwick had thought himself well guarded. Was it possible that Tremayne and Finch had given him away? They had always been amongst the most weak-willed of his acolytes.

Whatever. Stanwick had known the risks when he had taken up his studies, and so had made sure to create copies of his most important tomes. Those, the Faith would never find.

The door finally gave way and four heavily-armoured members of the Order of the Swords of Dawn burst into the subterranean archive. One of them rushed across the room and pressed a sword to his throat, while another forced Stanwick’s arms so far up his back that he let out a high-pitched squeal.

The commander — judging by the intricate designs on her breastplate — riffled through the charred pages on the desk and grunted with satisfaction.

“These will make a fine addition to the archive of forbidden literature at Scholten cathedral. Thank you for your help in taking such dangerous works out of circulation, Stanwick.”

Stanwick chose not to respond. He knew what awaited him now. He would spend a short amount of time in the depths of Scholten, at Katherine Makennon’s pleasure, before being sent to the gibbet. There would be no trial. Makennon probably wouldn’t even be aware of his passing.

“You know,” he said. “It would save us all a lot of time if you just spilled my blood right here. You could say I resisted arrest. It would be so much easier, in the long run.”

“I don’t think so,” the commander said. “Brother Sequilious was quite adamant that he wanted you all taken alive.”

A hood was thrown over Stanwick’s head and he was hustled from the room. He fell twice on the steps up to the surface — once so badly that he sprained his ankle — and by the time he was bundled through a narrow door and onto a bench, his leg was singing with pain. He bit back tears, not wanting the Swords to witness his grief, but he couldn’t stop a sob escaping his lips.

“Stanwick? Stanwick Tassiter?” a voice said, close by. A hand fumbled into his. “Yes, it’s Stanwick, all right. I’d recognise those soft academic’s hands anywhere.”

It was Alex, the blind weaver who lived not far from Stanwick.

“Alex, what are you doing here?”

He knew full well that the weaver regularly paid his dues at the local church. He couldn’t begin to imagine how the old man had come to the attention of the Swords.

“It sounds like the whole of Westbay is being rounded up.” Alex said.

The room lurched and there was the sound of wheels rumbling over cobbles. Stanwick realised then that he was surrounded by people whimpering and praying. He recognised many of the voices amongst the multitude, all people he knew would never consider defying the Final Faith. Why had Makennon ordered this mass abduction?

The carriage travelled for about ten minutes before coming to a halt. Stanwick could now hear the sound of waves pounding against rocks and, just below that, voices raised in song.

The door of the carriage was opened and Stanwick was herded out, along with the rest of the villagers. Alex still held his hand, until it was batted away by the flat of a blade. Chains were looped around Stanwick’s wrists and ankles.

With a shouted command and a sharp tug on the chains, a slow shuffle began up a steep and uneven path. An icy wind blasted against Stanwick’s left side and he sensed a sheer drop just a short distance from the path. Men and women of the Order of the Swords of Dawn ushered their captives on and Stanwick was appalled to hear the voice of Westbay’s own priest amongst them. Despite his misguided beliefs, he had never struck Stanwick as a particularly cruel or duplicitous man.

“Henry,” he called out, “please tell me what’s going on.”

“I’m sorry, Stanwick. Really I am.”

The singing was louder now and Stanwick was taken aback when he realised that the words were elvish. Why were the Final Faith using a song of that ancient race? More importantly, what were they using it for?

They seemed to be entering a vast echoing chamber now and he could taste magic in the air — burned cinnamon and wet stone. When his hood was savagely torn from his head and he finally saw the choir, Stanwick gasped.

Twenty-five pale young boys sang with the voices of angels. From the pitch of their song, he supposed that they had been emasculated. Their flesh was heavily scarified and tattooed; the designs seemed to dance to the ethereal cadences, and Stanwick felt a deep nausea as the illustrations held his gaze.

A knife prodding into his side soon snapped him out of his reverie.

“Move along. You’re holding up the line.”

Stanwick looked at the blood beading his trews. He left a trail of red dots as he followed the rest of the captives.

The choir stood on a natural balcony cut into the chamber wall and a slope led past them, down into the main body of the cave. The roof of the cavern was far above their heads and at the far side was a brilliant blue lake, its water slowly undulating to the distant sound of waves. Stanwick looked around him as the hoods were pulled from the prisoners. The frightened faces that greeted his tugged at his heart and the stench of fear — even in this vast space — was stifling. It wasn’t just the men and women of Westbay the Faith had taken; there were children here too, and a makeshift corral had even been constructed to house the village’s modest collection of livestock.

Behind them all, the choir’s song rose in volume as the torches ringing the lake were lit.

A man stood in front of the line of torches. He was tall and thin, even emaciated. His skin was smooth and pale, his head hairless, and as he disrobed, Stanwick saw that the rest of his body was the same. He passed his garments to a young man, who knelt briefly to receive a blessing before hurrying away with his bundle.

The thin man knelt, and a priest — Henry — came forward and placed an unsteady hand on the thin man’s head. Stanwick saw by Henry’s gestures that he was performing the ceremony of absolution. He wondered what sin the stranger had committed, that he sought forgiveness. Maybe, he considered with a start, he was seeking forgiveness for a sin that he was about to commit.

The ritual over, the priest withdrew and, at a gesture from the gaunt, naked man, the choir fell silent. The only sounds now were the whimpering of the prisoners and the lapping of the lake against the shore. A cadre of priests moved through the crowd, flicking pungent oil from silver sprinklers.

Stanwick’s stomach clenched as he recognised the smell.

It took him back to his mother’s deathbed — more than twenty years earlier — and the look of terror in her eyes as a priest had anointed her with the oil to ease her soul’s passage to Kerberos. Stanwick’s mother had never been a believer, but his father was, and it had been he who’d insisted she take the last rites. The ceremony had done little to relieve her terror, though, as her life slipped away and she had stared into oblivion.

Вы читаете Wrath of Kerberos
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату