“You want to poison Reis?!” Tharol asked in shock.
“Well not lethally,” Beesk said quickly. “Just enough to make him sick that night. We’ll get some Tinstin next time we go to market. A couple grams in his dinner cup and two hours later he’ll be bolting for the latrine. He’ll be busy retching a few minutes, long enough for us to have the gates opened and closed like nothing every happened.”
“You’ve thought this through.”
“Well of course we have!” Inol exclaimed. “This isn’t exactly the sort of thing you leave up to chance, now is it?”
“Alright. So what’s our plan from here on.”
“I’ll get the Tinstin,” Inol offered. “I know just the apothecary that’ll have it in the backroom.”
“And I’m going to stash everything we need on the barracks over the next couple weeks,” Beesk added. “Two barrels of oil to make sure the gates don’t make any noise that night, a rope in case we need to improvise, and a couple bird-whistles for us to signal each other if anything goes wrong.”
“Alright,” Tharol nodded. “And me?”
“You’re pretty close to Reis aren’t you?”
“Sure, we’re friends I guess.”
“Great. Keep close to him and see what if he suspects anything. He was there when the statue lady first met us and he’d roast us all if he knew what was going on. You have to let us know if he so much as catches of a whiff of what we’re doing.”
Tharol nodded. “I’ll see what I can do. And where are each of us during the night of the entry?”
“One of Beesk and I will be opening the gates and getting payment,” Inol recited. “The other will be watching Reis and running distraction if he starts to come back early. And you will be waiting in the barracks, watching for if any of the boys try to come out for any reason. You start blowing on that bird whistle if they do.”
“I want to be out on the field with you.”
“No,” Inol shook his head firmly.
“It was very clear requirement of the statue lady,” Beesk added. “We can bring a third in to help with setup, but she only trusts the two of us to greet her at the entrance.”
“Alright,” Tharol tried to wave it off like he didn’t care. “I’ll make sure Reis stays in the dark in the meantime.”
“Excellent!” Reis smiled when Tharol told him the entire scheme. “We’ll do it!”
“Of course, we’ll make sure that absolutely everything plays exactly the way they want.”
“But they’re going to poison you!”
Reis waved that away. “They’re going to think that they poison me. I’ll fake a drink at dinner and then make like I’m sick during the first hour of watch. We have to make them believe that everything is going according to plan. We can’t catch them red-handed if they’re not confident enough to expose themselves.”
“I suppose not…”
And so Tharol found himself helping cover for Inol at the market just a few days later. Golu was with them, and so it fell on Tharol to keep the boy distracted while Inol obtained the Tinstin.
“We could have Inol grab the salt and wine if you want to help me with the whetstones, Golu,” he proposed.
“Sure,” Golu shrugged.
“Yep, works for me,” Inol said brightly. “Got my money?”
Tharol counted out the appropriate amount and sent him on his way.
“Well I guess we’d better–” Tharol started to say to Golu, but he was interrupted by a large commotion coming from behind them. For some reason the marketplace throng was pushing itself backwards into the two boys. They spun around and saw that the crowd was clearing a column in their middle, making a wide pathway down the throng.
“What’s this?” Tharol asked.
“It’s Lord Amathur,” Golu answered.
Tharol looked back to the clearing and sure enough a procession of guards now moved down it. They were soon followed by a man wearing brightly colored silks and a three-foot feather sticking out of his cap. This was the closest Tharol had even been to Lord Amathur, near enough to make out the features of his round, boyish face. He was all smiles and joviality, waving at the merchants and calling many of them by name. They responded in kind and several of them held out samples of their wares as gifts. He waved his hand at that and tutted, but still seemed charmed by their gesture.
“He seems a popular man,” Tharol observed.
As Tharol continued to watch a strange gravelly noise started to rise, though, growing and growing until it became a tremendous cacophony, drowning out all the sounds of mirth and frivolity. Craning his head to the side Tharol finally saw the cause of the noise. A hundred feet behind Lord Amathur, but still a part of his procession, there came into view thirty slaves, stripped to their loincloths, straining with all their might against powerful ropes set around their shoulders. And all of those ropes ran back to the same singular stone, a massive boulder, shaped like a low cylinder, at least twelve feet across. It must have weighed thousands of pounds! All those slaves dug their heels into the cobbled road in unison and lurched the burden forward inch-by-inch. The flat underside of the millstone scraped horribly across the cobblestones and gouged the road in places. It would take weeks to repair.
“It’s like–it’s like when we have to do our hauls with the stone,” Tharol observed, though obviously on a much larger scale. “This is a punishment?”
None of the rest of the crowd appeared particularly surprised by the display, though many of them covered their ears and took a step back from the road. Some of them even started returning to their usual business now that Lord Amathur was advancing out of view.
The scene wasn’t quite over yet, though. All of a sudden a group of merchants began to scream as four horsemen charged through the crowd!
“Out of the way!” the riders roared, then left it to the rabble to clear out before being trampled. Before long they had entered the roadway and skidded to a halt before the slaves bearing the stone. All four of them drew their swords, eliciting more screams from the crowd, but they only used them to hack at the ropes binding the slaves to their stone. As soon as four of the prisoners had been freed they they reached their hands down and offered them an escape. Three of them shrunk back immediately, hands held up in pleading, as if begging to not be liberated. The last slave looked hesitantly to his fellows, then back to his would-be emancipators.
“Quickly!” the forefront rider strained, glancing up the road to where Lord Amathur and his guardsmen were sprinting back down the route, charging to the disruption!
With one more look to his fellows the hesitant slave leaped up, took his savior’s arm, and was carried onto the steed. As one the other slaves howled in a fury and flung themselves at him, scrabbling madly to pull him back down, in pieces if necessary.
With a click of his spurs the horseman lurched out of their grasp, just as Lord Amathur’s guards arrived on the scene. Rather than trade blows the group of riders thundered back through the throng of merchants and down the same back alley from which they had appeared, the royal guards in hot pursuit.
“Do you think they’ll catch them?” Tharol asked Golu breathlessly.
Golu didn’t answer, though. His eyes were locked on another scene, and Tharol realized that all the crowd had just gone deathly silent. Following Golu’s gaze Tharol saw that Lord Amathur had not joined his guards in the chase, he had slowed his run to a bracing walk instead, and was only now approaching the mass of huddled slaves. His smile was long gone, his face was steel.
“One?” he turned to the taskmasters standing silently on either side of the cowering prisoners. They nodded.
Lord Amathur reached down a hand and pulled one of the slaves up to his feet. The other hand drew his sword and in one motion and plunged it through the slave! All the other slaves wailed, but the price had been paid, no more of them had to be slain that day. Lord Amathur ripped off the dead man’s loincloth, used it to clean his sword, then turned and left without another word, leaving nothing but heavy, silent air behind him.
Tharol turned to Golu in utter shock and saw that the boy was just as dumbfounded as he was.
“What was that?” Tharol askedin horror, not really expecting an answer.
“It was something terrible, Tharol. That’s all it was.”
A few moments later and the crowd of merchants began moving again, but with a very subdued atmosphere now. No one dared to even speak above a low mutter. Tharol and Golu finished their business as quickly as possible and kept their silence the whole way back to the keep. Inol had been in a different wing of the marketplace and missed the entire drama, but after hearing a brief recounting of it he had the good sense to keep his silence as well.
Tharol was lost in his own thoughts, trying to even fathom what sort of reasons could be behind the scene he had just witnessed. He also kept wondering what sort of man Lord Amathur must be. He kept picturing him in that moment of advancing with such a cold and precise malice. He had never known someone could be so firm and so cruel.
Tharol was so lost in his thoughts that he even forgot about Inol’s plot to secure the Tinstin. It was only when they came to the keep’s courtyard and Beesk approached them, eyebrows raised in an unspoken query, that he remembered about the plan.
“Hey Beesk,” Inol greeted. “Help us carry the wine down to the cellar?”
Tharol and Beesk understood the cue, and together the three of them filled their arms with the clay pitchers and made their way into the dark underbelly of the keep.
“So? Did you get it?” Beesk demanded as soon as the cellar door was safely shut behind them.
“Yeah, I got it,” Inol replied.
“Well where is it?”
“Didn’t exactly want to be seen coming into camp carrying a whole sack of toxic compounds, now did I? I hid it.”
“A whole sack?! We don’t need that much.”
“Well that’s how much I was given.”
“So where did you put it?”
Inol nodded his head downward, towards the jug of wine he was carrying.
“In there?” Tharol asked.
“That’s right. All ready to pour out for Reis at the Night Watch!”
“An entire sack of poison in there?! That’ll kill him for sure!”
“Not all. As soon as I had enough in the jug I discarded the rest in an alley.”
“How much did you put in then?”
“I don’t know. Half?”
“I don’t know. Maybe a bit less?”
“Let me see that.”
Tharol grabbed the pitcher and jerked off the stopper. He gave it a deep inhale and immediately perceived a strong, bitter aroma mixed with the scent of wine.
“No, this won’t do,” Tharol said. “Beesk, hand me that empty pitcher. He took the vessel and poured the poisoned wine into it until each jug was only half full. “Now some fresh wine,” he ordered. This he used to fill the second half of each jug, then gave both another whiff. The bitter aroma was still there, but faint enough that you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t looking for it. “There,” he said. “That’s more about the potency we want. Let’s hope that Master Palthio doesn’t take inventory anytime soon.”
“But what if you made it too weak?” Beesk asked.
“I seriously doubt that…. Honestly I’m still not sure that this is diluted enough.”
“And we don’t need two jugs. We don’t even need one! Just a single cup. Suppose one of these jugs gets brought up tonight at dinner and we all get sick!”
“Good point. Let’s stow these in the back where no one will grab them for a while. We’ll have to get rid of them at some point after.”
“Aren’t you afraid of forgetting which ones are the right ones?”
Tharol paused. That was a good point. “We need some way to mark these, a way to be sure that they hadn’t been handled. And marked in a way that would be inconspicuous to all the other boys.”
“I’ve got it,” Inol said, and reaching up he lowered one of the lanterns from the ceiling. “Let me see those jugs, Tharol.”
Tharol handed them over and Inol tipped the lantern sideways over them, dribbling a few drops of wax between the stopper and the body of the jug.
“There!” he proclaimed. “A little seal. So small no one will notice but us.”
“Yes, well done,” Beesk approved. “And if we ever notice that the seal is broken…trouble.”
“I think if anyone opens either of these jugs we’ll know about it anyway,” Tharol sighed, laying the jugs in the back corner of the cellar and stacking safe jugs in front of them. “I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t like this setup. There’s still too much chance that we’ll get the whole order poisoned!”
Inol and Beesk’s eyes narrowed.
“But I guess it’s the best plan we’ve got. I’ll go along with it.”
On Monday I spoke about a few of the different shapes that a character’s arc might take. I observed that I had Tharol slowly pursuing a path of suspicion and doubt when suddenly the rug was pulled out from underneath and he realized that everyone else was coming to be suspicious of him instead. Then he went from curious to dejected, numbly going through his days with as little feeling as possible.
Now he has entered a new arc, leaning much more heavily into his relationship with the order’s more unsavory characters. Of course he cannot really rely on these pretend friends. As previously implied, he will only grow more and more isolated until he is totally alone.
For now, though, I want to turn my attention to a particular scene in this chapter, the one where Tharol and Golu witness Lord Amathur’s procession and the riders coming to free the slaves.
I got so far in the scene as Lord Amathur walking through the crowd and saluting the merchants, but then came to a dead stop. I knew the second half of this scene needed something that would portray Lord Amathur in a villainous light, but each time I tried to write it I kept running it into the most bland of clichés. Usually some variation of an innocent passerby crossing Lord Amathur on something trivial and Amathur letting out his rage on them in a moment of disproportionate violence. A thoroughly overused and unimaginative scene if there ever was one.
All too often writers fall back on clichés like these instead of putting in the work for ingenuity. They craft a story through tropes instead of through original ideas. And as I just shared, I can certainly understand the temptation to write a story this way. I have experience that temptation firsthand.
Even so, I couldn’t bring myself to publish something so cheap, and I did dig deeper until I found something more imaginative. With my next post I would like to examine why it is that we fall back on cliché, and what we can do to fight the pull of it. Come back on Thursday to read about that.