Musky Twilight

“Justice is a dish best served by an army of waiters over a number of courses, accompanied by complimentary wine. The courses are of course allegories for corrective beatings and the wine is just wine, we all need wine.”
He stared at Jacob expectantly.
“Oh, yes. Wine.” Jacob rummaged noisily in the trunk he had been sitting on.
“Take some time to think on that my boy. At risk of stretching the metaphor, enjoy the appetisers but make room, the first course won’t be far behind,” he scratched his nose and looked off thoughtfully. “Too much?”
“Yes sir,” Jacob replied, handing him a half filled glass of red wine.
“Well damn it all Jacob,” he sniffed at the glass curiously, “stop me next time.”
He stood in the musky twilight cellar and swirled the drink against the light, variously sniffing and sipping at it.
“Your taste isn’t the best, young Stipan, but I’ve seen much worse. Have our money by Friday or it’ll be a spot of the one-two for the first course.”
“Oh Dmitar’s Balls. Yes, yes. Goodbye Stipan,” he warmly but firmly slapped the trussed young man on the cheek and left the basement and its smell of blood and piss.


“Sir, a shipment of bread has been waylaid leaving the Drift.”
Duke Malory didn’t take up eccentric habits for servants to interrupt them, they were specifically engaged for the purpose of escaping this tedious position for a spell. And besides, who else would ensure the grass was precisely an inch long? Certainly not those lacklustre gardeners.
“Yes, yes. Well done, er…”
“Montefort, m’lord.”
“Quite. Well done, pass me those shears would you dear?”
One from the background of servants skittered to Duke Malory’s side, picked up the silvered shears and passed them to Montefort who then dutifully handed them back to the Duke.
“Excellent work Montey, can I help you further?”
He was starting to splutter.
“Sir… the bread?”
“Yes, bread. Have them whipped and throw the bread in the river. Can’t have the rabble tampering with tradition, they come to my quaint bakeries if they want their bread.”
“Yes sir, but…” he waved in a servant that the Duke had assumed was his own until now, “Here. Do you see this loaf, m’lord?” The Duke rolled his head to indicate that yes he did know what bread was and that he wasn’t quite that detached from the common man yet. Though admittedly it was a particularly round and crusty example, assumedly to withstand the rigours of Drift life.
“See here.” Montefort tore a lid in the bread to reveal a sleeping baby at the centre.
“Oh Montey. I see a problem.”

The Flood

You will gain a kingdom and loose an heir.
He rolled the prophetic bottle around the table, taking a quiet satisfaction at the priests’ twitching. So the Flood of Shasmasm was declaring downfalls and conquests again after months of petty and poetic gossip. The King considered that the priests knew he was getting tired of their order’s demands and so provoked the bottle into action somehow, to provide a distraction from its failures at predicting the wheat riots or the simulacra pretenders. He considered this while spinning the handsome vessel against the candlelight and enjoying the strobing of the banded bottle and green of the liquid within. Tiring of the stuffy cell filled with its priest-stink of goat covered with jasmine and pepper, he tossed the bottle back to its container with satisfying crash.
“We’ll see.”
Walking alone through the smoky passages of the temple he couldn’t contain a laugh that betrayed his age. His father would be proud.


For all I have, I am not happy.
Duke Barnabas knows my suffering, how deep and sickly it is. He is older than my old bones and has been through the other side. He has made and lost vaster fourtunes than any at this table could hope to see. He is not happy, but he inflicts himself upon us.
My wife, twenty-third, twenty-fourth? My wife is a harlot, once a common whore, turning tricks for the street cleaners and smithy apprentices that have saved their allowances for ever so long. I love her dearly and give her whatever she so much as thinks to care to consider to want. She is not happy, but she continues the motions of joyful life.
My son, the artist, with his wife and husband. His work demanded from Nagesh to the Emerald Throne, commanding any price he would pick from the seemingly random arrangement of saint’s bones that directed his life so successfully. He had not created anything in months, had retreated to his mountain retreat and sealed the brass doors behind him. He was not happy but painted the walls in his own blood to find his old expression.
All this and more, and I am not happy.

Commence Discourse

The court watched expectantly as their King sat fidgeting on the Brass Throne. His frame ill-fitted the vastness of the seat, he had to reach to rest his hands on the shrieking faces of the arm rests. His Chamberlain assured him that one grows into his terrible aspect over time and that one cannot simply sit on the Tear Quenched Throne and assume to strike fear into each and every. He worried that it was taking too long, that his father’s baleful boots were too large to fill. If he could not horrify his own subjects how would he fair with the cannibal Kanic hoards, or the magus of Crystal Castle and his legions of simulacra?
There was nothing to do but push these thoughts from his mind and address the matters of court.
“Commence discourse!” At the King’s command the black fog was released from the ancient heart of his throne and entered him in a furious embrace. Today policy would be made.


The jobos are getting weak at the knuckle, not designed for rocky terrain and with no time to glove them properly they were bloodied and raw. Much longer and we would be to the bone and have to put the poor beasts down lest the pain pushes through the feed and open them to the crushing realisation of their own mortality. A jobos naive existentialism is every animal handler’s nightmare, as anyone could tell you. Regardless, they would have to hold their philosophical revelations until we had found him and brought him before the patriarchs to explain herself. A King does not simpley walk out of a kingdom, he asks and he mount the golden jobo and takes the formal hunt. And by Prim’s Glorious Beard, we will ensure he does. Gods save the king.


“Terrific, marvellous work.”
“You think so?”
“Oh yes, quite.”
“How very kind of you to say.”
“Not at all, I only state facts.”
He touched the frame with a gloved hand, it was rough and pulled at the cotton fingertips.
“The rust adds to its charm. It feels lived in, well used.”
His companion wiped his hands on the rubber apron, head downcast, “I try to keep it oiled, sir.”
“Oh no, I am being quite sincere.” The leather was cracked but thick, like his father’s belt, complete with huge smooth worn buckles. He approved, already imagining the creaking it would make when she was awake.
“Can we wake her?”
He looked from one to the other, noting the diminished vigour at which her organs pulsated, “I suppose not.”
“Will you be wanting her in the lounge, sir?”
His shoe was starting to stick to the floor. Her gentle wings had been dripping on his feet without him noticing, “Oh bother.” With a flourish like a popped pigeon he pulled a handkerchief from his top pocket to remove the worst of it, “Perhaps not old chap. Put her out on the lawn by the gazebo. Let the old boys see your sterling work after tea.”
“Very good sir.” Releasing the clamps elicited more oozing and a shudder of dazed organs, but he adjusted the dials, knowingly flicked at vials and carefully folded away the gossamer wings she he had been given, draping them back over her hide to hide the twitching. She would be the talk of society for weeks to come.


“Crutches. At least until the unguent comes out as it went in.”
The little sticky pot was a vicious purple unlike any plant or animal he had ever seen. Another of the chemist’s meddlings in areas he shouldn’t, now he was changing our colours.
“Thank you.” The paste wouldn’t be wiped off, even on the course hemp waistcoat his mother had sent him (a good, honest, red), just spreading and darkening a patch. He would have to burn it when he got back to the trench, the fellows would appreciate the fuel.
“Shouldn’t you be going? I can hear the guns firing again and you know the Cardinal doe not think highly of dilly-dalliers, you might find yourself and my precious mixture out on the bore fields probing for flexers. We don’t want that.”
The soldier caught a response in the back of his throat and swallowed it down. The Pope’s pets were owed vicarious reverence still and he spoke with an infuriating accuracy. And so he picked himself up on his new legs and hobbled out of the tent. The chemist had already returned to his valves and retorts.

The Lamb

Terry had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow but its conscience was deeply scared by the things it had done. Terry was beginning to think the thing didn’t have a conscience at all, just a cold sliver of silver, sometimes seen glinting back behind its eyes on a dark night when he gets out of bed to investigate the sounds coming from the barn. Glinting as Terry puts the torch behind his teeth, rolls up his dressing gown and starts to pull them to the river. The path has started to wear, suggesting many feet have taken the walk from the barn to the riverside. Glinting, glinting, always glinting. It watches from the bank to ensure a job well done, though Terry suspects a level of projection on his part, though he can still see the twinkle from the crack in the barn as he undresses to meet what’s left of the night. Its fleece wasn’t white that night, not white at all.


The shopkeepers guard their den with a ferocity more often seen in the land sharks than men. The shop is their shop and the street is the street next to their shop and the houses are the houses next to the street next to their shop. And this continues. They send out their bag boys with their twisted necks and single arms to wail through the streets looking for invaders. In their own homes if need be. I was told that was how they hired new baggers, by taking the swaddled children from the upturned cots after a successful preemptive defence, running home their squealing bundle to the keepers, to be prepared for a life in the isles. They have to be young or else the twisting and bending won’t hold, the skin won’t heal over their hidden arm and their heads will twist right off. The keepers don’t like the lower orders looking them in the eye, you see.


Troubles come in threes, as all the old men said sitting in their secret tent. “Troubles come in threes.” Just like that, chewing on the roots we brought them so they would stop cursing our sex and let us grow our man-hair. Some of the other other said they didn’t want to share power with a generation that never fought in the fields for the ox and threw rocks at the city walls for the families they lost. I don’t spend my time shouting at ruins and scaring away the ghosts with my children’s bones. I don’t have children to loose and it isn’t right to borrow another’s. Once, one of the ghosts spoke to me, I found him moving rocks in a building that still had a second floor. He said he was looking for food but I know ghosts don’t eat and told him so, I knew they just trick you into giving them living food to steal your dignity until they can buy back their own. He said he was no ghost and I left it at that, no point arguing with the dead. Trouble comes in threes though, so the old men say, and the dead walking set them all squeaking about the second and third. Maybe the ghosts will know.

Mother bring those bells down

We were ushered into the cathedral on the hill, past the well, across the stream. The proctors said it was a treat for the orphans to be let in like this. I don’t know who else could go there, and neither did Ewan; maybe the adults standing in their red coats holding their guns proudly? They hid their pride with the solemn look the proctors used for us, but they weren’t as good at it. I kept bumping into other boys who stopped to gawk at the well dressed strangers, so unused to seeing adults other than the proctors it was a shock for us. Ewan barely glanced at them and took my hand, snaking through the boys a full head shorter than him, sliding me through the gaps in his wake, circling the islands of proctors ushering boys and adjusting caps and blazers. Ewan said something but I didn’t hear over the shouting, so I squinted apologetically and he pointed up.
“Have you been here before?” I shook my head as I looked up to the ceiling. High above there were bathtubs. The great tin bathtubs we have in the older parts of the orphanage, hanging from rope as thick as my arm, swaying slowly but not touching, echoing our noise with a low hum. I looked back at Ewan and was answered with a quick poke to my nose.
“You, boys, in here. This tie…” The proctor was on us, tightening ties and tucking shirts and pulling socks.
“In here, in here,” pushing us into the low benches lining the hall in front of the proud red men, squeezing past squirming boys to our spot.
A rapping pierced the rumbling sound of us, the lector was ready to begin and was furiously banging his baton on the side of his pulpit. He ranged across us with a disappointed parental stare and I wondered if he had once lived at the orphanage, if the proctors ever did anything after they stopped or if they indeed stopped ever, no one had seen one leave or join, always the same proctors as long as any boy could remember.
“Quiet, quiet! This is a rare treat, do not spoil it with lolly-gagging and tom-foolery.” It wasn’t until the proud men clicked their boots together and presented their rifles with a loud harumpf that we stopped, focused on taking in this rare new experience. They spun on their heels and separated, marching off down further into the church past huge bells sitting along the sides, each taking a place in front of one until they lined the isle, guns raised against us. For a long moment they stood there, as if waiting for a cue, until in unison they shot at the bathtubs with a terrible clanging, setting them swinging and crashing into each other in a flood of noise. Over and over they shot into the ceiling and I ducked under my song book when the bullets fell back down to shower us with the sound of heavy rain.
“Mother bring those bells down,” we sung, as we were taught, “mother bring those bells down,” to the hollow clanging of bathtubs in the air.