Here’s something I started a while ago but left unloved and alone in a folder on my computer. The chapters that might follow are set hundreds of years into the future and none of the characters in this scene appear again except in name. This is just the prologue to what might be a full fantasy novel.
On the morning of his execution, Morrain Bur-Belir woke to the sound of a tolling bell.
The priest got to his feet, brushed the filthy, damp straw from his blue robes and rubbed his aching right shoulder with the palm of his left hand. Outside the sun was up, Morrain could hear the clattering of carts and the murmurings of people as they trudged past the court house. There would be a good crowd today. He smiled grimly and stretched his neck to look out of the high window but the only thing in view was the top branches of the Hanging Tree. Morrain made the sign of the blessed one across his chest, closed his eyes and prayed silently.
Five minutes later, a heavy iron key rattled in the door lock and three, long-bolts were drawn. The thick, studded oak door was eased open and two guards wearing leather vests and helmets walked into the cell. They were accompanied by a priest in coarse, red robes. He wore an amulet bearing the image of Osurn on a chain around his neck and carried a skin-bound copy of the Krah carefully in his hands. The guards took up position either side of the open door as the Red Priest stepped forward.
‘Morrain Bur-Belir, you have been found guilty of heresy. You have been sentenced to hang. I am here to offer you one final chance of redemption.’ He held the Krah out in front of him with both hands. ‘Renounce the false Goddess, Uhati, return to the bosom of the Red Goddess, Osurn and you will be spared.’
Morrain shook his head, a dirty piece of straw fell from his grey-streaked hair. ‘Barrahd Skaal, you know I cannot do this.’
Barrahd Skaal lfted the heavy book until it was under the chin of the Blue Priest. ‘I will not ask again, Morrain. Kiss the Krah, pledge obedience to Osurn, you are a good man, you do not deserve this death.’
‘There was a time, not so long ago, when worshipping the Blue Goddess was not deemed a crime. Samuttia was a secular city, a free city, it was beautiful then.’ The Blue Priest smiled.
Barrahd Skaal’s mouth tightened. ‘Our Lord Juktar, has pronounced on this. There is no discussion to be had.’
Morrain’s eyes narrowed. ‘Lord Juktar is blinded by his new priestess. I curse the day Sillaq was spawned.’
Barrahd Skaal lowered the Krah. ‘You choose death. So be it.’ He turned away and faced the door.
The guards stepped forward, pulled Morrain’s hands behind his back, tied them with short length of hemp rope and marched him out of the cell.
On the street, outside the court house, a two-wheeled cart was waiting. It was harnessed to a large, black-maned farm horse that swished its tail to ward off the day’s early flies. Morrain was thrown face first onto the back of the tumbrel. He struggled to his knees as the cart jerked forward. Barrahd Skaal marched slowly alongside reading passages from the Krah. The guards marched behind, alert to any escape attempt.
At the Hanging Tree, a noose was already in place. The assembled dignitaries sat on benches to watch the event. In the centre, a wooden dais had been constructed. On it stood a man clad in white silk robes. His prematurely greying beard was tied neatly with a leather thong from which hung two small, silver bells. At the Lord’s left hand was a heavily pregnant woman, her long, ash-blonde hair tied loosely at the back with a red ribbon, a thin band of the purest gold adorned with a single ruby circled her pale forehead. On his right hand side was a grey haired, stick of a woman, clad in red. Her hair was tied in long plaits that hung below her narrow hips, her wrinkled face was painted white, with a wide red slash across her eyes and thinner one across her mouth. The priestess held a circle of iron, tightly bound in human hair. She began to chant as the tumbrel drew up beneath the branches of the Hanging Tree, behind them, the ordinary folk of the city, shouted abuse.
Morrain’s whole body shook as the leper executioner clambered onto the back of the cart and bowed his heavily hooded head, once to the Lord and twice to the priestess. He took the noose in his rag-bandaged hands and dropped it over the condemned man’s head. The leper grinned through split lips and tightened the rope around Morain’s neck, then climbed down and took the reins of the horse from its handler.
Lord Juktar Trayse held up his hand and the baying crowd became hushed.
‘Morrain Bur-Belir, you are charged with the crime of heresy. You have been tested and found guilty by Sillaq, the priestess of, Osurn. You have refused twice, to renounce the false Goddess, Uhati and so, are condemned as a heretic. Is there anything you wish to say before justice is served?’
Morrain shook his head, he knew, short of renouncing his faith that any words would be wasted. Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead, his breathing quickened and his eyes began to tear up. The Lord nodded towards the leper who pulled on the black mare’s harness. Morrain looked up to the sky and muttered a prayer to Uhati, the Goddess of the Blue Moon. Dearest Lady, accept thy unworthy servant’s soul this day…
Suddenly the skies began to darken, a wind that had been little more than a soft breeze a few moments earlier, picked up, blowing dust across the scrubland. The sound of a howling wolf was tossed about on the wind.
The condemned man looked to the north his face frozen with fear. ‘Breal,’ he whispered.
His head snapped around towards the leper.
‘Do it. Please… do it quickly.’
The sky darkened and the wind whipped into a frenzy, people threw themselves to their knees and prayed to Osurn.
The black cloudless sky turned the bright, early day into a moonless night. The Lord Juktar crawled toward the underside of the dais, his wife dropped to her knees at his side. Only the priestess braved the winds. She stood, arms outstretched, eyes wide, her braids whipping about her body. Then from the blackness of the night a figure appeared. It stood, six feet to the shoulder, its body was covered in thin, mangy hair. It had cruel face, filled with bitterness and hatred. Its eyes burned like hot coals. The beast passed through the upper branches of the Hanging Tree with barely a rustle of a leaf, then dropped to settle lightly on the front rail of the tumbrel. Sweat appeared on the flanks of the black mare, its ears flattened. its eyes bulged.
‘DO IT!’ screamed the condemned man.
The creature turned towards Morrain with a salacious grin on its face. Thick slobber ran from its mouth, it licked its lips with a red forked tongue, swallowed, then spoke in a surprisingly smooth voice.
‘Ah,’ he said ‘Breakfast.’
As Morrain Bur-Belir screamed, the creature clamped its bile-filled mouth over his. Morrain, struggled and kicked, then became still. The creature lifted its head, swallowed deeply and turned to the terrified crowd.
‘This is the first breakfast of many that I will share with you. On this day, at this hour each year I will return to claim a life from you. Be sure to feed me only fresh souls. I will not feast on the weak, the insane, the sick, or the dying.’
The beast snarled and sucked in the drool from its slavering lips. ‘I am Breal Soultaker, sent by Osurn to test your fealty. Do not fail her or ten generations of misery will be bestowed upon your city.’
Breal turned his red eyes to the dais. ‘Juktar Trayse,’ it growled.
Juktar crawled out backwards from under the platform. He got to his knees his head facing the sandy earth, he took a quick look from under his eyelids.
‘I am here to serve, Lord,’ he stuttered.
Breal Soultaker tipped his head to the side. ‘Lord… hmm, Lord, yes, I like this title… Lord, Breal Soultaker… Now, Juktar Trayse, take heed of these words for they are of great importance to you and your heirs.’
‘I am yours to command, Lord.’
Breal Soultaker craned his neck towards Juktar and sniffed the air as if testing it for a lie.
‘The rulers of this land cannot be allowed to look on while their subjects sacrifice their finest offspring. Osurn demands the same sacrifices from all, whatever their station. Therefore, the present and future rulers of this city will expose their male firstborn to the elements at the summit of the White Hill.’
He turned to face the chalk hill that formed the backdrop to the city. Froya Trayse put both hands over her swollen belly, protectively, tears streamed down her face.
‘Juktar… Juktar, no, you cannot agree to these terms.’
Breal’s face became a mask of concern.
Fear not, Dear Lady, I will not eat baby souls. New born are frothy and tasteless. Your offering will not be a meal for me. Wolves, or the elements will take it. The gift is merely a sign of loyalty to the great Osurn.’
His face took on a menacing look.
‘Harken, Juktar Trayse. Do not try to abuse this covenant. Osurn will know if a substitute is offered.’ He turned his head to the crowd. ‘Watch carefully, people of Samuttia. Do not let them cheat Osurn of her tribute. You will be held equally responsible should this happen. A hundred years of famine will be followed by a hundred years of plague, and that will only be the beginning of your punishment.’
He looked around the still grovelling crowd, then raised his hand.
‘Farewell my friends, until we meet again.’
The demon licked its still-slavering lips. ‘I look forward to dining with you soon.’
As Breal dematerialised, the sky became bright, the wind vanished as quickly as it had come, and the body of Morrain Bur-Belir slumped to the floor if the tumbrel.