Written in 2014. Art by Thomas Mahon.
Hogart was furious and punched the whimpering man in the gut. “We found this maggot slunking around the wyrmwood barrels” he barked.
One of the younger dwarves, panicked and heavily sweating, cut in: “Having a body on our hands is dangerous. Hugo, use your tricks and make him forget.” Hugo stared at his feet, unconvinced.
Like the rest of their kind, Hugo’s family had fled the decaying great halls. Guided by his uncle, Hogart, the family had travelled as illicit traders and survived agonising poverty. Hugo detested the black market, but his sense of loyalty was strong. But magic was not something acceptable for a dwarf to dabble in, and his family thought Hugo’s abilities were monstrous and deserving of scorn.
Hugo looked up at the helpless eyes that stared back at him, and reluctantly placed his hand on the man’s head.
A gasp broke the silence and twenty dwarven heads swilled around in unison. A visibly frightened boy was hiding behind the barrels, watching everything. Hogart screamed for his sons and nephews so draw their weapons and the boy darted away like a rat as the dwarves gave chase. But Hugo remained, staring down at his hands. Coated in blood, he gazed at the body slumped before him, head crumpled inwards.
“How did this happen… the commotion… must have…” he mumbled to himself, before he fell silent, lost beneath shame and regret.
Alone, Hugo had ventured to the snowy tundras, where only icy winds spoke. Hugo was a good man, he kept telling himself; he couldn’t remain surrounded by criminals and filth. Some days he thought only of the life he had gruesomely taken, and other days he thought of nothing at all. One day the blizzard grew especially strong, and even the thick fur he wore could not protect him from the cold. Shivering erratically, drawing shallow breaths, Hugo slumped to the ground and fell into a deep slumber.
At first there was only blackness: an inescapable void. And then, out of the shadows, stepped a thin man dressed in a grey cloak and a silver mask that looked like it was smiling. Then, fading into vision, Hugo saw his own form, curled up, covered in flakes of ice. The figure walked over to him, knelt down and touched his shoulder.
Hugo opened his eyes and saw that no snow was falling outside and the midday sun shone in the sky.
The island came into view through the fog, a jagged rock with a colossal prison jutting from it. Hugo would have wandered forever if he could have, but he was a wanted man, and his luck had run out.
As Hugo was paraded before the other inmates his eyes met with his uncles and they remained locked as he walked. Hogart glared and spat on the floor while his nephew looked on with composure.
“You are in the Dead Keep now, boy. Abandoning your family… you will pay the price.”
The guards took Hugo to his cell and kicked him down the ground. They didn’t like his attitude: it would have scared them if they weren’t sure they could beat it out of him. Hugo’s ribs endured a barrage of kicks and his face was made bloody and swollen.
“You will start work in the mines in one hour, and you will do as we say.”
They continued to beat him.
A chained man was being lead through the open gates. He wore a long brown beard, was muscular, but his face looked weary and he bowed his head like a weak man. Many prisoners jeered him as he came through. His name was Jorin, the infamous general.
When the Crimson City rebelled against the crown, Jorin lead a small army across the plains and over the mountains for hundreds of miles to the city gates and won the battle, losing only a handful of men. The victory was glorious and they drank and feasted for a good week before they thought to begin the march home. Word reached them of the celebrations in the capital and how support for the King had never been higher. Frustrated with the credit for his victory going to the king, who had done nothing but sit on his throne, he rallied his troops to show the capital who really won the war and who deserved to lead.
After the long march home, the general’s men were met by a large army outside the city’s walls. Jorin’s men were fewer, but more experienced. The battle raged on for a week. More lives were claimed in this conflict, by far, than the one that preceded it. The King, sickened by the bloodshed, sent out a messenger to Jorin. “The King has offered to face you, alone in battle, if it will end this madness.”
Jorin laughed. The King was a young man who had never seen combat. It would be too easy, but he agreed to meet the King. Encircled by soldiers of both sides, who had already begun to mix together, the two locked swords. The King was on the back foot from the start, doing well to block each coming attack, but lacking the strength to parry. Jorin made a powerful downward slice, but the king dodged and brought his sword down on the generals fingers, cutting them off. The King placed his sword over his old friends neck and looked out at the crowd.
“This man has made a grave mistake. Winning a war does not make a King. This battle has shown us that bloodshed is something to be avoided, something we almost did with the battle for the Crimson City, but here, greed and vanity has left a lot of innocent men dead. There will be no more lives lost today.” The King pulled Jorin off of the ground and beckoned his guards to take him away.
The Frog Prince
One sunny, but chilly morning a pale girl was walking by the riverside, picking berries from the wild bushes. She came to a swampy pond, and upon a lily pad sat a large frog.
He called out to her “O fair maiden. Come to me, for I am truly a prince who has been transformed into an ugly frog. With one kiss I will be turned into a handsome prince once more.”
She shyly stepped forward a leant forward for a quick peck on the lips.
The frog ran a long, wretched finger down her smooth porcelain cheek. With his slimy tendrilled hands he pulled her face in and pushed his long bulbous tongue down her throat until she gagged. The maiden’s screams were muffled and her flailing arms beat futilely against the frogs chest. He began to lift up her dress but stopped suddenly, and for a moment time appeared to be frozen. Frantically he looked around, before beginning to pace around the swamp, trying to peer over the long reeds. He looked down at the maiden, who lay, eyes shut, dress covered in mud. His heart sank and sweat smothered his brow: he ran.
He raced through the lively market, his feet pattering on the cobbled street. Every few seconds he strained his neck to look behind him. Some people craned their heads to look at the strange sight of a frog sprinting through a crowded market, while others had seen too much in their lives to care. Spotting an open door he took a chance, dived sideways through the doorway and scuttled up the stairs. Laying low on the roof, he shimmied to the edge to try and pinpoint who was stalking him through the streets. He saw a soldier, garbed in chain mail and wearing a sheath at his waist. He saw a man walking with purpose who could have been concealing a weapon under his rags. He saw a great many people who could have been following him but he gave up knowing his pursuer. He rolled over to rest his rapidly beating heart, but as he did, he found a fully armoured towering over him. He shot to his feet and, though many thoughts rushed through his head, nothing told him what to do, and so he simply threw himself backwards off the roof and crashed down onto the street below.
The alchemist’s daughter; the poison child.
It was a grey but pleasant day in the restful old town, cobblestone streets were lined with handsome old, crooked buildings, surrounded by a scattering of beautiful cottages. The chaos of the capital city never touched these peaceful and privileged people.
A crash rang out from one such cottage as the alchemist threw his instruments from his desk and let his head fall upon it, crestfallen. His wife often demanded that he use his talents to enhance her visage, making her taller, giving her glistening red hair and perpetually pale skin. She was more beautiful than any muse he had seen captured in a painting, yet now she lay motionless, caked in blood, with her face forever frozen in an anguished grimace.
The cottage had seemed larger and more empty every day. They both wanted a child. It was difficult, and he did everything he could to help them conceive. They had gotten what they wanted: on the woman’s motionless bosom clung a child, not making a noise.
Juinette never cried. From an early age she began to walk and would often go missing in the cavernous house. She was a quiet girl as she grew up; very reserved and obedient, but when she was allowed freedom, under the watchful gaze of her father’s troll servant, she discovered many pleasures that excited her more than embroidery and poetry.
One night, in the local tavern, a soldier from the capital sat with a pint of ale, eyes fixed on Juinette. She moved like waves of the sea, flowing from one side of the room to the other. She seemed at once beautiful and ugly. and it was impossible to take one’s eyes off of her. The soldier thought to approach her and make conversation, but he was shy and remained rooted to his chair. Then she took his hand and he was speechless.
“Hello handsome. You look tired. You must be weary from all your your noble work.”
The soldier stammered, but attempted some small conversation.
“I simply must go, brave soldier. But let me give you this before I depart.” She kissed him on the lips.
Blushing, a smile grew on his face. But his joy did not last long, as he looked around him. Patrons were slumped where they sat: some had fallen into their soups and others were sprawled out on the floor, soaked in their drinks. Seeing the hulking troll at the door, he reached for his sword, but suddenly he felt incredibly dizzy.
“Goodbye handsome.” Juinette whispered into his ear, blue blood oozing from her eyes and mouth, dark veins all over her body. She let him collapse.