Dead Keep

Back in the summer of 2014, I worked on a project with my very good friend Thomas Mahon.

It is about a prison in a fantasy universe: high fantasy characters placed in a very low environment. We initially worked on short stories to go beside illustrations of the characters – but we also thought about working it into a more narrative piece as they do read a bit like blocks of exposition. Here are some parts of the project, with Tom’s publicly released art. 

The Dwarf

Hogart was furious and punched the whimpering man in the gut. ‘We found this maggot slunking around the wyrmwood barrels’ he barked.

One of his nephews, panicked and heavily sweating, cut in, ‘Having a body on our hands is dangerous. Hugo, you should steal away his memories.’ Hugo stared at his feet, unconvinced.

After fleeing the decaying dwarven halls, the family had travelled as traders and had survived though agonising poverty together. Hugo detested the black market, but he had stayed for them. Despite his loyalty, they thought his magic monstrous and mocked him for it. Hugo looked up at the eyes staring at him, and reluctantly placed his hand on the intruders head. A hoarse gasp from the man broke the silence that had lasted for some time; the onlooking boy screamed and darted away like a rat. The Dwarves sprang from the storehouse and chased, with their weapons drawn, but the boy had already disappeared into the forest. Hugo’s eyes flickered open to see the headless body slumped in front of him. He looked down at his clothes that were soaked with blood and dread filled him.

Hugo wandered through kingdom, thinking of nothing but what he had done. He had ventured to the snowy tundras, where only the icy winds spoke. He took refuge in a cave and having not slept for several days, fell into a deep slumber. At first there was nothing  and the blackness scared him. Then her looked down at himself, lying down on the floor of the cave. A shadowy, warped figure approached and stood at his feet. Hugo tried to make his body move but it had no effect and the figure walked away. Hugo’s eyes opened and he immediately ran out of the cave. There was a strong blizzard and the snow came up to his waist. Hugo struggled and stumbled forward as fast as he could go. For a long time he followed the figure but eventually he lost sight of the unknown person and the cave behind him. He was left in the freezing storm to die. Hugo felt the burning snow all around him and tried to accept his fate but then he felt a hand close around his own and pull him up. Hugo opened his eyes. He was on the floor of the cave. Snow was not falling outside and the mid day sun shone in the sky.

Hugo would have kept wandering forever if he could have, both in life and in his dreams, searching for the strange visitor again, but he was a wanted man.

***

The Keep come into view through the fog. 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 Hugo looked on with composure. 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. and they continued to beat him.

‘You will start work in the mines in one hour, and you will do as we say.’ Hugo was exhausted, bruised and bloody, but he tried his best to work and still the foreman unleashed his whip upon him.

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The General

I stood in a balcony above the back entrance to the prison, watching a chained man being lead through the open gates. The man wore a long brown beard and looked both young and old. He was muscular, but something about the way he bowed his head made him seem very weak. There was a great noise as he entered the common hall. Many prisoners jeered him as he came through. His name was Jorin, a famed general.

When the Crimson City rebelled against the crown he was the man who 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.

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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 transformed 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 kissed her passionately, pushing his long bulbous tongue down her throat until she gagged. The maidens screams were muffled and her flailing arms beat futilely against the frogs chest. He lifted up her dress but stopped suddenly, and for a moment time appeared to be frozen. Frantically he looked around, he then stood up and paced 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 too 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, and 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 who walked 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 giving up on knowing his pursuer he rolled over to rest his rapidly beating heart, but as he did, a fully armoured man appeared, 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.

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