Blade of Glass: The Prisoner

They came to kill a sinner.

The cage’s iron presence rode at Geneve’s back. It was made of good Tresward Smithsteel; cold metal fingers waited to clutch their prize as it rode their creaky wagon. It knew how to carry prisoners better than she did. Two oxen pulled it with a trudging step. She rode her blue roan beside them as the cart made its trundling way toward Calterburry.

She’d named the roan Tristan. He was young and eager for the road ahead, just like her. Vertiline said he prances too much, but that’s how Geneve liked it. Unaware of their grim duty, Tristan tossed his mane, harness jingling like silver bells.

The noise made Israel turn. He led from the front atop a massive charger that looked like it could eat a man whole. Road dirt dusted his honey-brown skin but couldn’t cling to the white of his tabard. The Tresward’s sun gleamed gold across his broad chestplate. He tossed her a lopsided smile. “It’ll be fine.”

“It’ll be a hoax, is what it’ll be,” groused Vertiline from her rearguard position. “The most exciting thing we’ll get here is warm ale.” Her chestnut mare seemed to agree, offering a snort.

Geneve laughed. “Warm ale wouldn’t be so bad. After two weeks of Iz’s cooking, I need something to take the taste away.”

Israel tsk’d. “You’re young and inexperienced. I wouldn’t expect you to know what good food tastes like.”

“She’s not wrong.” Vertiline urged the chestnut past Geneve to join Israel at the front. “Your cooking is a true misery. We used to call it the Lost Trial. Calterburry’s just ahead.”

“Please, let it stay lost.” Geneve craned to see the town as the three rounded a bend. The rutted road swept down before them toward their destination, giving Geneve her first glimpse of Calterburry. Wooden walls ringed a town nestled in a valley. Perhaps a thousand souls called her home. The stone facade of Calterburry Stronghold stood like a stern older brother peering over the fortifications.

The walls were well-maintained, despite the weather here being cool enough to keep most Vhemin away. Queen Morgan’s Lord Symonet had a hard but fair reputation, which made his keeping the prisoner from the Tresward surprising. Perhaps the messenger bird went missing. The Justiciars tells us to look for mistakes over malice first. Protocol said he should’ve sent the sinner to them directly, and yet here they were: eating Iz’s cooking and two weeks of road dust.

A weak midmorning sun smiled on them, raising Geneve’s spirits and her body temperature. The three Tresward Knights approached from the north, a river keeping pace with their travels to the west. Geneve didn’t know its name and struggled to find a reason to care. Their mission was escorting the prisoner to his Judgment and subsequent death.

She winced. We’re here to see justice done, but he needs to be Judged first. It’s why they had a cage. The prisoner was rumored to be a wizard, which is why Israel and Vertiline kept their glass swords ready. Geneve’s metal blade Requiem rested heavy against her spine. Cold iron wasn’t as good as glass for killing the wicked, but it made a man bleed out well enough.

Calterburry’s gates loomed closer. They were open—a good sign. Two guards waited outside, holding pikes like the weapons supported the sky. Geneve shifted in her saddle. She felt a stab of unease as the guards straightened. Tresward Knights aren’t a cause for alarm unless something’s wrong.

“Easy, now.” Israel felt it too, patting the neck of his charger. The great beast tossed its mane, no doubt ready to eat one of the guards.

Vertiline rolled her shoulders. The dust of the road hadn’t dimmed her ghost-white skin any more than her steady, even level of latent ire. “The day’s looking up. We might get to knock some sense into someone.”

Israel glanced back to Geneve. “Stay with the wagon.” He urged his horse ahead, the beast surging toward the gates.

“Does this look like a plan to you?” Not waiting for Geneve’s answer, Vertiline gave chase. The tail of her braid bounced in her wake, her white-and-gold tabard burning in the sun’s light like a torch.

Stay with the wagon, huh? That’s a special kind of bullshit. Geneve curled her lip. Iz and Tilly looked out for her, but sometimes it rankled. She could swing a blade better than most. But not well enough to be a real Knight. I don’t have a glass sword yet.

She gave a grunt, which the oxen ignored. Geneve offered them a glare. “I didn’t want your opinion, anyway.” It didn’t feel like anyone would try and rush her for a metal cage meant to take sinners to trial, but they taught her to be prepared. Still, the cleared area around Calterburry meant she could see for klicks. There wasn’t anyone out here.

No one at all. Isn’t it odd that there’s no merchants on this road or people outside the walls? She squinted, focusing on the gate. Israel talked with the guards, making big gestures. Geneve could guess his meaning. Step the fuck aside, or get stepped the fuck on. Vertiline stood across from the guard Israel wasn’t berating, hands on hips. She hadn’t drawn her sword, but that didn’t mean much. Geneve had seen Vertiline cut a man in half with a single strike from her glass sword, armor and all. He’d looked a little surprised while he bled out because her sword had rested in its sheath a heartbeat earlier.

Geneve drew close enough to hear. Wagon doesn’t need much guarding here. The oxen continued their tread, unaware of the increasing odds of violence. Geneve swung a leg over her saddle, dropped to the road, then hopped up to the wagon’s seat. She grabbed the reins, and the oxen deigned to take notice of her. One gave her a reproachful look as she gave a tug, but they came to a halt. She engaged the brake, slipped down, patted Tristan, and walked to stand a handful of steps behind Iz and Tilly.

Israel sucked in a lungful of air, brows closing in like storm clouds. “By the Three! For the last time, you will let us pass. We are Knights of the Tresward.”

The guard, a man with a too-large nose beneath too-small eyes, hawked, turned his head, and spat. He wore chain armor beneath a tabard sporting the queen’s black raven crest. “I don’t care if you’re Cophine, Ikmae, and Khiton themselves. You can pass back the way you came. Or, you can pass around. You can pass up the opportunity of a warm bed inside, though. By Lord Symonet’s orders, you aren’t passing through these gates.” Each utterance of pass was slow, deliberate, as if he was speaking to a simple child. “Am I being unclear?”

Geneve winced as Israel’s neck darkened in anger. Lips pressed in a thin line, the Valiant took a step forward. “We’re here on Tresward business. Word was sent. There’s a sinner here.”

“Dare say there’s many sinners.” The guard shrugged. “But it doesn’t change—”

“Fire!” The cry rose behind the guards. They spun, pikes at the ready, as if a length of wood and steel could cut flames down to size. Geneve saw a thin pillar of sooty black smoke rising from within the walls.

The guard clapped a hand to his helmet. “By the Three, that’s coming from Elean’s Masonry.” He broke into a run, arms pumping, the head of his pike glinting in the sun.

The other watched his companion go, mouth open, eyes wide. Israel cleared his throat. “Elean’s Masonry doesn’t sound so bad.”

“Hah. They break stone with black powder.” He pointed to the dirt. “Stay here.”

“No problem.” Vertiline crossed her arms, watching the guard sprint off. “Idiot.”

“Geneve, get the wagon. You know where to go.” Israel vaulted onto his charger, then nudged the massive beast forward. Vertiline swung onto hers, sparks ringing from the steed’s hooves as they clattered inside.

Get the wagon. Geneve sighed, then hopped aboard. She gave the reins a flick, wondering at what point being a Knight turned from teamster to warrior. Tristan shook his mane in agreement, prancing at her side as she drove the wagon inside.

No telling where Israel and Vertiline went to, so she drove the oxen to the Yellow Mug. The tavern doubled as a Tresward stable, paid in good coin to reserve space for Knights. It felt surreal to drive her team of oxen to a place that no doubt sold warm ale while Israel and Vertiline raced toward danger.

They’re not alone. Villagers hurried in the direction of smoke, many carrying buckets. Fire was always bad, but one where explosives were kept would be devastating. The only thing tethering Geneve to the wagon was the cage, and their purpose. Find the sinner. Bring them back for redemption.

A short trip through panicked Calterburry brought her to the inn. The Yellow Mug’s sign swung ahead. Original: a mug, painted in yellow. Rumors said the tavern was built atop haunted catacombs, which sounded extraordinarily unlikely, but it meant Knights were always welcome. Spirits didn’t like coming into the Light. Geneve drove the team through the gates. A short man waddled outside, a mostly-clean apron identifying him as the likely innkeeper. Geneve wracked her brains. What’s his name? G-something. Grim? Grimson? She tried a smile. “Gilbert.”

“It’s Gylbard, m’lady.” He gave a tiny bow, returning her smile. His teeth were so bad they hurt to look at.

“Gylbard!” Geneve jumped from the wagon. She wanted to say, Must be a mistake in our records, but that would be a lie. “Sorry. My mistake.”

“Gilbert’s close enough. Most folk call me ‘That Fat Fucker.’” He chortled, then cut off, as if seeing the golden sun on her breastplate for the first time. “I, um.”

“You’ve got to admit, Fat Fucker’s memorable.” Geneve grinned. “Basically rolls off the tongue.”

The innkeeper sagged in relief. No telling when you’ll get a Knight high on scripture, or one just wanting a place to rest their feet. Israel said, I never trust a man who won’t swear, and Vertiline elbowed him so he offered, or woman. It was the kind of thinking that kept Geneve’s feet on the ground. “Will it be lodgings?”

“It will, Gylbard. Do you mind if I…?” Geneve trailed off, then jerked her head in the direction of the fire. “Best get in before it spreads.”

“Aye, I’ll see to your wagon. Leave your horse, too. Streets will get crowded, right quick.”

Geneve turned to go, then swung back. Courtesy. “Thank you.” Gylbard offered her another horrific smile, and she returned her more even version before sprinting onto the street, sword clattering against her back.

* * *

Something wasn’t right. Geneve’s first inkling of it was as people passed back her way, looking confused, still carrying buckets.

The second was, as she looked at the now soot-laden sky, she realized she could smell no smoke. The odd hint of wood fire clung to the air as it did in any town, but a blaze of that size should make her dirtier than the road.

I hunt a sinner

She shored up beside a bakery. Inside, the shopkeeper peered his concern at the sky through poorly-made glass. Fire could be the death of a town.

Geneve watched the crowd ebb and flow. People surging this way and that, looking for a blaze to quench. Fire can also draw people to a place. Distract the eye and mind both. She marked the place where smoke rose, then turned about, facing the opposite direction. She set off, shouldering through the crowd. Most parted for her tabard, but some were too confused or concerned to pay her much mind. A man clattered into her, bouncing off her breastplate. She kept her footing with ease, helping him with a steadying arm before he could fall to the street.

Geneve offered him a nod, then scrubbed red hair away from her face before looking to the sky again. She was close to the wall. The mouth of an alley led away to the right, so she took it. It’d get her out of the press of people.

Inside the alley, people noise dropped away. The sound of birds filled the air. She thought they sounded like bellbirds but couldn’t see any. She craned her head trying to spot one but saw nothing up high other than walls and closed shutters.

“It’s called Birdsong Alley.” A strong male voice made her swing her attention back down, taking in a young man, lounging against a wall. He had a sparkle to his eyes, a hint of stubble at his jaw, and the kind of nonchalant attitude that made her want to punch him almost immediately. “No birds, though. No one knows why they still sing. Some say it’s a curse, but as far as curses go it’s not so bad.”

Geneve gauged the distance between them. Ten paces, no more. The alley wasn’t wide. Unsheathing Requiem would be a poor choice. Fighting an unarmed man might be a worse one. She lowered the hand that had risen unconsciously to the blade’s hilt above her shoulder. “It sounds … nice.”

“Nice?” He laughed, pushing off from the wall. “I tell you of a flock of ghost birds forever singing, and you say it’s ‘nice?’” He shrugged, pulling a too-worn robe close about him. “Well, enjoy. I’ll be off.”

He made to walk past her. Geneve grasped his arm above the elbow. “Wait.”

The twinkle didn’t leave his eyes. “Normally, people ask for a name, or a quiet drink at a tavern, but if this is how the Tresward want to—”

“Why aren’t you helping with the fire?”

“Fire?” He glanced at the alley mouth. She glimpsed his calm facade slip for a second. “Why, that’s where I’m going.”

Geneve tightened her grip. “I think—” Whatever she thought was lost to the roar of a beast. She spun, dropping her hand from the man’s arm. In the alley behind her a black shadow hulked. Her mind tried to find a name for it, but came up empty. A bear? Whatever it was reared, pawing the air with malformed claws. She goggled for a moment, then drew her scattergun in a smooth motion. She’d named it Tribunal, and it spoke the Three’s law.

She pulled the trigger, the hard boom silencing the birdsong. The shot blasted through the might-be-a-bear, then… nothing. The thing continued to paw the air, and not very well—it wasn’t much of anything, let alone a real bear. Also, blood and viscera didn’t blast out the back as expected.

I’m here to catch a sinner. I’m an idiot. Geneve spun, catching sight of the man sprinting for the alley’s exit. She crouched, tossing Tribunal in a spin across the distance. The scattergun tangled in the man’s legs, and he dropped to the cobbles with a grunt.

The not-bear vanished. Geneve gave a savage grin, all teeth, running after the sinner. She caught the man’s panicked stare as he scrambled back like a crab before finding his feet and running. As sunlight touched him, she saw his clothing looked more worn, his skin pasty and sweaty. She scooped up the scattergun as she went, slotting it back into its holster, then bent her head and ran.

I’m here for a sinner, and he got the drop on me. She snarled, pushing herself harder. Her armor was heavy, bright Smithsteel weighing her down, but it wasn’t like she could tear it off. The man wasn’t weighed down by anything and buoyed by the fear of imminent demise. It made his feet lighter than air.

I will not lose him. She put on a burst of speed, vaulted a cart, and landed in a clatter of metal. Requiem lay against her spine, heavy, waiting, but running with a drawn sword was foolishness itself. She spied the sinner duck into another alley. She ignored it, running on. Cut him off. A porter stepped in front of her, and she plowed right through him. His burden of boxes scattered as if hit by a horse.

Geneve skidded around the corner of a clothier. Ahead, a small gap between buildings showed the alley’s exit. The sinner backed out of it, looking for pursuit, and almost missing her until the hammer of her boots on cobbles drew his attention.

He spun, hand out, but she bulled on. Geneve crashed into him, the full weight of her armor bearing him to the ground. She felt the air and fight go out of him as he landed. Arm across his throat, she reared up, fist clenched and ready to strike. He raised his hands, turning away.

She got a moment to see what she’d missed before. His skin wasn’t just pale. Gray cheeks sunken and sallow with malnourishment beneath a sparse beard. Unbridled terror in his eyes at the justice that came calling.

He is so afraid. She lowered her arm. He is so afraid of me. Geneve stood, holding a step away. She kept her stance ready but needn’t have bothered. The sinner’s coat was stained, a rent showing the cost of his temporary freedom. It looked like he’d been stabbed. She held her hand out, sunlight reflecting from her burnished gauntlet. Sinners get a trial, and until then, they deserve our mercy. “Come.”

The sinner glanced about. A small crowd formed about them. Smoke no longer hung in the sky. He ignored her hand, getting to unsteady feet. He glanced about but found no escape. He plastered on a smile that came off as sickly rather than friendly. “I’m Meriwether.”

“I don’t care.” She let her hand fall. “Let’s get your injuries seen too.”

“So you can kill me later? No thanks.” He turned, gave a last burst of energy, and lunged toward the crowd. Geneve thought he might be trying for freedom, but he grappled with a man, snaring a knife. He faced Geneve, fear back in his eyes like it found a home there. “I won’t go to the Three.” He lunged for her.

It was a sloppy, slow strike. She saw it coming, predictable as sunrise, and stepped to the side. As the blade bit nothing but air, she straight-armed him. Her vambrace collected him in the face, and he slammed into the ground hard enough to make Geneve wince. The knife clattered free.

She bent to collect it. Interesting. He went for me, not using anyone as hostage. Geneve returned it to its owner, the crowd swirling like a shoal of fish. Geneve bent to lift Meriwether, hefting him across her shoulders like a sack of coal. He felt light, as if the sins had already left his body.

The crowd opened to reveal Israel, Vertiline in his shadow. The big man grinned, broad and bright. “Ah. You’ve found our little mouse.”

Geneve adjusted Meriwether’s weight on her shoulder. “He runs fast for a mouse.”

Vertiline grunted. “Chains will slow him down.” She led off, Geneve and Israel falling in behind. The crowd bled away, disappearing like a stain washed from cotton. Geneve was left with nothing but the fragile weight of a sinner. His blood dripped down her breastplate.

I’m here for a sinner, but all I found is a scared man. I expected lightning and got smoke, a poor mimic of a bear, and birdsong. Three’s mercy, what is this?

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Don’t miss the next part of Blade of Glass.

[Next Chapter] (Live 25 June 2024)

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