Short Story: A New Start from T.O. Munro
A NEW START
Features Kaylan and is an immediate sequel to “The Battle of Bledrag Field“
“I don’t want any trouble.” Kaylan tried to pretend he had some choice in the matter.
The big blond thug grinned round at his four companions. “Here boys, Mister Lightfingers here doesn’t want any trouble. Thing is, trouble is pretty much the second thing we’ve been looking for.”
“And the first?” If the muscle bound fool was willing to let him play for time, Kaylan was happy to play along. He scanned the alleyway’s dark walls. To the left the polished stone of the temple wall, to the right the broken brickwork of the empty inn. One at least offered handholds aplenty, but slimy with the moisture exuded by the air. Not beyond climbing, but beyond climbing swiftly enough to evade the grasping hands of the nearest thugs.
“The first?” Blondy parroted back at Kaylan. He stepped close and belched his last meal in the thief’s face. Kaylan waved away the scent of over seasoned sausage with an exaggerated waft of his hand.
“The first was you, Kaylan, temple thief.”
“Sorry, friend. That’s not me.” Kaylan said.
The man’s brow creased in a frown, brief puzzlement chased away by anger. “Don’t play games. We’d have guessed it anyway, where better to do thieving than a town abandoned in the shadow of a war. But your old mum said you’d headed west. What was that bullshit you fed her about joining up to fight for the Prince?”
Kaylan tightened his grip on the sack over his shoulder. The movement brought a faint metallic clank from its shifting contents. “This is nothing to do with her.”
“I don’t get it though.” The big man went on. “I mean if I’d robbed as much as you had – stolen from the Goddess and all – I reckon I might have spared the crone that spat me out something a little bit finer than a two room shack in downtown Woldtag.” He leaned in, pasty face glistening with a sheen of the damp afternoon air. “Reckon you’re not a very good son to the Goddess, or to your own mother. Not likely to be missed are you?”
Kaylan’s fingers had curled into fists but a stray word tripped up his anger. “Missed?”
“This ain’t no arrest party, you rangy streak of piss. Bishop Yaggerin ain’t looking for no show trial, no more spells in prison for you. There’s a war on, in case you hadn’t noticed. Normal rules don’t apply. Five miles from here they’re fighting against the invaders and you’re lurking around this ghost town raiding the temple of its treasures. Well I reckon there’s going to be plenty of bodies clogging the river Mawyed before nightfall. One extra won’t be noticed.”
There was a rasp of steel as the five of them drew their blades.
“Come on, Jak,” the weaselly one called out. “Enough talking. Let’s get this thing done and get going. Dunno why you had us wait.”
“Not so fast, Milt,” the blond guy spat. “Let’s see what the deadman walking has in his sack. Always curious as to how he gets past the temple wards; the old woman wouldn’t say.”
“You shouldn’t have hit her so hard, Jak. I said she knew nothing.”
“Just shut it,” the blond guy muttered. “Yaggerin wants an end to temple thefts. He didn’t say anything about whether we stopped it before or after the bastard’d grabbed his last set of service gold and silver.”
As Jak turned a fraction, lips parting in a snarl of rebuke, Kaylan dived forward, swinging the bag like a club. Neither the hessian material nor his target’s thatch of blond hair provided any cushioning from the blow of the heavy plate within as it crashed into the man’s skull. Jak stumbled against the slighter figure of Milt and Kaylan was through, running. The precious bag swung from his hand, arms and legs pumping, as he dashed for the alleyway’s opening.
“Stop him!” Jak’s anguished howl pursued him.
He was almost clear when the knife hit. He missed a step as the blade thudded into his back just beneath the shoulder blade. The next intake of breath was filled with the pain of bone grating on steel, of tissue tearing. Instinct made him turn his half fall into a stagger to the left, towards the temple he had just robbed. They hadn’t expected that. Another knife whistled past his right shoulder, its aim perfect had he made the obvious choice, turning right in a desperate flight away from the abandoned town.
But Kaylan felt his fleeing days were done, not in his heart, but in the wounded lung, leaking blood into cavities he longed to fill with air. Made breathless by the slight exertion he scrabbled across the temple steps, leaning against the door to open it with his weight. There was a roaring in his ears which he took at first for the pounding of his frantic heart, but the timbre of the sound was different. He glanced down the main street to the West where the battle was being fought beyond the rise. Cries and shouts carried on the wind within a darker sound. Kaylan gulped a painful breath and pushed into the temple.
His legs failing as his lungs filled he stumbled forward, a mixture of knees and feet carrying him, to the altar he had so recently denuded.
There were shouts outside, Jak commanding. “Get in there, get him.”
“Look!” Milt cried. “Reckon there’s more trouble coming this way than a wounded thief.”
Hurried words and then Jak crying, “Why are you running, fools! Come back.”
Kaylan rested on the altar steps, fingers knotted around the neck of the bag though that surely didn’t matter anymore. The doors swung open and Jak strode alone down the aisle.
“What, not dead yet? Well you lie their begging for forgiveness from the one you’ve been thieving.”
The blond bent to seize the bag, yanking at it, frowning at the strength of Kaylan’s grip.
“It’s for my mother,” Kaylan gasped. “She’s sick. Priest’s cures cost money.”
Jak laughed. “Oh, so you robbed the church to pay the church.”
“The poor shouldn’t have to pay.”
Jak bent close, again the foul stench of his breath. “Well you don’t need this anymore. And nor does the old bat. She wouldn’t say much at first and like Milt said, I tapped her a bit hard. So now she’s beyond priest’s cures, just like you.”
At last the bag came free and Jak stood up with it.
“There’s more,” Kaylan gasped, sprawled awkwardly on the altar steps.
Jak stopped a glint of greed in his eye. “Where?”
Kaylan waved him close, his voice a hoarse blood flecked whisper.
The blond leant in. Kaylan struck. The thin blade, his knife of last resort, pulled from his boot and in one smooth move thrust into the Jak’s throat. The blond killer rose unsteadily one hand raised to try to staunch the blood that sprayed through his fingers, the other clutching still the bag of stolen goods with no less desperation than Kaylan had.
Kaylan watched him turn and take a step and a half before he fell full length on the temple floor.
The thief half closed his eyes drawing shallow blood filled breaths. His vision played dying tricks on him. A shimmering bubble of light formed between him and Jak, in its midst a shadowy outline of a woman. Was this the Goddess come to judge him? Was it time to pray, or to ask forgiveness?
It took a second or two, a second in which Kaylan realized this was no divine being. The priestess’s robes were spattered with blood, her red hair disordered across her shoulders, green eyes wide in puzzlement. Her first word a nonsense. “Father!” The anguished cry ripped from her.
Kaylan shook his head a fraction, apologetic for her disappointment. “Where is this?” Her next demand.
“Bledrag Village,” Kaylan gurgled as his vision faded.
Sight and sound came back slowly. He was being hauled to his feet, a voice insistent “we’ve got to go. They’re coming.”
His back was stiff, not sore. A bloodied knife that was not his lay on the floor. “What happened?”
“I invoked the Goddess’s grace to heal you.”
“I have no money to pay.”
“The Goddess does not want your gold.”
“Well, I am no priest. I am Niarmit.” She kicked a foot at Zak’s body as they swayed towards the temple door. “And I think you have already done the Goddess a considerable service. What’s your name soldier?”
He gulped. “They call me Kaylan, and you are mistaken. That is not how it was, my Lady.”
She stopped and faced him, holding him by the shoulders as her green eyes bored into his soul. “However it was, Kaylan, this is a new start. A new start for both you and I. The Goddess grants such chances but rarely, let us both make the most of it.”