The history of the Land may remember the slaughter at Moorview or the horror of Scree's fall, but there were other casualties of the secret war against Azaer--more tales surrounding those bloody years that went unrecorded. In the shadow of memorials to the glorious dead, these ghosts lie quiet and forgotten by all but a few.
A companion collection to the Twilight Reign quintet, these eleven stories shine a rather different light on the Land. Look past the armies and politics of the Seven Tribes and you will find smaller moments that shaped the course of history in their own way. But even forgotten secrets can kill. Even shadows can have claws.
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THE GOD TATTOO
Untold Tales from the Twilight Reign
By TOM LLOYD-WILLIAMS
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2013 Tom Lloyd-Williams
All rights reserved.
A Beast in Velvet
Some men know in their bones what law they serve, what fibre or faith determines their actions. Others are a product of circumstance; hammered into shape by the life they lead or the family they were born to. As a child I was a lawless brat—I've always held it was my profession that moulded me and few would dispute it. As an old man, consigned by a game leg to watching the Land as it passes me by, I realise the truth is more elusive than that. A single moment is sometimes enough to break such bonds.
For those who do not live in this glorious whore of a city, I was a captain in the City Watch of Narkang; that sprawling miasma of humanity forged into a nation by one man's iron will. Over the years of his reign I witnessed a rate of change and growth perhaps unequalled throughout history, moulding the city-state of my birth into the capital of a nation to rival any in the Land.
For a man of the Watch, this meant ancient enemies now lived side by side; gangs of immigrants and locals waging silent wars of conquest and survival. Gold flowed into the city and caught every man, woman and child in its deceitful grasp; birthing a thousand new crimes unheard of when I was a boy.
Without the divine mandates handed to the Seven Tribes we had only ourselves, our faith in our ruler and no more. Our laws were the product of fine minds, not scripture, while the very imposition of the law on Narkang was a yoke the people chafed under.
Growing up in the lawless time before the conquest, I gave myself body and soul to this new order for reasons more than idealism. Narkang had changed. Narkang had become better for all the simmering tensions it contained, far from the city of violence and corruption it had once been. I spent many a faithful year in the service of truth and the law, but then a day came when my world changed—the day I discovered truth was not the holy absolute I had once trusted it to be.
By the time of the following events I had found myself content with life as never before. A wife, two daughters and a son gave me a happy home, while a collection of promotions and unfortunate demotions had seen me to my most comfortable post; fifty officers and modest diocese under my command. The politics of the city I happily left to those better suited to it, and in turn I was rarely bothered by that treacherous world. It was in this capacity that I awoke one crisp autumn morning, head fogged with wine and wife growling like a she-bear at the exuberant youth who'd barged his way past the maid who answered the kitchen door.
Crimes within my district are normally under my sole authority, but this morning I was dragged from my bed to find my horse already saddled and myself well behind events. An undiplomatic order, relayed verbatim by that dear foolish boy serving as my assistant, told me that my superiors were waiting upon my arrival.
The traders of the Kingsroad all recognised my uneasy style of gallop and called bawdy encouragement as I passed. Arriving at a whorehouse close to the docks it was instantly obvious that something dismal was afoot. The building was as any other in those days; young, untreated wood made with as much haste as skill.
Though newly-built and in the flower of its youth, the building seemed to sag under the weight of its existence and the grime of the area. My men lingered silently outside under an oppressive fog of gloom, as thick in the air as opium-smoke. By contrast my journey had been through that invigorating crispness one only finds in autumn, so their manner was all the more unexpected.
I clattered to a halt and was immediately struck by a sense of guilt at violating the quiet. When Count Antern exited the building to greet me, even he seemed to wince at the sound of his own voice. As adviser to the king and member of the City Council, Antern was far my superior, but one I had met frequently in the course of city business. The Commander of the Watch reported to him in effect so Antern's presence at the scene of a crime was an ill omen, one compounded by the silk handkerchief he held to his mouth and the grip he had on his rapier hilt.
My relationship with the count was reserved. He had the attitudes and ideals that came with a long pedigree, but an intelligence worthy of respect. For his part I was a commoner no different in status to his manservant. To his credit Antern didn't dismiss me as worthless or a fool as many of his peers did, but we would never be friends and it was a fact neither of us needed to acknowledge.
Today he was as affected by the atmosphere of this place as the rest. He gave me only a distracted nod before gesturing me inside. A yellow lace curtain that bore the establishment's ill-reputed name hung over the door. I pushed it aside and entered an opulent common room of lounging chairs and sofas surrounded by brightly coloured drapes. On the walls was a host of paintings. In the light of day and this strange mood, the images looked ridiculous and grossly crude.
The corrupting stench of opium rushed up to greet me, laced with the scents of fire-spices and rich tobacco. Two young ladies sat weeping gently with my sergeant looming over them. His expression was grave and he stood so close I wondered for a moment whether the girls were suspects or in need of protection. Both were wrapped in yellow shawls patterned by songbirds—the mark of the house—but aside from those they wore only plain shifts. Without the powder and paint of their trade I was struck by their plain and childlike faces. My daughter was older than both and the thought of her working in such a place sent a cold chill through me.
I caught my sergeant's eye, but that place had even got to my grizzled deputy. He kept his silence as I was ushered up a thin stairway off to the left.
"Word is out about this already," commented the count wearily. "Only the two who found them are still here, the others ran for the nearest tavern."
"Just what has happened?"
Trepidation had banished the last vestiges of sleep's peace and I turned to look Antern in the face. He waved me on, nudging my elbow to direct me up the stairs.
"Best you see yourself."
The closest to a warning of what awaited me was a puddle of vomit just outside the doorway to the highest room. When I raised an eyebrow at Antern I saw no trace of embarrassment on his ashen face, he merely indicated that I enter.
When I had finished bringing up my hurried breakfast, my sergeant appeared at the top of the stair. For a man who had fought on a score of battlefields, even he was reticent about re-entering that room. I shall refrain from describing it. Suffice to say that when the door had been broken down, it was clear that no simple drunk did this. I could hardly believe any man capable of such a thing.
"Do you recognise those symbols on the wall?" The count spoke to me through his handkerchief and I quickly followed his example. The stench of torn bowels was nearly overwhelming.
On the wall above the bed was some semblance of writing and a variety of arcane shapes, bloody lines painted in haste. Not anything a simple thief-taker could understand, but I noted them down all the same. The script had an arcane styling, grouped into four distinct sections and centred about a cross within a circle.
I stepped closer; observing that the centre symbol had not merely been painted on as the rest appeared. The killer had employed some sharp tool to scratch lines into the wood, numerous short straight cuts that combined to form the whole symbol. This design had then been carefully smeared with the life-blood of these fallen women. The implement had cut deep into the wood, but left a wide path. I compared it to the edge of my dagger. No knife produced such a mark.
My sergeant indicated the table below the window with the stump of his left wrist. His practised eye drank in each inconsequential detail as he moved about the room, careful not to disturb anything. He paused over a platter of food and inspected it carefully before crouching to inspect the large stain on the rug below.
"This ain't blood here—it's wine," he said, sniffing the dried red mark.
"But that is," I replied, pointing to the congealed mess in one of the glasses.
"So we have a murderer who threw away his wine to fill the glass with blood. A person who tore these girls apart and left with the door secured from the inside. Damn."
I opened the window. There was blood on the outside too, smeared above the lintel and towards the roof. It wasn't a climb I'd have liked to attempt.
The room was a scene beyond anything I had ever imagined. Scarred into my memory, the horror was to plague me in the dark corners of night for years to come. The week that followed the discovery was spent in a tiring and thankless hunt for clues or witnesses—to the profit only of stern notes from my commander and the City Council. Meanwhile terror had gripped my ward and a name haunted the streets as it did my dreams.
Excerpted from THE GOD TATTOO by TOM LLOYD-WILLIAMS. Copyright © 2013 Tom Lloyd-Williams. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
A Beast in Velvet 11
The God Tattoo 33
The Marshal's Reflection 51
A Man Collecting Spirits 69
A Man from Thistledell 81
Velere's Fell 109
The Dark of the Moor 133
Afraid of the Dark 185
The Pictures of Darayen Crin 191
Shadows in the Library 199
About the Author 249
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If the current leader doesnt return i might take his place. Nobody likes inactive clans with only two members where the leader posts once then quits.