Archive for June, 2013

The Feast of the Phoenix

Posted in Words with tags , , , , on June 28, 2013 by bradellison

I decided it was time to make a habit of participating in Chuck Wendig’s weekly flash fiction prompts:

I rolled the dice, and chance decreed that I must write a sword and sorcery conspiracy thriller containing a mythological bird and a massive feast. One hasty typing session and one hastier rewrite later, I ended up with this:

The Feast of the Phoenix

Brann muttered a curse and sheathed his sword. Two feet of keen steel, currently the only thing he could trust.

He’d thought he could trust Marcus, but his old friend had revealed himself to be one of them, the captain’s oath to his lord superceded by darker oaths to the secretive Brotherhood. Marcus’ blood stained a corner of Brann’s cloak now, and he just hoped no one would notice. Marcus’ body was hidden in a chest, and would not be found until after it was all over, one way or the other. Having failed in his last attempt to find an ally, Brann would finish this alone.

He’d managed to slip into Duke Aggravan’s keep, for despite the guards and the price on his head, the rangy scout still possessed an intimate knowledge of the hidden corridors of his liege’s fortress, and the agility and strong climbing grip earned on the cliffs and tall pines of his homeland. The Brotherhood had falsely branded him a traitor, engineered his downfall exquisitely, made him an outcast hated even by his brothers in the Duke’s service, but Brann still had his own strength and cunning and will, and the Black Dog of the Duke’s Guard was used to relying on himself alone.

In the great hall, the feast had begun. Duke Aggravan’s fiftieth birthday celebration was nearing its climax, and when it did, the Phoenix Brotherhood would strike.

Brann stayed in the shadows, but made a point of not moving furtively. If seen, he intended his stance and posture to send a message that he belonged where he was. He’d found that among civilized men indoors, that approach served better than stealth.

The kitchen. Three massive fireplaces were manned by spitboys and apprentice cooks, and the three roast boars looked almost done. The pies and small fowls were being served now, carried by a seemingly endless stream of servants in the Duke’s formal livery. The hot air here was crammed with the noise of crackling flames and hissing juices, bubbling soup, clattering dishes, shouted orders and furious curses from the head cook, whose nerves were frayed. No one here had time to think about anything other than the task at hand, and Brann slid through the clangor without attracting a second glance.

He had been cast out of this castle, the badges of rank stripped from his armor, the armor itself stripped from his back, his back marked with fifty and five lashes. He’d borne the shame as stoically as he bore the pain, and in the thieves’ quarter of the city he’d visited the old haunts, sought out the cutpurses, fences, pimps and sellswords he’d known of old, the comrades of his younger days when the wild young savage had first come down from the mountains and lived among the civilized as a thief and mercenary.

Brann had risen in the world since then, but the Black Dog’s reputation had not been forgotten by the scum of the city, and those who needed a reminder got one: iron-strong fingers on their mouths and throats, gripping them from behind in dark alleys when they least expected it. He’d followed the trail to Crespus the Turtle.

The Turtle hadn’t wanted to talk, but after his bodyguard fell with a split skull, the bloated old thief-master found himself without an option. Brann had to cut off three fingers before Crespus began to fear him more than he feared the Brotherhood, but in the end the Turtle revealed all he knew.

Brann had been an obstacle to their plans; the incorruptably loyal barbarian who cut off any hand that offered him a bribe and nailed it to the gate of the keep. They knew they couldn’t sway him, so they removed him. The Phoenix Brotherhood had the wealth and secrets to bribe or blackmail almost any other man in the Duchy, and so witnesses materialized swearing by their lives, evidence was planted by trustworthy men, and a Priest of Mihrazar had risked damnation eternal by perjuring himself when asked to scry for Brann’s guilt or innocence.

A neat job, and all just part of the foundation laid for tonight’s work. They meant to see Aggravar die this day, and with his death fuel the final spell that would unleash their god upon the world. Crespus hadn’t been supposed to know that, but he’d been bold enough to spy on his masters, and had learned thattonight’s murder was meant to break the chains that bound the Phoenix. The Fire Bird would rise again, and the cities of the world would burn.

The great hall.

Aggravan sat in his throne at the table’s head, a circlet of silver and opal on his head, bearing around his neck the gold torq that was his badge of rank. The long table was lined on either side with the knights and ladies of his court, their feasting accompanied by the music of a sextet of minstrels in the gallery overlooking the hall. The twenty best and most trusted men of the Duke’s guard stood in full dress armor along the walls. Once Brann would have had a place of honor among them. Now he had the sword at his belt and the fury in his heart.

That was all he’d need.

The fully-feathered roast peacock was served. That was the signal.

The two guards standing directly behind the Duke Had their hands on their sword hilts, loosening the blades in their scabbards.

Brann was in motion. He cast aside his cloak and had his sword in his hand by the time he reached the table, and he shoved the peacock to the floor with a mighty kick.

The traitor guards were moving, coming at him. He leapt at them, dodging their strokes and burying his short blade in one of their necks.

As lifeblood sprayed across Brann’s face, the other was moving to complete his assigned task. Duke Aggravan had turned to watch Brann’s charge, however, and so the attacked didn’t come upon him from behind as planned.

The Duke was surprised, and unarmed, but he was still hale and vigorous, with a fighting man’s ingrained reflexes. What would have been a killing stroke was deflected by the Duke’s table knife and the assassin’s sword cut him across the arm rather than through the throat.

Then Brann was upon the assassin. He thrust his sword into the man’s right elbow, into the joint of the armor, scraping bone. Then as the man screamed Brann tore his helm off, gripped his head in both hands, and twisted. There was a snapping, and a tearing, and still Brann twisted, until the thrashing corpse was still.

“My lord,” he said at last. “I am glad to see you well.”