Drafted Into DarknessRobert A. Van Buskirk / Fantasy / History & Fiction
Drafted Into Darkness
Copyright 2014 Robert A. Van Buskirk
Published by Robert A. Van Buskirk
Drafted Into Darkness
“I’ll die before I let that pig enslave me. I’ll kill Herauts, and if I’m executed for murder, so be it.” Yet how was he going to get past the man’s guards?
Absorbed in his dilemma, Igon paced the narrow streets of Calahorra late into the night. He had no destination in mind, but he couldn’t sleep. The dense fog that threatened to turn to rain should have hissed and sizzled on his brow from the heat of his fear and fury.
Thoughts in turmoil, Igon passed a chapel honoring the holy martyrs, Emetrius and Celedonius, decapitated by Emperor Maximian in the year 305, only slightly over four hundred years ago. In those days the town enjoyed relative security as a Roman municipality. Nothing like the Moorish occupied Spain of current times.
Igon checked carefully to make sure nobody watched, and spat towards the chapel. The church considered Herauts a respected member, a great donor of tithes. It was one more thing Igon hated about the man.
“The bastard isn’t religious, just vain. He likes to think he’s better than everybody else. Has to be smarter, richer, and oh yes, morally superior too!” Igon’s ire surged, intensified by the hypocrisy. His seething anger seemed out of place next to the peaceful serenity of the chapel.
But the religious nature of the area predated the Church. It had hosted older, darker cults. These beliefs were forbidden, their adherents outlawed, hunted down and all but eradicated. Yet the emaciated shades of the forgotten powers continued to haunt the locale.
To these pagan spirits Igon’s emotions wafted into the astral plane like the savory aroma of frying bacon. It stirred their hunger and set them to slavering for appeasement. Mindless wraiths clustered hungrily, swooping undetected through the man’s worldly mass. Others, not so mindless, sought the assistance of a mortal collaborator. They sought out Zaharo.
“There is a man,” the ghostly beings murmured to their last surviving shaman, “who would sacrifice much for revenge. Bring him to us, let us feast on his blood, and we will be in your debt.”
Zaharo’s ancient legs carried him shambling forth. Guided by the spirits he conspired with, he took a shorter route that let him intercept the distraught man near the edge of town.
The old man’s worldly eyes were almost blind, but his astral senses let him see through the darkness and fog to identify the person from a hundred yards away. The other-planar entities swarmed around him.
“Ah, he is vascone, of the old blood. The fellow must have a touch of arcane potential, albeit weak and untrained, to exude so much of his feelings into the astral plane.” Even Zaharo, still bound to the physical world, could see the rage, fear and hatred that extended around the stranger like a shadowy corona.
“You look like a man with a score to settle,” wheezed Zaharo when the man approached.
“Are you a priest?” Igon frowned. He saw a bent old man in a hooded cloak. “I’m in no mood to be preached at, or to make a donation.”
“Not the kind of priest you’re thinking about,” the old man cackled, revealing both of his remaining teeth. “I’m the kind of priest who grants vengeance.”
Igon’s brow furrowed and his jaw clenched. He obviously thought he was being mocked. His hands curled into fists, and Zaharo feared for a moment the man would strike him. Then the import of the word ‘vengeance’ sank in, and the hands uncurled.
On the astral plane, the man’s emotional cloud dissipated visibly as the cold focus of rational thinking took hold. His eyes narrowed, and flitted up and down the street.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Zaharo. What is yours?”
“I am Igon. Tell me, Zaharo, what did you mean when you spoke of vengeance?”
“I follow the old ways. Meet my price, and I will summon the totem spirits to strike down your enemies.” The words rasping from old man’s throat were enough to get him burned alive.
“I will not bargain my soul!” Igon hissed in rejection, recoiling as if to run.
“Then I will not ask for it,” Zaharo said. “There is much else you can offer besides your soul.”
“I have no money.” Igon’s tone sounded harsh, but he wasn’t running to report Zaharo to the authorities.
The old man concealed a glow of triumph; this one was snared.
“Perhaps you might agree to a term of service then, such as a soldier might swear to at the beginning of a war.” Zaharo marked the man’s bearing and guessed he was a veteran.
“Maybe, but I won’t gather human sacrifices or anything like that,” Igon whispered. His eyes scanned the night to be sure they were still alone.
“Of course not,” Zaharo lied smoothly, “But you’re not above working as a hired sword, are you? You’d be willing to act as a debt collector, bodyguard, spy, that sort of thing? You’d be willing to kill under the right circumstances?”
“I could do those things,” Igon admitted. He was calmer now. “How long a period of service are we talking about, and how will you get my revenge?”
“Ah, first you must tell me about your enemies, so I can see how difficult the task is, and dicker my price accordingly. Walk with me as we speak, for I am old and need to get indoors from this damp fog.”
“I only have one enemy, but Herauts is a rich merchant, with influence among the Moorish occupiers. Some say he has the favor of Wali Musa Ibn Nusayr himself. He uses his connections and wealth to affect court judgments, cheating suppliers and hirelings.
“You seem to be a man of simple means. How did you earn the enmity of a worthy such as this Herauts?”
“Worthy! Bah! He’s as much a commoner as I am, just lucky in trade.”
“Still, you must have did something to make him dislike you,” Zaharo prompted.
“I hired on to drive one of his wagons. There was an accident on the road from Pamplona, and he blames me for losing a cargo of wine.”
“The matter seems trite.”
“Herauts ordered his guards to restrain me. He treated me like a thief!” Igon trembled furiously as he relived the memory. “He slapped me, and said I wasn’t getting paid for the last week. Then he said I had to keep working without pay until I made up his losses. I’m practically a slave.”
“Just walk away and find another job then.”
“If I do that he’ll have me dragged in front of a bribed judge, and a court order will formalize the debt. If that happens I’ll be chained and collared.”
“Ah yes, being ‘practically a slave’ is infuriating, but the idea of becoming formally collared as property is terrifying.”
Igon answered with a scowl.
Zaharo asked questions about Herauts’ living arrangements and daily routine. Igon did his best to answer, but it was obvious he knew little of his enemy’s private life.
The shaman remarked upon this, partly to drive up his price, and partly to spur Igon’s hatred and resolve.
“The task won’t be easy, for you give me little information to plan with. Herauts plainly thinks of you as little more than an item of furniture, and what man takes his bedpan into his confidence?”
The gibe struck home. Igon cursed furiously until they reached the ancient cromlech outside the city. Zaharo led the way into a hidden cave under the circle of stones. Tonight it would provide the privacy he needed.
“I will serve you for a year,” said Igon.
“I would ask for ten years,” Zaharo scoffed at the offer.
“Ten years is too much! You would have me trade a life of slavery to Herauts for a life of slavery to yourself.”
“But I offer better terms! With Herauts you would truly be a slave, possibly chained to an oar. With me you would be a soldier, and entitled to a share of the spoils. How would you like your vengeance? Would you be sated with a quick death? Would you be content with a swift and practical removal of your enemy and the threat he presents? Or do you crave something more?”
“I want the bastard to suffer. I want him to know what’s happening to him and why. I want him to feel pain and terror and shame before he dies.”
“Then I want a decade of servitude!”
“It is too much,” Igon said, his eyes hooded and considering. “I will serve you for a year. Even King Rodric only demanded a single season at a time from his tenants.”
Zaharo noted the man’s expression. He guessed this one was already planning to betray him. A few words to the authorities would see the old witchman burned, and Igon would be free. He hid his suspicions though, and plotted his own treachery.
“It is enough,” Zaharo declared. “But you must sacrifice a bucket of your own blood. I will