‘Ost-Echil’ – a short fiction by Joe Barraclough
It was the kind of city that you only saw a few moments after it came into view; after you’d covered your face, dared to look through your fingers, and your eyes at last adjusted to the gleaming white marble that made elegant the towering walls and more majestic the sight of the towers. The gates were great and aged by oak, and swung open heralded by the sounding of domesticated war-horns. Complex sewer systems ran invisible underneath the streets, ensuring the ground was pure of waste, and the air fresh. The crowds of what couldn’t reasonably be the lower classes wore dress above their station, practically designed but coloured in greens, reds and muted shades of midnight blue.
There is a courtyard that sits centrally beneath the acropolis, built in such a manner that a great coloured glass orb held by the hand of a resplendent goddess’ effigy sends beams of light dancing across the paving stones, each sun-lit day playing out the myth-history of the cities foundation; each bright-mooned evening displaying images of the heavens in reverence of the dead.
Passing this space, and proceeding towards the palace at the height of the acropolis, there are merchants who have been allowed graciously to set shop aside the road. Approaching one, you would find the prices reasonable, and the goods of respectable workmanship. And then, reaching for your coin purse, you would find it missing. You would also find your pockets empty. Your pocket watch, too, is gone, as is your fine silk scarf, from around your very neck.
It was in such a city that men like Daed should have thrived. He was short enough, tall enough, clean enough, dirty enough, handsome enough, ugly enough; unremarkable enough in all ways to fit in anywhere he needed to. He had sharp enough wits to stay a step ahead of his mark, and enough common sense not to skim off the top of whatever he found for whoever was paying him. They paid well, after all. For information; eyes and ears in court, or a relatable gossiper in the lower districts. He should have done well for himself, indeed.
Now, however, he knew he was living on bought time, and that that time was about to run out. Panting like a dog, he ran through the glistening, marbled streets, turning this way and that way; looping back and swerving through crowds in a frantic rush to evade them. It was, inevitably, futile. Three hooded men now approached him, with all the assured calm and confidence that came from knowing their prey had nowhere left to go. Daed begins to plead with them, begging them, cursing them; praying to the goddess, and then forsaking her, and damning her to the vilest torments of hell. His shoulders are seized by red-gloved hands, and he is thrust to his knees. He sees a glint of steel in the sunlight, the head of a war-sharp halberd, and his cries turn to pathetic blubbering as he closes his eyes in denial of his fate. The axe falls.
1 thought on “‘Ost-Echil’ – a short fiction by Joe Barraclough”
This is a very good story Joe!