The “how will the hero get out of this one?” scenario.
So far, the Gumbee writers have showcased their work on a number of topics: fight scenes, love/poignancy/emotion, and characters’ interactions with the world. The next topic that came up was that of peril and tension.
I confess that I became rather stuck when trying to think of an excerpt to use as an example for this topic. Most of my ‘perilous’ scenes revolve around fights; but, as we had already ‘done’ battle scenes, I didn’t really want to present another of those. I did consider a political scene, but that was necessarily long and convoluted – while I do think it’s one of my best, it really was too long for a blog post here.
I have a rather nice (if that is the word) assassination scene, but perhaps that could come out for an airing at a later date. Instead I have chosen a scene near the climax of The Demon’s Consort, the second book in the Fields of Battle series. Subconsciously, I think I was giving a nod to all the James Bond books and films I have enjoyed over the years, as this is a typical “how on earth is the hero going to get out of this fix?” scene. At least, on this occasion, I had my villain explain why he didn’t just kill the hero as soon as they met.
Telor is the high priest of the Brotherhood of Sheoleth, a diabolical sect which was all but destroyed five hundred years previously by Kieldrou’s ancestor, Validius Brudorax. The Brotherhood has been searching for Brudorax’s heir for generations, and since discovering Kieldrou they have attempted to kill him on more than one occasion. They have, however, captured Rhianne, Kieldrou’s beloved, and at the same time they have taken his sword, Thunderflame, which has great totemic value to the Brotherhood. Kieldrou has come to the Brotherhood’s secret stronghold to retrieve his love and his sword (in that order), and himself been taken prisoner. He now finds himself chained in a dungeon, while Rhianne is likewise imprisoned, held on a diabolical altar. All seems lost …
“You might have wondered why I did not have you killed as soon as I had you in my power. It would have caused me far less trouble, after all. In truth, I considered it, for you have been a blight on the Brotherhood every since we discovered who you are. But I had to meet you, talk to you, to find out what kind of man you are. As a direct descendent of the very man Brudorax murdered when he stole the sword it seemed right for me to confront you, to let you see whom you faced. You have been a worthy adversary.”
“Face me with a sword in your hand, and you will discover how worthy an adversary I am,” Kieldrou spat, with as much strength as he could. Talking was difficult, with his body stretched painfully against the wall.
Telor laughed. “I am no fool. I have you just where I want you, and you have no means of escape.”
“My friends will come for me.”
“They did.” Telor paused. “Ah, I see that spark in your eyes. Yes, they did come. Alas, my priests went for them last night, in sufficient numbers to ensure victory. They will not trouble us.” He sighed. “You might as well give up, Kieldrou, for your luck has run out.”
“My luck will be out when I die,” the Trallian gasped.
Telor snapped his fingers at the large priest. “That moment will come soon enough. But first, we shall set about scourging some of your ancestor’s ill-deeds from you. Call it purification, if you will.”
The priest appeared in front of the Trallian, looming before the hanging man, and he held a long, plaited leather whip. Kieldrou groaned as he saw the lash, and he weakly cursed Telor and Sheoleth together.
“Leave his privy parts,” Telor said, and Kieldrou almost sighed with relief. “We have other things planned for those,” the gaunt man continued, laughing in Kieldrou’s face.
Kieldrou could not bite back the cry that tore from his lips as the first lash seared across his body, the triple strands of the whip leaving red welts on his already blackened body. Sweat started on his skin, dripping into his eyes and matting his hair.
The whip continued to flick and strike, each time drawing cries from the tortured man. He bled in a dozen places, where the tips of the lash had cut his skin, and his chest and abdomen were red and raw.
“Enough,” commanded Telor after a while, stepping forward to inspect the wounds with a glint of satisfaction on his face. Kieldrou hung limply in his chains, his body drenched with sweat, tiny rivulets of blood running down his sides.
“Curse you,” he moaned weakly, his teeth gritted.
The second priest came forward with a pail of icy cold water, which he dashed over the Trallian. Kieldrou’s body arched in a spasm as the cold water drenched him, and his mind was twisted by the shock.
“It is the duty of the Brotherhood to punish Mankind for the fire they accepted from the gods,” Telor said, jerking Kieldrou’s head up by his long white hair. “That, however, was just for you, as retribution for your ancestor’s blasphemy.”
“Son of a diseased whore!” moaned Kieldrou, then he grunted as Telor back-handed him across the mouth.
“You continue to defy me, which is good. But you will beg for death, later. Still,” Telor continued, turning away. “We must continue. It is time to sacrifice to our Great Lord, Sheoleth.”
As if by magic, two more priests entered the dungeon, one carrying a large copper bowl and a copper chalice, the other leading a goat on a straining leash. The goat was male, its long curved horns framing its frightened, bleating face. Kieldrou was relieved that the sacrifice was obviously not to be himself or Rhianne, who still lay inert on the altar.
The goat was dragged between Kieldrou and the altar, in the full light of the braziers that had been pulled forward. It was held still, and the large copper bowl placed on the floor beneath its head. The chalice was placed to one side.
“The goat, the first beast to fall under Man’s spell when he gained the secret of fire,” Telor said, pulling an ornately decorated knife from his belt. It had an ivory hilt, and in the pommel was a round chunk of polished lapis lazuli. “Man used fire to put himself above other creatures, and to tame them to do his bidding. Thus we sacrifice the goat to Sheoleth, dedicating its suffering to Him. For as the animals suffered, so He suffers from the torment imposed on Him by Man’s creators.”
Telor began to intone a litany, in a language that sounded to Kieldrou like that of Azzawa, though a form so archaic that he could not properly understand. He did recognise the name Ammabok, however, which he knew was how Sheoleth was known in the desert lands. He watched Telor’s face as the man invoked his demon lord, his eyes glinting with madness.
Telor ceased his imprecation, and the knife slashed down, across the taut throat of the nervous animal. Blood gushed forth in a torrent, splashing into the wide bowl and filling it fast, black life blood that poured and poured as the goat’s kicking weakened, its eyes glazed over, until it hung limp in the strong hands of the priest who held it. Its use over, the carcass was pulled back from the gory bowl, still dripping its sanguinary emission, and tossed, forgotten, into the shadows. Later its skull would adorn the altar in Telor’s sanctuary, but for now the cadaver lay discarded, unwanted.
Telor cleaned the knife and tucked it away in the sheath at his belt. He slowly walked around the alter where Rhianne lay chained, and leaned on it casually, looking at Kieldrou.
“Now I must prepare the next sacrifice to Sheoleth. He is a generous lord, giving to us what we require to carry out His work. In return, we render unto Him the children of our loins, to do with as He wills. This woman will be Sheoleth’s bride, and on her many children will be fathered to carry on His work, and free Him from His hellish prison.”
Telor snapped his fingers again, and one of the priests dipped the copper chalice into the bowl of blood, bringing the cup to his high priest.
“Imbued with the blood of the sufferer, so we shall join for the Arch-sufferer.”
Telor raised the cup to his lips, and drank the blood of the goat. It ran down his chin and splashed on his leather tunic, and he smiled at Kieldrou through gory lips. He bent over Rhianne, and lifted her head from the stone by her hair.
“Leave her alone,” Kieldrou cried weakly, straining impotently at his bonds.
Rhianne was gradually emerging from her drugged stupor, and she struggled weakly as Telor brought the cup to her lips. She gagged and retched as he forced the cup between her teeth, and poured the thick red liquid into her mouth. It spilled over her chin and drenched the altar underneath her neck and shoulders.
Telor continued to pour until the chalice was empty, then he passed it back to the waiting priest, letting Rhianne’s bloody head drop to the stone. Rhianne twisted in her bonds and fixed Kieldrou with a terrified, pleading stare, still choking and coughing on the terrible liquid. Kieldrou struggled in his chains, even though he knew it would do no good.
Telor pulled Rhianne’s head around and looked into her eyes before releasing it. “She is not completely free,” he declared. “She must be under no abnormal influences when she is dedicated to Sheoleth.”
He caressed her body with his hands, laughing at Kieldrou as he did so.
“How many times have you touched her like this, Kieldrou? Does it please you that your last sight will be of her being taken by another? Do not worry, though, for I will not give her to the Brotherhood. She will be kept for me, and she will live for the nights that I send for her.”
“She will put a knife in your black heart,” Kieldrou spat.
Telor walked to stand at the foot of the altar, trailing his bloody hand along Rhianne’s smooth, white flesh. He did not take his eyes from Kieldrou as he positioned himself between her spread legs, and unbuckled his belt, dropping it casually to the floor.
“She is nearly ready. The dedication will soon be complete.”
Well, I have to end it on a cliff-hanger, don’t I? The thing is, I really don’t want to give away any spoilers, so if you wish to find out whether Kieldrou gets himself, and Rhianne, out of this situation, you’ll just have to read The Demon’s Consort.