I have spoken before of my disdain for the sort of high fantasy that we’ve generally seen over the past decades – stories about kings and princesses and full of politics and the great games that nations play. I understand why that’s usually the stuff of stories. It’s grand and epic. The stories matter. It is the stuff of history. But, much like history books, you end up getting just the stories of the people at the top, not the stories of the people who have to put up with their bullshit. I grow weary of that perspective.
I went to see The Conspirator (not fantasy, but there were people in very fine hats). It is story of normal people having to put up with the bullshit. Different century. Same nonsense of ordinary citizenry offered up on the altar of political convenience. Nothing has changed.
The movie is quite good, by the way.
Anyway, this is a bit of a fantasy story. I thought, why not a police procedural in a world of gods and magic? The first few hundred words of the nearly 1,400 that I wrote.
Gavril rubbed his shaved head and stoopped over the body. She was young, too young to be found like this, in a dank alley with her dress shredded and throat cut. Blond, pretty, but with the calloused hands, dark skin, and rough cloth of a commoner.
“Her throat’s cold,” he said. “Frost on the edges of the wound.”
His new partner, Trev, stepped around the fresh pool of blood to look close. Trev was Gavril’s opposite in most respects; young, handsome, well connected with the Church. He had a full head of hair. He was observant, though, and had solid instincts. That and a solid shoulder was mostly all Gavrill expected from rookies anymore. “Enchanted dagger, probably?”
Gavril nodded. “Frostbit charm. Don’t see the point, though. She looks like just a girl.” He peeled the dress from the girl’s shoulder and grimaced. Trev started sketching on his pad of notes.
“Another one of them Somerleds?” he asked. “The High Cleric will love this.”
The tattoo on her shoulder, a wheel wrapped with leaves and flowers, marked her as one of the Somerled pilgrims, a cult from the southern provinces. At the frontier, their towns under constant attack from barbarians and worse, their rejection of the High Gods in favor of paganism wasn’t surprising. It hadn’t even been all that troubling, until they started defacing temples and trying to spread their beliefs. A steady trickle of them had been wandering north over the past few months to preach in the street. Gavril had arrested and deported a half dozen of them just last week.
“The ink is fresh,” he said, gingerly wiping a finger over the wheel’s raw ridges and coming away with smear of blood. “Hasn’t even healed fully.”
“A local convert then,” Trev said. “The walk from Anisim is at least three weeks.”
Gavril stood and motioned to the men standing by to clean up the mess. Gavril and Trev walked from the alley and back into the light of day and the busy Halcyon Avenue, teeming with citizenry and horses and carts. West, up the broad, main artery of the city, St. Xakhar’s Cathedral towered over the squat wood and brick buildings that comprised the rest of the city, leaning on each other for support. Gavril often reflected that it appeared the city was in a constant state of genuflection to the great church.
“Angry acolyte?” Trev asked. “Lots of the devoted here not lovers of the pilgrims.”
“With an enchantment? No.” The clergy officially condemned the use of magic – too close to an imitation of the Gods, a ban enforced rigorously. A rogue acolyte would have just brained her and dumped the body in the river, the punishment for murder – mere death – far better than the punishments often meted out for magic use. “Frostbit is the mark of a professional, but it’s sloppy. If this were a master’s work we’d have never known about it. Certainly wouldn’t have found it ten feet from the busiest intersection in the city.”
“Amateur then? Someone cheap?”
“An apprentice. Hired by someone poor who needed someone cheap.”