The Nation: A sadistic and cruel empire that has ruled Edgeweir since time beyond memory. But under the tutelage of Alabaster Shanks, a group of disparate rebels have come together to fight back and stand up to the Nation’s rule.
Amongst them is Fastian; dark, dangerous and with an eye for vengeance; and Jacob, a boy and the newest recruit, who possesses a skill craved by the rebels.
Now they come together to undertake a mission that could be the beginning of the end for the Nation. But with Fastian’s mind ever on the past and Jacob’s eye firmly on his future, will they be capable enough to ever see it through?
The day passed in silence between the two of them. Every so often Jacob would pluck up the courage to try start a conversation but the one word answers soon put his attempts to rest. Unbeknown to the boy, Fastian remained in a state of constant vigilance as they rode. Unusual though it might be to meet solitary soldiers in the middle of nowhere, scouting parties too were irregular yet only yesterday one had been on their doorstep.Still, as the day came to a close and the sun began to set behind the horizon they approached Stoneway.The smell hit them before the sight of the place did. It wafted through the air like a low hanging fog and assaulted their senses. Sweat, piss and good old fashioned badness. Fastian had been here before and if anything, the place had gotten worse. To call it a town would be an insult to anywhere that resembled a civilised gathering of people. It consisted of three streets and numerous buildings that were nothing more than shacks thrown together by drunkards who cared nothing for comfort. Hardly a coincidence then that the majority of shacks were variations of taverns of some sort. One thing you could say for Stoneway, it was not a dry town.The place took its name from the numerous boulders that blighted the landscape. How they got there no one knew, or cared. Large, small and all irregular shaped, they were a fine symbol of the twisted, hard, stubborn and out of place characters that Stoneway attracted.‘Blue hell, this place stinks,’ said Jacob as the two of them rode through the place.
Up ahead, two men openly pissed in the street. Laughing deliriously, the two men threw their arms around each other and used one another as balance as they drunkenly fell back inside the tavern they had obviously been drinking in for quite some time.
‘Probably one of the reasons the Nation leaves this place alone. Nothing here but drunks and whores who only drunks will touch.’ Sure enough, as they rode slowly down one of the streets, a woman wearing nothing but a bed-sheet pulled her matted hair back behind her ear and attempted to give off her most seductive smile. The art of seduction in Stoneway apparently said nothing about not having yellow stains on your white bed-sheet.
‘Ooo-eee boy,’ she called out to Jacob. ‘Let a real woman show you what those little girls your age can’t.’ Jacob blushed a furious shade of scarlet, dropped his head and tried to ignore her. Not one to give up easily, she hobbled down off the step of the brothel and with a rather serious limp walked alongside Fastian’s horse. ‘What about you, Whitey? I bet a beauty like you could show an old lady what she’s been missing these last forty years.’
Fastian pulled his horse to a stop and looked down at the woman.
‘If you weren’t a cripple, still had all your own teeth, and were fifteen years younger, I’d still rather stick it in a smithy’s furnace.’
The whore’s eyes watered up and her face crinkled tight with anger and humiliation. Simultaneously she attempted to spit at Fastian and draw a kick at him but as she did, her bad leg gave way and she fell to the filthy ground without an ounce of grace. Jacob looked back, horrified to see her weeping uncontrollably in the dirt with the sheet falling around her revealing her breasts.
‘Why were you so mean? Why?’ Jacob spoke more in disbelief than in anger.
Fastian continued on straight ahead as if he had heard nothing at all.
At the end of the street there stood a shack that might have been considered by some to be less tardy and more respectable than the others. It was larger, better built and being at the top of a gentle slope, more inclined to have less pools of piss to tread in. Fastian dismounted, tied his horse to the rickety post and Jacob followed suit.
Inside, a few tables and chairs were laid out in no particular manner. A young girl no more than ten with hair so blonde it was almost white, and so long it fell to her waist, stood on top of one of the tables holding a lit candle to a lamp that hung from the ceiling. Another one hung over the bar and a third at the far end of the room. Night would soon be in and the light from the lamps gave the tavern an almost welcoming glow. Two men sat at the bar nursing glasses that might well have been whiskey. Another man bent over in his chair with his head lying flat on a table appeared unconscious and could well have been dead for all anyone knew or cared. Behind the bar stood a tall man with a few strands of hair held across the top of his head either by sweat or his own spit. Fastian walked across the room and hailed him.
‘Ho there,’ said Bryn eyeing Fastian carefully.
‘I’ll have whatever you’ve got closest to hand. Nothing for the boy. We’ll eat when you can rustle something up.’
‘Aye,’ said Bryn nervously. ‘Ye’r right on time and all.’
Fastian grunted. As if being late was an option.
‘Sara. Go get Cook to hurry up with them stews. Hungry men here.’ The little girl ran off into the back room without having to be told twice.
‘Pretty name the girl’s got,’ said Fastian.
‘Aye and that’s not all about her is pretty either.’ Bryn winked knowingly at Fastian but not seeing any response he busied himself getting the drink.
He took his glass and threw off the liquor in one quick swoop. Jacob sat beside him looking around at his new surroundings.
‘I’s got all those things sorted for ya, out back.’ Bryn nodded his head in the direction the girl went. Clearly hoping to make himself sound important he added, ‘spent most of the morning getting it done up good and all. Anything I can do to help the cause. Anytime.’
Fastian held out his glass for another drink. ‘You can start by keeping your mouth shut.’
‘Aye, aye,’ said Bryn. ‘My old mum always said I’s had a big trap. Closed it is.’
The three of them sat in silence while Fastian sipped on his second drink. Apparently listening to advice was not one of Bryn’s qualities, either that or his old mum was correct. ‘You think there might be spies in here or somit?’ He leaned forward and spoke this quietly. Apparently enjoying the role he was given.
‘You have a back room? Fastian asked.
‘Aye, aye. It’s only my little quarters, but it’s all yours for the night.’
He stood up and Jacob did likewise. ‘Have the girl bring our food in there.’ Fastian threw off the last of his drink. ‘And if I hear your voice again tonight, it’s the last words you’ll ever speak. Nod if you understand.’
Bryn looked at Jacob with wide eyes and a slack jaw, almost in a plea for help. He seemed to think over the words carefully and although it was plain as day that he wanted to apologise and explain himself, that he was only trying to make conversation, he looked at Fastian, nodded then looked away.
Bryn’s room was indeed little, just as he had described it. The bed looked cosy enough and Jacob lay himself out on it, stretching out his aching muscles from the continuous riding. Fastian sat on the floor with his back to the wall. A faint odour permeated the room. Neither of them could recognise it but it did a fair job of masking the overall smell of the place.
‘I don’t like this place.’ Jacob lay flat out on his back on the bed as he spoke.
‘Something we can agree on.’
A quiet knock came on the door.
‘Enter,’ called Fastian.
The door opened and the little girl came in holding two large bowls of stew carefully under each arm. Sweat dripping off her brow, flushed cheeks and a grimace of pain on her face she walked slowly and steadily into the room. Fastian jumped to his feet and took the two bowls from under her arms and left them on the small table at the foot of the bed. The girl backed away and went to turn when he held out his hand for her to wait.
She flinched. Her face twisted itself in a knot of fear yet she didn’t run, she didn’t flee.
‘Boy, get up off that bed.’
Jacob leapt to his feet and Fastian motioned for her to come sit. Her expression changed from fear to terror. A roar of emotions swelled up inside him. He tried to keep his face passive and calm but it was difficult.
‘No, Sara. Not like that. Not from us.’
Little Sara stood frozen on the spot looking from one to the other. Jacob stood idly where he was unsure as to where he should look. Fastian approached the girl and got down on one knee.
‘You have a beautiful name, Sara. The most beautiful of all names.’ Little Sara looked into his eyes and if she had been fearful a moment before, whatever she saw there erased that fear in an instant. ‘I knew someone once. Someone very beautiful with the same name. Someone special to me. Only the most beautiful women in all Edgeweir get given your name.’ She blushed furiously but her eyes watered up quickly. She sniffed and ran a dirty hand across her running nose.
‘Where is your mother?’ Fastian asked.
‘I ain’t got none, Sir. No pops neither.’
Fastian nodded as if he understood perfectly.
‘And you work here all the time?’
‘Yes, Sir. Me and Cook. We works here all the time.’
Her nose did a funny upturn at the mention of his name but she didn’t say anything.
‘Would you like to stay here tonight, Sara? In this bed?’
‘Oh no, Sir. I sleeps in the kitchen with Cook.’ She looked around the room and Fastian could see the terror in her eyes that this room gave to her. Then, almost comically, she leaned forward as if to share a secret. She whispered ‘Cook, snores something wicked, though.’
Fastian smiled and let his hand rest on her cheek. No matter how comforting he meant for it to be he could see the unease on the girl’s face. ‘Run along now, Sara. And stay safe, alright?’
She nodded, gave a polite curtsey and left the room.
Jay Finn is an Irish author living in a small village in the middle of Ireland. ‘Fastian’ is his debut fantasy novel following his two, acclaimed short story collections ‘Looking Back’ and ‘Beneath the Darkness’. A love of good books, good movies, the peace and quiet of the countryside and strong tea are his reasons for getting up in the morning.