Lore of the day #19: Death in the afternoon

The latest from my online epic, Lore of the Underlings.
Chapter 3 continues:

“All of a sudden, you got upset, making that vell kind of whinny and whine. Then something caught Ayrie’s eye. ‘Look!’ he whispered quick, giving me a shake. ‘Look at Madam Pum. Odd how she flies her flag like that.’

“But I had seen it too. Once, twice, thrice she let the banner dip, then reset it high and right again.

“For a moment, that seemed the all of it, until the air was split with a scream from the elder fold. And then a flag fell. Angry shouts and grunts were heard, furious fists and rusty blades thrust. A second was torn and thrown to the ground. Then pitiful pleas, someone begging for life. A third banner broken and spat upon, like the others, repainted in blood.

“We looked to each other, Ayrie and me, both mute, less afraid than amazed. Sure we’d heard tell of the elders’ ways, but never seen them laid bare before us like this. Such brutal truth for two young boys. And it wasn’t done.

“It left a wake, that treble attack. As its dark deeds echoed over the uncaring plain, a few hoots and hollers broke out behind us in pockets among the folk. Then, with the speed of a well-planned scheme, a gang of seven, all from the same clan and armed with coup clubs, burst from their midst to charge ahead — right past our cart and into the elder ranks. Once there, their flags rose one by one to join the rest. They were crude by comparison, like the raw craft of cruel children. Elsewhere, they might have been taken for a laborer’s old launderings hung out to air, these rags torn to form from fraying frocks and threadbare britches… except for the burnt black and bloody crimson scrawled all over them. Together they made immortal the murders just done, with each one proudly painting a scene — stick folk stabbing stick victims to death and shaking stick stabbards in victory.

“About then I noticed that Madam Pum saw none of this. She rode as rigidly as ever, the commotion at her back, as if she had already figured the aftermath.

“‘Three hundred…’ stammered Ayrie. ‘There are three hundred, Fyrie.’

“A big bump jolted our cart. We pulled ourselves up off the floor only to tumble down again by way of a boney crunch and thud.

“‘Bodies,’ said Ayrie.

“We gawked back through cracks in the cart’s sideboards and there they were. The felled elders, discarded in dirt and aground, barely wrapped in their own flags as funeral shrouds. How darkly had this day of dreams betrayed them. From a trio of treasured gems who had sparkled in that morning’s sun so hopeful, to three sad sacks of blood and broken bone — abandoned, unburied, unmourned, and damned.

“Suddenly, a rider swift and cloaked broke from the vanguard to turn back on us. Galloping hard through the elder rows, the figure aimed dead at our woeful cart while I felt the heart beat in my throat. But then, with his speed, the cloak flew off and I knew not to fear. It was father.

“‘How are my boys, Mister Arrowborne? Did you keep them from that mess?’

“You, friend vell, made a neigh meaning yes, then a nod, and pranced for a few steps with pride.

“‘Well done!’ father hailed with a nod in return. Then he turned to us with a lesson to learn. ‘It’s the code of the elders, sons. They rule themselves by blade and blood.’

“‘Yes sir,’ we said.

“‘Just as the Semperor wanted. My father, your grand, explained it to me at roughly your age as well. This game. “Let them check themselves, my son, and you shan’t have elders to fear.” The Guard are taught not to intervene. Even today I have no say.’

“A red-clad pikesman and mount approached from the fiery eye of a sinking sun. ‘Treasuror Hurx!’ he called, voice aboom. ‘The time draws near now, sir my sir. You are needed at the head.’

“Father gave wave of his hand to confirm. ‘Ayryx, Fyryx, let me look on you two. This is a day to remember. Soon shall we have the home we’ve long sought since even before I was born. Our struggle is all but over.’

“‘Yes sir,’ we said.

“‘Now mind your mother the rest of the ride,’ he ordered, but with a warm laugh. ‘Her sisters and she yet eye your behinds!’

“As father flew off in a cloud of dust, we turned to show our widest smiles to the ladies’ cart nearby. It seemed to entertain them, but mother still shot us a knowing look.

More to come. To read this chapter from the start, click here.

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