Memories of Murder
by: Fanny Crispin
Grandfather Claymoor brushed his fingers together and murmured words Fortinbras didn't understand. The boy sat in silence awe, watching his grandfather summon ashes from the cackling logs. The ashes floated about the room on dark butterfly wings. They were called Deathwings or Hell's Moths, creatures with skulls imprinted on their wings. Fortinbras quivered in excitement, his small frame barely able to contain it. Then Grandfather blew out a soft breath and all of the ashes drifted harmlessly to the cabin floor.
Claymoor smiled and winked at his eleven year old grandson.
“How did you do that, Grandfather?” Fortinbras asked, straightening in his chair.
“That's a secret, my boy,” Claymoor said.
The front door to the cabin opened, letting in a gust of frozen air. From their seat in the fire room, they heard heavy, stomping boots.
“Fort!” a churlish voice growled. “I told you to get that wood stacked inside the lean-to. So help me if I don't thrash you for forgetting again.”
“He didn't forget. Fortinbras was doing his duty entertaining guests,” Claymoor said. The twinkle had left his gray eyes. He tucked his hands into the weathered sleeves of his traveling cloak.
Fortinbras' father peered into the fire room. Never had a father and son so resembled each other. They each had full beards and a mustache over their lip. Their shoulders were broad, their frames strong and sturdy. However, Claymoor was more trim looking and entirely gray whereas his son's brown hair was bedraggled and dirty. There was a scowl on the younger man's face.
“What gives you the right to show up unannounced?” he muttered.
Claymoor stared at him evenly. “An old father has a right to visit his grandson,” he said.
“You're not welcome here,” his son said.
Claymoor lifted a hand from his sleeve, but the brutish man did not linger to see the new magic trick.
Fortinbras watched with a hidden smile. He liked seeing his father cower for once. Looking back at his grandfather, he felt the warmth from the old man's gaze. “Grandfather, can you teach me that?” he whispered, as if afraid his father might hear.
Claymoor leaned forward in a conspiratorial manner. “I can teach you everything. But only if you swear not to breathe a word to another living soul.” Fortinbras swallowed nervously. He nodded.
“Have you ever heard of sorcery, Fortinbras?” The boy shook his head.
“What I am about to teach you are no mere magic tricks,” Claymoor said.
A lifetime later...
Fortinbras Shireston breathed in the salty air as seagulls reeled above the mast heads. The Windchaser had anchored in Gallinston Bay early that morning and passengers flocked to the deck. The main attraction was the great statue of Madam Sassine. Fortinbras braced his arms on the railings to lean over as he gazed upon the stone likeness.
“Huh,” he mused, a quirk of a smile on his lips. “She's more beautiful than the stories say.”
“Alas, another fallen soul!” a voice beside him said in a dramatic, theatrical tone. The young man threw an arm around Fortinbras' shoulders. “This lad's heart has been claimed by the goddess Sassine.”
Fortinbras smirked and playfully shoved his friend. Dale was a smaller man than Fortinbras. He had shaggy blond hair and skinny limbs. There were scars striping his forearms but he did not seem ashamed of them as he ran around with a sleeveless tunic cinched at the waist. He tapped the railing with his hands, bobbing his head to an imaginary tune.
“We made it, didn't we, Fort?” he said.
Fortinbras nodded. “We sure did.”
“Do you think they'll catch up to us?”
“Not a chance.”
“How do you get to be so cocksure?” Dale asked with a sidelong glance.
Fortinbras grinned. “I have my reasons.”
“Well, whatever.” Dale gave the railing a final slap and turned away from the view. “We're free now. Might as well make the best of it.” And Fortinbras fully intended to make the best of it.
The Windchaser stood vigil as rowboats ferried passengers to shore. Bright sunlight glittered off the water and a refreshing breeze swept through the city. The Tower of Sassine over-looked the activity below with her sapphire gaze. The two young men carried their scant belongings from ship to boat to pier and stood amid the crowd of passengers and greeters. They made their way through the crowd and traveled deeper into Gallinston City. Music drifted from open windows where laundry waved in the wind. Children ran through the streets with their shrill voices. Fortinbras snatched a hat off one boy's head and held it teasingly out of reach. But he returned it eventually, laughing at his own antics.
“What are you feeling, Dale? Wine, women, and relaxation? The sky's the limit.”
“No, I don't want to go chasing girls,” Dale said grumbling. “I can't catch them like you can.”
“You just need to loosen up. One of these days you'll catch the eye of a cute little button.”
Dale shook his head.
They found a tavern with a colorful inn adjoined to the back. There was a band playing in the tavern and rowdy voices nearly drowned out the music. There were green banners tacked up in every corner, a symbol of a fishing hook embroidered on them. The inn was painted green with red slate tiles covering the roof. The interior, from what could be seen from the tavern front, was not lacking in embellishments or luxurious furniture. They drank and sang and danced on the tables with pretty barmaids none of whom were available for the night. They retired to their separate rooms, heads spinning dizzily with the prospect of freedom.
Perhaps it was the drinks or the dancing or both, but Fortinbras paid for it that night. He dreamed of the Windchaser rolling drunkenly through a blood red sea. The voices of women screamed shrill in the dark. He tossed and turned fitfully. He was just about to wake himself when he saw her.
Not a woman, but a fox. A fox with a thick tail tipped with white. She put a paw on his chest. He stared into gold eyes.
At breakfast, he and Dale and a host of other guests nursed their hangovers in the dining hall. The food wasn't much to write home about. The eggs were dry, the ham even more so, but at least the bread was fresh. Fortinbras told him about the dream.
“Wait, the fox was your mother?” Dale asked, talking around a mouthful of dry ham while guzzling down coffee to moisten it. Fortinbras nodded, still shaken by the dream. He hardly touched his eggs.
“Are we talking literal fox or like...” Dale whistled a catcall.
Fortinbras rolled his eyes. “I don't have those kinds of dreams about my own mother. I'm not entirely based.” He sipped his coffee, unable to stomach food just yet, and stared across the room.
“Well, what do we do now? Do you want to stay in Gallinston or do you think we should move on?” Dale asked.
“I have to go back,” Fortinbras said.
Dale spat out his eggs. “To Linendale? You'll be arrested before you walk off the ship.”
“No.” Fortinbras shook his head. “Home.” When he turned to Dale, he had a look in his eyes Dale had only ever seen him inflict on others. It was sorcery. He was sure of it. Enough to turn grown men into puppets. His blood ran cold.
“Saints, Fort,” he whispered. “You better get your eyes checked. Did someone glyph you last night?”
Without a word, Fortinbras rose to his feet and moved to the door. Dale scrambled after him, grabbing his arm to pull him around and give him a shake.
“Snap out of it, man,” he said. Fortinbras shoved him off. Dale's heart beat faster. “Just tell me the plan,” Dale said. “You wouldn't leave without a plan, glyphed or not.”
“Stay here,” Fortinbras said. It became increasingly clear he was not himself. “Guard the loot. I'll be back.”
Dale nodded, slowly at first, gaining confidence. He wasn't sure what to do. He had never seen his friend under the control of someone else before. At the front of his mind, he wondered who had placed this glyph and why. Whoever it was, they were calling him home. Fort had a dark past but he never spoke of it, and Dale wasn't in a mind to run back into trouble. “Yeah. Okay. I'll stay here. Less competition with the women if you're off. But you better come back, you hear?”
Fortinbras turned away. He left the inn, walking with the confidence of a man who knew the town. He didn't. He found a public stable, stole a horse, and rode for the outskirts without a second guess. Farmland turned to prairie and woods and rolling meadows. He rode all day and into the night. The stolen horse panted for want of food and water, but kept pace.
Miles into the journey, the horse collapsed from exhaustion, flinging Fortinbras from the saddle. He rolled across the ground and sprang to his feet. Then he stretched out a hand to the horse, uttering words from another world. Shadows sprang up, engulfing the animal. It let out a shrill whiny in fear, then fell silent. Climbing to its hooves in a swift motion, it pawed the earth impatient for him to mount. Its eyes were black. It snorted smoke. Neither horse nor rider were themselves now.
The new steed bore him far and away north to his hometown, to that rotten little cabin he lived the first portion of his life in perpetual fear and pain.
To his father.
It wasn't hard to find the cabin. It was burned into his memory. The thatched roof sinking in. The log walls rotting out. The windowpanes cracked and covered in dust. He saw smoke curling from the leaning chimney. A stack of split wood covered the porch where—once upon a time—a woman hummed Fortinbras to sleep.
He had no memory of his mother, save for that.
He dropped down from the saddle. Instantly, the horse collapsed into a heap of meat and bones, utterly spent. The shadows swept through the grass, trailing after Fortinbras' heels as he approached the cabin. His heart quickened in dread. For so many years, only a monster resided within those walls. It rambled the woods outside, howling at night, cursing and swearing, and returned indoors only to whale on the boy hiding in shadows.
Raising a hand, he pointed a palm to the cabin. He sensed no life from inside. Relief swept through him, followed by irritation.
He stalked around to the back where he found a little stable. This was new. It had been shoddily put together, but rot hadn't set in and age hadn't sunk it. Fortinbras drew in a breath. He smelled blood. It curdled his own. Moving carefully, he approached the stable door and eased it open. It wasn't locked. In the dim, he spotted a small fold of sheep. They bleated from the dark, grumbling contentedly. It was dry and clean inside.
Moving around the stable, Fortinbras followed his nose for the blood. It came from outside just upwind. Behind the stable, beneath the lean-to and certainly not a respectable distance from its fellows, a man disemboweled an animal strung up on a hook. The man dumped the bowels into a tin pale. On a stack of hay was the animal's wool coated skin, drying. The animal dripped blood into another pale directly below it, its tongue hanging out of a mouth filled with chomping teeth.
Fortinbras surveyed the scene for the longest time, unable to move. The man must have felt his piercing gaze, for he turned and gave a start.
“Saints,” he muttered, gripping the skinning knife tighter. After calming himself, he looked Fortinbras up and down. The memory of that contemptible gaze brought back a flood of emotions. “Knew I'd see you again,” the man said, returning to his chore, putting his back to Fortinbras. As if he wasn't a threat.
Fortinbras curled his fingers into fists. “Old man,” he began, but the man cut him off with a jab of the knife.
“That was your grandfather. You call me Selk.”
Not Dad or even Father.
“I've come to kill you.”
This caused the man pause. He straightened up, shoulder blades pinching together as he rolled his shoulders. He was still every inch as massive as Fortinbras remembered. He kept his back turned, but he wiped his wielding hand on his pants and the knife hilt on his shirt. Blood stained him.
“Knew that too,” he said, turning around to plant himself front and center of Fortinbras.
Selkath Shireston had always been huge in Fortinbras' eyes. Fort must have taken after his mother, because he was neither tall nor stocky like his father and grandfather. Trepidation set in. His palms began to sweat. He hadn't even brought a weapon.
He could hardly remember what drove him here so fastidiously. As he faced a man he hadn't seen in over ten years, realization began to set it.