Sometimes my deranged and demented dreams will toss me a bone. The village is a dreamscape I dearly love and I love the people there as well, even if there is a very serious darkside to it all. But the good is very good even if the bad is truly evil, and because in the dream I’m basically in good with everyone and well liked the bad doesn’t affect me. It’s all to do with who you are and who your family is and that’s another way of saying resources or money, just like life is today; if you have money you’re okay and if you’re poor you get punished for it.
There’s a village blacksmith, just like there is in many stories I have written. How can there be a village without some burly guy beating the hell out of a red hot piece of metal with a hammer? A writer sets the scene with the leather aproned big guy with bigger biceps and his Thor hammer, fire tanned face and perpetual scowl. Next to the Blacksmith is the stable where the moneyed keep their horses on the inside, in stalls, and the poor keep their horses in a corral outside. But everyone needs horseshoes and everyone come to the Blacksmith for those shoes and even though I am without a horse I like to stand there and watch the sparks fly and listen to the sound of the hammer on iron. I love the way it smells, the hot metal in water, the coal burning in the forge, the horse smells, the smell of the people, and the smell of everything in the place.
There’s a trading post in the dead center of town, like there is in one of my stories, and I used this dream as a templet for that story, where people sell their produce and their livestock, their crafts and their trinkets. Here’s where it gets a little odd because in the middle of all of this is a very large iron post that has been erected. On top of the iron pillar sits a carrion bird, huge, black winged, and with a bright orange and featherless head. There’s a two meter zone around the pillar where no one gets near and no one even so much as looks up at the bird even when it screams. There’s really no need for it.
The Vulture is the eyes of the Mage who runs the village. Oh, yeah, there is a Perfect, a civil authority who has a family title that is passed from generation to generation, and there’s also a King, far away and unconcerned with this small place, but it is the Mage who keeps the peace at a price, and that’s really where all of this is headed.
The open market is the only place where strangers are allowed to go in the village but unless they commit some crime other than that they usually aren’t bothered. But there are very few who will risk that sort of interaction because the bird sees all and tells even more. There’s a tax on every transaction, large or small, and no one risks cheating the Perfect, who in turn pays off the Mage. Most people opt to pay up front and this is more or less a bribe that keep everyone safe as long as the bribe is large enough. It very rarely isn’t and the Perfect much rather get paid then to punish so if there’s some discrepancy then there is always that end of the season reckoning where everyone gets together and settles the difference. There’s never any sort of return to the people paying, mind you, but that is a small price to pay for peace.
This is all assumed knowledge. Everyone in the village knows this just as surely as you and I know that it’s a crime to shoplift. The difference here is there are very few minor infractions. There’s a few things that aren’t strictly legal but discouraged, like public drunkenness and fighting, but what it all comes down to in the legal code is this; are you costing the system any money? If you are it’s a Death Penalty Offense and death does not come easy in this place, oh no, not at all.
So this stranger arrives at the gates one day, a wanderer who plays the lute and who is looking for a home. He finds a place in the tavern and he pokes fun at the Vulture because he just isn’t sure that be believes the local myths and tales about what happens to those who get caught thieving. I’m there in the bar and he’s asking me if I have ever really seen any of this in action, and I tell him, yeah, I have, and it is not pretty. He laughs at this and the bartender and I exchange glances. We know where this is headed. This guy is a stove toucher, a wet paint explorer, and one of those people who just has to find out for themselves if the dog will bite.
So this guy sets up a barrel in the middle of the marketplace and he start scamming people with a shell game. There’s pea under one of the shells and he lets the first five or six people win then he starts talking money from people, ten or twelve of them, and then he lets a couple more win, and all the while he’s sitting a meter from the Vulture’s pole as if it doesn’t exist.
About half a day deep into this two guards show up to arrest the guy and he tosses the barrel at them and he’s off running like the wind. Everyone just steps back and gets out of the way. We all know what’s going to happen next and this is my first time seeing it up close. They guy steals a horse and he’s off like he’s on fire, but the bird has launched itself into the air like it’s a sparrow.
It flies above the guy and the horse then swoops down, spooking the horse which tosses the guy to the ground. The guy tries to run but the bird lands on him, flattening him out and the guard walk over and pick him up. He’s snarled up in a black net and the bird is gone. I look up and it’s back on it perch and I swear, if there could be a smile on its beak there was. But the Lute Player isn’t very happy at all now.
There’s a show trial and there’s a public hearing but no one is getting near the Lute Player now. There’s a law in place that a person can be bought back by the family, but that usually means they are exiled afterwards because they have to put up everything they own as payment. The Lute Player has himself and his lute, and that’s not enough for anyone to speak for him at all. So he’s guilty and he’s sentenced to death.
The village Perfect takes a couple of guards and drags the guy down to where the Mage holds forth. He’s got a small castle and the whole thing is a sort of a maze leading to his tower. If the prisoner can make his way to the tower he will be freed. The catch is this; there is a monster. So they give the Lute Player a sword, turn him loose in the maze and in a matter of minutes there are screams and that is that for him. We all go home safe and sound and hope we never are stupid enough to get caught stealing.
The really odd thing about this all is the assumed knowledge I have of what happens in the maze. The monster is one of the old prisoners who killed the last monster. The downside to this is that now the only food that the monster can live on is human flesh. Worse, for those who are killed that is, their souls cannot leave the earth or find peace in this life and they are under the control of the Mage, who uses them for magical powers.
One of the things I’ve always wanted to do with this story is find a way to slay the monster and free the souls.
Any ideas out there?