master of the second plan has a …

‘I know you of old Messenger, I recall you as a child running errands in The Institution and later as a man of education,’ He jumped down from his veranda chair and stretched like an ape, ‘come with me.’


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‘Dissenters you say … mmm,’ the bowl of His long stemmed pipe glowed as He took a deep draw,’ and what of Bohmert?’

‘Master of the First Plan …’

Anger sparked in His eyes but failed to ignite the calm face, a motioned finger sufficient to render me silent.

‘Never say that to me again, Bohmert is his name, I let him keep it, so use it.’

I nodded, ‘Bohmert still rots in the stocks.’

‘I know you of old Messenger, I recall you as a child running errands in The Institution and later as a man of education,’ He jumped down from his veranda chair and stretched like an ape, ‘come with me.’

Papers adorned every bench of His expansive study: some of text, some of diagram, charts, maps, everything. Haphazard, yes, chaotic even but there was no doubt the array reflected the mind of the great man himself and that within this system lurked order.

‘This is it,’ He said with sweeping arm, ‘the plan.’ He put His hand on my shoulder and I felt the power of his purchase.

‘Tell me Messenger do you think it better to be feared or loved?’ Again, the extended finger. ‘How do you think Henchman would answer?’

‘Feared,’ I said.

‘No doubt. Henchman is important, to me and to the plan but his methods can veer. Go, seek him out, tell him the news.’

‘Dissenters!’ Beer splattered into my face with the force of the thud. He stared down the long table at the feasting rabble as if the guilty were rife among their number and that detecting their location involved nothing more than cruel narrowing of the eyes. Signalling some guards he marched down the hall to where a pair of enthusiastic revellers were raucous with bawling and song.

‘Traitors!’ he roared.

Food, ale and lesser mortals went scattering as Blacksmith spun round to face his accuser.

‘Henchman,’ said Blacksmith, raising a hefty chair, ‘yer nose is out of joint man, yer purse empty from last night’s game, cheats, ay, loaded dice, ay, that oi would ‘ave expected, but traitors?’

‘Oi’l slice it off so oi will,’ said Skinner, entering the fray with unsheathed blade. Nothing trifling about this stance – the duo stood their ground bristling with battle-ready menace.

No stranger to public disturbances Henchman nodded to his men and a huge ale barrel was soon careering into the conflict zone.

‘Jump,’ shouted Blacksmith and the pair vaulted the barrel.

‘Hah,’ went Skinner, slicing the air with his knife, ‘cahmon ‘enchman, want yer gizzard slit?’

Henchman grinned and pulled a contraption out from under his cloak.

‘What the fu…’ Skinner, confused, frozen, screwed his eyes, alas no focus was to be had as the device started to whirl and click and a small, spiked, steel ball came fizzing out striking his eyeball. Screaming like a castrated goat he fell to his knees.

Blacksmith suffered no such confusion as Henchman slewed his aim – after all the weapon had been fashioned by his own expert hand. Loathe to be defeated by his personal design he threw down the chair and surrendered.

‘Take them to the dungeons.’

The beer hall incident heralded a dark time throughout the land. A purge. I myself narrowly avoided personal tragedy: on approaching Scribe’s cottage with a message I found myself in the midst of much commotion. Scrutiniser was focussing on a large pile of parchments that had obviously been gleaned and tossed from the house. Scribe himself was rendered still with his arms staked and his legs tied over a dead tree. Scrutiniser appeared industrious: going through every word, often wiping his large, heavily lensed glasses clean. On completion of a particular parchment he would call out, ‘three,’ or ‘four,’ or ‘five,’ depending on the number or seriousness of the detected indiscretions. The calling of the number animated Punisher, who accordingly thrashed his willowy cane into the soles of Scribe’s bare feet. The screams brought, running from the cottage door, two distraught children wailing, ‘no, not daddy, No! No! ‘ Clutching at Punisher’s clothing in a desperate plea for leniency they only succeeded in provoking the stone faced grunt so the lashings were delivered with fresh enthusiasm Then, Scribe’s wife, head all bloodied and patchy bald from a shearing, dashed out, grabbing at the kids, pulling them indoors. Plenty of room on that log for a couple of ten year olds.

Or a fully grown adult. On seeing me Scrutiniser held his hand out. ‘Message,’ he demanded, I hesitated, it was against my profession’s charter but on consideration of the perilousness of my situation, I promptly complied. During the examination he tutted five times then looked towards the overseer of proceedings. Henchman thought for a while then trained his vision on me – it felt like the glare of a lethal reptile. A nod would have meant joining Scribe in disaster. His head slightly shook. It seemed that this day was not one for the messenger to be flogged.

Scribe’s ordeal panned out as common place rather than a rarity. It became dangerous to form groups, to talk or rather to be heard talking, spies were everywhere. Even going to work was fraught with danger, having been caught off guard at Scribes I tightened my vigilance, only a fool would blunder into an inquisition a second time. Messages went undelivered, people stayed indoors and no one trusted anyone. The gaols and dungeons soon were full and a brutal penal colony appeared out in the wastelands. Our land, once joyous, buckled under the yolk of unhappiness, twisted with the knife of fear.

Another occupied a chair in the waiting area, a fancy type, colourfully attired. Servant opened the door and He entered. Addressing the Bohemian He asked, ‘you have no examples of your work, no portfolio?’ To which the fellow produced a blank parchment by way of answer.

‘Wait,’ He said to Servant who had brought out a switch, readying to punish such impudence.

Then, dipping a brush into a pot of black ink, unaided by any instrument, the visitor proceeded to draw a perfect circle.

‘Excellent, Servant show him to his studio.’

Then He turned to me, ‘I want you to go to Jester’s.’

‘Certainly Master, and the message.’

‘None, he’s expecting you.’

I threaded a route of caution through the backstreets, avoiding the rising plumes of smoke – and therefore the fires.

Janus-faced Jester answered his door with flamboyant bow. ‘Enter, oh favoured one,’ he said and I got the shiver. His house was full of the usual jugglers and fire breathing imbeciles but a new visiting troupe captured my attention and it seemed the travellers were busy at practice on an elaborate puppet show.

‘Please,’ their leader said, giving up his seat.

Such was their expertise one hardly noticed the puppeteer’s presence, the figures    seemed to dance and cavort through the scenery as living entities. Engrossed I settled myself into the chair to watch the show.

‘A fable,’ Jester said into my ear, ‘the lion and the fox are engaged in an important quest but their way is rife with dangers. Enjoy.’

He left me in peace to take in the performance. And what a show, at the end I stood up and whooped and clapped.

‘Why thank you kind sir,’ said the leader, ‘we strive to please.’

Jester appeared back with a freshly baked cake in his arms, I was so excited I forgot my dislike of the man.

‘It was terrific Jester, spellbinding, the fox was so wiley he dealt with each trap with ease, and the lion, well, he was so fierce he saw off a whole pack of wolves. And you know what? They needed both the cunning and the ferocity in equal measure, otherwise they would have failed in their mission.’

Jester did that thing of his with his eyebrow. ‘Come,’ he said, ‘we must be off.’

Bohmert’s face, once regal, was now a frightening sight to behold: swollen, lumpy, slashed and scratched. Grotesque. He sensed us approaching and twisted his head. Surely the power of speech was beyond such a mutant. But no.

‘I’ll fucking kill that bastard, fucking send him to the devil I will. You hear me, he’s dead.’

‘Who?’

‘That rapist bastard, he fucked my arse like a crazed bull.’

‘But surely, you’re in the stocks man, you’ve got to expect…’

‘Oh I’ve been Rodgered a few times but not like this, I tell you that bugger was possessed. “Yeeeeha yeeeeha” he was yelling then fucking and fucking. My poor arse. Couldn’t see his face of course but that Dutch tobacco, I’ll never forget the sickly smell, he’s marked, marked I tell you.’

‘Never mind that… ‘

‘Never mind! Never mind? Are you insane? I tell you I will bludgeon…’

Jester gave up on the reasoning and laid his cake out. Ceasing his rant Bohmert swiveled his swollen eye on it. ‘That’s nice,’ he said ‘and such a sharp knife, what’s to be sliced, the cake or my throat?’

‘Much happiness.’

‘But it’s not my birthday.’

‘Oh but it is.’

Jester moved swiftly, grabbing Bohmert’s trapped, pale hand, prizing out the pinkie and cutting the tip clean off. He was good, clinical: to stop the screams he pulled on Bohmert’s tongue with tongs and captured it in a cage. Then he unlocked the stocks, tied him, called on my help and together we bundled him into the back of the wagon.

‘Good, that’s that, he shouldn’t give you much trouble, here are your papers, the horses are fresh, take him to the border.

The road ahead proved rocky, looking back at Bohmert he seemed oblivious to the uncomfortable ride which was hardly surprising considering his recent ordeals. Trussed up and filthy like some common animal I couldn’t help but feel for the man but if I was honest I was glad of the bridle – no one needs to hear a lurid tale of brutal sodomy for mile after mile.

As Messenger affairs of state were not unfamiliar to me. Although observing proceedings from the outside kept me in the dark as to the specifics, the often cruel and deceitful nature of the engine that seemed to drive political intrigue did not go unnoticed. I was in great danger. A not so fantastic visualisation of a declaration pinned in the town square played in my head: ‘a discovered escape attempt thwarted, Bohmert and perpetrator killed.’ Imagined maybe but tangible enough for a damp sheen of sweat to break out over my entire body in the cold, wintry air. Scared, yes, but also wide eyed alert, thrilled.

Usually hectic, traffic proved sparse for a main road to the border. What fellow travellers we did encounter were sorry sights – ransacked, beaten, robbed and keen to offer advice. ‘Bandits’ … ‘Soldiers’ … ‘Don’t risk it,’ … ‘Turn back.’ Dire warnings indeed but I had no choice but to plough on. My mission was my life.

Luckily our little wagon, and us, made it through unscathed until we reached the formidable check point.

‘Papers,’ snarled the border guard and I hoped they were the right ones because the sounds of a man being kicked to death in the interrogation hut supposedly came from someone with the wrong ones.

‘What’s with him?’ he asked, nodding towards Bohmert.

‘Insolence,’ I explained.

‘Insolence! Learn some obedience boy,’ he yelled and gave him a couple of sharp ones with his baton. He turned to me and gave me the longest, scariest look.’Proceed.’

Once safely through, I sought out a monastery, dropped Bohmert off, booked into a tavern and got drunk for three days.

All the dread I felt in anticipation of another foul journey home proved unfounded. I was waved through at the border post by a smiling chap dressed up in national costume. The road was busy with travellers, all in good humour, keen to engage in conversation of good nature. But the headache I was nursing was so severe I played mute, almost longing for the long faced victims of only a few days previous. My refusal to interact with fellow citizens meant that I remained in the dark as to the cause of this great transformation. Until I reached the market square. A strange form of sculpture dominated the centre place – that of an impaled and burnt man. The spike of the wooden stake forced up his arse now jutted out through the blackened hole of a mouth. The outline of the corpse, although ragged, was nevertheless recognisable.

‘Henchman,’ Baker said to me, ‘it appeared overnight two days ago. People have been gathering to see for themselves, I myself refused to believe it but there you are.’         

I noticed another pair of familiar figures at the head of the crowd spitting on the spectacle – Blacksmith and Skinner. They looked pleased, satisfied as they helped each other towards the tavern, one half blind, both limping with the ravages of the rack.

‘Good, good,’ He said, filling His pipe with some half zware shag, listening to my tale of Bohmert’s exile. ‘Something wrong?’

‘One thing puzzles me,’ I said, ‘the sliced finger tip.’

He tossed me a sword, ‘attack routine eight.’

Keen to impress I went through the turns, steps, swipes and slashes of the drill with vigour, finishing, as required, with the blade held out horizontally, at throat height.

‘Excellent.’ He said. ‘Bohmert can’t do that, it’s the weight of the weapon you see, if he gets into a sword-fight he’s a dead man, and as for followers, hah, who would follow a man useless in the art of armed combat?’

I nodded, impressed.

‘You have served me well young citizen, I think a promotion is in order, you are now Diplomat, by the way my portrait is finished, look, what do you think?’

‘Magnificent, and, it has to be said, you have a beautiful moustache.’         

         

© zenbuddhist 2020
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Thegeeza

I like what you constructed there – I could strangely visualize it. I got a bit lost, just after the beginning and would say you could tame the graphic content a little – but I liked the strange characters and setting. Liked the last line. Odd but entertaining!

Mitch

I love the quirky almost Gothic imagery and style – a bit raggedy in places like the stitch-patch suit of the Harlequin and the Scrutiniser/Scribe paragraph could open out a bit but overall it keeps the attention rambling through it which is no mean feat. Medieaval times were indeed the oubliettes. Mitch

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