Sweat gathered to drip down Azerrad’s back as the stifling heat of the chamber trailed him to the door, nipping at his cloak before he finally slipped out of the suffocating room and found solace in the darkness of the corridor. Azerrad hated meetings of the High Council. Hours of monotonous blathering, with not a drop of liquor passed, not a morsel of food offered. Theirs was a torture of deprivation, a slow arduous grind through time, without even a small decanter to ease its passing. And things had not gone to plan.
Azerrad had sat listening to them drone on for hours, had watched as Shamshanks then wrote it all down, word for word. Watched his fingers grate on quill, hard-worn and brittle, the skin so old it was practically peeling off onto the page. In fact, in the candlelight they all looked like they were melting, skin sagging to touch lapels, to touch the table. And then it was suddenly his time to speak, time for his great proposition, one that had met with a resounding ‘no’.
“But Gentleman, I have the perfect replacement,” he said, shining his whitest smile, a smile that quickly dimmed as he surveyed the silent room.
A snigger first from Shamshanks, as he fought to steady his quill. A laugh then and a bellow, and then the whole room suddenly erupted in merriment, a gaiety they had spat in his face.
“You? You would have us oust the king and replace him with you!?”
Azerrad knew he didn’t look the likely man to lead them, knew his young face didn’t garner much faith, but he hadn’t expected such derision, such disdain. Yet he had a card up his sleeve none of them were expecting and, by the time he had stormed from guildhall to chamber, his rage began to settle into a simmering well of glee.
If they wouldn’t support him he would go it alone. He wanted the kingdom, the riches that lay in its mountains, in its mines. He didn’t need the council to proceed with his plan. Approval was simply a courtesy, a formality that no longer mattered. Their outrage at his request had sealed the deal, he would have the city, and he would have it now.
Opening the hidden drawer under the dark wooden table, Azerrad’s hand felt the vial cool on his skin, its luminous red liquid swirling and vying in the tiny space, trying desperately to find a way out of the cramped enclosure.
“Soon, my pet. Soon this place will be ours.”
Taking the small bottle, he carefully slipped it into his pocket, and, downing a quick shot of Aurilian liquor, he adjusted his cloak as the warmth filled his chest, before stepping out into the corridor to seek the rushing waters of the well.
She was a thing of beauty once unleashed, her dark red tendrils seeking to imbibe every inch, every last drop of the water that fed the sprawling city, and then there was no escaping her. In the water that washed faces, the drink that quenched thirst, she snuck into the very veins of the living and drew slowly, painfully from each victim their final breath.
Azerrad made his way back through the hot and dirty streets, back up to the tower where he perched high above the rabble and listened as the screams of those below filtered up through the narrow lanes to dance upon the rooftops in a symphony of torture.
The council had underestimated him. Decrepit, rotting old men, if only they had appeased him with his simple request, they could have avoided this. That or provided better refreshments, he thought, amused with himself now. But age builds in a man a stubbornness not easily dissuaded, harder still in an entire council full of such creatures. Azerrad was pleased he had decided instead to teach them a lesson.
A sudden pounding on the door woke him from his reverie, the elders had come to repent.
“Gentlemen,” he said, opening the heavy latch, his hand still clutching his third glass of wine.
The door swung open to reveal several dark faces, eyes beaming, screaming at him in anger. “Azerrad, what have you done!”
The enraged party stormed into his chamber, their anger like bristles, their wrath like fire.
Azerrad smiled, his eyes sparkling now at the gaggle of maddened men, all pushing and shoving like a pack of angry puppies. “I seem to remember asking you for just one, small favour. A favour which you all, quite flatly, refused.”
“We could not condone the overthrow of the king! You know this.”
“Well, yes, I guess I did,” he said, his smile soft, his eyes twinkling. “That’s why I never come to a meeting unprepared. If I couldn’t replace our dear leader, then I would ensure he had nothing to lead.”
“You vile, murderous man! How could you do this!?”
Azerrad stood at the balcony now, his dark robe lifting softly in the evening breeze, a grin slowly spreading on his face as he surveyed the quietening city, the peaceful scene of a night’s work well done. “Oh, it wasn’t me, my Lords. Such beauty could only be a woman’s work.”
The light beside him shifted suddenly, as thousands of tiny red drops of light pooled to form the silhouette of a woman that quickly solidified and took a bow.
“Good evening, my Lords,” it said, voice like a song, teeth like knives. “So glad you could join the party. And please, don’t be concerned,” the creature said, moving towards them, its long, snake like tongue curling out from between teeth to delicately lick its lips. “You will all get a chance to dance.”
– Claire Loader
Claire Loader grew up in New Zealand and spent several years in China before moving to County Galway, Ireland, where she now lives with her family. A photographer and writer, she was a recent finalist in the Women Speak poetry competition and blogs at www.allthefallingstones.com. Her work has appeared in various publications, including Massacre Magazine, Tales From The Forest and Pendora.