Excerpt 10, A Seat for the Rabble
Posted on April 19, 2021
In this chapter, Tyler Rolfe, a rebel, leads other peasants to revolt and capture the Colossus, ancient seat of the Worthy Assembly. Feel free to check out the synopsis for A Seat for the Rabble if you need more information.
Disclaimer: Some of this content may be NSFW. The subject matter is intended for mature audiences, as it deals with the sometimes unpleasant realities of life in the medieval ages, which helped inspire this fictional fantasy novel.
When the portcullis began to shiver open, the swords and axes came out.
Shannon Ironkeep rushed in first, cleaving through the first man’s boiled leather and chest with her axe. The second guard, a boy no older than Tyler, slid forward on Blackstaff’s sword, mouth gaping as he bled out, losing intestines.
Blackstaff’s impostor kicked the boy off his sword. For a second, he seemed to lose himself in his staff’s aura, transfixed by silverstone, as visible in its pale light as he’d be in sunlight.
The woman boxed his helm as if it were the big man’s ear. “Donna stand there like an oaf, Shreve. Work needs doin’.” She swiveled on the peasants and thrust her bloody axe into the air. “To each a chair!” she cried lustily.
“TO ALL A PIECE!” the peasants thundered together.
With the pretender beside her, the warrior-grandmother led the way into the tunnel of the gatehouse, running with the light from Blackstaff’s staff fidgeting all around them. Peasants disguised in silks ran after the bobbing light, swords in the air, their war cries echoing.
Lost in a loud, sweaty, silverstone-lit stampede through the gatehouse, Tyler tried to stay alive by staying on his feet. Running behind the pack, he nicked his chin on someone’s shoulder and tasted blood; he stepped wrong on something and winced at the pain in his ankle. Ahead, past the charging people, at the end of the gatehouse, he glimpsed a sand arena.
He felt hope. Mad hope that mingled with his grief. Roryn Cook’s van had managed to slip through the Golden Meadows almost entirely unnoticed and unsuspected. Walking alone, one cassocked priest, an Assemblyman, had made eye contact with their Blackstaff, but he didn’t make inquiries or raise alarm.
Undraping his staff, the man called Shreve had knocked its stone against the portcullis a little lightly at first, harder the second time, after Shannon prodded him. Everyone held their breath when the impersonator misremembered Blackstaff’s traditional exchange with the guards, stammering out, upon them querying his allegiance, “AYE, uh—I’m for the king.”
But no one took issue. No one questioned his identity or spied Commoners lurking beneath the archways of arcades, waiting for the portcullis to slide open. The man who donned Blackstaff’s armor, who wielded his rod, was someone whose significance lay in ritual. Who feared treason from a symbol?
Roryn’s plan was working. If they could take his kingly namesake’s amphitheater—if they could hold it—they could hold the steward hostage and force the lords to return to the peasants what was theirs. Everything felt possible.
As Tyler ran through the gatehouse, he remembered what his tanner papa had once told him. It was a memory that stayed with him, one he’d shared with Jaina just yesterday.
Satin, he remembered.
“Satin,” the elder Rolfe had told his son in their house one night, patting his rock-hard stool seat. “Satin!” he’d repeated with childlike wonder. “Can you believe it? When the Wing of the Commons still had seats, Commoners sat on satin cushions beside their lords, clergymen, and merchants. To this day, the Worthy men sit on cushions when they meet to make law.” He remembered his father waxing serious. “As peasants will again . . . one day.”
That day is here, Papa, Tyler thought as he ran toward sand and moonlight, toward salvation. The long night of our Common folk is over.
Arrows whistled at the entrance, studding sand and flesh. The peasants at the van of the van, who would’ve been the first Commoners to set foot in the Colossus in centuries, were the first to fall. A corpse heap formed at the entrance, slowing their advance. Tyler huddled with Shannon, Shreve, and other men under an archway as arrows peppered the sand feet away.
As he kept his eyes on the blitz of arrows, calamity arose in the Golden Meadows behind them, orders bellowed into the night, horses whinnying—and there, distantly, the peal of steel clashing against steel. Be worthy of mercy and justice, Roryn.
Tyler urged Shannon and Blackstaff’s impostor to move forward, for god’s sake, move forward, but his cries fell on deaf ears. “RORYN, RORYN,” he shouted as he grabbed the woman by her arm. He jabbed his finger at the camps behind them and told her the Colossus had to be taken.
Battle was raging, peasants like Tyler were dying, but he took confidence in Shannon’s unwavering gaze. She cocked her thumb at the sand arena. “WE CANNA GET IN,” he heard her say over the tumult.
Still the arrows rained down, catching dead men, pfft, pfft. With a crazed look, Shreve said something. Only afterward did Tyler read his lips and understand he spoke for the ages.
Into the storm strode Blackstaff, convulsing from impact as arrows lanced his greaves, arms, cuirass. Arrows appeared everywhere but on his helm, and by some miracle, the hero still stood nearly a minute in, bushed by so many that he looked like a shrub made of shafts. Shannon, Tyler, and the other peasants bounded over bodies. Tyler caught a glimpse of Shreve’s eyes misting as he slumped sideways. Doing his duty by Roryn, by all peasants, he picked up the luminous rod.
Peasants fanned out across the arena to make themselves harder targets. That ploy might’ve served the remaining two-dozen peasants well, but a muck of wet sand slowed their pace dangerously. The Second Trial, he remembered.
Worse for the boy, the luster of Blackstaff’s rod made him a well-lit firefly. He plodded through sand, ducking arrows. One plonked by his ankle; another singed his cheek. Commoners fought a skeleton crew of archers in mail and boiled leather—perhaps eight in all—but their nests in the middle and upper benches made them seem a hundred. The Colossus’s sackers scattered like roaches, seeking cover or dying in the attempt.
Tyler sighted a crossbowman in the benches, not twenty feet off. Loading a bolt took precious time. Tyler charged with weights on his feet, his blade up.
His ankle exploded with pain. He collapsed in the soggy sand, got up, and fought to hop away on one foot, crying out every time he put pressure on his skewered ankle. His blood slicked the protruding arrow, dribbling a trail in the sand.
A bolt from the crossbowman whistled past his shoulder as he half-stumbled, half-crawled for cover. But where? Tyler forced himself to think through a wall of pain. He considered sheltering beneath a bench until he saw a peasant below one, hand dangling out, an arrow through his head. WHERE, GOD?
The One True God didn’t disappoint. The answer was in front of him, a dozen yards off. Evading arrows, he hadn’t yet noticed the giant wheelhouse at the center of the arena; there was no missing it now. A silver tarp blanketed the enclosure, leaving visible only its sand-caked wheels.
The griffon, Tyler thought. Ruts in the sand led from the wheels to the gatehouse. The Assembly had carted the king’s bird here for the Third Trial.
He staggered in the wheelhouse’s direction as people fought for their lives around him. An over-the-shoulder glance showed him that the crossbowman hadn’t given up on his prey; their eyes locked as the enemy cranked his bolt.
Tyler reached the wheelhouse. Seconds turned to hours as he struggled to ease himself flat on his belly, clenching his jaw to weather the fire lancing up his leg. Clutching his sword and staff, he crawled to safety beneath the wheelhouse on his elbows. A crossbow bolt thwopped by his feet.
Perhaps the best I can do right now is keep the staff safe, Tyler thought. We’ll need it for Roryn to know we’ve taken the Colossus. Despite their losses, despite the arrow lodged in his ankle, tides were turning. Fewer arrows pelted the sand as Commoners stormed the benches, cornering archers.
Tyler worked fast. He unbuttoned the gambeson, jerked out a wad of his cloth shirt, pulled it out and over his head. It was a good shirt and had served him for years; he ripped it in two pieces. Gingerly, he folded one piece around his inflamed ankle, the arrow too, trying to stanch blood loss.
As he finished tying the knot, thunder rumbled overhead. A storm? He gazed at the gatehouse, hoping that it was Roryn Cook arriving with his peasant army, Princess Lorana bound by rope. Were the lords and their men-at-arms so easy to dispatch?
Then he remembered what the enclosure contained. The sound of the creature’s growl was enough to rattle iron floor, carry through sand, vibrate in his bones. It wasn’t over. The wheelhouse shook side to side violently, creaking, as if tussled by gale wind. Claws raked the iron floor above him from the other side; he kept waiting for them to shear through it.
In spite of his leg, he was still and silent. Until he saw the snake sliding over the sand. Not a snake—a tail. A griffon’s tail. Thicker than his arm, the appendage plumed so thickly with fur at the end that it resembled a head. The tail moved almost with a will of its own, searching for the source of disturbance. His breathing quickened. Please, god, donna let it take me.
Tyler squinted at the aura pulsating from Blackstaff’s rod. Roryn’s warning returned to him: “You clothe that rod quick, an’ keep it far, an’ I mean far, from the beast’s sight. He sees it, he’ll raise hell.”
As the tail wended by his cheek, he took the other half of his torn shirt and draped the rod. This accomplished precisely nothing; the pearl aura bled through the fabric radiantly. With the wheelhouse over him shaking, he plunged the silverstone into sand. That mostly snuffed its light.
The shaking quelled. He realized he could hear himself breathe. Peasants were scouring the benches for archers, communicating in low voices. “Did Rolfe fall?” A man called out. “I donna see him,” another answered. “But we need him, least that silverstone. He took it off Shreve.”
Seconds passed before Tyler remembered he was alive. He crawled halfway out from under the wheelhouse; he left Blackstaff’s rod sheathed in the sand. “I’m here!” he cried.
Shannon Ironkeep descended from the benches. The old bewhiskered woman lumbered in his direction, dragging her axe listlessly through the sand. She, too, had taken an arrow; a broken shaft poked out of her arm, and she breathed heavily. She halted a distance away. Besieging the Assembly’s seat of power and getting shot with arrows hadn’t fazed the doughty peasant, but the sight of the cage blazed her eyes.
“Get up an’ outta there, Rolfe,” she urged him in a strained voice. “I dare nah get closer.”
“I canna walk!” he whispered loudly, fearful of angering the beast. “I took an arrow in my leg.”
“Then throw the rod. Roryn needs the signal. We’ve taken the Colossus.”
Hope unlooked-for washed over Tyler. He was about to tell her he couldn’t, that the griffon nearly smashed its prison to bits over silverstone light, when cheers and cries of joy filled the night air. Of the two-dozen people who’d breached Rorin’s amphitheater, only ten still drew breath; and while half of them tended to the wounded and dying, the others celebrated.
A young Midland farmhand ran around the Assembly for no other purpose than to rejoice. “WE DID IT,” he shouted as he leapt exultantly through sand. “WE SACKED TH’ BITCH! WE DID IT! WE FUCKIN’ TOOK TH’ COLOSSUS!”
Shannon watched him wearily as he darted by. “It’s not done, ya fool. Roryn’ll be comin’ with her highness. It’s one thing to take a building; another to keep it, make demands.”
Most ignored the grandmother. A man broke down and wept into his hands. Another lifted his hands skyward, giving thanks to the One True God of readers and peasants for their hallowed victory over vicious priests. The farmhand running laps started cartwheeling; he couldn’t sustain it in the moist sand and fell splayed out. He laughed madly, triumphantly.
A middle-aged man savored the moment with dignity. He sat on a lower bench, face forward, back straight, hands round on his knees, as if he were a child in school. Blood oozed down his face from a gleaming head wound, but he didn’t attend to it. It was as if he’d decided that nothing and no one would move him. Even if he bled.
That was when Tyler realized it. The benches were bare! I’m here, Papa, I’m here for you and Jaina and everyone . . . but I donna see your satin cushions.
The blaze in his ankle outweighed disappointment. Tyler motioned for Shannon. “Help me upstairs so we can give the signal,” he said. “Roryn wanted me to do it.”
A fletched bolt blossomed in Shannon’s heart like a red rose, and she fell clutching her axe. Another bolt flattened the farmhand where he lay in the sand.
“THEY’RE COMIN’ FROM BELOW!” someone shouted.
No, Tyler thought. Fresh archers swept across the arena, stringing their bows. With them were knights in heavy armor. They streamed out from the northern portcullis—from below the Colossus. There were more men than he could count.
It took the Assembly’s forces under a minute to kill the remaining peasants. Tears falling off his face, Tyler shuffled back under the cage. Fear made him desperate. Trying not to scrape the arrow in his ankle, lest he cry out, he inadvertently nudged the staff. It was as if he’d dug up a moon. The blast of silvery radiance drew a hissss that Tyler felt through his back.
Near where Shannon lay, a company of men halted in their tracks. “There’s one under the wheelhouse,” a dark-haired archer told the others.
“Is that . . . is that silverstone he has with him?” asked another, incredulous.
“Blackstaff’s rod,” said a crossbowman, an Eastlander by his accent. “It’s how the little Common fleas got in. Good thing word reached Redoak about Lordsbane’s visit here. Elsewise, he might not’ve had us posted here tonight.”
The same fear that had paralyzed Shannon Ironkeep lay in the archer’s eyes. “A griffon’s in there. I’ll go no closer.”
“You don’t have to.” The crossbowman approached with his weapon pointed. His footsteps came softly, as if he thought to reassure the griffon. “Is that a star ya got with you, lad?” he called out. “Bright light, that. I can see you clear as day. From here, I could stick you between your eyes. Kill ya quick.”
He remembered their faces, their voices. Dorian. Sara of Rosbury. Roryn. Shannon. Shreve. His papa. Jaina most of all. They kindled his courage, but her face and hair and voice, her laughter, helped numb the fiery throb of his leg. He heard a low rumbling—not from above him, but out there, like the rush of a wave gaining momentum before it crashes ashore. The battle continued, and it was because of her sacrifice, the first of many.
Tyler took heart. “We’re nah alone,” he piped. “Nah t’all. An army’s comin’. Big brutes with swords and armor. Let me live, an’ I’ll reason with their leader to let you men live. You’ve done nothin’ wrong, just your duty and your lords’ orders.”
Guardsmen laughed heartily.
A maddening grin worked its way into the crossbowman’s face. “Nah,” he mocked Tyler. “I’ll let you live so we can ask ya questions. If you’ve got friends comin’, well, this bolt will fly through your stomach instead of your head. Not so quick, that sorta death. And if ya stay under there, well . . .” He paused so that all anyone heard was the wheelhouse-rattling growl. “I reckon that vicious beast might just save me the trouble.”
Tears coursed down Tyler’s face. Forgive me, Roryn. I see no other way. On elbows and knees, he crawled through muck, the rod with him, spilling light, throwing shadows wildly. The wheelhouse squeaked as the creature paced about anxiously. The drag of his injured leg dragged out the surrender.
The crossbowman sighed impatiently. “Gods, what is this one, a snail or a peasant? I repeat myself, I s’ppose.” Laughter rang around the Colossus. “Sitting, resting, taking your sweet time—that’s for lords and priests. Not for dumb serfs like you.”
Tyler held aloft the rod of light; the wheelhouse quaked about in response, jingling iron bars. The plumed tail curled out, silver tarp rising with it. He trembled under the glare of a massive eagle’s eye, a golden disc threaded with amber lines. He saw his reflection in the black iris.
The crossbowman was still snickering when Tyler Rolfe tossed the spear of Blackstaff’s rod into the wheelhouse.
The scream was monstrous and frightening. Inside, the rod spun round like a bottle, scrambling darkness with light, offering fleeting glimpses of vast arched wings, the mustard beak and sickle claws working to uproot iron bars. A few bars gave way, but a few was all it’d take. The wheelhouse tilted over him precariously.
Give me mercy and justice, beast. I’ve never had none.
The enclosure capsized the other way, the staff twirling out and away, its static light fogging a swath of sand. Wood planks were snapping like twigs, and iron bars swung out as projectiles. A great shadow vaulted free of the wheelhouse, wings beating air, whipping up a gritty sandstorm that flung Tyler and the archers away like leaves in the wind.
There was no mercy in how the fall broke the boy’s legs, or justice, as many of the guardsmen fled to safety. But before debris tumbled down on top of him, darkening his world, Tyler saw a shadow angel taking flight against sky, wings blotting out stars, and he remembered why peasants worshipped griffons.
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