On The Fifth

Jul was gone, the log burned and its ashes fed to the single cow in the family. Neujahr came and went, too; thin sekt was drank and lead was poured announcing no portents of meaning. There was little copper for gifts, so he asked for this instead and to him this was given.

The first day and the first night were for timber. Rauhe Alb was as dark as Baldr’s beard even in sunlight, and its gloom gave birth to eyeless spirits that seeped into the souls of men. But the black wood was best here, so he chose a sturdy tree and fell it with prayers and purposeful swings of steel.

The second day was for carving. He whittled at the noble wood, his heart aflutter at the prospect of being one of them instead of one of these, at least for one evening. The fingers that worked the knife and caressed the curves were gentle, knowing, and patient. Soon a smooth ebony face that stared with empty sockets was packed tightly in his roll next to a loaf of travel bread and a skin full of water.

The journey began early on the third with blessings and reserved apprehension. The cold was just short of brutal during the day and merciless under the patchwork of constellations at night. He found the cave he used to play in when small, covered the entrance with shrubs to keep the chill at bay, and thought of her as she rode her royal carriage, her eyes the deepest blue and her skin the whitest alabaster. He ate half of the bread and went to bed with dreams of music and dance.

On the fourth day, he was kicking rocks in the road when a troop of inebriated Kingsmannen busted out of a tavern, laughing and ribbing each other. He quickly hid behind a tree and waited for them to be on their way before tiptoeing into the wooden building. What he saw made him hurl. The innkeeper, a plump woman with rosy cheeks and a long, blond braid, lay on the floorboards, half-naked. Blood was pooling under her skirt and dripping through the cracks into the cellar. Another stream ended amid her sizable breasts from a severed throat. He felt as if the cold and the flowing blood took with them part of him that day.

On the night of the fifth he made his choice. From the gossiping mouths of noble travelers he knew that the family’s cow would give no more milk, his baby brother’s wails would be silent in the wee hours, his father would bring no wood to sell, and his mother had stirred the pot of weak broth for the last time. The Kingsmannen had slain them all.

Inside the city the cheers of youth mixed with the sound of the waldzither. The elders distilled unabashed passion and laughter. The fireworks tinted the faceless revelers’ visages.

The Black Mask would claim lives. She would be first.