Chapter 30: Korah's Maw
Colin sat with his mother at their coffee table in their kitchen. As he munched on toast, she slowly sipped coffee from her mug and sighed.
“You gotta be strong now, hon.” she said as she gazed at him. “They’ll eat you alive if you let them.”
A drop of water sliding down Colin’s cheek brought him back from the darkness and the dream. The clank of metal on metal was the first sound he heard in his daze. His body was still, his knees were pushed against his chest. His back was hunched against cold iron bars, bruised and screaming in pain, yet he felt as if the ground were swaying back and forth like a ship on the sea. The coppery taste of blood ran from his nose to his lips.
Slowly, it’ll hurt. He opened his swollen eyes. Rusted metal bars filled his vision. Colin turned his head slightly and felt a searing pain shoot across his neck and into his chest.
Where the hell did they put me? He saw his prison was small enough to keep him from standing. The top of the cell was rounded and the metal floor was as flat as an iron, yet still, the sway told him terra firma wasn’t close. The drops of water landing across his face and the cool chill of the dark breeze whispered he was somewhere outdoors, and not in some dank dungeon. The soft steady rhythm of rain became clearer in his mind. It’s almost peaceful Colin thought as he strained to look below him, If I could just be home enjoying it.
Lightning flashed and Colin saw the high gallows holding his cage up. A mechanism at the top of the wooden arm was connected to his cage by way of a long rope, leading downward. His mind flashed an image from a history book he’d scanned in class. A prisoner was held in a human-sized birdcage, left to rot. A pillory is what they called it. How high up am I?
Lightning and thunder cracked again and Colin saw across the dark expanse another pillory cage like his own. Inside was the runt who had been in the dungeon with him, Gunney. The little man was pulling and clawing at his bars like a frantic caged rat. He reached his hand out through the bars and tried to grasp for the rope running from his gallows arm, but the line was just out of his reach.
Below and to his right, Colin heard movement and hushed voices. They were busy, working at something. The lightning flashed again and through the rain Colin saw a troop of men erecting a command tent, putting together huge wooden crossbows mounted on wheels, ballistas, and readying several oversized iron-tipped bolts. The Amorites, he thought. Great.
To his left, Colin saw that the line of men ended abruptly as if some natural barrier in the darkness stopped all ingress. Lightning arced across the sky and Colin’s eyes spotted the reason. He was hanging out over a chasm, sheer and vertical, that split the earth and held a large gorge of water, running far inland from the sea. There, in the depths of the gorge beneath him, Colin spied jagged rocks sticking up like teeth, surrounded by a miasma of seawater swirling between them. The water rolled in long waves from the distant breakers of the sea, then funneled down the canyon gorge to this endpoint. Colin saw the influx of water smash around and through a crudely made latticed gate connected to either side of the gorge and running across its width.
Are they trying to catch fish? Colin wondered. But the spaces throughout the lattice seemed much too large.
“Watch your foot!” one of the worker’s growled at another below. The tent was now up and, in another flash of the night sky, Colin recognized Mariselle’s ruined face, coarse stitches ran from her neck up to her mouth. She was staring up at him. She turned towards the command tent and motioned to a nearby guard. Colin watched as she leaned in and whispered in the guard’s ear. Colin couldn’t make out the words. The guard nodded and moved to the foot of Colin’s cage. Mariselle’s disfigured smile spread across her face as she gazed at him, still bleeding gums and a few scattered teeth were all that remained. She went into her tent.
Colin’s guard called up to him, “Don’t think about using your voice powers on me, boy. I’ll spear you before you get two words out. Or maybe I’ll just drop you early.”
Colin leaned back and sighed. “Go ahead. I can swim.”
The jailor laughed. “You can? Can you swim faster than the beastie? That I’d like to see!”
“What?” Colin asked.
The guard signaled to another man below Gunney’s pillory. The jailor yanked the rope attached to the gallows arm and Gunney’s cell split open in the middle. He shrieked as he fell into the chasm. Colin winced as he saw the little man fall, certain he would be impaled on the jagged rocks between the waves. Suddenly a gigantic set of jaws flew up from the water and bit him in half. The flash of light revealed the dull gray belly of the beast as it splashed back into the water, smooth like an eel’s but a thousand times larger.
The black silhouette of the creature filled the bottom of the watery chasm. The lightning flash revealed a double set of jagged teeth sinking back below the waves as its four black eyes stared up at Colin in anticipation.
The remains of Gunney’s body were pulled below the water. The rolling wash turned crimson as lightning flashed again. Colin’s hands locked around the bars of his cell and he shut his eyes, not wanting to see more.
Colin’s jailor laughed again, “I’d welcome you to Korah’s Maw, but you won’t be staying long.”
* * * * * * * *
King Braeden approached his chief warrant officer, Egan, in the castle courtyard as the guards moved around him and worked to pacify the crowd.
Egan took a knee. “My Lord. Thank the Maker you’re with us. I’d feared you were nearly dead.”
“And I was, I nearly was, if not for my daughter and her friends. Thank you for your service and your warning.”
Egan stood. “We need all available hands at the Ambassador’s Square. The Amorites have attacked the bay and right now march up through the grand staircase of the Lion’s Maw. I’ve had the western gate barricaded, but I fear it won’t hold for long.”
“Unfortunate, but not surprising. I’ve sent a detachment of my guard to route Mariselle from the castle, but my guess is she and her retinue have already fled the city. She’s brazen, but she’s not stupid.” Braeden nodded. “How many men do you have at the square now?”
“No more than a company or so.” Egan’s eyes roamed across the courtyard, counting every able body capable of holding a weapon. “There are more willing fighters within the city walls that I can round up. Some civilians are capable of holding their own as well.”
King Braeden’s brow raised as Egan chuckled to himself. “Something amusing?” “Sorry my lord, A privateer I came across by the name of Absalom was exceptional with a knife. Showed more spine than half of the Captain of the guard’s men. I suppose-”
Braeden’s face went white. “Did you say ‘Absalom’?”
Egan paused, “Sire? You know of him?”
“I’ll send the rest of my guard to your aid as soon as we’ve seen to these people,” Braeden said, avoiding Egan’s gaze. “Have your officers set up a command post at the central Bazaar, near Market Street. It will be our fall back point, should we need it. Take who you can now to the western gate, I’ll follow once I’ve said my goodbyes to him,” Braeden nodded at the body of Samuel, covered by a tattered sheet.
“Yes, M’lord.” Egan nodded and turned away.
Braeden approached the body and kneeled beside it, “Well, old friend, it seems all my sins have come back to haunt me tonight. I envy your peace.”