The Death of Wesley Chambers
Wesley’s original plan was to get hold of a blank piece of paper and mail fake release forms out under the King’s title—a title that stood on fake grounds of authority anyways—but burning the whole damned barn down seemed like a better idea.
The bonfire rose to the ceiling as the midnight bell tolled for the 48th time. Flames swept loose pages off the desktop in a backdraft, swirling them around Wesley, who was occupied with tearing parchment stacks to the floor and stuffing them in the furnace mouth. Land deeds and execution documents curled into nothing atop the orange heap. For his first act as Magistrate, Wesley Chambers mailed all legislation to the seven Hells.
He wiped his brow and carried on. Flame tails spread along the ceiling panels in all directions. He dragged Lexifer’s body into the cell by clammy heels, then overturned the desk with a clapping crash. He tore the desktop from the drawers and held the plank in his hands: his entire destiny had been written atop this surface. It snapped easily over his knee. He tossed the scrap pieces into the cell, building the fire in Lexifer’s tomb. They would find Lexifer’s burnt skeleton and publish it as the death of Wesley Chambers. Fate had never been a credible biographer for him anyways.
Files scattered across the floor. He tossed them all into the Magistrate’s cell, burying the body in documents.
All but one. A folder titled ‘Wesley Chambers’ had slid beneath the broken cleats of the desk. He snatched it up by the corner and held it in front of himself. The flames spun seemingly on all sides. He unbuttoned Lexifer’s blazer at his chest and placed a hand on the tipped desk.
“Fire!” someone yelled from the entryway above. “Fire in the gaols!”
He pinched the bundle of paper till his thumbs turned white. His identity lay just inside the first page of this folder. He had been Wesley Chambers as long as he could remember. A train of boots came down the spiral staircase.
“Is anyone alive down there?”
Wesley couldn’t scream for help even if he wanted to. He ran fingers over the stitching on his mouth, looking down at the folder which defined his place in this world. It unfolded in his hand. Two sentences were stained into the parchment with black ink, one more recently than the other.
Child to be named Wesley Chambers.
Wesley Chambers accused of murdering Sheriff Foster.
This is what had been chasing him for sixteen years. How foolish, Wesley thought, to think it could have meant anything. Wesley dipped the corner of his own file into the bluely base of a flame, tossed it into the cell, and slammed the door shut just as a line of soldiers came tramping into the gaol.
“Magistrate!” the Captain exclaimed, waving smoke out of his face and tucking an elbow over his mouth. They all broke into a fit of coughing. “You should have told us Wesley Chambers was innocent. The King is being detained for murder as we speak.”
It took Wesley a moment to process that the Captain was speaking to him. They both looked over to the fire beating through the cell ribs.
“Wesley Chambers is dead?” the Captain asked.
Wesley Chambers nodded.
“Put out that fire!” the Captain commanded his soldiers, who removed their jackets and tossed them over the flames. They scattered the fire to the floor and stomped at it like a rat. As the Captain fumbled with keys to get into the cell, Wesley noticed a pair of worn empty boots in the center of the room. He hooked a finger in each and brought them up the spiral stairs. Lifting the iron latch, he pushed the heavy door forward on its hinges and stepped into the night. A hand gripped him at the neck. It was the Foster girl. She burrowed her head under his chin, like he were some dog she thought she’d lost. Wesley rubbed the back of her neck, pressing their foreheads together. He wished that he could speak. But there was nothing more to say. She pulled Wesley up the winding passage. He took one look back at the vault door before it disappeared around the bending soapstone walls. More firelight greeted them at the exit of the archway, blocked out by the silhouettes of soldiers dragging King Gallant into the passage.
Wesley ducked behind dusty wine crates. She unwound a rag from her right hand.
“Take this,” she said as it unspooled at the end of her arm. He grimaced at the bruised nub where here hand used to be. “No time to explain—I’m fine for now, they cauterized it,” she added.
He wrapped the white fabric over his face, so that only his eyes showed, then tucked the tails into the collar of his coat. They stood up and walked with their heads down as Gallant was pulled closer towards them.
“I will not stand for this treatment! I am a King!” Jimmy Gallows said. Gallows pulled away from the Captain in tantric desperation, bumping square into Wesley in passing. “Watch where you’re going, Magistrate! Come, come, we must sort out this mess. Clearly the document was forged.”
Wesley placed a note in the King’s hand.
‘Pardon me,’ it said.
Wesley held the King’s eyes for a sweeping moment, just long enough for recognition to sink in. The guards pulled the disgraced King down the serpentine passage, until only his frantic screams and shadow—much larger than the man really was—could be seen round the winding walls.
Wesley and Alex rushed onwards out of the castle side by side. He staggered to a walk. The people were in marvelous riot. Hay carriages had been tipped into the street and set ablaze in the market. Glass bottles shattered off the brick archways of the castle. A young soldier burst out of the clock tower door and walked into the courtyard.
“I can’t stop the bells,” the soldier yelled up to someone on the balcony. “Shackles are jammed between the gears.”
Before Wesley could see who the boy was shouting up to, plumes of orange flame smashed against the wooden scaffolding. Fergus and a group of moonshiners tossed jars against every building in sight.
June led him forward through the chaos, but he stopped, watching the scaffolding around the clock tower snap and tip in front of them. An enormous beam leaned over the courtyard and dropped onto a little pigtailed girl. Wesley closed his eyes and heard the sound of a crush. He opened his eyes. An enormous man stood between the ground and the little girl, holding the beam impossibly on his back. Wesley placed the boots neatly beside the man, lifted the little girl in his arms, and carried her safely out from the beam’s shadow. Oscar Fenwick smiled, veins bulging from his forehead.
“You’re a good man,” Fenwick said as his legs buckled beneath him and he was crushed under the beam. Wesley removed the rag from his face. And in the firelight of a burning Kingdom, Wesley Chambers walked the streets unbothered.