It was difficult for the small dark figure, making his way across the forest of gravestones, to navigate around each territory of soil which held the bed of a single hibernating corpse.
It would have been much easier for him if he had followed the route of his Master a few feet in front, who seemed ignorant of respect for the dead.
To the Master, the dead were none of his concern.
What did he care if his footsteps disturbed the inanimate shells that, for a time, had been home to what he called the spores of mankind?
Unaware of the greatness around them if it was not so named; King, Queen or Araman.
They were six and a half feet under and that is where they would remain until further notice.
The extra half a foot was traditional to the people of Namare. Short wooden spikes and a layer of pebbles were pushed into the soil; to prevent the evil part of a spirit trying to escape once the good had left the body.
Superstitious fools. The Master thought whilst kicking a smooth pebble through the dying winter grass.
It made a pathetic sound when it hit the next grave but broke through the tense silence enough to make his servant, who was trailing behind, freeze and peer through the deserted cemetery.
After a moment’s thought about what kind of person you would have to be to wander around a graveyard in the dead of night, the servant realised that this was the type of person he was and reflected on the fact that you could be a creature, not a man.
He shook off the sinister feeling that accompanied these thoughts and came to the conclusion that he would rather be dead than up against the tall individual he had been struggling to keep up with.
Fog from the slight frost seemed to pull at his Master’s feet like the fingers of death themselves.
Not every evil spirit was kept at bay by simple superstitions.
“I thought warlocks couldn’t step on hallowed ground?” The smaller of the two grave wanderers said in a high pitched voice, once he had caught up with his master.
“For the last time, I am not a warlock.” The Master replied in a deep and intolerant tone, without turning or stopping.
“Right, yes, sorry. I forgot.” The servant slowed to place a little more distance between him and his portentous Master.
“And a Sinner has more right than most as to where he walks.” The Master’s voice was full of self importance. “But what I am is not what you should concern yourself with. It is what I will become that you should remember.”
He stopped suddenly, in front of the unadorned wooden shack that lay on the outskirts of the graveyard.
“And believe me, everyone will.” The Master finished in a quieter voice so that the small man didn’t hear.
Turning abruptly and catching his quivering servant off guard, who fell on his plump behind over one of the lesser graves, the master bent down towards him and said in a stern tone, like someone addressing a child.
“Just do not forget what I told you earlier. You are to touch nothing once we are inside. It is of the gravest importance to your person.” He straightened up again and turned his back on the little man, smiling to himself as he continued.
“No one is going to hold me responsible if you disobey. Only the dead are watching tonight, Welver.” He started walking away.
Welver picked himself up from the wet ground and turned away from his Master, leaning against the grave he had fallen over.
He had had enough of respecting the dead for one night.
Listening to the footsteps of the master walking away he sat in silence, as previously instructed, and studied the mute stones in their many shapes, each one as unique as the person buried below.
Two of the graves had fallen towards each other like lovers in another life, their mossy coats wrapping them together and holding them close and secure in the shadows.
Welver had never thought he would find himself here, surrounded by the deceased in the middle of the night, in the cold of winter as he was now.
If his intelligence had stretched as far as being able to imagine things other than the situations other people put him in, he probably would have wanted to be sat at home in a large chair, his son asleep in front of the fire next to the puppy they had bought from the neighbouring farm.
His wife would bring him a hot mug of milk and slice of honeyed meat after a hard day spent tending the animals and many varied crops. Then, before carrying his sleeping boy to bed and retiring to his own room, he would talk to his wife about what he planned to do tomorrow.
But, Welver was simpler than most people.
The only ambitions he had were the ones of the person he was serving at the time, which was currently the Sinner, his master, who motioned for Welver to follow him inside the rotting shack.
The building seemed to feign insignificance, but once inside Welver knew it was anything but. The well kept wooden walls were lined with shelves that held treasures not meant for a simple grave keepers hut. There were also weapons of every kind within easy reach to anyone who was not inconveniently small, like Welver himself.
He tried to follow his Master through a curtain to another room at the back of the shack but the Sinner turned on him again, his stern eyes almost the colour of his black hair in the dim candlelight coming from the room.
“You go no further and listen not to what we speak of, understand?” The Sinner warned and half smiled when Welver nodded obediently.
Once his Master was behind the curtain, Welver sat at the other end of the shack near the door and tried not to think of the darkness around him. There were many shadows in this entrance room and he hated spiders more than he hated the cold.
Welver absently fiddled with the button of his heavy black coat, identical to the one the Sinner was wearing. Unfortunately for Welver these long coats only came in one size… long; the dimension that his body lacked the most.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw the curtain shift as someone in the room moved past it. The gap it made revealed a blazing fire on the far wall, warm and inviting; unlike the cold floor he was sat on. If only he could get a little closer, he would be warmer and no one would notice him there.
Following his single-minded thoughts, he started to crawl towards the doorway, feeling warmer with each silent shuffle forward. When he reached it, he slumped against the frame of the door and rested his head again.
“...and I can trust you will not be late?” Welver couldn’t help hearing his Master say, now that he was so close to the room.
“The question o’ trust should be comin’ from me. The poison I gave ye can be traced t’one place only and I don’t like the thought o’ both Verxia and Attashar set against me.” Welver did not recognise this second voice, thick with an unknown accent and twisted his body to see who spoke to his Master so harshly.
“Baynil is nothing; you could have taken him years ago.” The Master replied indifferently. “And once your army is in the castle walls, the size of King Dagerten’s forces will be dwarfed by it.”
“Then what do I need ye fer?”
Welver could just see the legs of the man who spoke, he was sitting across from the Sinner, but his face was still concealed by the curtain.
“This alliance is fast approaching between them, and then you will fail. Without me there to prevent it, they will strengthen both their kingdoms and may turn their attention to yours regardless.”
Welver held back the urge to stand and see the man who had authority over the meeting. Eventually his curiosity took charge and he stood up as quietly as he could.
What harm could one peek do?
“And yer prize in this is enough for ya? An insignificant gal?”
“She holds enough significance for me and that is all you need to know.”
The other man laughed loudly making Welver flinch and he hoped no one had seen the curtain move.
The two men stood before he could see who his Master was talking to.
“Then, we conclude ar’ business.” The mystery man said, sounding in good spirits.
Rolling his eyes in despair at the sound of an unconscious Welver hitting the floor, from where one of the guardsmen had knocked him out, the Sinner wrapped his black cloak around his thin body and made to leave the company of Lord Lishini of Namare.
Their agreement was complete, and Verxia set to fall.