A novella set in Thurlambria featuring two characters from Slayer of Dragons and Fortune’s Fool.
Assassins versus Zombies!
There is an unwritten rule that says assassins shouldn’t slay dead things. But when the village you’re in is overrun by the living dead, what choice do you have?
‘Master Assassin’ Gosling and his new partner – the impossibly handsome and possibly psychopathic Bryn Fairfax – are quickly out of their depth when they accept a contract to dispose of a gang of outlaws who just won’t stay dead. All they can do is keep trying and hope they’ll get the job done in the end.
And whatever they do, they’re not going to make the situation any worse… Are they?
Village of the Waking Dead is a standalone Thurlambria short story that takes place between Slayer of Dragons and Fortune’s Fool
Author’s Note: This story takes place between the novels Slayer of Dragons and Fortune’s Fool – if you haven’t read the first Thurlambria novel yet, this story contains a couple of minor spoilers but nothing that would ruin the story for you.
If you’re a fantasy author, there’s an unwritten rule that says you have to write at least one story about a dragon and one about zombies. This one isn’t about a dragon…
The two figures on the woodland path walked in dappled sunshine and might have been a father and son. One was tall, broad-shouldered, with shoulder-length blond hair and dressed in a simple linen shirt and rough trousers. There was a broadsword in a scabbard on his belt and a large axe over his shoulder. The smaller of the two was dressed in brown leather from head to toe and had to take two steps for each of the big man’s strides. The little man – Gosling – was, in fact, the older of the two and his brown face was wrinkled like an old leaf.
“What day is it today?” Gosling asked.
“Market day,” Bryn Fairfax said.
Gosling stopped and looked around him. There was nothing but trees and heathland for miles in every direction. “Market day?”
“Well, there’s a market every day,” Bryn said, “but Friday is the big one.” He stopped and looked back the way they had come. He frowned.
“No one’s coming after us,” Gosling said. “They have other things to worry about.”
“I wonder if they’ve managed to clear the market place,” Bryn said.
“It’s probably full of stalls selling dragon meat,” Gosling said.
A month ago, they had fled the mountain town of Drake’s Spur with only what they were wearing. There had been no time to collect anything. Even Bryn’s armour, from his ‘ceremonial’ office as Slayer of Dragons, had been abandoned when they left on foot. And they have been walking ever since – south and eastwards, more concerned with getting away from than heading towards. At the next town, perhaps Bryn might earn enough for them to buy horses.
Bryn Fairfax was a woodcutter. And a good one. Two days ago, Gosling had watched him swing the axe and fell a good-sized pine tree. And then he watched the young man trim and saw up the trunk unto logs, split them, and stack them. All so the two of them could have a hot meal and a night’s lodging in a farmer’s hayloft. Gosling had also seen Bryn swing the same axe and embed the blade in someone’s skull – with no flicker of emotion. Perhaps that was why Gosling felt an affinity for him. Gosling was glad to have him as a travelling companion, even if it was fate rather than a conscious choice that had brought them together.
“I can’t see the mountains at all now,” Bryn said. He was still looking back along the narrow path. “I’ve never travelled this far before.”
“You spent your whole life in Drake’s Spur?”
Bryn nodded. “I never thought about leaving – had no reason to.”
“Perhaps the good people of Drake’s Spur did you a favour when they chased you out,” Gosling said.
Bryn turned and strode onwards. “Maybe they did us both a favour,” he said as Gosling scurried to catch up with him. “I get to see more of the world and you get a new partner.”
“Apprentice,” Gosling corrected him. “There are conditions that must be met before you can call yourself an assassin.”
“I’ve killed people before,” Bryn said.
Gosling knew this from experience and had also heard the rumours about the fate of the old woodcutter whom Bryn had replaced. “There’s more to being an assassin than simply killing people,” he said.
“Well – you have to get someone to pay you to do it. There has to be a contract in place. Beforehand. You can’t just randomly kill folk.”
“Money and contracts,” Bryn said. “What else do I have to learn?”
“You need to demonstrate, to the satisfaction of a Master Assassin, that you are adept in the use of a variety of weapons.”
“I have a sword and an axe,” Bryn said.
“That’s a good start.”
“Where will I find a Master Assassin?”
Gosling stopped in his tracks. “What?”
“You said I’d need to prove my abilities to a Master Assassin. Where can I find one?”
“I am a Master Assassin,” Gosling said haughtily.
“I have been a member of the Guild for more than thirty years,” Gosling said.
“And before you joined the Assassins Guild, you proved your weapons skills to a Master?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Your eyesight didn’t hamper you at all?”
Gosling frowned. “Why would it?”
“Last evening you threw your dagger at a rabbit…”
Gosling waved a hand dismissively. “Even a Master misses the target occasionally.”
“You didn’t miss,” Bryn said. “But it was a boulder, not a rabbit.”
“Friday,” Gosling said.
“You said it was Friday.”
“Market day,” Bryn said, nodding.
“He doesn’t complain nearly as much as Merivale used to,” Gosling muttered to himself, “and yet he still irritates me.”
“I heard that,” Bryn said, without looking back.
The path emerged from the trees and ahead of them, silhouetted against the sky, was an unmistakable shape.
“A windmill,” Gosling said, his tone curiously flat.
They breasted a slight rise and looked down into a broad, shallow valley. Nestled in the valley was a good-sized village. A shallow river – barely more than a stream – splashed through rocks and curved around one side of the village. Where the water grew deeper downstream, there was a stone bridge. But the village’s most impressive feature, without a doubt, was the windmill up on the hill. Farmers from miles around had to bring their grain here to be ground.
“I’ve never seen inside a windmill,” Bryn said.
“You wouldn’t catch me going in there,” Gosling said. He gave a theatrical shudder.
Bryn looked at him and smiled. “Are you afraid of being ground into tiny pieces?”
“No, I’m afraid of being blown into big wet bloody pieces.”
“They only grind flour,” Bryn said, “they don’t grind gunpowder in a windmill.”
“They don’t need to.”
Bryn looked puzzled.
“When I was a boy,” Gosling said, “I had a friend who used to deliver sacks up to the flour mill. His mother sewed them. One day he went into the mill and BOOM!” Gosling mimed an explosion. “They found bits of him and the miller all over the village – for weeks afterwards.”
Bryn looked down at his companion. Was this true? He sometimes felt that Gosling was testing him – to see how unlikely a story had to be before he’d disbelieve it.
Gosling looked around at the village. “This reminds me of home,” he said. “I’m fighting the urge to turn and run away.”
“It looks like a nice peaceful place filled with ordinary people,” Bryn said.
“You say that as if it is a good thing,” Gosling said.
“Not for us. Nice ordinary people have no need for assassins. We’ll make no money here.”
“Did I hear you say assassins?” a voice behind them asked.
Gosling turned suddenly. “Only if you were eavesdropping on a private conversation,” he said dangerously.
The villager seemed unperturbed and instead smiled as if he was greeting a wealthy aunt. “I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see you,” the man said.
“Why can’t you?” Bryn asked.
The villager’s smile faltered only slightly. “You must come and meet the village elders,” he said, “they’ll explain everything.” He hurried off. When he realised they weren’t following, he turned and beckoned them, smiling again.
“It’s never a good sign when someone is pleased to see an assassin,” Gosling said.
To be continued…