Category Archives: The Harbinger Freed

The Harbinger Freed

Names stuck. He had known it as well as Tattle, although he hadn’t cared quite as much. Tattle, of course, had styled herself off of one of her childhood heroes: a girl from some fairytale, who lived on a world that didn’t exist full of people who could do things that weren’t possible. It was nonsense that he had never had much patience for. People could call him what they would, and he couldn’t care less.

But there was a reason why they called him Hurricane. And so the whispers grew, and the name stuck.

Hurricane had sat in the dark, waiting, biding his time, a storm building inside of him. It had been so long since he had been in Alswell, so long since he had to squat in the slave huts, waiting for the call of the foremen in the morning. Not that it mattered, really. The past was the past. It meant nothing and did not bother him.

What did bother him was the fact that he was here, again. He went by the name Lonwal among the fieldman, a name he had thrown away, a name that stuck no matter how hard he tried to get rid of it.

Between Hurricane and Lonwal, he preferred Hurricane. People were scared of Hurricane. No one was scared of Lonwal.

So, in the moment before he killed Hook, Hurricane roared, “You ‘member who I am?

Hook whimpered, his grimy face screwed up in such a pathetic expression that Hurricane was tempted to crush him on the spot. Beside him lay two corpses, though only one was Hurricane’s work.

“We was gon’ save you,” snarled Hurricane, lifting Hook even higher. The boy began to gasp and choke, his mouth opening and closing like some river fishtoad. “Get you out with Veer. And you sell us out.”

Hurricane stepped over the first body. It was another one of the Shira Hay urchins, caught in the riots by the fieldmen—Hurricane couldn’t even remember his name. Shin or Shitty or some nonsense like that. It had hardly mattered when he was alive, and it meant nothing at all now that he was dead.

The urchin in Hurricane’s hands blinked tears from his eyes. “I save, I saving you,” said Hook, shaking his head. “Can’t fight ‘em, Hurricane. You can’t!” His feet dangled limply as he struggled to get out of Hurricane’s grip, but slavery had sapped all his strength. This boy, this squirming weaselrat of a boy, got his strength from food, and water, and a long night’s sleep. Hurricane’s strength was his hunger, his anger, his bruises and aching bones.

“I did,” growled Hurricane. He stepped over the second corpse.

It wasn’t until today that Hook had managed to persuade an alsknight to listen to him. That same alsknight lay on the ground now, his neck broken, his lance buried in the other urchin’s gut. That was how Hurricane got him. Alsknights, he found, enjoyed their killing too much.

Tattle had been brooding for days. The advancing armies from the Seat had been getting closer and closer to Greeve’s plantation with every passing hour, but instead of creating chaos and an opportunity to escape, as she had hoped, they had pressured the fieldmen into tightening their security. Day and night, the alsknights stood watch over the tabula of the slaves, and without those Hurricane could never hope to free his crew mate. Tattle had spent weeks trying to figure out a way around them; she had never realized the greatest danger was from one of their own.

“Who else?” asked Hurricane, pressing Hook against the mud wall of the slave hut. “Who you tell, huh?”

“Just tell-and-tell ‘em you sorry,” said Hook, shaking his head, his eyes bright but unseeing. “You big an’ strong. They keeps you, I know it. Tell ‘em you sorry.”

With a grunt, Hurricane tossed Hook onto the ground. The boy bounced, convulsing, his back bent at an odd angle. He was trying to say something. Hurricane didn’t pay attention. He picked the skinny urchin up again easily, and threw him once more onto the ground.

That was why they called him Hurricane. He tossed people around. It was an urchin’s kind of humor, really. It wasn’t as if Hurricane was blessed by the Lady Fall, not as if he had some kind of special power to command the winds. He was too practical for that.

Hurricane killed Hook, and straightened, wondering what there was to do next.

The slave hut was empty; it was too far in the outer fields to watch effectively, and the slaves had long ago been evacuated and herded closer to the inner manors. Hurricane had been using it to meet with Tattle, sometimes Veer, and up until now the two dead ones. The traitor must have led the alsknight here to catch them all.

Pursing his lips, Hurricane looked around. He didn’t see the girls, or their bodies. Their blood did not soak the dirt, and he did not see their hasty graves. They weren’t dead—or, at least, they hadn’t died here.

Hurricane thought broader, picturing the surrounding area in his mind. He had done the same thing often in Shira Hay; it helped, when he was running from the electors or other street gangs, to map out the weaving streets.

Alswell wasn’t like the other nations of Albumere. The “nation” of Shira Hay had just one city, surrounded by harsh wilds that the plainsmen could technically call their own. The same went for most of the other nations. But Alswell had tamed its land, long ago. The manors of the farmers dotted the fields, separated by vast tracts of farmland.

Easy and spacious living it might have been, but it hadn’t been much use when King Banden Ironhide’s armies had come marching.

This plantation belonged to the farmer Greeve—a name, Hurricane noted, worth remembering. It was one of the last plantations standing, while the rest of Alswell burned.

Hurricane inhaled deeply, feeling his chest and shoulders expand. He had to focus. The whole inner complex was due west; most of the slaves, including Veer, were quartered in the huts on the south end, while the amber box that contained her tabula was kept on the opposite side.

He had to get that box. He held his own tabula, and so did Tattle, but Veer didn’t. All of this would have been for nothing, if they didn’t get Veer out.

Hurricane began to walk, striding out the hut and through fields of dry, broken stalks. There hadn’t been time to bring in the harvest, not with an army marching down on them, and between Ironhide’s men raiding the food stores, Greeves’s men burning them down, and the breath of the Lady Winter, there was hardly anything left.

Hurricane didn’t mind. As long as there was a bite of food left, it was his to take.

That was his mind. Practical, straight forward, without doubts. Hurricane had never hesitated in making his next decision.

How singularly uninteresting.

Hurricane froze. He lowered his stance, looking through the open fields, but there was nowhere for anyone to hide. His eyes flickered across the dry and broken stalks, his hands half-curled into fists. There was nothing but the whisper of the wind around him, and yet he had heard something.

It felt like talking to himself, every word forced but his own. Except, they weren’t his own. Hurricane furrowed his eyebrows, catching only brief phrases that his own mind seemed to be thinking. Sister…three of them…move quickly, before we lose their essence…

And then a crystal clear thought, that came unbidden from within him. His strength marks him as summerborn, but his resolve is so reminiscent of my eldest sister. Stubborn and unyielding, but he knows himself well enough to know when he is listening to thoughts that are not his own.

His hands were full fists now. Hurricane waited. He was patient. Whatever sorcery this person was using, it would not affect him.

Just as silent, too.

Hurricane shook his head, blinking dust from his eyes. It swirled in his face, along with the dried detritus of the abandoned harvest. Hurricane turned his head slowly, still alert, still-.

Hurricane, Hurricane, Hurricane. That is not his name. He is LONWAL.

“Tha’s enough,” snapped Hurricane, speaking at last. He was immediately struck by how different his own voice sounded from the voice in his head. He could feel his voice reverberating in his throat, feel it rattling in his chest, but this other voice was just the phantom of sound. “Tattle, that you? You trickin’ naw?”

He has such faith in that girl. She’s not even particularly original. The wind picked up around Hurricane, so strong that he stumbled back, arms covering his face. She is a summer fly to a star. She knows nothing of TRUE genius.

The field flattened around Hurricane, pressed down by a wind that grown from nowhere. Hurricane widened his stance, refusing to back down.

He heard laughter—his laughter—inside his head, although that was the last thing Hurricane felt like doing. Yes. He’ll do nicely.

“Can’t make me do no-thing, bitch,” snarled Hurricane, his feet still planted firmly in the ground. “My tabula’s mine. Ain’t nobody taking it.”

He mistakes me for the enemy. I have no need for amber.

And then Hurricane felt something bop him lightly on the nose.

His head snapped up immediately. The wind had died away, and he could just make out…something, moving through the fields, too hard to see amid the swirling dust still clouding his face. He paused only a second, the sheer impudence of the gesture registering with him, before he set out at a sprint, pummeling his way towards the figure, murder in his chest and on his breath. That kind of insolence could not be tolerated. To be strong, he had to appear strong. First rule of the streets.

And the voice, the thoughts that sounded like him but were not his, continued to speak. His is anger. He has never doubted himself. Hurricane squinted, trying to make out the figure dashing ahead of him, hands clawing uselessly at the blasted cloud of dust around him. It both moved impossibly fast and did not seem to move at all, always dancing just ahead of him, just far enough so that Hurricane could not even see what it was.

Does he feel it? Doubt?

Hurricane shook his head. What had he been doing? Where did he need to go? He couldn’t remember. All he knew was the blinding rage in his heart, the fire burning in his gut.

He can’t fight it. To merely exist is to be unsure. Doubt is life, Lonwal.

Even when he had been a slave in these damned fields, his head had been his own. This being had invaded his most sacred place. He would make it pay.

And now he thinks of what comes after. The voice never stopped. Even when Hurricane’s breathing became labored, even when his head buzzed so loud that he could hardly think himself, the voice continued, cool and collected. I soun’ like you. I know err’thing ‘bout you. How will he ever know what thoughts belong to himself ever again?

Hurricane roared, and his voice echoed through the deserted fields.

The shadow figure veered suddenly, and Hurricane slipped as he tried to match its agility. He sprawled in the dirt, spitting grass out of his mouth, and slammed his fist onto the ground just once before setting off in pursuit again. Hunger was his strength. He would not be stopped by one fall.

Uncertainty is the law of Albumere. But he shouldn’t blame me. I didn’t make this world the way it is. Hurricane shook his head. It was so hard to tell from a voice with no sound, but it seemed to be more distant now. No, that wasn’t it. It was starting to sound less like him.

And more like a woman’s voice.

Does he still believe in the gods? Has Hurricane, who never doubted himself, ever doubted us? Hurricane blinked, as he crested a small hill. Was that the compound? How had he run so fast? It should have taken him hours to clear the fields.

And yet, how could he doubt the gods? He has seen one. Heard it. Felt its power. Called it bitch to its face. The voice sounded amused.

Hurricane stumbled to a halt, blinking sweat out of his eyes, inhaling greedy breathes as he looked around. He stood before Greeve’s plantation, watching the figure pass through, actually pass through, one of the closed gates. His eyes widened as the gate swung open. He wasn’t shocked—Hurricane was never really shocked—but he was mildly surprised.

Any ordinary person would have been dumbfounded. He didn’t question it. The door had opened. It didn’t matter how or why, only that it had.

I suppose I cheated. The voice sounded mournful. It’s not my turn. The warden might notice, and we’re so very close to winning this game. But, then again, he cannot see here. I must thank the fieldmen, for walling in all his seed.

A shadow rose behind Hurricane, and he stumbled and twisted, heart thudding in his chest. By the time he had turned, nothing was there.

He knows there are no guards around the amber box. At least, there won’t be.

And then a pressure lifted from Hurricane’s mind, and he gasped out loud as the fog seemed to lift from his brain. Hurricane staggered, clutching his forehead, his heavyset brow creased in thought.

His eyes flickered towards the open gate again. It wouldn’t stay open for long, not without the alsknights so jumpy and the farmers so scared.

He walked on. Hurricane had never hesitated when the next step was clear.

Tattle, he decided, would be much more interested in his encounter with the divine than he was. If Lookout was still alive, she would have been raving about the “implications” or something like that. As far as Hurricane knew, a thing had happened and now the thing was over. It wasn’t his concern anymore.

He strode beneath the wall, tense, but it seemed this entire stretch of the perimeter was unmanned. Was that the work of the Ladies, too?

Hurricane looked over his shoulder, at the open gate. He had heard only rumors that the king’s men were marching in from the north. Greeve’s plantation had stood for so long because he had more stored food and more alsknights than any other farmer in Alswell. He would hold, if the king’s men came, so long as the walls were not breached.

Hurricane opened the gates a little wider, for good measure, and walked on.

The amber box was kept in a locked shed, on the north end of the inner compound. Hurricane walked, and the path was clear. No one moved to stop him, because no one was there. He could see the smoke of the alsknights’ fires beyond the manor, could even smell the stink of the slaves on the south end. But no one was here, the most important section of the compound.

He smirked. For all their schemes, all their plots and all their plans, it seemed that it had been the work for the Ladies Four that had cleared the way for Veer’s freedom. Tattle wouldn’t have liked it. She would have called it a cheap twist.

Hurricane called it an opportunity, and one he would not pass up.

Normally, there were at least four alsknights stationed at the front entrance of the shed, two more at the back. Thick locks and chains straight from Irontower were always wound around the door, to which only Greeve had the key, and there was at least one beast prowling around the shed at all times, ready to spit summer or winter’s breath on anyone foolish enough to approach.

There was none of that, now. It just looked like a sad little shack.

The door swung loose on its hinges, broken by some unseen force. The lighting was dim, but sunlight through the open doorway was enough for Hurricane to see by. The box sat on its marble pedestal, made from polished hollow wood, innocuous if Hurricane hadn’t known the power it contained.

He picked it up with one hand. It was heavier than he had expected, and rattled when he held it.

It was one of many boxes, Hurricane knew, but it had to hold the tabula of at least forty people. The souls of forty people, right in his hand, gifted from the Ladies…that was the fortune of a lifetime, for a Shira Hay urchin.

And for the first time in a long time, Lonwal hesitated.

He had not been born into slavery, but he might as well have been. That was the nature of the Fallow. He had grown up to be a big, strong boy, one the taskmasters could work harder than a mulebull. There had always been the work. Never question the why or the how, only do the what. He had never raised his head until she found him.

Let’s go south, she had said, after that first crew fell apart. (Thieving was hard, after all, in the fields. There was nowhere to hide.) South and east, to Shira Hay. People wander in there all the time. We can start new lives. Be new people. Have new names.

They’d made a good crew, the two of them, but Beets and Gazzahar didn’t stick around, and they lost Walls and Lookout in the end. Bull and Veer had been good kids, but unexperienced. And the only good thing Hurricane could think to say of the aristocrat was that he ran fast when trouble came.

Hurricane missed that time. His face darkened at the thought of who had taken it from him.

The fieldmen had stolen his first life. They’d stolen his second. But Hurricane would make sure they would not take his third, ever.

He strode from the shed, the amber box in his hands, purpose in his step. He was not afraid.

He had never really worshipped the Ladies. He’d believed in them, as any god-fearing man should, but he had never seen why they were worthy of his respect. He still didn’t.

But he thanked them for this chance, nonetheless.

Hurricane walked towards the hut where he knew Veer lived. She had grown quiet ever since the fieldmen had taken her. Her constant smile had been eroded by the slavers, and her laughter silenced. Hurricane grimaced.

They would pay for what they had taken.

He thought of the new king, that distant king, the king who was no king. Hurricane had never paid much attention to his rhetoric, but now he felt just a glimmer of kinship with this Ironhide. “No kings. No queens,” Hurricane muttered. “We will never be slaves again.”

He felt a hand on his shoulder, heard some alsknight try to stop him, and without pausing jabbed the alsknight in the neck and threw him on the ground. With a single heavy kick, he broke the alsknight’s nose, and kept walking.

Distantly, he registered other guards—not knights, not as heavily armored—rushing around him, but he paid them no heed. The hut was close.

He stepped inside, to the shouts of the guards swarming outside. Indecisive. Unsure. Pathetic.

“Hurricane!” shouted Veer, standing up. It was a wonder she could stand at all, on those emaciated legs. “What’s the what happening?”

Hurricane thrust the box out at her. He didn’t bother with the lock; with a single thump of his fist, he cracked the lid apart and tossed the broken shards away. They landed amid the sleeping slaves; Hurricane was all too familiar with the dead relief that came from knowing he could sleep away a day with no work. With the fields abandoned, most of these slaves had slept whole days away, dreaming of better lives, he supposed.

“You find yours?” asked Hurricane, curtly.

Veer nodded, her hand drifting over the arrayed golden disks before she seized one that, to Hurricane, looked just like the others. It was the same way a child after Fallow could pick out his tabula out of a hollow full of them.

The girl cradled her tabula, blinking shining eyes. “What’s the what we do now?” she whispered, as if she didn’t dare believe what was happening.

Hurricane smirked.

“We wake ‘em up,” he said, and he threw the box of tabula into the crowd, where the new masters slept.

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