Vengeance Under a Black Sky

steve jordan

 

 

 

"Hey! Can you look at me?"

 

Jorn was ready to go but his mother seemed intent on keeping him. This was the first time he was going to the city by himself. He knew he was excited, but the pit in his stomach told him he was a bit nervous too. Of course, he couldn’t let his mother know that.

 

"Are you sure you remember the way?" she asked.


"Yes Mother! I’m almost thirteen years old now, I think I can manage to walk up the road," said Jorn gesturing to the city walls that peered over the hills. However, Jorn’s mother wasn’t worried about him getting to the city, it was only a short walk up the road from their small lumber mill. What worried her was Jorn getting to the bowyer’s shop once he got into the city. The capital was a massive place with many streets, back alleys, shops and houses. It was populated by thousands and thousands of people. Those people ranged from the richest nobles to the poorest peasants. It would be easy for him to get lost in the rabble.

 

Jorn was eager to prove that his mother’s doubt was wrongfully placed. Jorn had to prove he could fill his father’s shoes now that he was gone. He knew the way to the bowyer’s shop, he’d been there a hundred times with his father. He was sure he could make it there by himself.


"And you have the letter?" asked Jorn’s mother, as she batted a few wrinkles out of his woolen tunic.

 

"Mother," Jorn sounded embarrassed and he pushed her hands away. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded up piece of parchment. "Yes I have the letter," he said waving it triumphantly in front of her.


"Very good," remarked his mother. She gave him a pat on the head, causing him to wriggle out from under her hand. "You best make it back here before sunset too," she said wagging her finger at him. "Or I’ll have to send a search party out after you."


"A search party with who?" Jorn said looking around facetiously. "You and Boof?" the dog who had been sitting quietly next to Jorn’s mother perked up after hearing his name.


Jorn’s mother smiled, glancing down at the dog. With that she gently turned Jorn up the road. "Yes Boof and I will come after you. Now get going," she said giving him a good-natured push to get him started.

 

After about an hour of walking Jorn could see the city gates in the distance. They were crowded, just like he remembered them. City folk and travelers tried to push their way in and out of the city. Among them were disgruntled merchants trying to drive their loaded carriages through the crowd.

 

Jorn made it to the gate. He took a few deep breaths while he looked into the mass of people. He’d walked through the crowded gateway before, but he was always with his father. He couldn’t help being nervous, but he mustered up some courage and walked into the crowd.

 

The first few steps were easy, but then he got shoved from behind. He turned around. He couldn’t see who did it. Someone stepped on his foot. He could barely keep his balance. He couldn’t fall down. He’d be trampled. He kept his feet moving. Was he still going the right way? He’d been turned around so many times. Jorn could see a space opened up between the people. With one last push, he was out.

 

Jorn let out a sigh of relief. He had underestimated the power of the crowd. He turned around and the moment he saw the city streets it was like the path to the bowyer’s shop was laid out before him. He strutted proudly through the streets, attracting little attention from anyone else walking by. Anyone that did look at him did so with a suspicious ire. Jorn wondered why. He never noticed anyone looking at him like that all the other times he’d been into the city.

 

"Boy!" Jorn heard a loud hoarse voice, but looking around he couldn’t see the person who had shouted. So he kept on walking. Suddenly a rough hand firmly gripped his arm. Jorn turned to see a guardsman towering over him. The guard was covered in chainmail and wore a barbute helmet that Jorn thought looked quite heavy. A longsword rested in a sheath that was strapped to the guard’s belt. "I ordered you to stop, boy!" yelled the guard.

 

"Sorry sir," Jorn said respectfully. "I didn’t realize—"


"Shut it!" snapped the guard. "What are you doing and by the gods, where are your parents?"

 

"I’m alone sir," Jorn spoke quietly and slowly, afraid the guard would lash out again. "My mother sent me to deliver a letter to the bowyer. I’m from the Gilded Oak Lumber Mill."

 

"Yes, yes, I know the place," began the guard. Suddenly he sounded significantly calmer. "The small mill to the south. Just down the Silver Road, yes?" the guard asked. Jorn’s answer was a simple nod, he didn’t utter a single word. "You have a letter for the bowyer? Let me see it." The guard stretched out his hand.

 

"Well sir, I really can’t," Jorn responded reluctantly.

 

"Unless you want me to take you back to the south gate I suggest you show me that letter," the guard threatened. Jorn hesitantly handed over the piece of parchment. His mother specifically told him that the letter was only to be given to the bowyer. The guard unfolded the letter and folded it back up. Far too quickly to even have read the first two words. "Good," said the guard handing the letter back to Jorn. "Go straight to the bowyer, and don’t let me catch you sticking your nose in places where you don’t belong."

 

Jorn ran off, back on his way. Now his walk was less of a confident strut, and more of a speedy and purposed stride. The deeper he got into the Merchants District the more congested the streets became. There were plenty of shops along the streets, but what made the crowds worse were the many merchant stands that littered the streets.

 

As people gathered and clamored to get in line and buy what they came for, Jorn only had one destination in mind. He used his small size to his advantage. He slipped through the crowds, barely breaking pace. A few times he sped right between two people having a conversation, and the folks didn’t even notice him.

 

Jorn was running so fast when he saw the bowyer’s shop he nearly fell over trying to stop. A little bell hung above the door, and rang when Jorn opened it. A young man walked out of the back and greeted Jorn. There seemed to be a bit of confusion in his voice. Jorn remembered the bowyer from the last time he was here with his father, and this was not him. He was far too young and much taller than the bowyer.

 

"I need to see with the bowyer right away," said Jorn.

 

"He’s in the back working on a very special project," the young man sounded hesitant. "I’m his apprentice. I can get you whatever you need."

 

"I’m from the Gilded Oak," said Jorn.

 

"Ah yes, he did say he was awaiting a letter from your mill," the apprentice put out his hand. "I can take that back to him."

 

"No!" Jorn snapped, now feeling a bit guilty about letting the guardsman see the letter. "It’s for your master’s eyes only."

 

The apprentice nodded and headed into the back calling the bowyer’s name. Finnian. Jorn hadn’t heard that name for a couple years now. When Jorn was little his father would always yell at him for laughing at the bowyer’s name, but sometimes he just couldn’t help it. Who has a name like Finnian? It sounds like an elven name, and Finnian was certainly not an elf. Jorn’s father was good friends with Finnian. Jorn was hoping that he would get the same warm reception that his father always did.

 

Something was strange about the shop. Jorn always remembered lots of people browsing the shelves and all the different bows. They would shuffle by each other trying to get a better view of the bow they wanted to buy. Today, however, the shop was empty. Bows were still racked on all the walls, but there was nobody here to look at them. Jorn turned to look out the front window, there were lots of people out there but all of them were just passing the shop by.

 

"Well look what we have here." Jorn recognized that voice, it was coarse and loud. It almost sounded like it would have been painful to speak with such a voice. He turned back around to see the bowyer emerging from the back room. That was him alright, Jorn remembered his face. "Jorund’s son right?" asked the bowyer. "Jorn? Wasn’t it?"

 

"Yes sir," answered Jorn, politely. He handed Finnian the letter. Finnian opened the piece of parchment and read it promptly. As he read he nodded slowly and stroked the gray stubble that lined his cheeks. Finnian folded the note up and handed it to his apprentice. "Return to your duties," he commanded.

 

"Yes master," answered the apprentice taking the note and quickly retreating to the back of the shop.


"Jorn, you can tell your mother…" Finnian stopped and began looking at Jorn with an inquisitively furrowed brow. "I’m assuming it was your mother that sent you? Considering your father left the two of you like a coward."

 

"My father is not a coward!" Jorn snapped, his whole face contorted angrily.


"How dare you talk to me like that boy," growled Finnian. "Your father is a coward. He left you and your mother at that mill to die! If it wasn’t for me always buying your lumber the two of you would be living on the streets!" Finnian was leaning over the counter, looking down at Jorn as he spoke. "Do you even know where you father is, boy?" asked Finnian menacingly.

 

Of course Jorn knew where his father was. When the lumber mill fell on hard times a few years ago Jorn’s father went off to join The Brothers of the Black Sky. The Brothers of the Black Sky were the largest and wealthiest mercenary group in the kingdom. Jorn’s father went to join them in hopes of making enough coin in a few years to keep the mill afloat for a few decades.


Finnian laughed uproariously. "The Brothers of the Black Sky? Is that what he told you?" Jorn looked on, suddenly feeling a bit nervous. He choked down the lump in his throat. "How do you know he didn’t just run to another woman? Another son? Another family? "Finnian asked mockingly.

 

Jorn’s mind suddenly began to race. Thoughts of his father running around with another son. He saw them playing together on another mill, or maybe it was a farm? He didn’t know. He couldn’t tell. "Tell your mother my carriage will be there by noon tomorrow," Finnian spoke, but Jorn only heard mumbling. All of his senses seemed to be dulled by this anger, or was it his misery drowning everything out.


Jorn stumbled out of the door and into the street. He took a few deep breaths, the fresh air seemed to clear things up. Jorn looked around. The sun was slowly sinking below the walls of the city, casting a solid straight shadow over half the city.

 

Jorn knew he had to get home, but then he heard a raucous nearby. He peered around the corner to see a crowd gathering around a wizard’s act a few blocks away. Jorn always wanted to see a wizard’s show. Wizards, of course, had no true magical power. They performed sleight of hand tricks, in front of the masses to make money. Jorn walked down the street. He walked up to the back of the crowd, but the crowd was dense and he couldn’t manage to get any closer. He could still see the little stage though, peering right between two men who were standing in front of him.

 

There were two wizards. They called themselves Elgin and Yolin. Although the crowd seemed to be quite into the act, Jorn remained unimpressed. They were better comedians than they were wizards. Perhaps Jorn could have been more into the show if his mind wasn’t still clouded with thoughts of his father, and where he might be.

 

It was just then that the two men in front of Jorn caught his attention. "Did you hear about Windmond Manor?" the one man asked the other.

 

"That old deserted house?"


"Aye, my wife said that earlier today she saw four men in black armor go in there," the men’s voices became more hushed with every word.

 

"I think it might be The Brothers of the Black Sky. Who else wears armor like that?" the first man asked. Jorn was trying his hardest to hear them now, and without realizing it, his feet had drifted closer to the men.

 

"No. What would those mercenaries want with that old house?" asked the other man.

 

"I’m not sure, but I’m going to check it out after we’re done here," the first man answered. Before they could say more, the men caught Jorn. "Hey! What are you trying to do boy?" the first man yelled.

 

"Picking our pockets are you?" yelled the other. He kicked his foot toward Jorn, who was now in a quick retreat. So quick that he nearly fell backwards. "Get out of here! Go on get!" yelled the man kicking his foot again, knocking up a thin cloud of dust and soot from the cobblestone street.

 

Jorn kept walking away until he lost the men’s attention, then he doubled back. If The Brothers of the Black Sky were at Windmond Manor his father must be there. He had to go and see, and although he didn’t know where the manor was he could certainly follow the two men who said they were going to check it out.

 

Jorn waited now. He waited for the two men to leave the crowd, luckily they didn’t wait for the wizards to finish their act. Jorn was crouched down behind wooden crates that were piled up next to a merchants stand. The streets were emptying out, and everyone was heading home. The sun had now fully dipped below the walls, and the city was enveloped in a dusky shadow. A few guards patrolled the streets, their torches were the only things that fended off the coming darkness. Jorn was supposed to have been home by now. He knew his mother would be livid, but if his father was here Jorn had to go and seen him.


Jorn followed far behind the two men. They were too engaged in their own muffled conversation to notice him, but Jorn wasn’t taking any chances. He kept himself hidden, behind crates, carts and around corners. He followed them all the way through the Merchant’s District and into the Crystal District. Jorn had never been here before, he’d only heard about it from his father.

 

His father told him the Crystal District was home to everyone from the middle-class merchant to rich nobles. However, his father’s words did it no justice, the Crystal District was marvelous. Even in the fading light, everything seemed to shimmer. In his wonder-filled bewilderment, Jorn nearly lost the two men he’d been trailing. Luckily he didn’t, because around the next corner was Windmond Manor, or at least what Jorn assumed was Windmond Manor.

 

The two men stood just outside the door, arguing. Jorn was too far off to hear everything that was being said, but from the little bit he did hear it was clear that neither of them wanted to actually enter the house. The two kept up the animated argument for a few minutes. Jorn was hiding behind an old barrel that was propped up against the front of a house. He watched their arms flail around ridiculously, as one tried to convince the other to go in. Jorn made sure he stayed hidden only poking his head out just enough to see the men. Eventually, they gave up and simply walked away. Jorn was confused now. Why come all this way just to leave? Were The Brothers of the Black Sky really all that scary?

 

Jorn waited until the men were out of sight, and made his way up to the manor. Jorn opened the door, he was surprised to see that it was unlocked. He stepped into the house, the place looked like it had been ransacked. There were pieces of broken jars, and glasses all over the floor. Tankards and flagons scattered all over the place. Paintings and tapestries looked to have been ripped from their wall mountings, and was that blood? Jorn wandered slowly into the house, stepping carefully over the debris. Then he heard voices from deeper in the house. Could it be his father?

 

Jorn entered a hallway. There were a few doorways, but only one had light emanating from it. He ran over to the door, and just as he reached it a man stepped out. At first, Jorn was terrified. The man wore the black steel armor, synonymous with The Brothers of the Black Sky. Jorn’s eyes fearfully climbed the man’s figure, until he could see his face. Could it really be his father? The man had his father’s face, but what if it was his mind was playing tricks on him? The man could only return Jorn’s blank stare.

 

"Pa?" muttered Jorn hesitantly.

 

"Jorn, what are you doing here?" It was his father! Jorn leaped up onto his father, not caring how cold and hard the steel was. All he felt was his father’s embrace. Jorn was so excited that he didn’t even realize that his father was not sharing his elation.

 

Jorn’s father managed to pry himself from Jorn’s grip. He placed him gently back on the ground. "J-Jorn, I, what are you doing here?" his father stuttered nervously.

 

"Pa? I came to see you. You’re not happy—"

 

"Yes, yes, yes, very happy, but Jorn you need to leave. Now!" his father said, almost trying to push Jorn away.

 

"Jorund?" a piercing voice broke the reunion. "What is this?”

 

Jorn’s father turned around, revealing to Jorn two other men armored just like his father. "It’s, it’s my son," said Jorund, dipping his head like a disobedient dog. A snide smirk slid onto the face of one the men.

 

"Well isn’t he adorable," snarled the man sarcastically. "It is unfortunate that you’re going to have to kill him Jorund."

 

"I’m not going to do that," said Jorund.


The man chuckled, "You see, I’m not giving you a choice." The man began to talk about how important this job was for them. They hadn’t had a higher paying job in five months. "And it was made very clear that there were to be no witnesses."

 

"Listen,"Jorund began. "I assure you he didn’t see anything."


"He’s seen enough!" said the man abruptly. "Either you can kill him or I will do it for you,"the man said, slowly pulling his sword from its sheath. It was still stained with the blood of whomever they came here for.

 

Jorn’s father stepped in front of Jorn, and drew his own sword. "You will not touch my son," said Jorund assertively. With that the other brother drew his sword as well. They both charged down the hall at Jorund. Jorund pushed Jorn back down the hall. The two men came at Jorund with a flurry of attacks. Jorund parried one strike. He ducked beneath another. The next strike came at his neck. Jorund countered with a powerful parry. It knocked the one man off balance, giving Jorund time to sidestep the other’s sword. Swinging his own sword down, Jorund severed the man’s arm at the elbow. He fell to the floor, his screams were piercing. The other man rushed back toward Jorund. He swung his sword wildly. Jorund parried. Then the man brought his sword around for another strike. Unable to block it, Jorund slid back. The tip of the blade skidded across his chest plate.

 

Jorn looked on in horrified amazement. He’d never seen such a gruesome display in his life, but at the same time watching his father fight was incredible. It was like his father was one of the great heroes of old, like the ones in the bedtime stories he used to tell Jorn.


With one more great swing, the man moved to strike Jorund down. Jorund made a tactful counter. He twisted his own blade once the two collided, wrenching the sword out of his opponents grip. He then delivered a powerful kick to the man’s chest, knocking him to the ground. Jorund stood over the man, a foot on his chest to keep him down.

 

"You fool!" mocked the mercenary, as Jorund dug his boot into the man’s chest. "Do you really think you’ll make it out of the city?" he asked smiling slyly. "You know we have lookouts, and fellow brothers all over this city. What will they think when they see you walking out of this house without us, and with that boy?" The mercenary paused for a moment to let Jorund think about what he’d done.

 

"If they try to harm my son, then they, like you," Jorund drove his sword into the man’s chest. "Will die."

 

"I will see you in The Abyss shortly, Jorund," the man still heckled. Jorund twisted his blade. The man began to laugh. It was quickly followed by a muffling, blood filled cough, and the mercenary let loose his last breath.

 

Now that they were taken care of Jorn didn’t know what was next, and judging by the look on his father’s face, he didn’t either. Jorn watched for a moment as his father paced around. He was continuously cupping his face in his hands, and nervously ruffling his hair. Just as Jorn began to grow restless, his father finally spoke. "We need to leave now," his father’s voice quaked like never before. He knelt down in front of Jorn and gripped him up by the shoulders.

 

"Listen to me Jorn,"his father began. "We leave here and you stay right behind me, you hear? Right behind me!" Jorn could do nothing but nod in response.

 

Jorund opened the door just a crack and peered out. Seeing no one around he led Jorn out into the streets. They walked briskly, but it was clear to Jorn that his father was not trying to look like he was in a rush. They walked back the same way that Jorn came. The two turned a corner and Jorund stopped so abruptly that Jorn bumped right into him.

 

Four men, dressed like Brothers of the Black Sky, blocked their way. "Jorund, where are the others?" asked the man in the middle. His voice was so light and airy it was actually frightening. "And who is this boy?" he asked gesturing toward Jorn.


Jorund gazed at the men with in a lost addle. He slowly drifted closer to the men, and just as his father told him to, Jorn followed closely behind. "This? This is Jorn," said Jorund still drifting closer to the mercenaries "Jorn," he began, sounding quite tense. "Run!"

 

The two broke right past the four mercenaries, who were caught completely off guard. Jorn could hear one of the men yelling, "I want them both caught! Dead or alive!" he hollered. Jorn didn’t dare look back to see how closely the mercenaries were following, but he could hear the rattling of their armor from behind him.

 

As Jorn and his father got closer and closer to the gate, and to their escape, the sound of the armor dissipated. Jorn ventured a look back. The mercenaries were gone. Had they successfully out run them? Now that Jorn’s mind was off the trailing mercenaries for the moment, he realized just how exhausted he was. His chest felt like it was on fire, he couldn’t even take a deep breath. "Pa! I can’t run anymore," said Jorn heaving out his words. He came to a halt and keeled over, putting his hands on his knees. Jorn’s father rapidly turned around and slung Jorn over his shoulder like a sack of wheat. Just as his father started running again, Jorn saw the mercenaries run around a corner a bit further down the street. One of the men pointed Jorn and his father out, and they immediately started sprinting towards them.

 

"Pa! Their behind us again!" exclaimed Jorn, hitting his father’s back, like he was urging a horse to go faster. Lucky for Jorn and his father, the south gate was the one gate that was left open at night, but that also meant that the guard was doubled at that gate. They caught the gaze of the guards as they raced toward the gate. One of the guards tried to stop Jorn’s father, but Jorund ran right past him. That meant that they were overly intent on stopping The Brothers of the Black Sky to figure out what was going on.

 

Despite Jorn’s excitement when he saw the mercenaries get stopped by the guards, his father seemed certain that would only hold them up for a moment. He kept running down the road. When they reached a bend in the road Jorund put Jorn down.

 

"My dear boy, you know the way back home from here don’t you?" asked Jorund.


"Of course Pa," answered Jorn, looking rather perplexed. Why did they stop here? Why was his father asking him if he knew how to get home? He thought that his father would be coming home with him. Perhaps his father didn’t remember the way. That had to be why he was asking. He needed Jorn to lead the way home.

 

"Listen my son, you need to run home. As fast as you can," said his father fighting to hold back tears. "Run home, and don’t you dare look back," he said speaking through a clinched jaw. "You hear me? Don’t you dare look back!"

 

"But—”

 

"No Jorn, no more buts. Go. Now!"

 

Jorn did as his father told him, and ran off down the road. As he ran, he heard voices back were his father was. He couldn’t resist the temptation to look back. A big boulder rested on the side of the road, Jorn ducked behind it. He peered over the boulder and realized he could see his father. He was arguing with the four Brothers of the Black Sky. Jorn couldn’t hear what they were saying, but they were clearly furious. Jorn’s father appeared to be pleading with them, but not doing a very good job of it.

 

After only a few minutes the mercenaries were fed up. All four of them drew their swords, as did Jorund. They charged at Jorund all at once. Miraculously, Jorund parried every one of them. The clang of steel on steel rang out into the empty night’s silence. Jorund had fended the mercenaries off the first time, but now they began to surround him. Jorn wanted nothing more than to run over and save his father, but what could he do? The two mercenaries in front of Jorund made the first move. As they did, the two behind Jorund stabbed him in the back. Jorund dropped his sword and fell to the ground a bloody mess.

 

Jorn shielded his eyes, and sank back behind the boulder. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to cry, let out a primal squall or just sit their paralyzed. Perhaps he wanted to do all three. He peeked back over the boulder one more time. The mercenaries had put away their swords, and now they were standing over Jorn’s father. It was like they were waiting for him to die.

 

Then, as the moon began to descend and disappear below the horizon, and the early morning light crawled across the landscape, the men decided to leave. They must have forgotten about Jorn, or at least given up on finding him. As the men walked away one of them decided to kick the lifeless body of Jorn’s father. Jorn, still watching from behind the boulder, clinched his fists so hard and in such a rage that it hurt.

 

Jorn waited for a good long while, until he was certain that the mercenaries would be far away. He emerged from behind the boulder and ran right to his father’s side. The little boy in him wanted to try and wake his father up, but he knew that it was too late. His father was gone. A cold morning breeze pierced him to the bone, but his body didn’t shiver nor did his teeth rattle. He was still, knelt down beside his father, the scene he had just witnessed played over and over in his mind. He tasted the harsh saltiness of a tear upon his lip, and quickly wiped his face. He didn’t want to cry, but he could no longer hold back.

 

Jorn looked up. The sun was almost completely risen. How long had he been here? In the distance he could hear the bark of a large dog. His mother wasn’t lying, she really did send out a search party that consisted of herself and Boof.

 

Jorn reached for his father’s sword. The blade was still sharp, but it had a few errant nicks. Jorn stood up and gave the sword a few swings, it was heavy, and he almost dropped it at one point. He looked down at his father one last time.

 

"Father, I swear that I will kill every single one of The Brothers of the Black Sky," Jorn wiped another wayward tear off his cheek. "It may not be today, or tomorrow. It may not even be next month or next year, but I swear, here, before all the gods. One day I will avenge your death."

 

"I will end them. Every last one of them."



Steve Jordan is a junior English major with a concentration in Writing. He has, what some would consider, unhealthy obsessions with heavy metal and Star Wars.