Waiting for the Scarlet-Raven Woman,
"Waiting for the Scarlet-Raven Woman"
A short story set in "the Prometheus Cycle" Universe
By Silas A. DeBoer
WAITING FOR THE SCARLET-RAVEN WOMAN Copyright © 2014 by Silas A. DeBoer.
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations em- bodied in critical articles or reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organiza- tions, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For information contact; prometheuscycle.blogspot.com
Book and Cover design by Silas A. DeBoer
First Edition: July 2014
A Note from the Author
This short story is one of several that precedes the novel "The Prometheus Cycle, Volume I " giving readers a chance to learn the back stories of side characters and to build awareness of this finished novel. As such, these short stories are free, and I hope you build enough of an emotional connection to the characters and the world to buy the novel itself. This particular story is told from the perspective of Skag, a significant secondary actor in the novel, nearly as significant as Lanie and Leo. Unlike the novel, this story is told in first person, since it is essentially Skag's first endeavor after learning to read and write; telling his own story.
The World is not Earth, and while it is geographically different the people are culturally familiar (the why of which is revealed in the novel), but readers of this story should know that this tale takes place in the Imperial North, one of the earliest Imperial provinces conquered after the last High King vanished in the Bleak East after a pyrrhic victory against the Necromancers several centuries ago; the Council exerted control over the feudal state, transforming it into an Imperial system without a single figurehead. The Council is headed by the leaders of the Church, the Military, the Merchant Guild, the Nobility, etc., some elected and others appointed, regardless it is a small legislative body with complete political power. Nominally the Council is a steward, waiting for the return of the High King's line, but they have maintained absolute power for centuries with their organization and willingness to use the Legions to enforce its will upon unruly nobles. The High King's visage remains on the coin, as a sort of mascot, and the people freely use the terms Empire, Kingdom and Realm interchangeably.
The Empire makes extensive use of Catiin slave labor, Wolfiin (or Dogmen, Dog Soldiers, etc.) as infantry, and the Church of Elene seems to have as many Orders as the military has legions. The three races (Man, Wolfiin, and Catiin) were said to be created by Elene when She spoke the World into existence, but older tales passed down from the Heathen tribes paint a very different, and darker picture. "Waiting for the Scarlet-Raven Woman" is meant to intrigue readers and ties seamlessly with the novel. The resolution of Inquisitor Trent's investigation is revealed in the novel, but this short story has its own resolution, and reveals the origin of Skag's surprising motivation in the forthcoming novel "The Prometheus Cycle: The Sword, the Star, and the Mirror."
You can learn more about this novel and supporting short stories at prometheuscycle.blogspot.com
"The future depends on what you do today."
My first memories are of the cage. Unlike the children of Men, Catiin etch memories once our eyes open. I remember being shoved aside by my siblings as I attempted to suckle at my mother's teat; I was the runt, and for good or ill in the eyes of Man I was deemed less, but Mother once told me she loved me most of all in the first of many dark nights inside the cage. It was a thing of rusted iron with bronze hinges, steel chains and locks, reaching into the ceiling and floor, with room for a heap of soiled blankets in the corner, a filthy tin bucket for excrement, and an open space for inspection. Iron rings lined the walls where Mother's chain was anchored. Dried blood marred the brick walls and death was an omnipresent odor. A small frosted window perched near the ceiling where light pooled upon us in the late afternoon.
"You said ten silver marks for any one of the brood?" The Stranger spoke in a clipped accent, different from the North Men of Carlisle who held Mother's bond. "What about the runt? It looks sickly, and it has an ill eye." The Stranger held his lantern high in the darkness, hurting my clear eye, which I shut. The cage and the Men's faces grew blurry and dark; it was hard to make out any shape with definition. A marred eye was my reward for trying to defend Mother from the Butcher's lash.
The Butcher shrugged his shoulders, the fat of his neck bulging. His lackeys stood around the cage in a semi-circle. I tried to hide behind Mother, but she pushed me back in front with my three siblings, Jara, Drosta, and Mira. We must stand as tall as we could muster or all of us would feel the lash. Men are born naked, and wear clothes to protect them from the cold, while Catiin are born with fur and tail. Still I wore a sackcloth tunic, held fast by a frayed rope belt, and a sackcloth kilt covered me to my furry knees. Rags wrapped around my feet kept most of the cold away from my paw pads. Mother was dressed in little but a loincloth to show off her Calico markings. My siblings and I were base black with lighter patches. Our sire was Shadow, a tall and powerful gladiator in the Arena of Illyria, the capital city of the Realm.
The Stranger was tall and thin. He wore light colored clothing of woven fabric, with a fox fur trimmed cloak held by an ornate bronze chain-clasp. The Butcher was large and wore dark linen that strained with his bulk, a blood spattered leather apron attesting to his main trade. Both Men were taller than us, even Mother, and I stood but to their waist. The Butcher called us weaklings, and if this Man did not buy one of us, I knew we would be beaten again.
"The runt? Seven marks. Treat a runt well and it can grow to full size." The Butcher solemnly declared.
"I'll give you two marks for this one, it's a full head shorter than the others. It's likely to die on the journey back home." The Stranger looked young for a Man, but had a receding hairline while dark fur covered parts of his lower face, above the lip, and under the chin. A shiver ran through me as they nonchalantly spoke of my death.
"Two marks? Are you mad? That's highway robbery!" The Butcher pointed a sausage thick finger at the Stranger, the veins on his neck throbbing. Mother's furred fingers pressed down on my shoulder, holding me in place. Their ends were fleshy, without substance, her natural claws taken long ago just as mine must be taken by scalpel else we fall to temptation and rip out our master's throat in anger. Imperials fear the Catiin race and so we pay with our finger bones.
"All right, I'll pay four marks, no more." The Stranger was calm, his thin face unperturbed. I might as well be a cow or a pig, instead of a biped capable of speech, thoughts, and emotions. This is the way of Catiin in the Empire. Mother told me once that in Ishtar of the East, Catiin hold property and are treated as equals with Men. Mother also told me that tribes of our race hunt in prides in the rain forests on the other side of the Southern Sea, free from bond or shackle. Mother might as well have told me that Catiin live on both of our moons for all I had seen of the World.
"First you insult me and then offer a meager profit? This is the only litter this side of the lake." The Butcher shoved his belly into the Stranger who kept balance by holding onto the dark brick wall of the basement. It was always dark and cold here. We shared Mother's blankets, piling together to conserve body heat when we slept.
"Fine, four and a quarter marks, but good luck trying to pay for an all meat diet until the runt
"You've a point." The Butcher stopped glaring, sighed, and violently snatched at the bag. "Done!"
The Stranger glanced down at me with his dark, soulless eyes, baring his teeth. I cringed, but Mother bent down and hugged me, licking my head to calm me. One of the lackeys jerked Mother's chain, pulling her back against the bars as I was dragged from the cell with a pole attached to a waxen noose. After the cage door slammed shut, the lackey let loose and Mother fell to the floor. She and my siblings said nothing. I saw Mother's chest heaving and tears blossoming in her green eyes, reflecting the light of the lanterns with the sorrow of her soul.
"What's the runt's name?" Asked the Stranger. I pulled vainly at the noose but was dragged down the hallway behind the two Men.
"Skag. I didn't think he would live." The Butcher laughed. I craned my neck looking back at Mother, Jara, Drosta, and Mira who remained in the cage, weeping together. Mother hugged my brothers and sister close. I never saw them again.