The following excerpt is from Chapter 2 of the upcoming novel, dEaDINBURGH and is copyright of Mark Wilson and Paddy’s Daddy Publishing 2013
Standing from a crouch Alys leaned back, stretching her vertebrae to their maximum extension. She gave a few sharp turns to her left and her right, loosening off her hips. Finally Alys leaned forward and down, wrapping her arms around the backs of her legs, bringing her forehead to her shins.
Jennifer sighed. “Every time, Alys? You won’t always have time for that nonsense you know.”
Alys was sick of her mother’s sharpness and performed the routine simply to provoke her. She was most accomplished fighter in her age group, and several classes above her also, but nothing ever seemed good enough.
“Just limbering up.” She said flatly.
Her mother pursed her lips. “Does an animal limber up? Do the dead limber up?”
Alys ignored her and took her ready-stance. Jennifer sighed and assumed her own ready-position. Alys stepped forward and delivered a series of sharp blows with her hands, alternating between her mother’s face and chest. Jennifer easily blocked each one, but she was supposed to, Alys had used the flurry as a cover for the kick she shot out at Jennifer’s knee. This too failed to connect as the older woman slipped her front foot back ten centimetres, causing Alys’ kick to jab into the ground. Jennifer steeped onto her daughter’s front foot, trapping it and preventing her daughter from stepping back from the vicious hammer punch she flashed out with lightning speed.
Standing over her prone daughter, Jennifer checked her watch. Five seconds, this time Alys. You’re getting better. Alys glared up her for a second before picking herself up out of the mud. She spat a mouthful of blood onto the ground a few centimetres from her mother’s feet. “Again.” She demanded.
Jennifer smiled her approval and moved in to deliver another lightning blow to her daughter’s face.
An hour later, Alys stood in the centre of the practice plot. Dripping with sweat and with the smell of her own blood in her nostrils, she glared at Jennifer, who stood calm and impassive as she’d been when their practice had begun.
“Again” Alys growled.
Jennifer approved, but showed nothing of that approval on her face.
“No.” she said, simply and walked away. As she left, she turned back to face her daughter. “Remember to take the offering up to The Brotherhood’s gates.
Alys didn’t reply, choosing instead to stand in the rain and let it cool her anger as it washed away the sweat and blood she’d shed. The rain and cold of an Edinburgh autumn was as familiar to her as the sunshine and relative warmth of its springtime. Her life had been lived, exposed; farming, fighting and living under canvas, here in the beauty of Princes Street Gardens. Most of her community felt free. Free to farm and eat and train and live under the Edinburgh sky in the shade of the craggy castle. Alys just felt trapped.
The only way she could leave The Gardens permanently was to convince her mother that she was ready. That she could fight. Still standing in a ready-stance, fists quivering and face up towards the falling rain, Alys finally relaxed her bunched up muscles. Standing simply with her weary arms at her sides, something glinted and caught her eye. She looked up towards the Castle’s Esplanade, noting that he was there again. She’d never once been allowed to venture outside her community’s fences, the farthest she’d walked was to deliver the Communities’ offerings up to The Brotherhood’s Gates on the royal mile.
Alys couldn’t understand why her people continued to feed the reclusive, pathetic Brotherhood and had grown to resent the men who lived up on the royal mile. She’d been taught to fight, to earn her place in the community and to fight to keep it. Her community didn’t allow men in its gates, believing that their weakness was a risk, so why were they helping feed a group of men who were too deluded to grow or scavenge their own food? Yes she resented them but most of all she resented the boy with the bow.
The first time she’d seen the boy had been on a food-run up to The Brotherhood’s gates on Bank Street around five years ago. She’d been ten years old and had dutifully carried the container of fresh foods to the gates, traipsing sullenly alongside her mother. After Jennifer had placed the food at the fence-line, she’d turned and began making the short journey back to Princes Street Gardens. Out of curiosity, Alys stayed.
She’d never seen a member of The Brotherhood. She’d heard plenty of stories, of how they lived in their crypts, how they worshipped zoms, wandered among the dead creatures and even fed them their own blood; but hadn’t seen one. It wasn’t just their strange lifestyle that drew her, she hadn’t seen a male since her father had gone. She’d asked her mother many times in the early weeks following his departure, and several times in the intervening ten years or so, but always received the same reply from Jennifer.
“He’s just gone, Alys.”
So she waited, around the corner, peeking at the fences from behind the edge of a building. After a few hours, a boy had appeared. He was dressed in simple, slim-legged black denims, a long sleeve black T with his thumbs poking through holes at the ends of the sleeves, and a trash bag with holes cut for his arms to slip through. Over his head a hood concealed most of his face, but a few locks of very blonde hair strayed out from underneath. Warily he’d come close to the fence, opened the gate, and retrieved the offering. As quickly as he’d come, he left.
Alys couldn’t say why at the time, but she waited in that same spot a little longer until eventually the same boy appeared once more. He stood at the fence, staring at her. This time, he didn’t look nervous.
“Hello? Are you still there?”
Alys’ eyes opened wide at his greeting. She’d been taught that The Brotherhood wouldn’t or couldn’t speak. Guardedly she came out from her spot and approached the fence.
“Alright?” the boy had asked, with an awkward smile.
Alys simply nodded, narrowing her eyes as she noted the quiver on his back and the bow in his left hand. Realising that she felt threatened, the bow placed his bow on the ground, stood straight again and pulled down his hood to reveal a head full of shaggy blonde hair, and beautifully vibrant green eyes. He was around the same age as she was, that in itself was strange, she’d thought that The Brotherhood were all grown men. That he stood smiling at her with excitement in his eyes and a grin on his face, took her completely by surprise. She’d heard that as well as being silent, The Brothers were perpetually numbed by a substance they inhaled to commune with the dead. This boy was anything but numb. He had cocked his head to the side and was assessing her as she assessed him.
Approaching him, Alys asked
“What do you want?”
“To say thank you.” He nodded back towards where his people lived. “For the kindness.”
“If I had any choice I wouldn’t bring it.” She blurted out. “Your people don’t deserve it.”
The boy’s eyes lost a little of their sparkle and his smile flattened. Clearly hurt, he picked up his bow, raised his hood once more, and turned to head towards the Castle. After walking a few feet he turned to face her again.
“Well, Thanks anyway.”
With that he took off at a run, executing a few little leaps and somersaults using the masonry and steps of the local buildings as launch pads. Alys heard him laugh as he whirled and ran his way up to the Castle Esplanade.
She’d seen him many times since then; practicing with his bow, leaping and somersaulting through the Royal Mile and along the Castle buildings. She hated him for how care-free, how happy he seemed. He trained hard, that she was impressed by, he practiced with his bow every day, but why should he be so free, so happy, when her people, when she, had to work so hard to provide for him and his people?
She imagined him laughing with his Brothers at how gullible her community was for providing them with supplies. As time went on, she began to realise that the rest of The Brotherhood were as silent, as disconnected from the world as he people had described to her. This boy, the boy with the bow, was the exception. She hated him even more for his ability to free himself of the constraints of his community and trained all the harder, fuelled by contempt for him, by jealousy and in the hopes that she may one day discover a way to be as free as he was.
Alys lowered her head and looked at her trembling hands. She’d made contact with her mother twice during their session. It was twice more than she’d managed before, and whilst her blows hadn’t really had any impact, the mere fact that she’d landed them lifted her spirits. She was definitely getting better. Placing her arms around herself in a hug, Alys took a last look up at the Castle to see the bow with the bow, pulling another arrow from his quiver, lining up his shot and releasing yet another perfect arrow. The satisfaction she’d felt at her progress disappeared and she took off on a run up the Playfair Steps. The Brotherhood can wait for their free meal. I’ve got stamina to build.
Alys punished her legs running up and walking down the long staircase for the next sixty minutes. Hunched over on all fours at the top she looked along the mound and up to the castle. Another convulsion racked her and she threw up what bile she had left to throw up, and glared upwards, daring the bow with the bow to show his face.
Satisfied that she had nothing left, no reserve of energy with which to pull herself up the stairs once more, she made her way down the gentle swooping slope of The Mound, returning to Princes Street Gardens and the task of preparing The Brotherhood’s offering.
End of Excerpt
The dEaDINBURGH Trilogy by Mark Wilson will be published by Paddy’s Daddy Publishing in May/June 2014