Coffee Break Read – The Streets of Alfor

They rode in silence through the streets of Alfor. The townsfolk moving quickly aside to let the Warlord and his entourage pass and then standing to watch as they went by. Some cheered half-heartedly, but most had sombre faces. Durban nodded and grinned at people he knew and caught a small wineskin thrown to him by one, a gorgeously dressed young man, whom he rewarded with an extravagant blown kiss. But he was fully aware of the dark and hostile glares which were directed at the man beside him.
Then someone yelled from the back of the crowd: “Gut the murdering bastard!”
And like a flame touched to dry tinder an ugly murmur spread quickly and rose, as the braver or more foolish amongst them, hurled abuse at Jariq.
The voices seemed torn at random from the seething heart of the throng, as though the bitter hatred had swelled up and found tongue through a few individuals who spoke for them all. Durban glanced curiously at Jariq, who was riding stiffly in the saddle, his face set and his eyes focused somewhere in the middle distance. Only the slight tightness of his lips betrayed his feelings.
“I never realised you were so popular,” Durban observed in an undertone. “Does this happen often?”
The Vavasor’s lips curved now into the grim travesty of a smile.
“Only in Terzibrand – I did not think to hear it in Alfor.”
“Don’t you think you should silence them?”
Jariq gave a brittle laugh.
“What’s the point? They’d only shout louder next time.”
“Your men are getting angry.”
It was true. The outriders of Jariq’s elite troupe were eying the crowd to pick out the source of the shouting and throwing appealing looks towards the Vavasor, eager to avenge the insults to their commander in blood. Then a stone flew out of the throng to glance off the Vavasor’s burnished metal vambrace. As Durban watched, he saw something within Jariq snap like a brittle twig and the Vavasor reined in his pony so sharply that it reared up in protest.
“Death of the gods,” he roared. “Must I put up with this cowardly babble?”
The crowd grew oddly quiet and the Warlord’s entourage ground to a jumbled halt behind them. They were about level with the entrance to the plaza and a knot of Zoukai had joined the throng. Durban felt the exultation of a master playwright, watching the first performance of his prize production. He had stopped his own pony a few paces behind the Vavasor, leaving Jariq alone centre stage, trembling with rage. His mount was now sidestepping nervously beneath him, its stubby ears flattened against its head. His words could incite a riot or initiate a massacre and at that moment Jariq looked quite prepared to do either or both. He took a breath and raised his voice to reach to the back of the crowd.
“The Fair is over. The entertainers are gone. Is this how you must now amuse yourselves? Bringing shame on your city and your Castellan by insulting the Most Honoured One, Qabal Vyazin and his retinue? Go back to your homes and your daily business. Be grateful that your sons and daughters do not know the meaning of war. Be grateful that the Warlord protects the people of his kinfolk and will stand between you and an army of conquest when the time comes.
“Only a foolish man will set a lapdog to guard his house. If you want protection for your children and your trade, you need men of spirit, men of war and not gelded eunuchs.”
His eyes raked the crowd as he spoke, challenging and defiant and Durban could see none brave enough to meet his gaze.
“Ride on!” Jariq’s voice rang out incisively and the Warlord’s escort resumed its interrupted passage through the city.

From The Fated Sky part one of  Transgressor Trilogy a Fortune’s Fools book by E.M. Swift-Hook

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