Coffee Break Read – Sending Pigeons

Masked killers tore down tapestries, ransacked cupboards and dressing chests, and urgently questioned the few servants to be found in the family wing of the palace. All to no avail, the princess appeared to have vanished from the face of the earth.
As the massive battering ram began to take effect on the brass-bound outer doors, the leading killer gave a low whistle and gathered his men. ‘It’s no good, the bitch is gone, and his fancy lordship didn’t pay enough for any of us to get dead.’ There were nods of agreement and the group vanished swiftly into the tunnels from which they had emerged just as the outer doors gave and the heavily armed palace guard surged into the apartments.
The carnage that met the gaze of the largely ceremonial palace soldiers had more than one falling to his knees and retching helplessly. One grizzled veteran held the head of his commanding officer as he deposited his breakfast on the shining marble tiles of the antechamber floor. ‘Come along son, there are messages to be sent’, the sergeant said in a steady voice as he hoisted the young aristocrat to his feet.
‘Messages?’
‘Yes, sir, you’ll be wanting to send an eagle to the Sanctuary of The Sky, and as many pigeons as you can get hold of to the northern kingdoms. All hell is going to break out here very soon, and we’ll need all the help we can get’.
‘All hell? Why?’
‘Emperor dead. Imperial family dead. No successor. There’s going to be one almighty scramble for power, and we’ll be right in the middle of it.’
The officer may have been young, green, and a political appointee, but he was no fool and quickly grasped the reality of what his sergeant was saying.
‘We need to hurry then. Is there anybody steady we can leave in charge here?’
‘Bilwil’ the sergeant bellowed, and a short, bandy corporal with acne-scarred cheeks bustled forward. ‘Take charge here, and try to make sure nobody makes this mess any worse.’ Bilwil snapped a salute, and, casting a sardonic eye over the group of assorted idlers, pensioners, and green lads still vomiting began to bawl out his own set of orders. The sergeant and commander left at a flat gallop heading for the signal tower at the northern corner of the palace complex.
It is a sad comment on human nature that Sergeant Gandy’s prediction proved to be so accurate. Within twelve hours of the royal hunt setting out from the palace, the city had become a virtual war zone.
Gangs of armed men prowled the streets, while looting and casual violence became the order of the day. The city seethed with armed and dangerous dangerous people, from paid assassins reducing the size of the pool from which a new emperor would be chosen, through career thieves, to groups of noblemen’s sons seeking to avenge imagined slights. The ordinary populace stood little chance against armed toughs and mostly chose to retreat behind closed doors and wait out the worst. Those who had no doors to wait behind fared very badly indeed, prey to casual violence and with no help forthcoming from any direction: the temple guardsmen and the members of the watch, the very men charged with keeping the peace in the city, having prudently retired behind the sturdy doors of the temples and watch-houses leaving those on the streets to survive, or not, as best they might.
Thus matters stood until just after dawn on the tenth day after the palace massacre, when a force of about five hundred men entered the city from the east. The Church had taken a hand. Seasoned soldiers, in scarlet cloaks and bronze breastplates, flooded the streets and the ordinary citizens breathed a collective sigh of relief. A few of the less intelligent among the younger sons and roaring boys who had terrorised the city weren’t fast enough to make themselves scarce, and a number of messy object lessons were handed out before order was restored.

From The Long Game by Jane Jago.

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