Blood of the Red
Chapter 1 – Ingold
When you've time to consider how much hitting the ground is going to hurt, you've fallen way too far. Ingold passed the tower's third story before he remembered to start screaming. He hit the ground with force enough to bury him calf-deep had the courtyard not been stone-paved. His knees folded and hammered the slabs, followed in rapid succession by elbows and forehead. The lute in his hand became a splintered cloud.
"Thought he'd splat like a melon." Kennet hawked up a glob of gelatinous phlegm and angled it after Ingold from the high balcony. A low rumble of laughter among the other guardsmen, the odd curse. Wrestling the man over the drop hadn't been easy. Strained muscles were the least of it, there would be black eyes and aching ribs tomorrow. Jemmon's nose looked to be broken. Harl's jaw too perhaps. Certainly he'd lost teeth.
"Duty!" Kennet barked the word and the group broke up, returning through the doorway to their allotted tasks.
"Damnedest thing." Kennet shook his head. Harl and Jemmon, the only two to remain, nodded. To curse out a priest was madness, even if it had been his fault. And it hadn't been his fault, the bard had walked straight into him without looking as they both rounded the corner. With both of them on their arses rubbing their heads the bard had let rip with oaths from seven different lands in as many seconds. Enough to make a sailor blush.
A long drop to a short end was light enough punishment for that. Had Ingold submitted to his arrest and been taken to the cells he might have begged to be thrown off a balcony by the end of the week.
Kennet and the two injured men watched the corpse a while longer - a trickle of blood running from beneath the head proving their only reward.
"Best get that mouth looked at." He nodded at Harl and ran his tongue along his own teeth. Broken teeth gave a man no rest. Doctor Ryan with his pincers and bottle of rum weren't a much better alternative, but at least it would be over quicker.
Harl winced and nodded his agreement. Following Jemmon, whose nose still bled a river, they withdrew from the balcony, escaping the thin rain.
Ingold's return to consciousness began at his extremities. He emerged from oblivion by degrees. First, twitching fingers clutched at life. His arms flexed convulsively. Legs shuddered, reluctant to stir. Green-gold eyes flicked open and, in the motion, admitted a whole world of pain. The depth of Ingold's groan spoke his agony with all the eloquence one expects of a bard. He rolled to his back. The strengthening rain began to wash away the blood streaming from his mouth. Every bone should have been broken but only his shins had fractured, the rough ends grating across each other as muscle pressed each into position. Crushed flesh began to knit, each passing minute bringing with it a day's healing.
The blurred image of the tower against the fading day brought back memory of a fall. The fall led him back into the tower, and thread by thread the whole carpet of his life rewove itself, the brilliant and the dark, deep in places, and rich, worn bare in others. It hurt worse than the bones reknitting in his legs. Understanding trailed in after memory and he rolled over into his original position. Playing dead proved easy enough – he felt three quarters there already.
Even in the shadow of the holy tower a corpse can't lie undisturbed too long though. Soon as it grew dark scavengers would come to see if the guards had left anything valuable on him, and if not they'd have his boots. Worse than that however, the guard might discover his true purpose and come to search him themselves.
As with all things it proved to be a matter of timing. The balance between falling prey to circumstance through leaving it too long and not leaving it long enough to regain the necessary strength should anyone object to his leaving.