Judiciar Part II

By Ian Gray McGuire

Warped light pierced through a half-broken set of window blinds affixed to the east wall, hazily illuminating a house coated in cobwebs, knick-knacks, and an assortment of dusty old paintings strewn about in lazy piles. The wind whispered through the walls, weaving cold air within a set of bedded blankets and beneath their occupant’s wrinkled skin. 

The mistress of the house in question, Ms. Pollyandul, though she preferred to go by her first name, rose and robed in a hurry, muttering dark-browed curses about sleeping in too late as she grabbed a painting from a stack and marched stiffly out the door, down to Fallowfield proper, before even the rooster dared crow.

With growing vexation, Ms. Pollyandul approached the stately Solveiga estate, internally debating whether to take the coward’s choice and flee the scene or deal with the brunt of the forthcoming belligerence as early as possible for outside the house, tending to her geraniums, stood Mrs. Solveiga herself. 

Mrs. Solveiga was a shrewd-looking woman whose wiry old frame was most often draped by an anachronistic dress, the type that might have been considered fetching at balls hosted centuries back. Despite this, she had a voice like thunder and the indomitable spirit of a badger, both of which Ms. Pollyandul had been made to be sorely acquainted with over the course of numerous occasions.

At Ms. Pollyandul’s housewarming party, Mrs. Solveiga had arrived uninvited, spent much of her time complaining about the quality of the food, and gifted Ms. Pollyandul, who had every intention to remain proudly unwed for the rest of her life, an upholstered crib, a stuffed white rabbit, and other child-rearing equipage as house-warming presents, saying, “Why with a new house such as this, it’s about time you cast off those spinster sentiments and earn for yourself a nice man to start a family with.”

Later that week, Ms. Pollyandul refused to serve Mrs. Solveiga anything but the lowest-quality ale, on account of her being “a pout-nosed, bitter-souled, money-hoarding, loud-mouthed hag who only gets by by hanging onto her husband’s wastefully lavish coat-tails.” In retaliation, Mrs. Solveiga incited a boycott of Pollyandul’s Place, one which fell on deaf ears for all but the most highbrowed citizens of Fallowfield. And of course, whenever Mrs. Solveiga beat Ms. Pollyandul in the invisible race of “who will wake up earliest,” she’d be sure to voice her utter disdain and faux compassion for Ms. Pollyandul’s comparatively young and spry bones, calling out, “Why if it isn’t Miss Early Bird, finally deigning to descend from her roost on the mount to grace us with her presence,” in a tone dripping with mockery.

All this to say that when Mrs. Solveiga finally did speak, Ms. Pollyandul was most surprised.

“Oh, why, what a lovely morning, Jullianna! And so good to see you so soon in the day.”

“I won’t suffer no sarcasm from you, Missus,” said Ms. Pollyandul with a touch of pride, feeling on the offensive for once, “An don’t you dare think I’ll forgive you for that hackneyed nonsense with Old Bettsy just because you woke up on the right side of the bed for once in your sorry wrinkled life!”

“Why Jullianna, why do you feel the need to bring up such gauche events? I’m just here for my geraniums — lovely little beauties aren’t they — not to spark ire with my dearest neighbour.”

“Stuff it!” Ms. Pollyandul shouted as she made her retreat from the scene, horribly unsure as to whether Mrs. Solveiga had truly turned over a new leaf, or merely adopted a new means of tormenting her. Shaking her head in confusion, grip tightened on the painting she carried, and eyes cast to the ground, Ms. Pollyandul made her way into the town centre, where she was greeted with a second surprise.

Standing before her was a beautiful statue depicting a powerfully built man in a full suit of armour and mounted on an exalted steed; the horse reared back, and the man’s blade poised, ready to strike an enemy that was not there. Engravings ringing the plinth told of winning this land from the Thounvar by blood and steel, and founding a town to commemorate one sole hero’s valour.

Despite all its splendour, there was one thing wrong. It was not Fallowfield’s town statue.

Ms. Pollyandul nearly dropped the painting in shock. For as long as she could remember, the statue had depicted a hunched-over, balding man with a furrowed brow and pen in hand staring wearily at a document that was to be the town’s charter.

“By the Torre Nera!” She gasped, looking around wildly as if the culprit could be caught lounging so close to their mocking handiwork.

Not seeing any force of mischief that could so completely remake something so central to her life in the time it took to move from dusk to morn, and not wanting to tangle with it herself, Ms. Pollyandul rushed to where at least the decor was quite wholly under her control.

Leather-skinned hands fumbled out a tarnished iron key and inserted it into a battered oaken door, before pushing inwards, laying bare an opening to a large sunless interior, choked with grime and clogged with stories long past. Covering the expansive room hung what most would call an excessive number of paintings. Dangled from rafters, nailed to walls, leaned against counters, and one particular circular one mysteriously hung under a table, the paintings were each a work of a lifetime, and Ms. Pollyandul ruminated upon their many giftings as she set herself to her morning affairs.

Throwing open windows to air out the building; lighting candles and fires galore; scrubbing clean a long wooden board that served as her establishment’s primary table, kitchen, and register; and finally flipping the front sign to “open,” Ms. Pollyandul busied her body so as to distract her mind. Finally, after peering around the room with shrewd distinction, she chose a brass-rimmed rhomboid painting depicting a golden library strewn with spiral staircases, and reverently detached it from the wall, carrying it to the back as she cleaned off the dust with a soft cloth. In its place, she hung the painting she had taken from her house, one showing an effervescent midnight scene illuminated only by weak lantern light cast in spirals of brown and orange. With all set in its place, she allowed herself a sigh of relief and set her mind to contemplating the day’s bewildering affairs.

Only mere minutes later, the bar was swarmed with the muffled paranoia of patrons, each yapping for a drink with a ferocity not seen for months, then quickly squirrelling away with their brews to sit in conspiratorial huddles, spreading hearsay and horror in sheltered whispers.

“Did I miss some sort of holiday?” Ms. Pollyandul quipped, pouring golden ale into the glass of Mr. Carper, a trusted regular of the locale.

“Not that I’ve heard,” he replied with rushed gratitude, “but did you hear the news?”

“Oh don’t play coy with me now, Carper. You know rumours and gossip are part and parcel for a place like this, so spit it out before I yank out your tongue.” The jest failed to elicit even a smile.

“A Judiciar,” Carper spoke in a grave tone, and Ms. Pollyandul gasped. “That damned fool Franken sent for a Judiciar.” Eyes suddenly snapped their way, as if even the utterance of the word would draw that thing here, and Carper judiciously dunked his lips in his mug, playing as if unaware of the unwanted attention. “They say he arrived last night and riddled the boys up and down with questions.” He continued with a whisper once the eyes turned away. “You know, Jacque and her crew.”

Turning aside, Ms. Pollyandul perked an ear, listening to the strands of conversation floating about her.

“Don’t them cloaked ones can read minds? I heard from them city folk that if one stare you straight in the eyes they can see right through to ya head.”

“And my well’s been broke bitter for leaning on a month now! It’s about here the only place I can get something proper soothing for me old throat.” Spoke a rough looking patron with pants stained black by coal.

“And the statue! I get a nagging scratching sort of sensation in my head when I look at the statue. Though I can’t seem to think what’s wrong with it.”

“Wait,” said Ms. Pollyandul, returning to her conversation with Mr. Carper, “this isn’t still about Malcolm is it? He’s been gone for weeks.”

“Don’t you speak that monster’s name!” interrupted Kharlo, all but blustering with the beer bubbling inside him. “He’s gone. And with what he did to Felys, I hope he never returns.”

“You mean you think he’s still out there?” interjected someone else, and the whole mess turned to grumbling and arguing. Despite their yammering disagreements, none dared look at the five-legged stool standing before the bar. The empty one that was the prize seat of the house.

“You know Jullianna,” spoke Mr. Carper wistfully, “it’s at times like these that I really do wish we had Keith on with us. That man could keep his head screwed straight through a hurricane.”

“Aie,” she nodded mournfully, “Keith, Felys, and well, you know who. Greatest customers a place like this could ask for.”

“First the SouthKeg Mine Disaster, poor Felys, and now this,” grumbled a bearded man with a wide hat, “Well at least now we know things can’t get any worse.”

It was at this moment that the door flew open. Harsh light cut into the hazy room, silhouetting the black-robed man in the doorway. With heavy booted steps, he entered the now stilled tavern; the patrons shifting to the side, lowering their heads, and one went even so far as to dart out the exit in fear. The Judiciar arrived at the bar and appraised the room, the empty stool, the eyes unwilling to meet his face, and finally Ms. Pollyandul, who stood before the shadow of a man with determination in her gaze.

“I’m here for information,” he spoke, with an even and impassioned tone.

Ms. Pollyandul began to speak, but Kharlo, in a burst of inebriation, beat her to the punch.

“And why would we spill secrets to a stinking out-of-towner like ya?” His slurred speech was interrupted by an echoing burp. “We care for our own, that’s what I say!”

Stone-faced, the Judiciar turned to face Kharlo, and in a flash was looming before him.

“If you truly cared for your own then I wouldn’t be here, and you know it.”

Kharlo whimpered back, the words blazingly true and his pride falling to the ground, cut in twain.

Turning back to his frozen audience. “Now would anyone here be brave enough to stifle their pride and elucidate recent events? Facile secrets will not aid the majority now, that is to say if they ever did.”

After a long pause that was the pure antithesis of the raucous din of just moments ago: “Fine. You want to crack an ear to our tale, well then I’ll tell it,” spoke Ms. Pollyandul, voice resolute, “Everyone else: house’s closed.” With many grumblings, murmurs of fear, and chugged drinks, the patrons exited the establishment, splitting up and heading to reconvene in private residences where their prattle could continue unabated.

Ms. Pollyandul watched as, with deep gravitas, the Judiciar settled at the bar and flicked out his notebook, eyeing her from across the table. After a moment of silence and a steeling of nerves, Ms. Pollyandul stared the seasoned hunter straight in the eyes and spoke.

“Well, what is it that you want to know?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s