The Unseeing Eyes
Book I, Chapter 5
Bhollom nearly fell over as the guard walking behind shoved him in the back with the shaft of his spear. The pain in his right foot was only getting worse. Not only did it make walking normally difficult, but now he had a man with legs twice the length of his hurrying him along the unevenly cobbled labyrinthine streets of Westerport.
Bhollom glared over his shoulder at the guard behind him, but got no response apart from the stepping on the heels of his boots. The stub stumbled again. As he tried to regain his footing, he stubbed his already hurting foot on a jutting cobblestone. With a yelp combining both pain and panic, Bhollom lost his balance and tumbled down.
Someone caught him by the shoulders just as Bhollom prepared for the crunch of his face connecting with the paving. He felt weightless as he was briefly lifted up and set back down on the ground. Bhollom turned around, expecting to see Neej-Nash, but instead he found himself looking into the narrow green eyes of the guard captain, framed by the horns of his bull-helm.
“Can you not walk straight, stub?” the captain spat with unveiled distaste in his voice? “Are you drunk? Typical.”
Before Bhollom could even begin to protest, the elf soldier grabbed him by his shoulders again, turned him around, and shoved him forward.
“Move! You’ve already wasted enough of our time.”
The captain got up and returned to his position behind his men, who again marched forward at his gesture. Bhollom limped as he did his best to stay ahead of the guard behind him. He lifted his head slightly to look around him, but returned his gaze quickly back to his feet. Westerport’s streets were much emptier now with sunset fast approaching, but enough people were still left to gawk and shout insults at them as they parted before their guard escort. Word of the Mayor-Mage’s murder had spread as quickly as the rumor that the suspects were a stub accompanied by one of the saurians, and the reaction to the rumors was not happy.
Bhollom glanced at Neej-Nash, who was walking beside him and hissing loudly every time an onlooker yelled something about lizards. Her tail had been bent forward and tied to her wrists with heavy leather straps after she had several times nearly smacked the guard trailing her with it. She kept flicking her tongue and her head spun constantly from side to side, and Bhollom wondered if she had any idea of what was going on. The saurian had put up surprisingly little resistance as they were taken from the Serpent and the Skewer. Whether it was because she understood the concepts of law enforcement and being under arrest or because Bhollom had pleaded her to just do what the men told them to do was up for anyone’s guess.
Bhollom sighed heavily and his eyes veered back to his feet. The situation did not look good. The angry, short man had given Bhollom no chance of trying to argue his innocence to the guards before the guards had already taken them away, and any further chances of protest had been silenced with a swift whack of a spear shaft. The last thing Bhollom had seen when looking back inside from the door of the inn was Whiskers shaking his head in disbelief.
Oh yes, Whiskers. Bhollom’s heart sank at the thought of him. Surely the old man didn’t think he could really be a murderer? Bhollom hoped he would eventually get a chance to plead his innocence both to him and a judge. The stub sighed again. At least Whiskers hadn’t been arrested for housing suspected criminals.
After what seemed like an eternity of trudging through the narrow, ever darkening streets, the guard captain eventually yelled for the escort to halt as they arrived in front of a stone building, its wooden external support structures painted white. A small sign with the symbol of the crossed Kobresian axes hung above the building’s heavy wooden door. The captain approached the door and pounded his fist on it five times. Someone opened a small hatch on the door.
The captain stood up straight in attention and crossed his arms across his chest.
“I am Kheret, captain of Westerport City Guard!” he shouted before producing a rolled up parchment from a pouch on his belt and offering it to the person behind the door. “I have arrested the suspected murderers of the Mayor-Mage and have orders to store them here for the night.”
A hand emerged from the hatch and snatched the parchment before disappearing back inside. After a moment of silence what sounded like a heavy lock opening came from inside and the door opened slowly. Out stepped an older man wearing a uniform similar to the rest of the guards, apart from his bare, balding head. He performed the same cross-armed gesture as the captain, who removed his helmet at the sight of the older man.
“Well met, captain Kheret,” the old guard officer greeted him before taking him by the shoulder and pulling him into the house. Bhollom watched as the man and the elf appeared to have a brief debate about something before the captain waved at the other two guards to bring the prisoners in.
Unceremoniously, Bhollom and Neej-Nash were pushed in through the door, the latter with much gnashing of teeth, hissing, and toxic glares. Bhollom managed to catch a glimpse of the small room with a fireplace, table, and two bedrolls on the floor before they were guided down a narrow flight of stairs into the guard house’s basement. The basement was damp and cold, complete opposite of the room above. Though the space was much larger, it was nothing but bare stone floor and walls with two tiny empty cells on opposite walls. The guards shoved Neej-Nash and Bhollom into one of them. The roof was so low that Neej-Nash could just barely stand up straight. In one corner of the cell was a pile of straw, and next to the start, a small pot. A draft blew in through the single half-circular barred opening near the roof, which opened up to the street. The hooves of a donkey and a large wooden wheel passed by.
The guard captain closed the cell’s iron barred door and turned a key in its large lock. He raised his eyes from the lock and eyed Neej-Nash and Bhollom with disdain.
“You are to be kept here until tomorrow. Then you will be moved to the Tower.”
He took a step back and shoved his helmet back onto his head.
“A scribe will be here shortly to-“
“I am here now,” a coarse voice sounded.
Bhollom recognized the creature that appeared from the stairwell as one of the bird people from the north. Avions, he thought, they called them. It wasn’t very tall, but would have still towered over Bhollom. It was wearing a simple dress striped with blue and green. It had large, dark eyes and a small straight beak on its face, framed by opal-adorned strings hanging form a red headband. Its wings and tail were folded against its back, and in its three-fingered claw-like hands it held a heavy book.
The captain snapped into attention and greeted the avion by crossing his arms once again.
The scribe answered to the captain’s formality with a lazy wave of its hand.
“Yes yes, well met. Now, these are the two, yes?”
The avion glanced at Bhollom and Neej-Nash, whose tongue was darting back and forth curiously.
“Most certainly,” the captain replied as he relaxed. “The description matches. A skinny, ill-shaven stub and a saurian.”
The bird person opened its book and dug a strange stick with three hoops on one end from a bag hanging over its shoulder. It stuck its fingers two the hoops and began scribbling on an empty page.
“Matches description, yes yes. Skinny, ill-shaven, stub, yes,” it muttered as Bhollom scratched his chin in the cell. Perhaps his beard could use a trim.
“Yet,” the avion said, the tone of its voice suddenly changing curiously, “you have not described the saurian.”
It raised its eyes to the captain but kept its face pressed into the book. The captain’s face remained stoic.
“What need is there for a description? How many of them are you going to find in the city? Accompanied by a stub, nonetheless?”
“Yes yes,” the scribe croaked, lowering its eyes back to the book, “but we cannot disregard the possibility. I will need to be certain you have-“
“Dark green scaled, wearing a red robe,” the captain sighed and rubbed his eyes. “I’m certain it’s them.”
The avion glanced at Neej-Nash over its shoulder and shrugged.
“Looks more like brown to me. Thank you, captain, that will be all,” it said.
The captain tried to protest, but the scribe shooed him away to the stairs. It then returned to the cell.
“Now then,” it said after clearing its throat, “I am Nikkrak. Scribe with the city judiciary, yes?”
It glanced at Bhollom and Neej-Nash, again without lifting its face from the book.
“What is, Rags?” Neej-Nash suddenly asked, turning her face to Bhollom. “Smells like bird.”
One of the avion’s eyes twitched slightly. Bhollom felt panic rise inside him.
“I’m terribly sorry, sir. She’s blind, she-“
“Madam,” Nikkrak snapped, glaring at Bhollom.
“Right. Sorry,” he stammered, trying to compose himself. “Madam, I’m terribly sorry, but I’m sure you can see that she’s blind. She means no disrespect, she probably has just never met an avion before, and-“
“Her disrespect is irrelevant,” Nikkrak cut Bhollom off again.
She scribbled something on the page open in front of her and lifted her face from the book for the first time.
“As I am certain captain Kheret has already informed you, you are to spend the night here before being transferred to the Mayor’s Tower in the morning for interrogation, yes?”
Bhollom nodded. No one had mentioned interrogation, but he felt the less he knew about it now, the calmer he could manage to keep himself.
“Yes yes, excellent. And I trust he has also read you your charge, yes?”
“We’re innocent!” Bhollom bellowed, grabbing the iron bars in front of him.
Nikkrak’s expression did not even twitch.
“Answer yes or no, please.”
Bhollom stared pleadingly into the avion’s eyes, but receiving to response, he sighed and let his eyes sink to the ground.
The scribe again wrote something into her book.
“Yes yes, very good. Your guilt or innocence is irrelevant to me. You will have my sympathies for your wrongful arrest if,” Nikkrak emphasized the word, “you are so proven. I am here merely to ask you some questions for tomorrow, yes?”
Bhollom sighed again.
“Go right ahead.”
Nikkrak cleared her throat.
“Could I have your names, please?”
“Mohlbad Bhollom,” Bhollom muttered.
“Yes yes, good. And I assume that is your family name first, yes?”
“Good, good, good. And then, you?”
She turned to Neej-Nash. She was staring vacantly in her general direction. Bhollom nudged her with his elbow.
“She wants to know your name.”
Neej-Nash flicked her tongue.
“Funny bird. This is Neej-Nash.”
Nikkrak’s eye twitched again, as Bhollom whispered to Neej-Nash not to call her that.
“How would one spell that?” the avion asked.
Neej-Nash responded with another flick of her tongue and empty stare. Nikkrak sighed.
“I shall approximate, yes?” she said with frustration in her voice. “To both of you, do you deny your guilt of the crime you are accused of?”
“Yes or no!” Nikkrak croaked.
Bhollom squeezed at the bars harder and bit his lip.
“Yes yes, very well. Can you present proof as to your innocence?”
“Yes!” Bhollom yelled, feeling a sudden mood lift. “We were working for the owner of the Serpent and the Skewer!”
Nikkrak was writing furiously.
“Thank you, that answers my next question. Then, can this person testify as to your innocence?”
“Yes. He guided us to his storage himself this morning.”
Nikkrak raised one of her brows.
“Was he with you the whole time?”
Bhollom felt his hope drain as suddenly as it had appeared.
“No,” he whispered.
“Yes yes, I see,” Nikkrak said, writing Bhollom’s words down. “Now, do you deny you are injured?”
She eyed at Bhollom’s bruises and black eye.
“No?” Bhollom asked, somewhat confused.
“And how did you acquire these injuries?”
Bhollom told Nikkrak about Neej-Nash’s uncontrolled excitement at organizing the storage room. The avion nodded as she wrote down the story.
“Yes yes,” she said, “And finally, do you deny that you could not have been injured while struggling with the Mayor-Mage?”
Bhollom stared at the scribe with his mouth agape. Neej-Nash was muttering something about her asking too many questions.
“How am I supposed to answer that?” Bhollom asked.
“With a yes or no.”
Bhollom sighed once more and shook his head.
“No, I guess.”
“Yes yes, very good,” Nikkrak muttered. She slammed her book shut.
“Thank you, that will be all for now. More will be asked during interrogation tomorrow. You may now ask me three questions about your charge, as dictated by city law.”
“Who’s accusing us?” Bhollom yelled, shaking the iron bars in futile rage. “We’ve done nothing!”
Nikkrak paged through her book, examining her notes.
“Seems like the charge was laid by Heribert, the Mayor-Mage’s assistant.”
“Short man?” Neej-Nash suddenly asked. Nikkrak nodded.
“Yes, short man. He claims you displayed what could be described as threatening behavior towards the Mayor-Mage yesterday during your brief meeting.”
“Threatening behavior?” Bhollom bellowed. “He ran over Neej-Nash with his carriage and that bastard began insulting us!”
“Probable. I have no personal affection for the man. Unpleasant. Very unpleasant.”
She looked back at the two prisoners.
Bhollom furrowed his brow.
“I thought you said three.”
“Yes, I did. She just asked one.”
Bhollom tried to find the right words to protest, but only managed to sigh in frustration.
“Do you think we’ll be found guilty?”
Nikkrak shrugged and stuffed her book and pen into her bag.
“My opinion matters little,” she said, “but the possibility exists. I do know, and you did not hear this from me, that you two are the current main suspects.”
She straightened her back.
“But you have a reasonable defense, perhaps. Well, good night.”
The avion disappeared up the stairs. Bhollom stared after her for a moment, but then he slumped down to the floor and buried his face in his knees.
“What are we going to do?”
Neej-Nash looked at rags, her frills sinking down against her neck.
“Rags, what is? Why lock these here?”
“They think we killed the short man’s friend,” Bhollom mumbled. He had learned to try to put things in a way Neej-Nash could easily grasp. Her jaw fell open upon hearing Bhollom’s words.
“But these no does that!”
Bhollom didn’t answer. He just wanted to be left alone, but Naaj-Nash kept poking his shoulder.
“What?” he finally screamed. Bhollom jumped up to his feet, but the pain in his right foot caused him to stumble back down to the floor. Cursing, he looked up at Neej-Nash. The saurian had shrunk back against the wall, her frills wide open and drained of color.
“I’m sorry,” Bhollom whispered. “What is it?”
Neej-Nash offered her bound wrists and tail to Bhollom and moaned pathetically.