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Revile fell silent.
His companions said nothing for a moment yet, despite their fear and unhappiness, had listened to his story.
“That was silly,” said Margaret at last. “You’ve quite destroyed any illusions I had about you – Revile the mysterious adventurer. Yet I can’t help thinking your tale was a little unlikely.”
“Strangely enough,” replied the assassin, “it’s actually true. It was brought to mind because you are also called Margaret.”
Fergus snorted. “Well, I don’t believe it for one,” he said. “If this Constantine was such a great wizard he would never have believed you had really stolen the Bull of Heaven, would he now? I think you jest with us. I may be a poor farmer, but I’m not stupid!”
Revile laughed. “Maybe you’re not, and believe what you will. Anyway, you shouldn’t believe everything people say about themselves. Constantine may have claimed he was a wizard, but I don’t think he was. He was just a fat pompous fool with delusions of grandeur. Anyway, does it matter if it’s true or not?”
“Yes, it does,” answered Fergus. “I don’t want you to think we’re impressed by your story!”
“Well, you’ve set me right on that score,” replied the assassin. “Perhaps you could tell us a tale or two: maybe about the weather, or the growing of crops? I always enjoyed those rustic sort of stories – you know the ones – about dung-covered udders and the amusing sexual antics of chickens.”
“By the Rood!” cried the farmer. “You’ve got a damn cheek! Who, by Hell, do you think you are? You ...”
“Peace, Fergus,” said Margaret. “He’s just joking with you.”
“O aye!” continued Fergus angrily. “That’ll be right! He thinks he’s better than us, the murdering swine with his stupid story.”
Revile laughed at him, and Fergus cursed.
“Stop it!” ordered Margaret sternly. “That’s enough! We’re in a bad enough fix without you two fighting like children. What does it matter whether the story is true or not, Fergus? If you can do better then we’ll listen to you.”
The farmer continued to mutter under his breath, but said nothing audible.
“Anyway,” added Margaret, “we should be friends.”
“O very well!” conceded Fergus. “I suppose I’m just worried about my family. I over reacted.”
“Who cares?” said Revile tiredly.
“You don’t seem to take this very seriously,” said Margaret, suddenly getting angry herself. “It’s just a bit of a laugh getting hung.”
“Is it?” said the assassin softly. “I reckon you’re wrong. I just don’t see any point in worrying about it. And we’re not hanged yet. Anything might happen.”
“Like what?” said Fergus hotly.
“There might be an earthquake,” replied Revile. “A legion of dragons might invade Bamburg. There might be an amnesty for all prisoners. I don’t know. Why worry about the future?”
“Here we go again,” muttered the farmer, “the brave, noble, fearless adventurer, who makes his living by slaughtering others.”
“Don’t laugh at me Fergus,” said Revile coldly, “not when I’m trying to be nice to you.”
“If this is you being nice,” said Margaret, “I’d hate to see you horrible.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” said Revile grimly.
“Phooey!” said Fergus.
“Stop it!” cried Alwyn suddenly. “Just stop arguing for God’s sake!”
“O don’t start weeping again!” said the assassin in irritation.
“You really are a bastard,” Margaret told him. “A cold conceited bastard! I don’t know what kind of life you’ve led and maybe you do think this is all a big joke. But we are going to die. They’re going to hang us in the morning, and we’ve each done nothing to deserve it apart from you! And not only that, but there is the shame of it, the shame of being hanged as a common criminal with all the town coming to see us executed. It’s all very well for you to laugh at us!”
“I wasn’t laughing at you,” replied the assassin, “but I don’t give a shit what any of you or your stupid town thinks. I’ve been sitting here for two days now. I’ve fouled myself. I’ve had nothing to eat. My arse is so numb I can’t feel it. I am cold and bored. Plain bored. Bored to tears. I’m bored listening to Fergus moaning on about his precious family. I’m bored with you moaning on about how small an item you stole. I am bored with Alwyn blubbering. If I’m to die then it will be with dignity. I’m not going out on to the scaffold weeping like a baby – I’m going out like the bastard I am. If you want to die like frightened sheep, that’s up to you. The last thing you’ll hear is the jibes of the crowd, your precious townsfolk, as they taunt you, smirking at every whimper, laughing at every tear.”
An uneasy silence followed.
“I suppose you’re right,” said Alwyn at last.
Margaret turned to the young woman in surprise.
“Yes, you’re right,” continued Alwyn. “What’s the point of worrying? They’re going to hang us, there’s nothing we can do about it. I’ve worried most of my adult life – and look where it’s got me. I’m sorry we’re weak, weak and undignified. I’ll try not to weep again.”
“Good,” said the assassin. “I’m glad to hear it. You at least show some courage.” He paused. “But,” he added, “I can’t help wondering why you of all people are here. What on earth did you do to Bregorin? Can’t your father help you with the prince?”
“My father is ill,” replied the girl, “and what could he do anyway? Like Fergus, I’ve probably doomed my family as well as myself. Prince Bregorin will use this as an excuse to seize my father’s lands and forfeit his title. As for what the prince did? In truth, he did nothing. He wanted to take me as one of his mistresses. I tried but I couldn’t. I even knew what would happen to me but it made no difference.”
“The prince has the pox,” mentioned Revile.
“Really?” asked Margaret.
“O yes, definitely,” replied the assassin brightly. “There is much talk. He caught it from a mistress. She from the captain of the guard. I’m surprised you of all people hadn’t heard.”
“I’d heard,” said Fergus. “We laughed about it in the tavern. It was the baker who told me.”
“The baker who turned you in?” said Margaret.
“The very same,” said the farmer. “We laughed together.” He shook his head.
“What were you doing in a tavern if you had no money?” asked Revile.
Fergus chose to ignore that.
Revile nodded. “Anyway, Alwyn,” he said, “I think you’re being silly. You should let Bregorin have his wishes. Not even the pox is something worth dying over – although sometimes I’ve not been so sure.”
“I know,” said the young woman. “I know. I tried but I just couldn’t”
“Well, you can still change your mind.”
“I hate Bregorin as well,” said Fergus. “He was the judge at my trial. He didn’t even listen to me, and sentenced me to death.”
“He was the judge at my trial too,” said Margaret.
“You can never get revenge on these kind of people,” muttered Fergus. “They’re too powerful, surrounded by guards in their strongholds. He’d be too difficult to murder,” said Fergus thoughtfully. “Far too difficult.”
“You’d be surprised,” said Revile. “All you need is money and to know where to look. After all, Bregorin is just a man like any other. Even a prince shits, eats, screws and dies like any beggar.”
“Don’t tell me,” Fergus said sourly, “you’ve killed a prince?”
“No, just the odd king or two,” said the assassin modestly.
“Very well then,” said Margaret, “tell us about it.”