Apologies for the long delay in posting!
Here’s another extract from my work-in-progress…
A warm ripple of a thrill went through him, as it always did when he caught sight of her home. It sat on the very edge of town, at the end of a short, narrow road where the most destitute and despised residents of Vidar’s Fast dwelt. Here, nothing was changed on the eve of war. Desperate children shuffled about, stooping to fish a misplaced trinket from the brown mire underfoot. Haggard women hopped over rivers of urine, balancing teetering piles of laundry in their lithe, dirt-streaked arms.
The smells were overwhelming, but sweet enough with rot and dung to be almost pleasant. Eldris dragged the seething miasma into his nose with great gulps, savouring the soothing sensation of being home. Vandar, deep in his cups, would often proclaim to anyone in earshot that he loved every woman in the Middle Isles, and had bedded half of them, but wouldn’t touch the cleanest maid in the Grip, named for the way it clung unwanted to the town. So Rothir griped, the Grip was a foetid pit of debauchery, vileness and heresy.
He knew they were both wrong. For as long as Eldris could remember, he was drawn to the stinking slum like a moth to a stuttering candle flame. It sprung up from lower ground than the rest of Vidar’s Fast, sewage and other detritus flowing down its cramped streets, but it contrived to match the rest of the town’s height. He blinked up in wonder at the soaring old tenements, gasping at how the leaning, ramshackle timber structures could bear their own weight when they came so close to touching overhead that only a sliver of sunlight could slice through the gap.
His pace slowed as he tracked through the winding streams of piss and mud, knowing better than to waste effort attempting to avoid them. There was no time to watch his footfalls anyway. Eldris was utterly absorbed by his surroundings, drowning in the familiar strangeness of this unknowable side of his hometown.
Women, covered from head to toe by tattered shawls and threadbare dresses even in their own houses, knelt on the rough boards of their hearths and gave whispered pleas to the gods. He hesitated each time he passed an open door or window, listening in rapt discomfort to their hushed prayers. When he first came to the Grip, he imagined a hundred causes for their devotion. Begging for food to fill their children’s bellies. Asking for their husbands to find a job which wouldn’t sully their hands with the stench of the cesspit or carthorse.
But it was always one thing they begged the gods to give them, rocking on their knees under the force of their own desperate earnestness. ‘Forgive me. Forgive me.’ For what? Eldris asked himself. He never saw them take a strange man to their bed, stumble drunk in the gutter or raise a word in reproach of the gods. The same gods who robbed them of dignity, cut their lives short before their bloom and gave them nothing but scraps for their children to fight over.
Eldris quickened his pace, forcing himself to be deaf and blind to their suffering. In his mind’s eye, he couldn’t help seeing the comfortable cottages and blazing halls of his kinsmen, boisterous children laughing as they ran along clean streets and hearing the drunken curses of their fathers. When Rothir returns, I’ll make him do something. I’ll tell him the gods spoke to me of that’s what it takes. There must be something…