Sunday 1 November 2020

Our Kind of Watchman

When I started this blog, I meant it to be a way of sharing my writing as much as anything. That didn't happen but now is as good a time as any to start putting that right. This is a short piece I wrote a few years back now for a site writing contest, and I hope people enjoy it. If not, it was written by my evil twin, a cad who has nothing to do with me.

Our Kind of Watchman 

I am waiting for the bell to toll.
There’s five of us, all with coffee in one hand and a stylus in the other. Stretching out reports and cracking jokes until our shift is done. MacElra is the loudest, the one who aims nearest the knuckle. I worry he’ll get into trouble at his next thought-sensing but today I’m grateful. He masks my silence. I don’t want them worrying about me. Worry can become questions.
The bell rings. I am released.
“I must go quick,” says young Ronagh. “Saorne expects me.”
“Not the only thing she expects, I’ll wager. Hoard your silver, lad.”
We laugh at MacElra’s jest, even Ronagh as he flushes. They’re recent news and he’s not comfortable with it yet, but he knows we tease because we’re pleased. Your Watch-brothers are closer than your real brothers.
“I’m for the inn. Any takers?” MacElra announces.
I shake my head swiftly. “Not me.”
“Too many of you have beautiful women,” he grumbles as I leave.
Outside the Watch-house’s sanctuary, my stomach grows cold and tight like a dead man’s grip. Citizens look at me and move aside. My uniform marks me as a Hierarch’s servant; a figure of law, order, and dread. The Hierarchs know their crimes and I punish them. It keeps Tallabhair whole. I walk home, except I take a turn I normally don’t, knock on someone else’s door.
“Come in, Toadstool. You ready?”
I nod. I’m ready to commit my first crime.

There’s three of us. Niaja, heretic mage; polite, withdrawn. Comarach, our patron’s favourite killer; scum.
And me. The necessary traitor.
I take out my key and open the treasury door. The moment I enter, awareness of everything permeates me. I know who is here, what is here, where it is. One of the many blessings the Hierarchs give their Watchmen and right now, the best of them. Niaja’s face is clenched in concentration as she maintains the spell that masks us from my fellow Watchmen. And Comarach follows, ready to kill either of us if we get clever ideas. When I stop, waiting for a man to walk by, he places his blade at my back. I hated him enough before that.
We continue through the labyrinth, ignoring the kings’ ransoms piled to either side. Our patron bade us take the Knife of Riaghaid, and that only. Even if Comarach was not here, I could not afford to anger her.
I have never seen the Knife of Riaghaid before but one thought summons the image. An ordinary thing, dull and notched. The desires of mages are strange. I lead us to it like a bird seeking summer. There are few of my fellows this far in. I take it and the power of it makes my teeth rattle.
It’s all too easy. No one thought to protect it from a Watchman. Our loyalty is legend.
I smile as we walk out. Disloyalty never felt so good.

Tallabhair is riotous at night, the citizens drinking their sorrow. I smell danger in the mead fumes. All Watchmen know the stories and I’m not protected by my uniform now. It’s the first time I’ve been out without my uniform since I was a boy. The thought troubles me more than any threat. A stranger walks in my body, past the crimes I swore to punish. Poppy smokers, unlicensed poets, adulterers. They don’t seem so terrible tonight.
I had no choice, though. I have my own Saorne; Muadha, whose eyes make the Moon Maiden weep and own my soul. Muadha, whose eyes fail more every day, the magical energies of Tallabhair eroding her brain. The doctors told me it was not uncommon, a side-effect of the sheer scale of the Hierarchs’ workings to keep back the hungry sea. They had a cure; the Hierarchs could hardly do their work without one. An expensive one though, they warned me. I paid that no mind. I was a Watchman.
Then the Hierarchs denied me.
I didn’t dwell on it. I was trained to quick action and stoic courage. Instead, I started looking for others who might provide me what I needed for my beloved Muadha, heedless of price. The refusal continued to fester away though. Eating away at the man I was.
We turn a corner and I find myself eye to eye with MacElra. Fear consumes me. Is he waiting for me? Does he know? No, he’s with a woman. His eyes are wide in question.
I open my mouth and Comarach slits his throat.
“Fucking toadstool,” he hisses.
My fists ball up. He smirks at me. My hand is on my knife hilt when Niaja coughs. I look and she gestures at the woman. We all realise the truth that the heretic is saying in the same moment; the witness cannot live. She runs and Comarach chases but I am faster. My blade flies straight between her shoulders. I pull it out, the coffee rising up my throat. She’s dead. At least I don’t have to finish her. I don’t sheath it but turn to face Comarach again. His own weapon, wet with MacElra’s blood, is waiting.
“Perhaps it would be best to settle this matter elsewhere?” says Niaja. “Such as, say, somewhere that is not a murder scene.”
She’s right. I clean my knife and sheath it. He takes the lead, unafraid of me. Scum. I glance at Niaja and her lips twitch, then she’s like a statue. We go to the meeting place as quickly as is sensible. As we enter, I nudge Comarach.
“I’ll get you for this.”
“No you won’t.”
He’s right. I won’t even remember it.

The patron gives me two vials. The first is for Muadha.
The second is for me.
There is a problem with committing crime when your mind is read regularly. The only way to escape capture is to never remember doing the crime. The second vial will solve that problem. But there is more, as my patron had explained when we first made our bargain. The Hierarchs are not fools. If a man receives a great prize but cannot remember why, they will prod and probe until they have the truth. And what greater prize is there than the miraculous recovery of your wife from the surest disease in Tallabhair?
When I wake tomorrow, Muadha will be well, but not with me. She will be somewhere else and I will believe that the strange corpse lying next to me is hers. Every little drop of pain I’d thought to escape will be mine, right down to the dregs. When my patron told me, I nearly begged her to find another way. To make me vanish too so that we could be together. I know she has a use for men such as me, if a man like me was willing to be scum.
I was not brave enough.
Now the vials are in front of me and I want to ask her for this mercy. I’m still not brave enough. I tell myself it is necessary. No one will suspect a thing if Muadha dies, but if we both disappear after tonight, people will come looking. People like Comarach.

It is three weeks since the night that both MacElra and Muadha died. I sit away from the others as I write my report, my coffee laced to keep me numb. My Watch-brothers watch me quietly. They wish to heal me but don’t know how. They don’t know how to heal themselves. MacElra was our soul. We take our pain out on the scum who did it.
My mind wanders constantly. I keep starting to write a resignation rather than my report. My captain, MacCuoma, refuses to consider such a thing. He tells me it would dishonour their memories. Maybe he’s right; I struggle to know. I am grateful for his care, for my brothers’ sympathy. It’s MacCuoma who tells me when the bell rings, tells me to go home. He emphasises the word home. Citizens look at me with fear and pity. I’m not just a Watchman to them, I’m a human too.
I reach my empty dwelling and look for the mead bottle. It’s not where I left it but there’s a small one in it’s place, it’s contents a pale yellow. Like amber. Or piss. I don’t care, I drink it.
As I do, I notice the woman. She wears no marks of belonging and a deep hood that doesn’t quite conceal the inhuman perfection of her face. I finish the vial, my mind sluggishly accepting the impossible reality.
“Hello, Watchman. We still have business, you and me.”
She is right. I try to open my mouth, to ask after Muadha. When I can be with her. I can’t, but she smiles anyway.
“There is a man,” she continues, “Who has offended me. He believes himself safe.”
I understand her request. All of it. I nod, heedless of price.


  1. I like it. I'm particularly intrigued by the drip-feed you've given us on the Hierarchs and their mysterious workings.

    1. Thanks Shannon. I sometimes think I should come back and play more with this setting but, alas, time...