The Fallen King
After his father's death, Liam inherits the title of Keepership to help lead the small village of Lownire. Feeling trapped and inadequate, he is glad when his Grandfather is awakened from sanity by words in the Old Tongue. ( A mysterious magical language that carries power.) Liam thinks his grandfather should be the Keeper, but Grandpa instead asks him not to abandon his Keepership and learn the Old Tongue. After a siege of Darkness and remembering a promise he made his sister before her death, Liam reluctantly accepts. In parts one and two, Liam ate breakfast, went to the graveyard, and is now supposed to go shopping.
Liam arrived at the South gate and there left his torch. Entering the village, he was glad to be inside its walls but not yet in the mood to be on the busy market street. Instead, he wandered to the edge of the town. From out there, by the walls, he could see how the town had grown up. It had started with big buildings and wide roads, but as these roads and buildings had grown up and spread out, they had eventually struck the walls. Discovering less space than they had expected, they had grown into each other, colliding at strange angles, making tangled alleys and buildings squeezed small and tall.
Liam let the flow of this tangle guide him, his feet being pulled and pushed by the currents of these rejoining tributaries and splitting distributaries of roads and allies, homes and shops. These paths were still relatively unknown to him and, more importantly, were mostly empty on a day like this, their inhabitants shopping or working. It was just him and Lownire.
Him, Lownire, and that smell.
He stopped and wrinkled his nose. It was a cocktail of undesirability, a mix of tanning leather, animal manure, and urine. Yet, it was so much more pungent. Somehow, there was a note of desperation in it, a sense beyond the scent.
As fast as it had come, it faded, like it had been a hint of something passing in the wind. Liam began wandering again but was surprised to find that he smelled it again, now stronger. The desperation was getting stronger too. He was closer to its source than he’d been before.
He stopped. It was like the flowing paths of the town were guiding him toward it.
He shrugged. He still didn’t have anything better to do. Half instinctively, he let himself be carried along the paths of the town, following the smell as it got stronger. After a moment, he found himself running. He smiled. Why not? He needed to do some exploring.
At an intersection of four roads, he turned onto one of the smaller cobblestone streets and halfway down that jumped down two steps in a thin alley between two brick buildings. It was cold and dark there, like a canyon. It opened up into a passage through a little garden and then out into a courtyard where three small children played near a well. He hurried past the children, up a set of stairs that led through an arch, and out onto a little cobblestone square. He’d definitely never been here.
The square seemed like an accident, the backs of two buildings and a crude stone wall closing it in. It was empty, besides a few barrels and clotheslines. Liam pushed forward, the smell nearly burning his eyes now. It was thick and nearly acidic, like whatever made it fermented. It was coming from over the wall. Grasping onto the rough stones, he jumped, scrambled, kicked, pulled, and was able to pull himself onto the top of the wall.
The smell hit him like a runaway cart, and he nearly fell back into the square. He gasped and coughed, covering his mouth with his cloak. He could taste it! His eyes burned and watered, and he tried to regain his balance.
Below was a shifting sea of black. Cattle, packed in tighter than he’d ever seen before, standing in piles of their own filth. They barely moved, only tails flicking here or there or a head lazily turning about.
Most of them seemed to be dairy cows, with large udders hanging beneath them. Two long barns flanked the cattle yard, with large doors, some of which were opened. On the far end of the yard was the city wall, and the thin stone wall Liam sat on was the other barrier that held the animals in. It seemed like a weak dam to the tons of concentrated life.
Liam stared out over the shifting mass in awe. He supposed it made sense, Lownires cattle would graze in the fields outside the walls during the summer, but in the winter, they would be brought inside the city walls. Many were slaughtered, but those that remained would have to be put somewhere. He had found where, out by the city wall, where their smell would do the least damage.
Liam felt his eyes drawn past the crowd and to a little alcove in the barn. One of the doors had been opened to reveal a little pen where it appeared a bull was being kept. He could feel the current now, almost physically, pulling him toward that space.
He sighed, looking down at the tightly packed cattle. To get to it, he’d have to squeeze in there. He could be trampled, he could be kicked… he could be covered in manure. Stronger than these fears was the tugging curiosity in his gut.
He sighed, taking off his cloak and hanging it over the wall. If he was going to get trampled in manure, he may as well not ruin his cloak either. He lowered himself between two cattle, careful not to spook any of the animals. His feet touched down into squelching sick. He realized at one point it had been straw, but now it was so urine and manure soaked, it was sludge.
He was down, and none of the cattle seemed to care.
The one to his left lazily turned and looked at him and then let out a stream of steaming liquid feces. It splashed, making the smell more pungent and sending some of the warm fresh stuff onto Liam. He backed away and gagged, his feet becoming soaked. Covering his mouth with his hands, he began to make his way through the crowd. The animals barely seemed to care, a few more throwing him bored glances and one mooing half-heartedly, but none giving him trouble.
Soon, he arrived at his destination. The alcove had clean straw on its floor, a small trough, and a door at its back corner. A small wooden fence separated it from the main yard and kept the rest of the cattle out.
Inside stood a bull. It was huge, almost more like a wall than a creature. Its long majestic horns were sawed off at the end but still looked like they could be dangerous. Blood flecked its fur, and there was a gash along its side. On his nose was a large ring with a thin rope hanging down from it and attached to the wall behind it.
It turned and met eyes with Liam. Its gaze was not like the other cattle in the yard. It was bright, almost intelligent. Its eyes were almost human-like and seemed to be seeing him as another living creature.
Liam, almost to his surprise, lifted himself slowly over the fence and into the animal’s pen. He almost felt like those eyes were pulling him.
The bull, still looking into his eyes, took a step forward, its giant body moving slowly. Now that he was inside the pen, there was nothing between himself and the immense animal. He was sure it could destroy him in a moment if it wanted to. Despite that, he still wanted to get closer.
The bull leaned forward as if preparing to take another step, but then the ring hanging from its nose pulled tight. It stopped and pulled back, letting the rope dangle. The rope was thin, so thin Liam thought he could have broken it with his own strength. Yet, the bull seemed completely reined in by it.
The animal looked away from him, huffing defeatedly. He could feel desperation emanating from it. The feeling of being imprisoned, of being unable to stretch your feet beyond a couple paces, of fermenting in the scent of your own feces, of eating old hay that would only get older.
Liam reached for the knife on his belt. If he could cut its rope, he could, at the very least, let it use this whole pen.
“Hey, kid!” An angry gruff voice shouted. “Get away from him!” Liam jumped back from the animal and almost tripped as he hit the fence. A man stepped out of one of the many side doors of the barn. The farmer looked like one of his cattle, bald with a wide nose and dark eyes. He wore dirty boots, overalls, and his shirt sleeves rolled up to reveal his hairy and thick arms.
“Get out of there!” The man repeated, gesturing. Liam stumbled over the other side of the fence, back into the squelching hay. He slipped in it and caught onto the edge of a cow.
“Who let you in?” The man interrogated, closing the door behind him.
“I, um,” Liam mumbled.
The man stopped as he spotted the dagger on Liam’s side. “Oh, Keeper Liam,” he said, looking between the dagger and Liam’s face, seeming embarrassed and surprised. He cleared his throat. “Sorry, didn’t recognize you, sir.” Liam straightened up, letting go of the cow and blushing.
“You need something?” The farmer asked, picking his way through the cattle to Liam.
Liam shook his head. “Umm, nope,” He said stupidly. The farmer raised an eyebrow curiously. “I was looking at the bull,” Liam said, gesturing at it like the man didn’t know what a bull was.
The farmer nodded, stepping next to Liam to look at the large cow. “Oh, that’s Ahab. He is certainly something to behold.”
“Why’s he in there?” Liam asked.
“He is causing trouble. Injured another one of my other bulls,” He admired the bull with a loving eye. “Third time this winter he’s gotten in a scuffle. Should probably just cull him,”
“Cull?” Liam asked.
“Slaughter,” The man said, looking down at Liam with a suspicious eye like he had just admitted that he couldn’t fully be trusted. Liam cleared his throat.
“Why haven’t you?”
“You can’t blame him. He just feels kinda penned up. He’s docile as a lamb when he’s out in the fields, but here, he can get moody.”
“He wants open grass,” Liam said knowingly.
“Yup, he wants to be able to move. The others don’t care, but he does. Not much can be done about it. If he doesn’t calm down in here, I’ll have to slaughter him. His seed might be good, but it’s not worth him killing other animals for it.”
“Why do you tie him up? Why not let him use the whole pen?” Liam asked, hoping to see the animal allowed to walk a little farther.
“Without the tether, he’d break this fence. It’s made of twigs for him. He’d come out here and cause more problems again.”
The bull began to walk in a little circle, barely at the end of the rope. He seemed restless.
“And that rope will hold him?” Liam asked
“Mhhmm,” the man grunted a confirmation. “He ain’t gonna let anything pull on that ring. It hurts like the devil. Even the toughest of bulls don’t resist being led by their rings.”
Liam stared at the animal. All it took was a thin metal ring in his nose to keep him there. Keep him trapped.
“I suppose if anyone would resist their ring, it would be Ahab,” The farmer said thoughtfully, “But if he starts doing that, then I’ll have no choice but to cull him.”
1. What do you think of the descriptions of Lownire?
2. What does Liam's encounter with Ahab do to advance the feeling of him being trapped Are the similarities between Ahab and Liam too on the nose (hehe)?
3. What do you think about the strange feeling that led Liam to Ahab?
Bonus question: If you know much about cattle farming, any glaring mistakes?