Mar 10 2010 12:55pm
The Black Jewel
Next morning, Dorian Hawkmoon was taken to see Baron Kalan again. The serpent mask seemed to bear an almost cynical expression as it regarded him, but the baron said hardly a word, merely led him through a series of rooms and halls until they reached a room with a door of plain steel. This was opened, to reveal a similar door that, when opened, revealed a third door. This led into a small, blindingly lighted chamber of white metal that contained a machine of intense beauty. It consisted almost entirely of delicate red, gold, and silver webs, strands of which brushed Hawkmoon’s face and had the warmth and vitality of human skin. Faint music came from the webs, which moved as if in a breeze.
“It seems alive,” said Hawkmoon.
“It is alive,” Baron Kalan whispered proudly. “It is alive.”
“Is it a beast?”
“No. It is the creation of sorcery. I am not even sure what it is. I built it according to the instructions of a grimoire I bought from an Easterner many years ago. It is the machine of the Black Jewel. Ah, and soon you will become much more intimately acquainted with it, lord Duke.”
Deep within him, Hawkmoon felt a faint stirring of panic, but it did not begin to rise to the surface of his mind. He let the strands of red and gold and silver caress him.
“It is not complete,” Kalan said. “It must spin the Jewel. Move closer to it, my lord. Move in to it. You will feel no pain, I guarantee. It must spin the Black Jewel.”
Hawkmoon obeyed the baron, and the webs rustled and began to sing. His ears became confounded, the traceries of red, gold, and silver confused his eyes. The machine of the Black Jewel fondled him, seemed to enter him, become him and he it. He sighed, and his voice was the music of the webs; he moved and his limbs were tenuous strands.
There was pressure from within his skull, and he felt a sense of absolute warmth and softness suffuse his body. He drifted as if bodiless and lost the sense of passing time, but he knew that the machine was spinning something from its own substance, making something that became hard and dense and implanted itself in his forehead so that suddenly he seemed to possess a third eye and stared out at the world with a new kind of vision. Then gradually this faded and he was looking at Baron Kalan, who had removed his mask, the better to regard him.
Hawkmoon felt a sudden sharp pain in his head. The pain vanished almost at once. He looked back at the machine, but its colours had dulled and its webs seemed to have shrunk. He lifted a hand to his forehead and felt with a shock something there that had not been there before. It was hard and smooth. It was part of him. He shuddered.
Baron Kalan looked concerned. “Eh? You are not mad, are you? I was sure of success! You are not mad?”
“I am not mad,” Hawkmoon said. “But I think that I am afraid.”
“You will become accustomed to the Jewel.”
“That is what is in my head? The Jewel?”
“Aye. The Black Jewel. Wait.” Kalan turned and drew aside a curtain of scarlet velvet, revealing a flat oval of milky quartz about two feet long. In it, a picture began to form. Hawkmoon saw that the picture was that of Kalan staring into the quartz oval, into infinity. The screen revealed exactly what Hawkmoon saw. As he turned his head slightly, the picture altered accordingly.
Kalan muttered in delight. “It works, you see. What you perceive, the Jewel perceives. Wherever you go we shall be able to see everything and everyone you encounter.”
Hawkmoon tried to speak, but he could not. His throat was tight, and there seemed to be something constricting his lungs. Again he touched the warm jewel, so similar to flesh in texture, but so unlike it in every other way.
“What have you done to me?” he asked eventually, his tone as flat as ever.
“We have merely secured your loyalty,” chuckled Kalan. “You have taken part of the life of the machine. Should we so desire, we can give all the machine’s life to the Jewel, and then…”
Hawkmoon reached out stiffly and touched the baron’s arm. “What will it do?”
“It will eat your brain, Duke of Köln.”
Baron Meliadus hurried Dorian Hawkmoon through the glittering passages of the palace. Now Hawkmoon had a sword at his side and a suit of clothes and mail much like those he had worn at the Battle of Köln. He was conscious of the jewel in his skull but of little else. The passages widened until they covered the area of a good-sized street. Guards in the masks of the Order of the Mantis were thick along the walls. Mighty doors, a mass of jewels making mosaic patterns, towered ahead of them.
“The throne room,” murmured the baron. “Now the King-Emperor will inspect you.”
Slowly the doors moved open, to reveal the glory of the throne room. It blazed, half-blinding Hawkmoon with its magnificence. There was glitter and music; from a dozen galleries that rose to the concave roof were draped the shimmering banners of five hundred of Granbretan’s noblest families. Lining the walls and galleries, rigid with their flame-lances at the salute, were the soldiers of the Order of the Mantis in their insect-masks and their plate armour of black, green, and gold. Behind them, in a multitude of different masks and a profusion of rich clothing, were the courtiers. They peered curiously at Meliadus and Hawkmoon as they entered.
The lines of soldiers stretched into the distance. There, at the end of the hall, almost out of sight, hung something that Hawkmoon could not at first make out. He frowned. “The Throne Globe,” whispered Meliadus. “Now do as I do.” He began to pace forward.
The walls of the throne room were of lustrous green and purple, but the colours of the banners ranged the spectrum, as did the fabrics, metals, and precious gems that the courtiers wore. But Hawkmoon’s eyes were fixed on the globe.
Dwarfed by the proportions of the throne room, Hawkmoon and Meliadus walked with measured pace toward the Throne Globe while fanfares were played by trumpeters in the galleries to left and right.
Eventually Hawkmoon could see the Throne Globe, and he was astonished. It contained a milky-white fluid that surged about sluggishly, almost hypnotically. At times the fluid seemed to contain iridescent radiance that would gradually fade and then return. In the centre of this fluid, reminding Hawkmoon of a foetus, drifted an ancient man, his skin wrinkled, his limbs apparently useless, his head overlarge. From this head stared sharp, malicious eyes.
Following Meliadus’s example, Hawkmoon abased himself before the creature.
“Rise,” came a voice. Hawkmoon realized with a shock that the voice came from the globe. It was the voice of a young man in the prime of health—a golden voice, a melodic, vibrant voice. Hawkmoon wondered from what youthful throat the voice had been torn.
“King-Emperor, I present Dorian Hawkmoon, Duke von Köln, who has elected to perform an errand for us. You’ll remember, noble sire, that I mentioned my plan to you…” Meliadus bowed as he spoke.
“We go to much effort and considerable ingenuity to secure the services of this Count Brass,” came the golden voice. “We trust your judgment is sound in this matter, Baron Meliadus.”
“You have reason to trust me on the strength of my past deeds, Great Majesty,” Meliadus said, again bowing.
“Has the Duke von Köln been warned of the inevitable penalty he will pay if he does not serve us loyally?” came the youthful, sardonic voice. “Has he been told that we may destroy him in an instant, from any distance?”
Meliadus stroked his sleeve. “He has, Mighty King-Emperor.”
“You have informed him that the jewel in his skull,” continued the voice with relish, “sees all that he sees and shows it to us in the chamber of the machine of the Black Jewel?”
“Aye, Noble Monarch.”
“And you have made it clear to him that should he show any signs of betraying us—any slight sign, which we may easily detect by watching through his eyes the faces of those he speaks to—we shall give the Jewel its full life? We shall release all the energy of the machine into its sibling. Have you told him, Baron Meliadus, that the Jewel, possessed of its full life, will then eat its way through his brain, devour his mind, and turn him into a drooling, mindless creature?”
“In essence, Great Emperor, he has been so informed.”
The thing in the Throne Globe chuckled. “By the look of him, Baron, the threat of mindlessness is no threat at all. Are you sure he’s not already possessed of the Jewel’s full life?”
“It is his character to seem thus, Immortal Ruler.”
Now the eyes turned to peer into those of Dorian Hawkmoon, and the sardonic, golden voice issued from the infinitely aged throat.
“You have contracted a bargain, Duke von Köln, with the immortal King-Emperor of Granbretan. It is a testament to our liberality that we should offer such a bargain to one who is, after all, our slave. You must serve us, in turn, with great loyalty, knowing that you share a part in the destiny of the greatest race ever to emerge on this planet. It is our right to rule the Earth, by virtue of our omniscient intellect and omnipotent might, and soon we shall claim this right in full. All who help serve our noble purpose will receive our approval. Go now, Duke, and win that approval.”
The wizened head turned, and a prehensile tongue flickered from the mouth to touch a tiny jewel that drifted near the wall of the Throne Globe. The globe began to dim until the foetuslike shape of the King-Emperor, last and immortal descendant of a dynasty founded almost three thousand years before, appeared for a few moments in silhouette. “And remember the power of the Black Jewel,” said the youthful voice before the globe took on the appearance of a solid, dull black sphere.
The audience was ended. Abasing themselves, Meliadus and Hawkmoon backed away a few paces and then turned to walk from the throne room. And the audience had served a purpose not anticipated by the baron or his master. Within Hawkmoon’s strange mind, in its most hidden depths, a tiny irritation had begun; and the irritation was caused not by the Black Jewel that lay embedded in his forehead, but by a less tangible source.
Perhaps the irritation was a sign of Hawkmoon’s humanity returning. Perhaps it marked the growing of a new and altogether different quality; perhaps it was the influence of the Runestaff.
Journey to Castle Brass
Dorian Hawkmoon was returned to his original apartments in the prison catacombs and there waited for two days until Baron Meliadus arrived, bearing with him a suit of black leather, complete with boots and gauntlets, a heavy black cloak with a cowl, a silver-hilted broadsword in a black leather scabbard, simply decorated with silver, and a black helmet-mask wrought in the likeness of a snarling wolf. The clothes and equipment were evidently modeled on Meliadus’s own.
“Your tale, on reaching Castle Brass,” Meliadus began, “will be a fine one. You were made prisoner by myself and managed, with the aid of a slave, to drug me and pose as me. In this disguise you crossed Granbretan and all the provinces she controls before Meliadus recovered from the drug. A simple story is the best, and this one serves not only to answer how you came to escape from Granbretan, but also to elevate you in the eyes of those who hate me.”
“I understand,” Hawkmoon said, fingering the heavy black jacket. “But how is the Black Jewel explained?”
“You were to be the subject of some experiment of mine but escaped before any serious harm could be done to you. Tell the story well, Hawkmoon, for your safety will depend on it. We shall be watching the reaction of Count Brass—and particularly that wily rhyme maker Bowgentle. Though we shall be unable to hear what you say, we can read lips well enough. Any sign of betrayal on your part—and we give the Jewel its full life.”
“I understand,” Hawkmoon repeated in the same flat tone.
Meliadus frowned. “They will evidently note your strangeness of manner, but with luck they will explain it by the misfortunes you have suffered. It could make them even more solicitous.”
Hawkmoon nodded vaguely.
Meliadus looked at him sharply. “I am still troubled by you, Hawkmoon. I am still unsure that you have not by some sorcery or cunning deceived us—but nonetheless I am certain of your loyalty. The Black Jewel is my assurance.” He smiled. “Now, an ornithopter is waiting to take you to Deau-Vere and the coast. Ready yourself, my lord Duke, and serve Granbretan faithfully. If you are successful, you shall soon be master of your own estates again.” The ornithopter had settled on the lawns beyond the city entrance to the catacombs. It was a thing of great beauty, fashioned in the shape of a gigantic griffin, all worked in copper, brass, silver, and black steel, squatting on its powerful lionlike haunches, the forty-foot wings folded on its back. Below the head, in the small cockpit, sat the pilot, dressed in the bird-mask of his Order—the Order of the Crow, which was comprised of all flyers—his gloved hands on the jeweled controls.
With some wariness, Hawkmoon, now clad in the costume that so resembled Meliadus’s, climbed in behind the pilot, finding difficulty with his sword as he tried to seat himself in the long, narrow seat. Eventually he settled into a position of comparative comfort and gripped the ribbed metal sides of the flying machine as the pilot depressed a lever and the wings clashed open and began to beat the air with a strange, echoing boom. The whole ornithopter shuddered and listed to one side for an instant before the pilot, cursing, had it under control. Hawkmoon had heard that there were dangers in flying these machines and had seen several that had attacked him at Köln suddenly fold their wings behind them and hurtle to the ground. But in spite of their instabilities, the ornithopters of the Dark Empire had been the chief weapon in conquering so speedily the mainland of Europe, for no other race possessed flying machines of any kind.
Now, with an uncomfortable jerking motion, the metal griffin slowly began to ascend. The wings thrashed the air, a parody of natural flight, and they climbed higher and higher until they had cleared the tops of Londra’s tallest towers and were circling toward the south-east. Hawkmoon breathed heavily, disliking the unfamiliar sensation.
Soon the monster had passed above a heavy layer of dark cloud, and sunshine flashed on its metal scales. His face and eyes protected by the mask, through whose jeweled eyes he peered, Hawkmoon saw the sunlight refracted into a million rainbow flashes. He closed his eyes.
Time passed, and he felt the ornithopter begin to descend. He opened his eyes and saw that they were deep within the clouds again, breaking through them to see ash-grey fields, the outline of a turreted city, and the livid, rolling sea beyond.
Clumsily, the machine flapped toward a great, flat stretch of rock that rose from the centre of the city.
It landed with a heavy bumping motion, wings beating frenetically, and at last halted close to the edge of the artificial plateau.
The pilot signaled for Hawkmoon to get out. He did so, feeling stiff, his legs shaking, while the pilot locked his controls and joined him on the ground. Here and there were other ornithopters. As they walked across the rock beneath the lowering sky, one began to flap into the air, and Hawkmoon felt wind slap against his face from the wings as the thing passed close above his head.
“Deau-Vere,” the crow-masked pilot said. “A port given over almost wholly to our aerial navies, although ships of war still use the harbour.”
Soon Hawkmoon could see a circular steel hatch in the rock ahead of them. The pilot paused beside it and tapped out a complicated series of beats with his booted foot. Eventually the hatch swung downward, revealing a stone stairway, and they descended, while the hatch swung shut above them. The interior was gloomy, with decorations of glowering stone gargoyles and some inferior bas-reliefs.
At last they emerged through a guarded door into a paved street between the square, turreted buildings that filled the city. The streets were crowded with the warriors of Granbretan. Groups of crow-masked flyers rubbed shoulders with the fish- and sea-serpent-masked crews of the men-o’-war, the infantrymen and the cavalry in a great variety of masks, some of the Order of the Pig, others of the Orders of Wolf, Skull, Mantis, Bull, Hound, Goat, and many more. Swords slapped armoured legs, flame-lances clashed in the press, and everywhere was the gloomy jingle of military gear.
Pushing through this throng, Hawkmoon was surprised that it gave way so easily, until he remembered how closely he must resemble Baron Meliadus.
At the gates of the city there was a horse waiting for him, its saddle panniers bulging with provisions. Hawkmoon had already been told about the horse and which road he must follow. He mounted the animal and cantered toward the sea.
Very soon the clouds parted and sunshine broke through them, and Dorian Hawkmoon saw for the first time the Silver Bridge that spanned thirty miles of sea. It flashed in the sunlight, a beautiful thing, seemingly too delicate to withstand the merest breeze but actually strong enough to bear all the armies of Granbretan. It curved away over the ocean, beyond the horizon. The causeway itself measured almost a quarter of a mile across, flanked by quivering networks of silver hawsers supported by pylon archways, intricately moulded in military motifs.
Across this bridge passed to and fro a splendid variety of traffic. Hawkmoon could see carriages of nobles, so elaborate that it was hard to believe they could function; squadrons of cavalry, the horses as magnificently armoured as their riders; battalions of infantry, marching four abreast with unbelievable precision; trading caravans of carts; and beasts of burden with swaying stacks of every conceivable kind of goods—furs, silks, meat carcasses, fruit, vegetables, chests of treasure, candlesticks, beds, whole suites of chairs—much of which, Hawkmoon realized, was loot from states like Köln recently conquered by those same armies who passed the caravans.
War engines, too, he could see—things of iron and copper—with cruel beaks for ramming, high towers for the siege, long beams for hurling massive fireballs and boulders. Marching beside them, in masks of mole and badger and ferret, were the engineers of the Dark Empire, with squat, powerful bodies and large, heavy hands. All these things took on the aspect of ants, dwarfed as they were by the majesty of the Silver Bridge, which, like the ornithopters, had contributed greatly to the ease of Granbretan’s conquests.
The guards on the bridge’s gateway had been told to let Hawkmoon pass, and the gateway opened as he neared it. He rode straight onto the vibrating bridge, his horse’s hoofs clattering on the metal. The causeway, seen at this range, lost some of its magnificence. Its surface had been scored and dented by the passage of the traffic. Here and there were piles of horse dung, rags, straw, and less recognizable refuse. It was impossible to keep such a well-used thoroughfare in perfect condition, but somehow the soiled causeway symbolized something of the spirit of the strange civilization of Granbretan.
Hawkmoon crossed the Silver Bridge across the sea and came, after some time, to the mainland of Europe, making his way toward the Crystal City so lately conquered by the Dark Empire; the Crystal City of Parye, where he would rest for a day before beginning his journey south.
But he had more than a day’s journey before he came to the Crystal City, no matter how hard he rode. He decided not to stay in Karlye, the city closest to the bridge, but to find a village where he might rest for that night and then continue in the morning.
Just before sunset he reached a village of pleasant villas and gardens that bore the marks of conflict. Indeed, some of the villas were in ruins. The village was strangely quiet, though a few lights were beginning to burn in windows, and the inn, when he reached it, had its doors closed and there were no signs of revelry from within. He dismounted in the inn’s courtyard and banged on the door with his fist. He waited for several minutes before the bar was withdrawn and a boy’s face peered out at him. The boy looked frightened when he saw the wolf mask. Reluctantly he drew the door open to let Hawkmoon enter. As soon as he was inside, Hawkmoon pushed back the mask and tried to smile at the boy to give him reassurance, but the smile was artificial, for Hawkmoon had forgotten how to move his lips correctly. The boy seemed to take the expression as one of disapproval, and he backed away, his eyes half-defiant, as if expecting a blow at the very least.
“I mean you no harm,” Hawkmoon said stiffly. “Only take care of my horse and give me a bed and some food. I’ll leave at dawn.”
“Master, we have only the humblest food,” murmured the boy, partly reassured. The people of Europe in these days were used to occupation by this faction or that, and the conquest of Granbretan was not, in essence, a new experience. The ferocity of the people of the Dark Empire was new, however, and this was plainly what the boy feared and hated, expecting not even the roughest justice from one who was evidently a noble of Granbretan.
“I’ll take whatever you have. Save your best food and wine if you will. I seek only to satisfy my hunger and sleep.”
“Sire, our best food is all gone. If we —”
Hawkmoon silenced him with a gesture. “I am not interested, boy. Take me literally and you will serve me best.”
He looked about the room and noted one or two old men sitting in the shadows, drinking from heavy tankards and avoiding looking at him. He went to the centre of the room and seated himself at a small table, stripping off his cloak and gauntlets and wiping the dust of the road from his face and body. The wolf mask he dumped on the ground beside his chair, a most uncharacteristic gesture for a noble of the Dark Empire. He noticed one of the men glance at him in some surprise, and when a murmur broke out a little later, he realized they had seen the Black Jewel. The boy returned with thin ale and some scraps of pork, and Hawkmoon had the feeling that this was, indeed, their best. He ate the pork and drank the ale and then called to be taken to his room. Once in the sparsely furnished chamber he stripped off his gear, bathed himself, climbed between the rough sheets, and was soon asleep.
During the night he was disturbed, without realizing what had awakened him. For some reason he felt drawn to the window and looked out. In the moonlight he thought he saw a figure on a heavy warhorse, looking up at his window. The figure was that of a warrior in full armour, his visor covering his face. Hawkmoon believed he caught a flash of jet and gold. Then the warrior had turned his horse and disappeared.
Feeling that there was some significance to this event, Hawkmoon returned to his bed. He slept again, quite as soundly as before, but in the morning he was not sure whether he had dreamed or not. If it had been a dream, then it was the first he had had since he had been captured. A twinge of curiosity made him frown slightly as he dressed himself, but he shrugged then and went down to the main room of the inn to ask for some breakfast. Hawkmoon reached the Crystal City by the evening. Its buildings of purest quartz were alive with colour, and everywhere was the tinkle of the glass decorations that the citizens of Parye used to adorn their houses and public buildings and monuments. Such a beautiful city it was that even the warlords of the Dark Empire had left it almost wholly intact, preferring to take the city by stealth and waste several months, rather than attack it.
But within the city the marks of occupation were everywhere, from the look of permanent fear on the faces of the common folk, to the beast-masked warriors who swaggered the streets, and the flags that flowed in the wind over the houses once owned by Parye’s noblemen. Now the flags were those of Jerek Nankenseen, Warlord of the Order of the Fly; Adaz Promp, Grand Constable of the Order of the Hound; Mygel Holst, Archduke of Londra; and Asrovak Mikosevaar, renegade of Muskovia, mercenary Warlord of the Vulture Legion, pervert and destroyer, whose legion had served Granbretan even before her plan of European conquest became evident. A madman to match even those insane nobles of Granbretan he allowed to be his masters, Asrovak Mikosevaar was always at the forefront of Granbretan’s armies, pushing the boundaries of Empire onward. His infamous banner, with the words stitched in scarlet on it, Death to Life! struck fear into the hearts of all who fought against it. Asrovak Mikosevaar must be resting in the Crystal City, Hawkmoon decided, for it was unlike him to be far from any battle line. Corpses drew the Muskovian as roses drew bees.
There were no children in the streets of the Crystal City. Those who had not been slaughtered by Granbretan had been imprisoned by the conquerors, to ensure the good behaviour of the citizens who remained alive.
The sun seemed to stain the crystal buildings with blood as it set, and Hawkmoon, too weary to ride on, was forced to find the inn Meliadus had told him of and there sleep for the best part of a night and a day before resuming his journey to Castle Brass. There was still more than half of that journey to finish. Beyond the city of Lyon, the Empire of Granbretan had so far been checked in its conquests, but the road to Lyon was a bleak road, lined with gibbets and wooden crosses on which hung men and women, young and old, girls and boys, and even, perhaps as an insane jest, domestic pets such as cats, dogs, and tame rabbits. Whole families rotted there; entire households, from the youngest baby to the oldest servant, were nailed in attitudes of agony to the crosses.
The stench of decay inflamed Hawkmoon’s nostrils as he let his horse plod miserably down the Lyon Road, and the stink of death clogged his throat. Fire had blackened fields and forests, razed towns and villages, turned the very air grey and heavy. All who lived had become beggars, whatever their former station, save those women who had become whores to the empire’s soldiery, or those men who had sworn groveling allegiance to the King-Emperor.
As curiosity had touched him earlier, now disgust stirred faintly in Hawkmoon’s breast, but he hardly noticed it. Wolf-masked, he rode on toward Lyon. None stopped him; none questioned him, for those who served the Order of the Wolf were, in the main, fighting in the north, and thus Hawkmoon was safe from any Wolf addressing him in the secret language of the Order.
Beyond Lyon, Hawkmoon took to the fields, for the roads were patrolled by Granbretanian warriors. He stuffed his wolf-mask into one of his now empty panniers and rode swiftly into the free territory where the air was still sweet but where terror still blossomed, save that this was a terror of the future rather than of the present.
In the town of Valence, where warriors prepared to meet the attack of the Dark Empire when it came—discussing hopeless stratagems, building inadequate war engines—Hawkmoon told his story first.
“I am Dorian Hawkmoon von Köln,” he told the captain to whom the solders took him.
The captain, one thigh-booted foot on a bench in the crowded inn, stared at him carefully. “The Duke von Köln must be dead by now—he was captured by Granbretan,” he said. “I think you are a spy.”
Hawkmoon did not protest but told the story Meliadus had given him. Speaking expressionlessly, he described his capture and his method of escape, and his strange tone convinced the captain more than the story itself. Then a swordsman in battered mail pushed through the crowd shouting Hawkmoon’s name. Turning, Hawkmoon recognized the insignia on the man’s coat as his own, the arms of Köln. The man was one of the few who had fled the Köln battlefield somehow. He spoke to the captain and the crowd, describing the duke’s bravery and ingenuity. Then Dorian Hawkmoon was heralded as a hero in Valence.
That night, while his coming was celebrated, Hawkmoon told the captain that he was bound for Kamarg to try to recruit the help of Count Brass in the war against Granbretan. The captain shook his head. “Count Brass takes no sides,” he said. “But it is likely he will listen to you rather than anyone else. I hope you are successful, my lord Duke.”
Next morning, Hawkmoon rode away from Valence, rode down the trail to the south, while grim-faced men passed him riding north to join forces with those preparing to withstand the Dark Empire.
The wind blew harder and harder as Hawkmoon neared his destination and saw, at length, the flat marshlands of Kamarg, the lagoons shining in the distance, the reeds bent beneath the mistral’s force—a lonely, lovely land. When he passed close to one of the tall old towers and saw the heliograph begin to flash, he knew that his coming would be newsed to Castle Brass before he arrived there.
Cold-faced, Hawkmoon sat his horse stiffly as it picked its way along the winding marsh road where shrubs swayed and water rippled and a few birds floated through the sad old skies.
Shortly before nightfall, Castle Brass came in sight, its terraced hill and delicate towers a black-and-grey silhouette against the evening.