This is a Short Story my Son wrote years ago and never really finished. I just found it and thought I would share it with you guys. I did clean it up and finished the “SONG” at the end but let me know what you think of it.
Songs for the Dead
The small Island of Belloun was bustling with life in early afternoon, on what was their most sacred of days. The people ran about, from house to house, to the village center where the guardian statue stood, to the inn and too small wooden booths draped in orange or black woolen tarps where the scent of freshly baked pastries and sweet bread intoxicated the children in their oddly painted masks. Indeed, all the islands inhabitants wore the odd masks, that is, all except for the soldiers. The soldiers wore no masks, for they were new to the island. less than one day had passed since they had occupied the island, and taken up in The Fort, the large stone square that sat to the north of the island, on a tall pillar like column of land connected to the island only by a stone bridge that was just too small for two men to walk abreast. Tall walls right up to the edge compounded with the many arrow slots and murder holes should have allowed the fortress to easily defend against the soldiers, yet in the early dawn as the soldiers ships had approached, the fort had been empty. Commander Turner had been told that the fort would be empty on the holy days of Abscondere and Quaerere and how the Fort would be abandoned, but he had assumed that even the heathens on this god forsaken rock would quickly relinquish ceremony in the name of practicality. He recalled the mourning vividly, how at first light they had landed in their long boats, prepared for anything. Yet, even as the soldiers walked into the village, not a single man, woman or child so much as acknowledged the soldiers as they marched through the village to the Fort.
Turner had suspected solemnity in the people, yet they sang and told stories, ate sweets and made merry as if oblivious to the invaders who were there to occupy their home. This oddity was only heightened by their outfits. All wore robes of black, white, or shades of grey. This was, presumably, to give better contrast to the masks they all wore. Of every color, often of many different colors, the masks covered the hole of the face, most had what looked to be color rimed slits for eye holes, red and black being the favored colors, though a surprising number of masks bore no eye holes at all, those who wore them either being led about by friends or their mask hung by the fitting string around their necks. The masks bore no eyes, he realized, because they were not faces. Not a single mask he saw bore even the slightest resemblance to a face, or in fact to any living thing Turner had ever seen. what curious creatures these islanders were.
At the bridge, five men had stood, conical hats that gleamed and shone in the morning sun, their faces hidden. At first, the commander had thought these men to be soldiers, yet as they approached, he saw the hats he had assumed to be steel had been wicker painted with a grey reflective paint, their faces hidden not behind face guards, but wooden masks, not unlike the villagers except in the lack of the adoration of paints. They each wore grey robes, grey gloves, and the backs of their mask trailed grey fabric to obscure the back of their heads, leaving nothing exposed to the world around them. They seemed to be alone, though the entire village could have hid in that fort and Turner doubted they could have seen a hint of them. The men stood in a semicircle around the mouth of the bridge, eyeless masks smooth and inhuman, blinding them to the world.
“What are you doing here? Step aside, villager. We come to bring your island under Imperial control, and with that the protection of the empire’s soldiers.” Turner spoke the words as one who had spoken it a hundred times, with the full knowledge that the phrase was almost always followed with bloodshed. His body was tense, not in fear for his life, but in fear for theirs. The robed men did not so much as twitch. Just this once, perhaps there would be no blood on his hands. “Did you not hear me through those infernal masks? I said stand aside.” Again, no movement, but one spoke, it was impossible to tell which.
“You must leave this place.” The speaker was old, his voice calm and unafraid, almost fatherly. “leave this place now, if you value your life.” Was the man daft? He must have heard the sounds of the men marching, even if he couldn’t see them.
“I don’t think you understand your situation, old man. You are surrounded by no less than three hundred men of the Empire, you are in no position to make commands, yet alone threats.” No movement.
“If you value their lives as well as your own, you will leave this place.” A slight murmured laugh rose from the men behind him.
“Is that supposed to be a threat?” Turner scoffed, “What exactly do you plan to do if we do not leave?” A long silence from the faceless old men, but then the center most man took a step forward.
“Not a threat, but a warning. If you do not leave, not a man among you will survive the night.” Raucous laughter burst from amongst the soldiers, but Turner cut it off with the raise of his hand. He waited for silence, and when it fell, spoke to the masked men.
“Are there any of you hiding in the fort?” Commander Turner had none of the levity of his company, he was a veteran of the islands, and nine times out of ten the savages fought to the last man to keep out the Empire, and never did they give up so nonchalantly. No, Turner fully expected an attack, tonight if the masked man’s threat was any indication. But, why then let them take the Fort? It was by far the most defensible place on the island. Perhaps to try and trap them? The man seemed hesitant. “An answer or your life, old man.” The words cut any vestiges of humor from the men. His where good men, and found no mirth in killing unarmed old men.
“No one else dares be this close to the Fort, son of the empire. You should be as them and be elsewhere.”
“I have heard enough. Someone watch these fools, i want them chained up under guard until the fort is secured. I don’t trust this, I want every inch of this place searched for traps and for anyone who thought to hide inside. Anyone you find is to join their friends here until we find a place to keep them. Anything seaming even the slightest bit out of the ordinary I want it reported directly to me, am I understood?” There was a solute from the men who could hear him, others waited for his orders to be passed down the line. It took only two men to guide the masked men out of the way, they put up no fight except their refusal to remove their masks. Though Turner found it odd, after he had each man show his face once to the soldiers who guarded them it didn’t seem to make any difference whether or not they wore their masks, so he had allowed it.
Turner itched between his shoulders, a sensation he connected to danger. He had not realized how long it had been since he had last felt danger till that moment, and now it made no sense. While fighting pirates, quelling rebellious tribes, forcing his way to shore threw air buzzing with arrows and the screams of the dying, sometimes as many his men as those they fought, always he felt in control. A man always had a chance to survive in battle, no matter how bad things appeared. You could always fight, there was always something a man could do to survive, given he saw the opportunity and took it. No, those things did not scare Commander Witt C. Turner of the Imperial navy. The last time he had felt fear, true fear, was when he had fallen to Yellow fever a year gone. Death had been inevitable then. No way to fight, no way out, and the overwhelming sense of impotence chilling him to the bone as the fever burned his body. But he had survived, and God willing he could survive anything after that. But why that feeling now? There wasn’t anything for him to do, no resistance, no opposition to quell. But perhaps that was just it, he felt as if he should be fighting. The faceless old mans “warnings” made Turner shiver slightly. This was far from over. This island was an iceberg, and he could feel its secrets hidden just beneath the surface. Something was very wrong, and Turner planned to face it head on. He was in control. He kept repeating that to himself as he walked off to see to his men.
The Fort was large, especially so considering it was on an island. It could fit his three hundred two and a half times again easily, and with its narrow mouth a handful of men could defend it against a determined army. The place was a labyrinth of hallways and rooms, some much larger than others, and a dungeon on the top floor where Turner had seen to the Masked men’s incarceration. Indeed, with enough supplies it could very well hold off a determined superior force with the entire village inside. That was the problem, Turner thought annoyedly as he sat in his new office, scratching gingerly into a vellum ledger. It all made no sense. Their search had been as thorough as possible, for the short time they had had at least, and there was no hidden army waiting to strike, no assassins in the shadows waiting to kill Turner and his officers, no boobytraps waiting to trap them all and starve them to death. In fact the larger part of the fort looked like it had not seen a occupation in quite some time, dust laying thick over each room as a blanket, cobwebs hanging in corners, the musty smell of the dust competing with the smell of wood gone to rot from years left exposed to the damp island air. Yet smell was the last thing on Turners mind. He had found a sizeable office with a small window, barred with iron work so rusted as if trying to mimic the heaps of molded wood on the floor in their decay.
Turner had had those heaps removed and replaced with a fresh desk, purchased in the village with Turner’s own money only an hour gone. Turner, a frugal man if there ever had been one, would have initially preferred his own desk, still aboard the ship where it was bolted to the floor like all his furniture to avoid shifting with the ceaseless rocking of a ship at sea, yet as turner sat at this new desk, he couldn’t help but admire the red-brown and white patterns of the wood, or its strong smell, which though he could barely smell over the still lingering smell of decay he knew had to be strong just to register to his senses, keen though they were. He bent over in the chair that he sat in and breathed deeply with his nose to the wood, and for a brief second he forgot his contemplation of the island troubles, lost in his admiring of the scented wood, but with that realization of him forgetting his troubles, he thought of them anew. His annoyance caused him to straighten, and with a start he realized there was a man standing in the doorway. A man in an eyeless wooden mask.
Turner stood up immediately, his hand reaching for his sword more out of instinct then conscious will, but the hilt caught on the arm of his chair and chair lifted with Turner and the seconds that it cost him where all too precious. The masked figure ran across the room, stumbling slightly as it hit the desk, but knowing where it was it easily moved around it and in one fluid movement it had one hand to Turner’s neck and one hand pining Turner’s sword in its sheath. Even as Turner struggled to free himself and wrestle his sword free the man, the thing in the mask began to lift Turner, choking him as his feet scraped vainly at the floor.
The masked figure was chanting something in a murmured, maddened voice Turner vaguely recognized as the fatherly old man from that mourning.
“Death was nimble, and death was quick, , there It was, and see you it did.” Turner gave up on grabbing the sword and tried to pry at the masked man’s iron grip at his throat with both hands, though the man’s gloved fingers didn’t budge at all.
“The Fort was strong, the Fort was fraught, thought it was safe, though it was not.” turner was beginning to black out, his hands numb as they pulled against the gloved fingers. Turner felt the reality of his situation sinking in, the inevitability of his death and the futility of his struggle against that death.
“The Guards stood proud, the Guards stood tall, then He came, and they did fall. The cry was raised the cry was heard-” The last words where lost to Turner as he slipped in to unconsciousness.
Death was nimble, and death was quick, there It was, and see you it did. The Fort was strong, the Fort was fraught, thought it was safe, though it was not. The Guards stood proud, the Guards stood tall, then He came, and they did fall. The cry was raised the cry was heard its raisers did hide but did not hide all. Hide your face when comes the night, cover your eyes and survive you just might. Enter the Fort and meet your end, show your face for yourself you must fend. So bring all your solders and line up the walls, have them patrol the long empty halls. Give them your orders with your last breath, then wish you had saved it to scream, when you too meet Death.