First chapter to a book I am currently writing. I would appreciate some criticism
A small town that houses a few hundred men, women, and children is bustling with activity. Today the town is overcrowded with people. Strangers from the surrounding villages had gathered here to witness an execution. The small cobbled streets had never been so crowded. The small town that seemed to be sleeping before was now teeming with life. This could not be an ordinary execution. The accused had to be somebody of stature or otherwise infamous. However as the shopkeepers, butchers, farmers, bakers, and a host of others made their way to the gallows, they did not recognize these people as being either of class or criminals. They seemed to be a married couple of the middling class. In fact there seemed to be nothing extraordinary about them at all. The man had thick muscular arms and rough hands. He was probably a blacksmith by trade. His wife was slightly younger and seemed like an equally strong willed person. Her hair was a beautiful auburn. They were standing upon a platform that was raised in the town square. The townspeople and onlookers gathered around them and tightly packed themselves in. Their faces were raised towards them in anticipation. Five imperial guards stood at attention before the steps leading to the ropes. Two more soldiers of the empire stood upon the platform behind the man and woman. The crowd and the guards were awaiting the town magistrate and executioner’s arrival. The minutes ticked by and slowly two men marched across the sea of people. They reached the steps after much excusing and budging. The man the townspeople recognized as their magistrate asked for space around the gallows. This done he spoke to them in a clear voice reaching every corner of the square.
It was noon and the magistrate was reading the charges off a long sheet of parchment. The sun reached the apex of its day cycle and beat down on their heads. Among the crowd was a boy in his late teens and his younger sister. They arrived at the appointed time along with the denizens of their town, but the execution took on a different meaning for them. If you looked closer at the boy you would know what this meant for him. You would know that his mother and father were the ones about to be hung. As the judge droned on down his parchment, tears gently rolled down the girls face. She looked remarkably like her mother. Her hair had the same shade of auburn but with thick curls. The boys’ name was Peter and his sisters’ name was Emily and they were about to become orphans. Peter reached his rough arm across the girl’s shoulder and squeezed her closer to his side. Peter looked up at his father. His mother and father had watched as he and Emily moved across the square. Their parent’s eyes had instantly found them among hundreds of people and still remained locked to them. His father mouthed something to Peter. Something that only Peter would understand. The words amounted to lower than a whisper but the look on his face answered everything. His father nodded and Peter did the same. The words he barely spoke were about Emily. “Watch over her Peter, you are the head of the family now.” Their mother looked over at her husband and then at them and smiled. Her tears glistened in the reflected sunlight. The magistrate had finally finished his sentencing and rolled the yard of parchment. He motioned for the executioner and silence filled the town. The silence hung over the town like a cloud waiting to burst with rain. It seemed like hours until the executioner moved his hand over a lever and pushed. In a split second a trap door holding the man and woman opened. They fell into nothingness as the rope stretched. The abrupt stop of the rope brought a roar of happiness sounding through the crowd. Some expressed angry jeers and others sad pleads.
Emily’s face was buried in Peter’s shoulder. Her sobs did not penetrate the unending cheers from the crowd. In less than a minute the man and his wife stopped struggling and were still. Peter moved his hand over the back of her head and gently moved his fingers across her hair. His eyes watered and reddened. He let the tears go and they splashed across Emily’s back as he embraced her. She pulled tighter as the crowd began to disperse. He wiped the tears from his face and encouraged her to move. Peter directed her towards the silent gallows. The executioner had loosened their parents from the taut rope. He was laying his mother and father into roughly carved coffins. The man was about to close the coffins, when Peter asked him to stop. “Can I see my parents please?” The executioner seemed uneasy. He was obviously not to allow anyone to see the bodies. After some brief hesitation, he allowed Peter and Emily to look on their parents for the last time. They looked so peaceful. Peter had noticed a subtle change in them just days before their arrest. Anxiety seemed to control their behavior. Did his parents know they were about to be hung? He did not see how they could know. Still, he thought, they knew something. Emily had been tidying her parent’s clothes and adjusted their hair. She smiled and said they could have been sleeping. Peter brought his mouth to her ear and whispered, “We need to go home,” She nodded in approval. Reluctantly she moved her feet that seemed planted to the cobbled stone. His arm reached again across her shoulder and rested his hand across her arm. They moved with the crowd flowing slowing through the streets. The cheers that had resonated throughout the town earlier had disappeared. Now only mumbles and low chatter broke the silence as the crowd moved away from the town center. This execution had provided a rare breakup of the day. All that was left now was to go back to work. The town did not see very much trade reach them. The grid structured streets and winding alleys were made up of mostly family owned shops. There was the trade district at the east side of the town. Apart from the town center the trade district was the only other partitioned area. Their family lived in the trade district. A small apartment resided above the blacksmith shop on the ground floor. The sun dropped to the horizon and brought a copper glow to the landscape. Emily could not imagine the same sun rising tomorrow. She could not believe that something as simple as the rise and fall of the sun could happen anymore. Everything was now divided into her life with her parents and now the life she had to live without them. She did not want to think about that life. Finally they saw the sign for their fathers’ shop. The weathered sign was theirs as was the shop itself and the apartment. As he watched the light fade from his parent’s eyes, Peter knew they could not stay. Once the King discovered the secret to their family he would arrest them as well.
They entered the shop quietly and looked around. The shop was terribly empty. Sitting upon a vacant anvil was an unfinished horseshoe. Peter had been helping his father finish a pair of shoes for a neighbor’s horse. He could not think about entering their bleak apartment. Nothing could give him comfort up there. He made his way around an unlit furnace towards one of the work stations. Emily began walking up the steps towards t heir apartment. “Do you want to help me finish this?” Emily stopped and looked over at Peter standing over the metal. She wondered how she could bring herself to do something that brought so many memories back. She thought any semblance of their life before her parent’s death had vanished.
Peter picked up his father’s tongs. He remembered the first time his father allowed him to help. He was around eight years old. His mother stubbornly delayed Peter’s apprenticeship. The day came when his mother finally gave in. She allowed Peter to help his father in the shop. He was working on a simple hammer. Peter was given his first metal working gloves. His father showed him how to carefully heat the raw metal. Peter watched in amazement as the metal glowed red hot. The same tongs he held now were used to take the heated unfinished hammer out of the furnace. His father asked him to cool the metal. He was awed by the steam billowing off the water. He was eighteen and his father would never hold those tongs again. He pulled the metal out of the furnace and hammered it into shape. He instructed Emily to quickly cool the rounded shoe. She thought about the only time she had been in the blacksmith shop. She was six years old and that day had ended in an accident. Her father had heated a bar of metal and left it on a bench to cool. He had not submerged the metal to cool quickly but left it slowly cool by the air. It was hours later and her father said it was safe for her to hold it. The laughter that had spread across her face quickly vanished as the bar of metal heated to a brilliant sapphire hue. Her father saw the horror in his young daughter’s face. She screamed and dropped the burning metal to the floor. Just as it left the palm of her hand it returned to its black color. It hit the floor and her father gently picked it up with the tongs. He threw it into the water tub. But as the metal touched the surface there was no steam. He picked Emily up as she was still yelling in pain. She carried her into the kitchen to find her mother. “She needs bandages quickly,” he shouted. Her shocked mother ran to find cloth bandages. They ran her burned hand under gently running water. Emily remembered screaming as the intense cold hammered her hand. Her mother wrapped the bandages around her hand and tied them. She picked Emily up and carried her to her room to calm her down. Her mother’s calming hands slowly took the pain away. She laid Emily down on the bed and stroked her hair. Emily cried herself to sleep.
Emily looked down at her right hand. The scar that had glowed so brightly across her hand six years ago was still present. “Emily, you can take it out. I think it’s cool enough.” She clasped the horseshoe with the tongs and placed it on the anvil to dry. Peter returned the tools to their proper place. He knew it did not matter now where anything went. His life was as disorderly as the shop got sometimes. The only difference, he thought, was that the shop could always be cleaned up. It could be fixed. Peter did not know how he could possibly fix this. All the control he thought he had evaporated with the drop of a rope. They made their way up the stairs to the apartment. The door creaked open and revealed the space above the shop dark and empty. Peter lit a candle and looked around. The dim candlelight grazed the cold stone in front of the fireplace. He wanted to light a fire and relax in front of its spirited flames. Emily resolved to go to sleep and left Peter standing there.
The morning sun broke the horizon quietly bringing grazing warmth to their tiny apartment. Emily watched as the tiny rays reached her window sill and spread across her room. The sun did rise again and it would every morning. Emily lay in her warm bed allowing the tears to run down her cheeks. She knew that life would go on without her, but all she wanted to do was remain in bed. She finally gained the strength to roll out of bed and sit at her window. She watched below their apartment as the street filled with townspeople. She saw the small thatched roofs of the market being raised up. A young woman carried a pail of fruits to one particular stand. She smiled eagerly awaiting the day’s business. Already many families began roaming the trade district for goods. She was just watching a man haggle with the bread merchant when Peter entered her room quietly. She did not turn around but continued to watch the man buying bread. He reached an agreement on a large loaf and handed him the coins. “We need to go to the market for some food,” he asked gently. She turned around and nodded. Emily did not feel like talking. In fact she could not see herself talking again as if she had forgotten how. They entered the living room and Peter walked to a dusty trunk resting against the wall. Emily watched the birds land on the tin roof across the street. They had built a nest that rested against the chimney. “Ah there it is,” exclaimed Peter. Emily turned and saw Peter pull a brown satchel bag from the trunk. He wrapped the bag around his shoulder and opened the door. He closed the door behind her.
Their town had two marketplaces. One small marketplace resided in the town square and the other much larger one was at the center of the trade district. Most of the trade families did their business at the latter. This marketplace was voluntarily run by the local farmers and several families residing in the trade district. The marketplace found in the town square had its goods brought from neighboring towns. As a result the prices were high and rising. Heavier and heavier taxes were being placed on transported goods. Much of the town got its produce from the marketplace in the trade district. The farmers selling their goods were much more generous with prices. It was business as usual this morning as commerce bustled. They slowly made their way around the crowded streets. Peter stopped at the same fruit stand that Emily watched earlier. They bought a good helping of strawberries. Emily kept pushing more into the small pail the woman gave them. Peter smiled and handed the woman a few coins. Emily reached for a few more, but Peter pulled her away, “Thank you.” The woman waved as they continued around the marketplace. “I have seen that woman planting her strawberry crop. They are the best in the area, Peter announced.” Emily silently bit into one of the largest. They were amazingly sweet. They stopped at the butcher for enough cuts to last the week. The butcher himself was a large man with a dirty apron on. He was not very tall but his arms were as thick as tree trunks. His apprentice stood next to him. This man was very tall and unusually skinny. The apprentice was handling the transactions today as the butcher stood behind him watching over the business. They bought their cuts and handed the apprentice the coins. Apparently the butcher had not been looking but the apprentice had sold them a week worth of meat for much less than the local price. Peter was somewhat taken back but did not bring attention to it. Emily looked back after a few steps and noticed the butcher having an argument with his novice apprentice.
They only had to stop at the baker and vegetable stands and that would conclude their needs. Peter and Emily approached a bakery stand owned by a young couple. The young woman greeted them warmly and allowed them to browse their goods. They took in the sweet aroma of freshly baked bread. There were mounds of bread loaves and stacks of pastries. Peter grabbed two loaves of bread and placed them gently in his bag. He was just about to turn around to pay the woman when her husband walked to the front of the stand. As Peter and Emily neared the woman’s husband, he looked as if he wanted to talk to them in private. They approached the man cautiously and leaned in slowly. His eyes turned to his wife who looked around the marketplace furiously. Peter could not guess what or who she was looking for, but she seemed satisfied. “It’s clear, she breathed.” The man looked back them and handed Peter a small slip of paper. Peter looked down at the tiny piece of paper sitting in his hand. It was folded and just as Peter grasped the paper to read it the man grabbed Peters hand to stop him. “Not here, he whispered. Pay for your things and finish shopping. Read it at home, he breathed.” Emily’s face was paralyzed as Peter nodded. He quickly hid the paper in his pocket. The man moved back beside his wife and covertly scanned the marketplace. They slowly walked towards the woman and thrust the money into her hand. She smiled as if nothing had just happened. The couple waved them goodbye as Peter and Emily walked at a brisk pace. “What is going on Peter?” All he said was he did not know. Emily looked up at her brother and saw his face was alive with anxiety. This was the first time she had seen him like this. She was terrified. Every benign or threatening sound or sign of motion in the trade district scared her further. They completed their business at the vegetable stand and quickly walked home. Peter slammed the door behind him and breathed deeply. He grabbed the note from his pocket and slammed it into his sweaty hand. He unfolded the note carefully and read it aloud, “Pearson’s Tavern 8pm tomorrow. His name is Andrew.” Peter had to look closely at the sloppy handwriting. It looked as if it had been written the minute before it was given. “That’s all it says, she asked?” He nodded.
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