Balancing Act

by Christian O'Kane

‘Pulling a Sixteen’ in the City Watch has always meant doing a particularly bad patrol. For me it was the patrol downwind of the sewage works.
“Here Come the Caial; The first 1200 Years of the Marigund City Watch”
Author; Philip Atwater, Publisher: White Flower Press, Marigund, CR1822

City of Marigund, Country of Marigund, Outer Midlands, Spring 707

It was raining by the time his small unit left the fortress. It was April and it ALWAYS rained in April. It was less a full rain storm then a really heavy mist. Still instead of being upset the soldiers were happy for the bad weather. For with the bad weather most people would stay indoors. It boded for a quiet day.

This patrol of the town watch was larger then most; ten men all in full chain mail armor, Sergeant John Wells, their leader was slighter taller then most men. His weathered face was framed by blonde hair cut so short that it barely peaked out from underneath his helm. Unlike the rest of his patrol John didn’t carry a long staff or a cudgel. Instead he carried a small club about two feet long and barely two finger widths wide. It was made of fire hardened oak and was highly polished.

Standing close to John was a young woman wearing normal street clothing that looked out of place with all the armor and weapons. The emblem on the right breast of her jacket identified her as a member of the Marigund mages guild.

Twelve people all in armor was unusual for a Marigund City Watch patrol. Most had half that many people and they usually carried only clubs and staves for dealing with problems. And all they usually wore was a coat of padded cloth or stiff leather. But these watchmen were on patrol route sixteen known about the watch as the Gauntlet. Like all cities and towns Marigund was divided up into neighborhoods and patrol sixteen walked the border line between two such neighborhoods. It was unpleasant duty but it had to be done. At least it was not a holy day when emotions ran higher and trouble was certain to happen.

Standing in the center of the courtyard stood a tall bronze statue of a man wearing archaic armor and carrying a long staff. On the base of the statue was the words ‘Caialann Armulin, Founder and leader’.

John reached out and rubbed the left foot of the statue. “Bring us luck Caial! We’ll need it!”

Each person in the patrol did the same as John as they walked past the statue. Caialann Armulin had been dead for several centuries but he had created and led the City watch and they all hoped his spirit was watching over them.

The group made its way out of the fortress and down the road. This was a main road and it was filled with traffic of all sorts, wagons, carts, horses and oxen all vying for room as masses of people moved around them. Slowly they made their way down the thoroughfare as the traffic reluctantly parted around them.

The buildings on either side of them fell away suddenly and the Watch patrol found itself in a large plaza. The area they were entered was huge! A vast open plaza that could hold a thousand people at one time with no problem. There was a lot fewer people in the plaza at this moment but it still held several hundred people. Most were just passing through from one place to another. But some were standing and chatting and others were buying from the countless street peddlers who seemed to haunt the place regardless of the time of day or the weather.

The Grand Plaza. It had an official name that tended to change every so often at the whims of the royal family but they never stuck. People called it the name it had always had Grand Plaza. Over the centuries it had played host to countless events; parties, pageants, celebrations, grand reviews, state funerals, executions and riots.

On the east side of the Grand Plaza stood the Follower cathedral, opposite it on the west side stood a Rebuilder cathedral. On the south side was a Lightbringer temple. On the north side was the grandiose entrance to the Mages guild compound and the Promenade - the wide avenue leading to the King’s Palace. John pondered that image for a moment. More then anything else it clearly showed the divisions that Marigund suffered. All three of the religious structures were on different sides of the plaza as far separated from each other as possible. That mimicked life in the country as a whole. The Followers and Rebuilders hated each other with a passion only possible with religion. And caught in between the two were the Lightbringers who were disliked and distrusted by the others. The only things that kept the peace in the country was the Kings justice and fear. Fear that their country could descend into the chaos of religious warfare. So no matter their hates and differences all shared the Grand Plaza peacefully. Even if it was an uneasy peace at best.

Unable to settle their differences by violence all three groups competed in other ways for posts in the government and the military, for the best homes, for the finest lands and rewards from the King and who got what seat in the parliament. The most visible sign of that competition was in the Grand Plaza. All competed to make the most awe inspiring cathedral possible. There had long been a Follower cathedral in the Grand Plaza. A large and fine looking old edifice that was centuries old. But when the myriad Rebuilder groups got together and starting building their own cathedral suddenly the old Follower structure was not good enough. This set off a construction war between the two groups. Both pushed the construction higher and higher till the fear one might collapse under its own weight and down onto the city forced the king himself to intervene. He fixed the height of all religious structures at no more then three hundred feet. Even so the Rebuilder cathedral was three feet higher then the Follower building but the Follower structure had a steeple that was wider and sheathed in gold leaf.

The height of the structures never bothered John and he paid that little attention. What always did draw his attention was that the doors of both cathedrals that opened onto the Great Plaza. They were not the main entranceways into them. Those doors were indeed grand with all the carvings and artwork one would expect but they were mostly for appearance and remained locked at all times. The real entrances lay at the opposite end of the buildings, as far from the plaza as possible. No one was happy with this but all accepted it as a necessity. As the Rebuilder faith came from the older Follower faith it shared most of the same holy days. And the idea of the two opposing groups occupying the plaza at the same time while religious fervor was running high was assured of causing a riot. So on all holy days only one group occupied the Grand Plaza – five hundred of the Kings cavalry – all of whom were neither Follower, Rebuilder nor Lightbringer.

The group of Watchman made it’s way slowly across the plaza the crowds of people parting in front of them as they walked. They all kept looking about for any sign of trouble but they found nothing.

In front of them loomed the fountain that occupied the center of the plaza. It was a massive affair of granite and marble and adorned with all sorts figures; some human some animal, some mythical or just plain fanciful. At the center and highest point was the tall statue of a man in flowing robes holding aloft a sword in one hand. Who exactly that person was no one knew anymore. His name was long lost to history. Right now the lower basin was occupied by a score of children splashing and playing in the water in spite of the bad weather.

Standing in front of the fountain was another patrol of the Watch. This one half the size of John’s. The woman in charge was chatting with an old man who was wearing a small wooden keg on his back. A half a dozen cups dangled from his belt. For a copper you could get a drink of hot tea from him. On a cold, wet day like this the old vendor was doing a brisk business.

The woman smiled at him and nodded. “John. Good to see you today.”

“Good to see you Cecelia,” John answered. “You have Plaza today.”

The woman smiled. “Yes. You have the Gauntlet?”

He scowled and nodded slowly in response. “Yes. At least the bad weather will help keep things quiet.”

“Hopefully,” Cecelia said shaking her head.

“What is it like here?” John asked changing the subject.

She smiled. “Quiet thankfully. All we’ve had today was a pair of cutpurses.”

John nodded. “I hope it’s that quiet for us.”

Near the Rebuilder cathedral a road led away from the plaza. It was paved with a dark red brick arraigned in a simple manner and with no real pattern. This street was called Carpenters way but no one remembered exactly why. Lining both sides of the street were tall, well built brick and stone buildings. Elaborate doorways gave way into the courtyards of fine homes.

The Watchman moved quickly down a street filled with people. Families moved passed street vendors hawking all manner of wares. Most people they passed gave the Watch some sort of acknowledgement. Usually a smile and a wave or at least a nod of the head. Here their task was simple. As members of the watch they were to watch for thieves, cutpurses or other criminals. Crowded streets were a cutpurses favorite hunting ground. All these people moving about made for lots of distractions.

The group of watchman came to the intersection of two streets and they all stopped at the same time without John giving a command. None was needed. The road stretched onward in a straight line. On the north had side the buildings were the same as before but on the left brick and stone gave way to timber and plaster painted to resemble stone. The buildings were smaller and taller on the left speaking of cheaper construction intended for more inhabitants.

In spite of the many differences all the buildings shared a few things in common; no windows or doors. All the buildings on both sides of the street had no windows or doors that opened onto it. On the older buildings was plainly visible places where doors and windows has been carefully boarded or bricked closed. For such an important border the street itself was surprisingly plane and bare. Behind them the road was bustling with traffic but ahead no one walked this street, no venders moved along it peddling goods or services. There wasn’t even traffic just passing through. No one went down this street unless they had to and even then they went in large groups. This was the Gauntlet. It was division between two separate neighborhoods of the city. On the south side of the street lived solely Follower. On the north lived only Rebuilder.

“All right,” John said trying to remain calm. “Let’s go. Keep alert.”

The patrol made it’s way down the street slowly everyone alert for the slightest signs of trouble. Their footsteps echoed loudly here bouncing back and forth off the walls. All over, painted, scratched and drawn in chalk was countless graffiti. The walls were covered with it. Some were curses and insults, others portrayed various religious leaders doing all manner of nasty things.

Johns first sign of trouble was angry voices carried to them by the wind.



“On the double!” John ordered.

The patrol broke into a run as they hefted their weapons and cursed under their breaths. The voices grew louder as they ran. The street ahead was filled with people. Standing on either side of the street were two groups of young men that were shouting and screaming at each other. Some were waving sticks about while others had their hands filled with rocks. John noticed that the wide street between them remained empty. The only things traveling back and forth were insults. At least for the moment.

The two groups had two things in common. All were male and teenagers. He was looking at two gangs of teenagers. Too old to be children but still too young to be adults. Restless youth like them always seemed to find new ways to get into trouble.

One young man stepped forward into the street from the south side. “STINKING HERETICS!” he shouted as he brandished a large club in his right hand!”

From the opposite side of the street another young man came forward. He was holding a large piece of wood in his right hand. “Why don’t you go back to hell with your Patriarch.”

“WHAT’S GOING ON?” John shouted as loudly as possible. His voice carrying over all the others.

Everyone went silent for a moment as all eyes turned to John and the others of the watch. He saw the eyes of all the boys go wide with surprise.

“SHIT! IT’S THE CAIAL!” someone shouted and both groups disintegrated into chaos as the boys ran in all directions.

John lashed out with his club sending the small wooden stick flying through the air. It bounced once off the pavement and caught one of the boys in the ankles sending him tumbling to the ground.

In a few moments it was all over. The street was empty of everyone except the Watch and two boys. One of the boys was laying flat on his stomach with sergeant Cody’s foot on his back. The other boy was sitting on a curb rubbing his ankles.

John marched over to the boy rubbing his ankles. The guardsman grabbed the boy by the back of his neck and pulled him off the ground. The officer put his face within inches of the boy’s. “All right,” he said in a voice as cold and hard as steel. “Your name little boy.”

The boy’s eyes grew wide as the color drained from his face. “J. j. j . j. Jason W .w .winslow.” he stuttered. “Sir.”

Cody taped the other boy lightly on the back of the head with a boot. “You have a name?”

“Evan,” came the muffled answer. “Evan Faradock.”

The sergeant pulled the young man to his feet and dragged him over to where John and the other boy were standing.

“Where do you two live?” John asked.

Jason pointed north and Evan pointed south.

A loud groan escaped from Cody’s lips.

“Shit,” the mage muttered.

John and Cody talked for a moment in words too low for the boys to hear. “All right. Cody, you take him,” John said loudly and pointed to Evan. “And I will deal with this one.”

“WHAT?” Evan asked in a panic filled voice.

“What are going to do?” Jason asked in an equally frightened voice. “You can’t arrest me! I’m too young.”

“We’re not arresting you,” John said is a soft tone. “We’re taking you both home and let your parents deal with you.”

“NO!” both boys shrieked at the same time.

And with that as the two boys were dragged in opposite directions they pleaded, demanded, threatened, begged and blamed each other.

The door to the Winslow home was of wooden weathered with age to a gray patina. A large brass door knocker in the form of a snarling lions head. But the expression on the lions head was nothing compared to the scowl on the face of the man and woman standing in front of the door. It seems word had spread faster then the Watch could move.

Jason let out a low moan. “Mom, Dad, it wasn’t my fault . . “ His fathers cold, hard gaze stopped all further explanation.

“He is to be at Watch station six every morning at dawn for the next month to clean the stables,” John ordered.

The father nodded. “And when he is done there he can come home and clean the Dovecote.”

“But Dad . . . “

“No buts!” the older man countered. “You shamed us by getting into a fight and being dragged home by the Caial like a common hoodlum!”

Jason’s mother pointed into house. “Go to your room,” she said in a harsh tone.

The door to the Faradock household was also of the same gray wood and also sported a brass door knocker. The door and the knocker were smaller but just as solid and well cared for. Standing in the doorway were two adults with look on their faces so foul that it could curdle milk with a glance.

Evan opened his mouth to speak but his mother acted first and grabbed him by the ear and yanked him through the doorway and into the house. In seconds they were out of sight.

“Was there anyone hurt? Any damages?” the elder Faradock asked.

“No,” Cody answered. “They were just shouting names at each other.”

“Thankfully!” the father answered. “What of the other side?” he asked putting an angry twist on that last word.

“The leader from the others is getting the same treatment as Evan. Your son is to be at Watch station six every morning at dawn for the next month to clean the stables.”

“That’s fair. He will be there. I’ll make sure of that.” The father paused for a moment then looked around to be sure they were alone. “It’s his cousins to the east,” he said in a whisper. “He spent the summer with them and they’ve filled his head with all that silly Crusades crap.”

Cody just nodded in response. He had heard this before. “There were others but they got away unfortunately.”

The father nodded slowly. “I have a good reckoning of who they were.”

Cody smiled. He was sure that after he left the father would be paying a visit to other families and soon there would be a lot more unhappy young men.

“WE TREAT YOU LIKE A MAN AND THIS IS HOW YOU ACT?” came the voice of Evans mother from inside the house, loud enough to make both men wince. “You bring shame and dishonor on your ancestors and your whole family!”

“But Mom!” was the boys faint response. “They started it!”

“THEY STARTED IT? THEY STARTED IT?” came the woman’s shouted voice from the depths of the house. “IF THEY JUMPED OFF THE ACQUEDUCT WOULD YOU DO THAT TOO?”

It was dusk when the patrol finally made it’s way back to the fortress. They were all tired but glad that their patrol was finally over. The fortress itself was busy with people arriving and leaving either on patrol or on personal missions.

Standing near the gate was an older officer. His hair and beard once black but now heavily peppered with gray. On the left side of his face was a long scar earned long ago in a fight with a criminal. His clothes weren’t as clean or well groomed as they should be but the rank on his shoulder marked him as a senior officer of the watch and commander of the fortress. So no one bothered him about his dress.

“How did the patrol fare?” the officer asked as John approached.

“Quiet, Captain Sedgewick,” I did break up one gang fight,” John answered. “Expect involuntary stable help starting tomorrow.”

"Another day, another teen cleaning the stables. It can’t be a Lightbringer so what is it this time? Rebuilder or Follower?"

"One of each this time!” John answered.

“Oh joy!” the captain commented sarcastically. “A few weeks of shoveling horse crap should take the fight out of them,” Sedgewick finished in a hard tone.

“And if it doesn’t?” John asked.

“More shoveling but I’ll take away their shovels first,” Sedgewick answered.

John made a face. “EW! Now that’s nasty!”