The Keeping Place – Chapter 29

Well I’m glad that exam is over! We shall get straight back into the swing of things!

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Every ship on the port has been burnt, including the Sadorian vessel, which has been around for many years, Zephyr. The west coast guys certainly moved in quickly. It is quick surprising that they acted so quickly, because this means that they actually considered that they might fail in their plan to trap and kill all the rebels once they came onto the west coast. It is strange to see such foresight from the Council, or whoever is running things on the west coast. Other rebels were fast arriving, drawn by the smoke. Jakoby saw her burning ship and swore, that ship was really irreplaceable. I think that once the Sadorians leave, they won’t be coming back for a while. As for where the crews for these ships are, most of them would have been hiding in their homes, scared of the plague. But Reuvan says that people don’t leave their ships unguarded, no matter what. So where are those people?

As for Jakoby’s ship, it’s not like the Sadorians have a home to go to, so where all of them patrolling the river, and not guarding their boat? They quickly realise, that anyone who was onboard the ships, has been murdered. So this couldn’t have just been a single operator, there must have been a crew of people. Reuvan spots a ship which looks like it is heading out to open sea. Maybe that ship, is where the attackers came from, or maybe they were approaching, but turned around when they saw the smoke, who knows. They might even be heading for Herder Isle. Speaking of the Herders, it might be time they go and check out the cloister. Jakoby and Reuvan both stay behind to watch the ships continue to burn, and reflect on the tragedy.

As they walked over to the cloister, Brydda was so angry, that Elspeth was actually frightened of what he might do. Elspeth herself had to wonder whether the Faction was involved, and whether that meant Ariel was to, especially if her dreams were a warning. Elspeth farseeks Tomash, who is with Elii at the cloister, to tell them the news, and he replies that they have tried to lure out the Herders with offers of leniency, but not a sound was heard in reply. They will now try to smash down the front door. Did they really think that the Herders would just come out, I guess they did it, just to be sure that they weren’t going to do something which there was no need for.
Even battering the door won’t do much, since it is made of reinforced iron, and would take ‘a month’ to batter it down. But they are just trying to actually see if people are inside, as their silence is ‘spooky’.

Elspeth tries to ask what Brydda fears, but they arrive in view of the cloister, it is the first time Elspeth has seen it since Jik was captured and Elspeth had to rescue him. It had grown since last time, and a new, higher wall placed around the buildings. Obviously they have learnt from Elspeth’s intrusion, and since it is made of tainted material, they also block the Misfits from finding out what is going on inside. And that is no accident, since the invention of the Demon Bands, it is clear that the Herders must know about the Misfits and their meddling.

Before they start battering the gate, Brydda has a go at talking them out. He tries to tell them that the boats are all burnt so there is no way to get to Herder Isle, but there is no response. Instead of wasting their time with the ram, Brydda tells them to get hooks and scale the wall. Elspeth quickly interrupts to inform him that the walls are likely tainted, so they decide to find some big ladders. Elii brings up a concern about possible defences, even if there are no soldierguards inside, the Herders will try to protect themselves. But Brydda thinks that maybe there aren’t any priests at all. Where did they all go then? All the other cloisters are empty, so where are all the Herders? I think the Faction is a much bigger issue than the rebels realised.

Elii scales the wall first with a shield, just in case, but there is nobody on the other side, except for a few dogs. Brydda wants to go over first, but Elspeth stops him, saying she can calm the dogs, and find out more information from them, plus she can defend herself and she knows the place. Though if they are wearing demon bands, she can’t really protect herself from too much. Once Elspeth climbs the ladder, she finds out that the dogs have been tied up for days, without food. Elspeth scans the area for signs of life with a probe, but there is not a soul here. One dog tries to attack Elspeth as she climbs down inside the wall, but she stops him in his tracks, as he then realises that this is ElspethInnle, which is weird, since how on earth does this dog know about Elspeth. Unless the other dog that helped her knew too, but even Elspeth didn’t know much about herself at that time.

Elspeth asks the dog where all the people went, and he responds that many of them were here, but most left through the gates. Those that remain were ‘eaten by the ground/went underground’. This means that maybe the priests are holed up underground in their cells, and Elspeth can’t really tell with her powers if there is anyone there. So this could be some sort of trap. Brydda and other rebels, plus some Misfits start climbing down as well, before Brydda orders a few to go and open the gate. He also orders some other people to go and tend to the starved dogs.

Elspeth heads towards the building where Jik was held, and Tomash and Wila join her. The question remains, how did all the Herders leave without anyone noticing? Their ceremony obviously provided the best cover, but how did nobody notice that all of them left? They look into the door for the building, and it is very dark. Elspeth has the idea that there must be still prisoners in the cells under ground. They entered, but soon split up (which is never a good idea!) as the corridor divides. Elspeth continues down her corridor through several doors, until she arrives at one that is bolted from the inside. That shouldn’t be a problem for her, as she can unlock it using her mind. A terrible smell rushed out as she opened the door. It wasn’t a room, it was a stairwell leading down to where the cells were. Obviously without any light, Elspeth couldn’t go down there, plus the smell put her off.

Elspeth farsent to Wila and Tomash, and they soon arrived with candles, apparently Herders don’t really have lanterns. The three descended, with Tomash taking the lead. At the bottom, they turned a corner, and they found a door, locked with a beam. It was a very heavy door, and it took all three of them to open it. As soon as they had, the foul smell intensified so much that it made Wila recoil in disgust, and even made her retch. Inside, were a number of bodies. Some of the people inside the room were still alive, and seemed to think that these people were Herders, and one made was prepared to tell them everything, just so he wouldn’t suffer for any longer. Elspeth tried to enter the man’s mind, but it was destroyed by his ordeal and was unreachable, she wasn’t an empath so she couldn’t calm him with emotions, so just sent him images of the sky. That seemed to calm him.

Slowly Elspeth leads him out of the room, and up the stairs, coaxing him out with more images of the sky. The man soon calms down enough, and says that the others died, because they couldn’t wait. Elspeth feels responsible for their deaths too, since they didn’t come sooner. Well responsible might not be the right word, she is just upset, which is so understandable. Elspeth leads the man out, and takes one of the candles, whilst instructing the others to see whether there are other cells with people still alive. Tomash has already probed the area, and there are survivors. Once Elspeth helps this first man, she will return with help. Just how many prisoners do the cloisters have?

Once Elspeth and the man reach outside, he sees the night sky, full of dazzling stars. He had thought that he would never see the sky again. Isobelle Carmody then decides to rip out our hearts as he tells us that he tried to tell his daughter about the sky, but he did it no justice. He wants to show her, and asks Elspeth to go and get her, as she was asleep next to him. But, sadly, I don’t think she was alive. The man doesn’t move, so Elspeth farsends someone to go and get Kella, but she has already been summoned. Others have found cells as well, which really makes me wonder just how many people were kept as prisoners? Kella comes and takes the man from Elspeth, and as Elspeth decends again, Wila and Tomash bring out two young men, who looked infected and badly tortured.

There were so many dead in the cells, that Elspeth wondered if the Herders ever bothered to clear the cells of the bodies, or whether they just left them to rot forever. The latter sounds true. But I do wonder if even when the Herders were around whether it was as bad as this. But the discovery of skeletons, makes it clear that the Herders didn’t bother about the bodies. Surely that would be against Lud’s wishes, but I guess if they think these people are already in Lud’s ire, then disrespecting them doesn’t matter. I guess letting the skeletons remain was a brilliant way of breaking all the prisoners, as it just goes to show that there is no hope of getting out, even once they were dead.

All the prisoners that were actually alive, were basically insane, and if they weren’t, they were so close to it, that it made no difference. The Herders made no distinction between women and children, and they too suffered the same fate as male prisoners. The emotional journey for Elspeth through the cells nearly brought her to hysteria, but she resolved herself, for these people had gone through so much, that she couldn’t break down. In once cell with two women and a child, a scene reminiscent of Dragon and Elspeth’s first personal encounter takes place. It takes some convincing to get them out, and the sight of Tomash makes them scared. Clearly men did terrible things to them. I wonder how much these people can heal? Can you ever recover from such torture and such deprivation? How did these people even survive for as long as they did?

This continued all night, and back above ground, Elspeth could see the sun start to rise, as the funeral pyre burns on. There were just so many bodies, that any sort of burial would take much too long. Elspeth was surprised that the cells weren’t actually worse, and rife with infection. Willa explains that the Herders use a substance formed from whitestick that disinfects the cells, but also harms the prisoners.

Once they had cleared out the dead and wounded from all the cells it was late in the afternoon. I think that speaks scale to how many people the Herders had captured and murdered. That is what this is, mass murder. Only thirty-three people survived, and two of them were children. All were in poor condition, and had obviously been tortured. The cloister transformed from a prison, to a healing centre for Kella and the other herbalists. Kella took a leadership role, and the other herbalists accepted her, and were in awe of her skill. The herbalists under Council rule were forced to practise in secret, so being freed was a sort of release for them too.

Brydda and Elii had found a room where the torture took place. The horror in Brydda’s eyes and on his face was testament to just how horrific and barbaric the Herders were. But what was a most interesting discovery was of a tunnel at the back of a locked cell. That was how most of the Herders had left, via a tunnel which lead to the ocean. The prisoners would have been used to construct such a tunnel, but even so, they must have been building it for quite some time. Brydda was convinced that the banding ceremony was a sham to cover up the exodus, and the Herders burnt all the ships to prevent anyone going out to sea to Herder Isle after them. Brydda is going to go check out the Head Herder’s room, to see whether there is anything in there that he can use. Elspeth tries to follow, but she has been up for two nights straight, and Brydda tells her to get some rest. Elspeth agreed without argument as she realised just how tired she was.

Elspeth went to check on Kella before heading to Bodera’s to rest. She was in her element, and Elspeth was sure that not only was Kella healing others, she was healing herself. Kella cannot believe that other humans caused such injuries to the prisoners, and it is the worst she has seen. Even she admits that most will not recover, especially not from their mental wounds. But Kella keeps thinking that if Elspeth hadn’t saved her, Domick and Jik, they would have ended up just like these people. Not very pleasant thinking, but true nonetheless. Kella gives Elspeth a potion to help her sleep. And we’ll left the rest for two days time! Tomorrow, the Casual Vacancy continues!

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