Dirge for a Necromancer - By Ash Stinson


Skeletal fingers with strips of rotting flesh still clinging to them trembled up out of the soil all across the muddy field as the rain pounded down on the knight and the boy. The child trembled as the man urged his horse on down the path toward the bleak, abandoned castle, breathing in the stench of rotting flesh and looking with horror as the bodies pulled themselves from the ground. He was no older than four, the little, blond-haired boy—a tiny, malnourished wisp of a child with wide, green eyes flecked with brown, and gently pointed ears. He shook and sobbed and would’ve fallen under the hooves of the horse but the knight held tight to him and kept him on the saddle as, all around them, the unmarked graves stirred.

“Shush, child,” the knight said in a quiet voice as his black destrier splashed through a puddle. “They won’t hurt you. No one’s going to hurt you.” But the boy continued to cry and the rain continued to fall and the corpses continued to drag themselves out of the ground.

* * *

It was a miserable autumn day. The sky was the color of slate, and the leaves were thick upon the ground, leaving the trees sad and bare.There was a chill in the air, but it didn’t bother Raettonus as he made his way to the stables. Steorra whinnied as Raettonus entered and tossed his big black head. Raettonus patted the destrier’s nose as he reached for the brush. The stables were large and smelled of old wood; in times long before, they might have held fifty horses, maybe even more than that. Now, however, they held only Sir Slade’s old horse. Steorra was still in good condition for his age, but Slade often spoke of buying another horse. In the seven years Raettonus had been living with him, however, he never had. Perhaps that was on his mind today when he told Raettonus he was to groom and saddle Steorra for him.

“Good boy,” said Raettonus, patting the horse’s neck as he brushed out his mane. Steorra snorted into the boy’s hair, messing it up with his hot breath. With a giggle, Raettonus smoothed his hair back down with one hand and then rubbed the old destrier fondly beneath his chin. He set the brush away and began to ready the horse with the ornate black and red bridle and saddle Slade liked so much. They were Slade’s family colors, though he rarely wore them much himself, save for on a flamboyant cloak pin which was a favorite of his. Raettonus rubbed Steorra’s neck and led him out into the courtyard where Slade was waiting with the friend who had come calling on him earlier in the day.

Slade was a tall, broad-shouldered man with black hair that shone almost blue when the light struck it just so. His chin was strong, and his nose was straight and noble. Though he always smiled kindly, Raettonus had always thought his smiles were sad too; his lips smiled, but his eyes didn’t. No, his eyes were deep, blue pools of sorrow and regret. Slade had never told little Raettonus a lie, except with his expression.

As Raettonus led Steorra into the yard, Slade broke off the conversation he was having with his friend, who was mounted on his own large, gray horse. “Ah, there you are,” Slade said, taking the reins from the boy with a smile. “Thank you, Raettonus.” He turned back to his friend. “This is Raettonus—he’s my ward. Raettonus, this is Sir Rhodes the Unicorn.”

“It’s an honor to meet you, Sir,” Raettonus mumbled, bowing his head politely.

Rhodes nodded in acknowledgement, but said nothing else to Raettonus. He was a heavyset man, Sir Rhodes. Though still fairly in shape, his gut was beginning to bulge and his face was beginning to sag beneath the stubbly beard growing on his chin. He wasn’t as handsome as Slade—his nose was bulbous and crooked as if it had once been broken, his cropped brown hair was graying at the temples, and he had eyes the color of mud. Raettonus thought he looked like a drunk as well, though the man didn’t smell of liquor. Rhodes had already turned his attention back to Slade.

“I’m just saying, what’s the use of a castle with no one to staff it?” he asked Slade as his mount whickered softly beneath him. “They’re serfs, for God’s sake—it’s not as though they would have a choice in the matter.”

Slade shook his head