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The Flesh Eaters
by L.A. Morse

Category: Suspense/Thriller
Description: Cannibalistic cave dwellers. Huge, terrifying clans roaming the moors, seeking out human flesh to rend and consume. It sounds like the horrors of prehistoric savages, but it falls well within recorded history of civilized men. The first half of the fifteenth century saw savagery and fear that erased the line between man and beast. Just eight miles east of the modern city of Edinburgh, Sawney Bean and his murderous family prowled the Scottish coasts, robbing travelers and consuming their victims. "Stick? stock? stuck. You've run out of luck. Kill... kill? kill. We eat our fill," they chant as they descend upon their prey. There's little the community can do but be hunted. This horrifying tale of nightmare-inducing monsters--inspired by true events--comes into stark reality in THE FLESH EATERS, an imaginative novel by Edgar Award winning author L.A. Morse. Beware, any readers faint of heart. It's those soft hearts that are the tenderest meat.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 1979
eBookwise Release Date: November 2012

eBookeBook

Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [244 KB]
Words: 55153
Reading time: 157-220 min.


I

Edinburgh, 1408.

A pale cold sun hangs low over the town, doing little to dispel the dampness. Seen from above, the town is almost invisible. The small, crude buildings are made of mud-colored stones and bricks that blend into the surrounding countryside. The poorer houses are made of dark, water-stained wood and coated with mud for insulation. The thatch roofs look like hillocks on an undulating plain.

The town is divided by a narrow muddy gash called High Street, which joins the main highways of the kingdom, to the north and south. In the center of the town, another road runs from High Street. This road continues up a hill to a castle that overlooks the town and the sea, bleak and dark like a malevolent bird of prey. In the town, Castle Road terminates at the steps of the cathedral that forms one side of Market Square. The cathedral is the only substantial building in the town proper; it bulks large over the surrounding hovels, a toad among the midges. High Street holds the life of the town, but the ends of Castle Road hold the power.

If the town is difficult to see, it is not difficult to smell. A stench envelops it like a fog. When an easterly wind blows off the land, fishermen at sea can always tell that they are approaching home. The stink has its origin in the huge piles of rotting garbage and refuse that fill the narrow alleyways between buildings, sometimes to the height of the houses themselves. Where there is no alley, or where the alley is already overflowing, the garbage is dumped in High Street in front of the buildings. Here it stays, the pile daily growing larger, until traffic is impeded enough to force its removal. And, as a matter of course, as if to add seasoning to the stew, chamber pots are emptied into the street each morning; they are thrown out of open doorways or dumped from second-story windows, the contents mingling with the mud of High Street to form small rivers of slime.

Though this environment is less than healthy for the town's inhabitants, certain creatures thrive. Rats grow large and prosper. Beetles and cockroaches gorge themselves to achieve enormous proportions. A haze of flies fills the street and alleyways. Seagulls find the scavenging so abundant that they have difficulty lifting their bloated bodies and make easy prey for small boys with stones.

Life in the town is crude and rough, but the townspeople do not consider it so. They have no experience of any alternatives. If a clean town does not exist for them, then this town is not dirty. Not only do the "burghers accept the conditions in the town, they are pleased with them. With nearly four thousand people, it is among the largest in the kingdom, and is becoming more and more prosperous. If the town grows filthier as it grows larger, that is merely one of the necessary accompaniments of progress.

Today the normally calm atmosphere of the town is charged with an air of excitement. Many people work at their usual tasks, but a large number line High Street and many more fill Market Square. There is a mood of curiosity and anticipation, a carnival feeling. Sounds are heard down the street, and the crowd in Market Square rustles in expectation.

On High Street, a small cart accompanied by several guards is drawn toward the square. In the cart are two men, with heavy iron shackles around their wrists. The men are extremely dirty, and look bewildered. They are poor, pathetic specimens, but the spectators lining High Street feel no sympathy for them.

A third man is pulled along behind the cart, attached to it by a rope tied around his wrists. He is completely naked. His body shows signs of severe abuse, even torture. Burn marks cover his back, shoulders, and chest; large welts show on his stomach and legs; small, blood-rimmed puncture marks dot his forehead. He is barely able to keep on his feet as the cart pulls him along.

The spectators on High Street nod and smile with interest as the procession passes. Some go into their houses after the cart goes by, others follow behind it, including a gang of small boys who shout and laugh at the three prisoners.

As the cart nears the square, the naked man finally loses his footing. He is dragged face down through the mud for some distance before he is able to stand again. The guards pay no attention. Some of the spectators laugh at the man's struggles, and yell with delight when he rises and they see he is covered with mud.

Two figures await the cart at the center of the square. One, a tall, muscular man, wears a leather tunic and a black hood that entirely covers his head. He is the Executioner. A variety of paraphernalia surrounds him.

A short distance away is the Magistrate, before whom the guards come to attention. The Magistrate is short and fat like an overstuffed sausage, fair-haired and pink-skinned. His eyes are two black holes in the doughy slabs of fat that form his face. His tunic and tights are made of good material, but they are too small for his figure. His belly bulges over his thick belt.

The Magistrate holds his staff of office in one hand and a piece of parchment in the other. He arches his back, sticks his chin in the air, and purses his small, full lips as he surveys the crowd, waiting for silence. This is the moment he likes best--the moment when all eyes are upon him. At last, he speaks.

"Have the prisoner Ian Jennings brought forward."

Two guards pull one of the men roughly from the cart and stand him before the Magistrate. Ian Jennings is very thin and stooped. His skinny body is barely covered by rags. He is clearly feebleminded; though he is frightened by the attention focused on him, he does not understand what is happening.

"Ian Jennings, you have been tried and found guilty of begging." The Magistrate keeps his eyes on Jennings, but speaks loud enough for everyone to hear. "You are an able-bodied man, and it has been decreed that all able-bodied men will work, that they must not be a blight on the kingdom of Scotland. Those that resort to begging are to be punished accordingly. Henceforth, you will forever bear the mark of your crime. In the name of His Majesty King James I of Scotland, and the King's representatives, let the sentence be carried out."

Jennings does not understand any of this. Therefore he does what he always does in similar circumstances; he "gives the Magistrate his most ingratiating smile--people usually leave him alone after he smiles. This time, however, the guards grab him by the arms and drag him over to the Executioner, who stands next to a large brazier filled with glowing coals, in which various iron implements are being heated. The guards press down on Jennings's thin shoulders, forcing him to his knees. The Executioner takes a branding iron from the fire. The "X" design glows red-hot. A murmur runs through the crowd.

Jennings struggles and squirms as the branding iron is brought up to his face, but the guards hold him firmly. The iron is placed on Jennings's cheek. His screams drown out the sizzling of his flesh. The iron is removed, but he continues to scream.

The Executioner picks up a bucket of dirty water and throws it full in Jennings's face. The shock of the water knocks the beggar unconscious, and the guards drag him over to the side of the square and leave him there.

At the conclusion of the punishment the tension that has mounted among the spectators subsides; there is a general relaxation throughout the crowd, which is in fact a cross section of the town. Most trades and stations are represented, from the humblest servants to master craftsmen and merchants. Several members of the minor nobility, astride horses, offer expressions of bored disinterest. From the cathedral steps, the Bishop watches with smug superiority. Some members of the crowd seem unconcerned with what they have seen, some appear fascinated. Others are simply pleased to have something a little out of the ordinary to watch.

One spectator, though, has a most unusual reaction. Watching the branding has given Sawney Beane a pleasure that warms his whole body. He has responded on a fundamental level to every detail of the punishment: the beggar's powerlessness, the fear in his eyes, the inevitability of the torture, the screams, the smell of the burning flesh. Shocks of sensation tingle through his body, causing his shoulders, his arms, his hips to twitch and jerk in small spasms of pleasure.

Sawney Beane's sunken cheeks are covered with a sparse, wispy beard. He has a weak chin, and loose, flapping lips. His hair would be light brown if it was not so dirty and oily; it scraggles past his shoulders in long, greasy rattails. Sawney Beane looks to be about eighteen years old, but he is not sure of his age. Usually his eyes are dull, uncomprehending, but at this moment they are alive, bright with a piercing animal intensity--the eyes of a snake mesmerizing a bird, of a cat stalking its prey.

Sawney Beane's glance turns from the prostrate form of Ian Jennings back to the Magistrate.

"The prisoner William Galbey is to be brought forward."

The man still standing in the cart is dragged off it and over to the Magistrate. Galbey is another miserable looking creature. He is poorly dressed, but an attempt has been made to mend his clothes and keep them presentable. Unlike Ian Jennings, he is fully aware of what is happening; his shoulders are thrown back and his eyes show a spark of spirit.

The Magistrate looks down his nose at him. "William Galbey, you have been tried and found guilty of attempting to steal a loaf of bread from Master Linton, the baker. This is a--"

"I took it for my family," Galbey interrupts. "I could not get work and my child was starving. Don't you understand?"

A woman pushes through the crowd to stand close to the Magistrate. A frightened child clutches her legs, whimpering into her dress. The woman is distraught, but tries to speak calmly.

"My husband is a good man. He's never done anything wrong before. Please have mercy on him."

The Magistrate barely glances at her, then resumes speaking as though there had been no interruption.

"This is a particularly serious offense against property and must be dealt with severely. You will be blinded in both eyes, thereby making it impossible for you to again covet your neighbor's property."

Galbey has been holding his breath, but on hearing the sentence, he expels it as though he had been hit in the stomach. His wife shouts "No! No! No!" and runs toward the Magistrate. A guard moves to block her path.

"In the name of His Majesty King James I of Scotland, and the King's representatives, let the punishment be carried out."

As before, the prisoner is dragged over to the Executioner and forced to kneel. The Executioner takes a poker from the fire. Galbey cries out, pleading for him not to do it; he strains to move his head back, but he is firmly held. The last thing he sees before he closes his eyes in terror is the red tip of the approaching poker. He feels the warmth of it radiating on his cheek; then an intense stab of pain snoots into his brain. It feels as though the iron has gone into the center of his skull; he can only scream and keep screaming in an attempt to cover up the incredible pain. He does not notice the approach of the Executioner with a second poker, does not feel the warmth as it nears his face. Then the second poker is pressed into his other eye. The new pain washes over and combines with the existing pain, flashing red, then yellow, then white hot before Galbey mercifully sinks into black unconsciousness. The guards release him, and he falls forward. He is dragged to the side of the square where his wife and child, both crying hysterically, fall on his motionless body.

Galbey's screams seem to echo and hang over Market Square. A few in the crowd stir uneasily, then leave, their faces white. A woman holds up a small boy to see Galbey; she tells the child that the same thing will happen to him if he is not good.

Sawney Beane's breathing has become more rapid. His eyes dart around the square. His lips are partially open. A drop of spittle runs from the corner of his mouth. His skinny body twitches from time to time, as though he were a marionette manipulated by an absent-minded puppeteer.

The Magistrate looks around the crowd, smiling to himself. "The prisoner Robert Duncan is to be brought forward."

The third man, the one who has been dragged behind the cart, has collapsed against the back of it. Barely conscious, he is completely unaware of what has been going on. The guards untie his hands, pull him to his feet, and drag him before the Magistrate. When they release him, he crumples to his knees, then falls forward, landing face down in the mud. A few muffled giggles are heard in the crowd, but the Magistrate frowns at the offenders and they fall silent. The guards pull Robert Duncan upright

The Magistrate speaks. "Robert Duncan, under questioning and ordeal you have confessed to acts of treason against the Crown. There is only one punishment for this most serious of all crimes. You will be quartered and beheaded. You will be buried in an unmarked grave in unconsecrated ground. Your name will e remembered as that of a most foul villain and reprehensible traitor. All your property and estates will be confiscated by the Crown. In the name of His Majesty King James I of Scotland, and the King's representatives, let the execution be carried out."

Duncan is still slumped, unconscious. The guards drag him over to the Executioner, who as set up a heavy wooden frame.

The crowd murmurs in anticipation.

Duncan is attached to the frame, his arms and legs spread wide. Metal bands fasten his wrists and ankles, a heavy chain goes around his chest. When the prisoner is secure, the Executioner steps back to let the crowd have a last look at the traitor. A chorus of jeers and curses assails the naked, unconscious figure; bits of mud and garbage are thrown. Something hits Duncan in the head, and his eyes flutter open for an instant, but they do not focus.

The guards lower the frame until it is almost flat on the ground. The Executioner picks up a large battle-ax. The ax head is so heavy, and the edge has been honed to such sharpness, that it will cut with almost no effort. The Executioner shows the ax to the crowd and receives shouts of approval. He walks over to Duncan and slaps him several times. The prisoner's eyes open.

The Executioner raises the ax overhead to the full extension of his arms. With great force and precise aim, he brings the weapon down on the middle of Duncan's right thigh. Faster than the spectators can see, the blade cuts through the epidermis, the derma, the layer of fatty tissue, the muscles of the quadriceps femoris, the femur, the sartorius muscle, the femoral artery and vein, the adductor muscles at the back of the leg, the biceps femoris, the hamstring muscles, and through the adipose layer, the derma, and the epidermis at the back of the leg. The lower leg falls away, but it is still held to the frame by the band at the ankle. A tremendous surge of bright, oxygenated blood gushes out and soaks the muddy ground. Darker venous blood oozes sluggishly from the severed limb.

Duncan emits a weak groan, but it is not heard over the cries of the crowd. The Executioner pulls the ax free from the wood of the frame. He walks to the other side, lifts the blade high overhead again, then brings it down to sever Duncan's left leg. Duncan emits a sharp cry, and his head slumps to the side. The Executioner slaps him, but there is no response. He takes a bucket of water and throws it over Duncan. Still no response. He puts his ear over Duncan's heart, then turns toward the Magistrate.

"The prisoner is dead."

A groan of disappointment rises from the crowd. The Magistrate's expression remains unchanged. "Complete the execution as ordered."

The Executioner continues, but the procedure now lacks a certain interest. The crowd watches silently as the corpse's arms are severed. There is a small reaction when the head is cut off and rolls for several yards along the ground.

The guards pick up the wooden frame and place it in the cart. The Executioner puts the severed head in a sack and tosses it on top of the frame. The cart is drawn away. The crowd disperses.

Soon Market Square is empty except for Sawney Beane and the unconscious form of the branded Ian Jennings. Sawney Beane is in a state of high excitement. He feels a tingling throughout his body, a pleasant warmth in his groin. He walks over to where Duncan was, executed and looks at the wet spots of blood on the ground. He kneels and touches these spots, then brings his lingers up to his nose. He inhales deeply, barely able to contain his excitement, and hugs himself as a shiver of sensation runs through him. Then his excitement bursts out, and he runs across the square in long, leaping strides to where Ian Jennings lies. He stands over the branded beggar, staring down at him. Jennings sees him and raises his hand, imploring assistance. His face expressionless, Sawney Beane suddenly kicks Jennings hard in the stomach. Jennings whimpers in pain. Sawney Beane checks to make sure that the square is empty. It is. He kicks Jennings again.

Sawney Beane starts to run from the square, then stops and looks back, trying to recapture the events he has seen. After a moment, he turns and walks down High Street. The blacksmith's shop is where Sawney Beane lives and works. It is a large space that is also the main living area of the house. The walls are rough planks of smoke-blackened wood, the cracks filled with mud and bits of rag. The floor is hard-tramped dirt strewn with straw. To one side, there is a crude forge and a workbench. Tools are hung on one wall and scattered everywhere about. In a back corner is the pile of straw which is Sawney Beane's bed. Large double doors lead to the back of the house and a smaller door opens on High Street.

Sawney Beane is piling logs against the wall. He works lethargically, not paying attention to what he is doing. Images from the spectacle in the square still flash behind his eyes, renewing the sensations he felt as he watched.

The street door opens, and the blacksmith enters. Sawney Beane's master is a large, powerful man with a barrel chest and massive stomach. His red face, stippled with broken veins in the nose and cheeks, gives evidence of an overfondness for drink.

The Master is smiling as he enters, but at the sight of Sawney Beane his face darkens. Before he has even shut the door, he is yelling across the room.

"So there you are, Sawney Beane, you worthless piece of filth! You mongrel bastard! You goat turd! Where the hell have you been?" He does not wait for a reply. "Watching the doings in the square, no doubt. There was work for you to do here! You aren't worth, the food I give you, you lazy son of a constipated bitch! One of these days you're going to find yourself the main attraction in Market Square..." He crosses the room and bends until his face is very close to Sawney Beane's. "What do you have to say? Nothing, I suppose."

Sawney Beane continues to work, slowly, his face expressionless. At this lack of response, the Master grows even angrier.

"No, you never say anything! Because you're stupid and lazy and a crawling coward, Sawney Beane. You'd never dare, fight back because you know I'd destroy you. Get out of the way!" He pushes Sawney Beane to the ground and stands over him, hoping he will fight, but there is no resistance. He turns away in contempt. "Hah! You can't even pile wood. Look at that." With a mighty kick, he knocks over the woodpile. "Do it again, and do it right or you'll get no food today." He strides to the center of the room. "Meg! Meg! Come here right away!" There is no response. "Meg! Girl, you'd better get in here when I call!"

Meg appears from the interior of the house, moving slowly, her face sullen. She is about fourteen years old, and though there is still some adolescent pudginess, her body is fully developed. Her dress is sack-like and of a rough material, but it is obvious that she is wearing nothing underneath it.

Meg stands looking at her father, one hip thrown out, her head tilted and an expression of bored hostility on her face. "What do you want?" She shakes her long, sandy-brown hair away from her eyes.

"I want you to come when I call you. What have you been doing?"

"I been working," Meg says, after an irritating delay.

"Doing what?"

"Working."

"Sitting on your fat ass next to the fire! Look at that." The Master points to the table covered with dirty dishes. "Those have been there two days!" He sweeps the dishes to the floor with a clatter. "Clean them and then go out to the barn and feed the horse."

At last, Meg shows some emotion. "What do you think I am? I'm not your slave."

"I'm your father, and you'll do what I tell you or else you'll get a beating." The Master takes a step toward her, then reconsiders. "You are a lazy slut, and you'd better change your ways, girl, or you'll regret it. Now get to work!" He goes out the front door, into High Street.

For a moment, Meg stands motionless, staring after him. Sawney Beane watches the girl, but she pays no attention to him.

Meg begins to pick up the fallen dishes. When she bends, the top of her dress falls forward, revealing her full, dark-nippled breasts. She kneels, and her dress clings tightly to the curve of her buttocks. Sawney Beane feels the same warmth in his groin that he experienced earlier in the square.

Meg dumps the dishes back on the table, then goes through the back door to the barn behind the smithy. Sawney Beane's eyes follow her.

The barn is a tumbledown affair that provides only marginal shelter for the one horse that is kept there. Meg slowly picks up handfuls of hay from a large pile and tosses them into the horse's stall. Her blank expression gives no indication of her thoughts.

Sawney Beane stands in the entrance to the barn. Meg's back is turned and she does not see him. He watches her for a while. Each time she bends over, her dress rides high up her legs, revealing most of her firm, fleshly thighs.

Sawney Beane walks quietly across the barn and stands next to her. Bending, she sees his feet, but is not startled. She straightens up and faces him. They stare at each other without speaking. Sawney Beane's eyes narrow. Meg's eyes are quizzical.

He puts his hands firmly on her shoulders and presses her down into the pile of hay. She is a little taller and heavier than he is, but his thin frame possesses a wiry strength. He drops to his knees between her legs, keeping his eyes locked with hers. Then he grabs the bottom of her dress and pulls it up over her breasts, which are dappled with pale freckles. He opens the codpiece of his breeches, presses himself against her, and forces a quick entrance. Meg does not struggle, nor does she respond. Her face remains expressionless as Sawney Beane moves on top of her.

It is over quickly. Sawney Beane stands, adjusts his codpiece, and leaves the barn without looking back. Meg lies still for a moment, then gets up and resumes her work, as though nothing at all had occurred. This has been, however, her first sexual experience.

That evening, Sawney Beane sits on his pile of straw in the corner of the smithy, staring with his usual dull expression at the glowing embers in the forge.

Meg enters from the house carrying a bowl of porridge. She too wears her usual sullen mask. She holds the bowl out to Sawney Beane. At first he does not notice. She gestures again with the bowl, and this time he takes it. They do not look at one another. There is no coyness or embarrassment in this, just a simple lack of awareness. Their encounter in the barn has never happened. Meg goes back into the house.

The porridge is lumpy, gray in color, but Sawney Beane eats greedily, shoveling the stuff into his mouth with a filthy hand. He scrapes the bowl clean, licks his fingers and then the bowl.

Now he settles down on his straw to sleep. After a moment, a two-inch cockroach crawls out of the straw and begins to climb his arm. When it reaches his elbow, he makes a grab and catches it. He watches the insect squirm between his thumb and forefinger, then snaps it in half with a loud crack. He smiles, settles again into the straw, and closes his eyes.

Just as he is drifting into sleep, an image enters his mind. It may be fantasy or it may be the only memory he possesses of a childhood about which he has no conscious recollection. The image gives him a feeling of pleasure; it often accompanies his entrance into sleep.

A forest, during the winter. Snow weighs down the branches of the trees and lies in deep drifts on the ground. A thick mist is everywhere. A man and a boy are hiding behind a large tree. All is very still. Out of the mist, walking delicately through the snow, a big stag appears. He sniffs the air, then freezes. Suddenly he starts to run, but before the stag can get up speed, a giant wolf springs from the trees and leaps onto his back. The wolf tears open his throat. The stag falls; the snow is stained red. Behind their tree, the man whispers to the boy, "Look, Sawney, look. That's the gray wolf of the forest. He's the greatest hunter there is. Look. Look at him."

As the wolfs triumphant howl echoes through the forest, Sawney Beane sinks into darker, deeper dreams.

In front of the smithy, Sawney Beane is half-heartedly sweeping rubbish into High Street. Close by, a group of boys is playing a game of catch with a lopsided leather ball. They are boisterous and happy, calling loudly for the ball and laughing when someone makes a mistake.

Sawney Beane looks at the children without comprehension. He has no interest in their game; it is just another of the inexplicable, alien things with which he is surrounded. The ball rolls toward him, stopping at his feet, and he picks it up. The boys gesture that he should throw it back, but he only stares at them. An older boy walks over and puts his hands out for the ball. His expression still blank, Sawney Beane tucks the ball under his own arm. The other boys crowd around, but he does not seem to notice them, not even the one who kneels behind him. A boy hits Sawney Beane's shoulders, pushing him back over the kneeling one and into the mud. The other boys swarm on top of their victim, punching and kicking. They take their ball and run down the road, laughing.

Sawney Beane stands and looks after them, displaying no reaction to his beating.

A very small boy walks by, eating a large piece of bread. After a quick look around to see if anyone is watching, Sawney Beane grabs the bread. The child is about to cry out, but Sawney Beane takes him by the throat and fixes him with an intense, piercing gaze. The eyes, more than the hand at his throat, terrify the child and he swallows his scream. Sawney Beane releases the boy and watches him run away. As he chews the bread, a small smile twists his mouth.

In one of the foul alleyways that run off Market Square, Sawney Beane sits with his back against a damp stone wall. Close to his hand is an ant hole; hundreds of ants scurry back and forth. Their activity is purposeful and orderly, designed to promote the harmony of the colony, but Sawney Beane sees only black specks in random motion.

The bells of the cathedral chime, calling the town to mass. From all directions people move across the square, climb the steps, and vanish into the dark obscurity of the cathedral. This activity has no more significance for Sawney Beane than does that of the ants. He does not know what these people are doing or why, and he has no more knowledge of the cathedral's interior than of the ant colony's tunnels.

When the last person has entered the cathedral, Sawney Beane leaves the alley and climbs the steps. During the mass, he stands at the cathedral door, staring into the gloom. The ceremony has no meaning for him; the solemnity of the ritual makes no impression. It is just another one of the things that they do.

The service concludes, and Sawney Beane runs from the doorway. He waits until everyone has gone, then returns and enters the cathedral.

His eyes become accustomed to the dimness and he begins to see clearly. The immense height of the cathedral's vaulted ceiling, the hugeness of the enclosed space, unlike anything he has ever experienced, oppresses him. The hundreds of candles create shadows that seem to stretch upward forever. His impulse is to flee, but he masters it.

He walks slowly forward, passes an alcove in the wall, and is startled to see a large figure staring down at him, a hand outstretched. He is about to run, thinking he has been discovered, but looks more closely and sees that the figure is only wood and plaster and paint. Puzzled, he moves on. He passes several other figures, barely glancing at them, and then one holds his attention. It is St. Sebastian, life-size, carved and painted in exceptionally realistic detail. The saint's arms are held out; there is suffering on his face. The almost naked body is pierced with arrows and blood runs from the wounds, forming a red network down the entire figure. The drops of blood seem to have substance; they glisten in the candlelight.

Sawney Beane is transfixed, by this image of suffering and torture. His mouth falls open, his tongue moistens his lips, his eyes brighten.

He raises his hand and his fingers touch a red puncture, but instead of soft flesh and warm blood, he feels only unyielding wood and cold enamel. He looks at his fingertips, smells them. Anticipating a pleasurable stimulus, he is confused when there is nothing.

Suddenly, he hears footsteps. He turns and runs down the center aisle and out of the cathedral, startling an approaching priest. The priest crosses himself hastily to ward off the vague feeling that something evil has passed close by.

Behind the smithy, the Master and Sawney Beane are at work. The Master is pounding an iron bar on an anvil, accompanying each blow with a curse. Sawney Beane is hauling buckets of water from the well to a large barrel. He pays little heed to what he is doing, and water splashes constantly from the bucket. Deep puddles cover most of the yard.

With each spill, the Master curses a little louder and brings his hammer down a little harder. It has not been a good day. One of the wealthier merchants of the town has snubbed him in the street. Another merchant has refused to sell him necessary supplies without payment in advance. His daughter has again been insolent, has refused to acknowledge his superiority. And now he has to watch that moron Sawney Beane create a swamp in his backyard.

A horse and rider enter the yard, the horse limping slightly. The rider is an extremely fat man but, from the look of his clothes, of considerable wealth. He is clad in the finest material, covered with rich embroidery; he wears a magnificent fur cloak.

"Good day to you, your lordship," the Master says in his most deferential manner. "Can I be of service?"

The fat man wrinkles his nose in distaste for the filth and disorder in the yard. "I trust so, Master Smith. I did not come here for the pleasant view your yard provides, or for the dubious pleasure of your company, but because my horse has thrown a shoe."

Your horse should have thrown more than that carrying a tub of guts like you around, the Master thinks, but he smiles and turns to get his tools.

The nobleman calls him back. "Would you have your man give me a hand so that I may dismount--that's my good fellow."

"Sawney Beane, you lazy cur!" the Master shouts. "Get over here and give his lordship a hand." Sawney Beane only stares at him. "You fool! Get over here and help the gentleman."

Sawney Beane shambles over to the horse. He stands in a large puddle, the muddy water well above his ankles.

"Well, go on, you fool! Put your hands up. Careful! Hold your hands steady."

Sawney Beane cups his hands to hold the rider's foot as he dismounts. But as the great bulk settles, he slips in the mud and lets go of the foot. The fat man falls flat on his back in the puddle, where he rolls from side to side, sputtering like a beached walrus.

The Master's face turns several shades of purple. "Your lordship! Sawney Beane! You half-brained mooncalf, you piece of dog shit. Look what you've done! I'll give you a beating you'll never forget!"

The Master grabs his hammer and heaves it with all his force as Sawney Beane scampers away. The hammer misses its target and continues through the open door of the barn, where it strikes the Master's own horse in the head, instantly killing it.

"Damn him!" the Master shouts. "I'll make him wish he'd never been born, don't you worry about that!"

Still on his back in the mud, the fat man speaks coldly. "You had best worry about how you will pay for the damage you have done. My bailiff will see you shortly, you witless oaf! Now help me to my feet."

With considerable effort, groveling and blustering, the Master succeeds in extricating the nobleman from the mud.

"I'm terribly sorry, your lordship. That blackguard will pay for this, you just wait! Now, I'll just get to your horse."

"I'd rather my horse limped all the way to London than spend an additional moment here. You have done enough for one day!"

The Master watches the fat man lead his horse away, then bellows a tremendous series of curses. In a blind rage, he seizes the anvil, raises it overhead, and throws it across the yard. Instantly, he regrets his action, but it is too late. The anvil sails through the air, smashes through the boards covering the well, splashes into the water, and sinks to the bottom.

"Look what you've done now, Sawney Beane!" the Master yells. "Come back here! Come back!"

Sawney Beane is sitting behind the barn on a pile of rubbish. If he hears his name being called, his face gives no indication of it. He is concentrating on a small gray mouse that he has captured. He lets the mouse run up his arm several times. He is about to let it go when a cat appears around the corner of the barn.

It is an old ginger torn who bears the scars of many battles. One eye and half an ear--and large patches of fur--are gone, but he is still the master of his territory. Sawney Beane clicks his tongue to call the cat, who approaches slowly. Sawney Beane places the mouse between the cat's front paws.

He watches intently as the cat toys with the mouse, letting it almost get away, catching it again, cuffing it about until eventually the mouse's legs are broken. At last the cat devours the mouse, head first, chewing it with his back teeth as the tail hangs from his mouth.

Sawney Beane is fascinated by the game and the inevitable kill. He responds to the display of instinct. He sees the wolf bringing down the stag; he senses other things as well, things that are not quite clear to him, but that feel good. His expression is that of someone lost in a pleasant dream.


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