Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Issue 23
Stories
The Hanged Poet
by Jeffrey Lyman
Into the West
by Eric James Stone
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The Hanged Poet
    by Jeffrey Lyman

The Hanged Poet
Artwork by Nicole Cardiff

General Veritas sat on his horse, alone on the vast, snow-covered plains of north Madalan. Before him, in a hollow between low hills, stood a half-dozen winter-bare cottonwood trees and a tumbled pile of stones.

Three wild dogs jumped and nipped at something hanging from a tree, and he recognized it as a body from the heavy way it swung and spun. He had seen many men hanged in his long career.

The copse of trees lay days out from the last village, so it was an odd place to come upon a hanging. He supposed he should be cautious, but instead he watched absently, his mind far away in the capital city of Inrenae.

It had been a blow to leave, but the young Lord Emperor, in his infinite kindness, had retired General Veritas after four decades of service. The Lord Emperor had awarded him an estate in the land of Veritas' youth - a place he barely remembered. He had been dismissed with a nod of thanks.

He glanced at the sun at the horizon. The winds of the plains whined and mumbled, gnawing at his cheeks, making him pull his cloak tighter around his throat. He needed fire.

After all these years, he still had not grown accustomed to winter. He had been born in a land of dark skin, brightly-colored birds, and most of all, a hot sun all year round. He wondered if he would miss winter while growing old and fat on his estate. Probably not. There were too many other things to miss.

"Hey!" he shouted at the dogs, his voice a jagged break through the wind's constant moan. The dogs jerked their heads up, growling, protective of their corpse. They were thin, but not starving. Veritas shouted again and they edged back, keeping their eyes on him. He was disappointed they didn't attack. He wanted to fight them bare handed, as he had once done in his youth.

They turned and trotted to the crest of a nearby hill where they stood in profile against the setting sun, watching. Their shadows stretched long toward him. They might still attack during the night.

He swung to the ground and led his horse into the hollow, then looped the reins around a branch. Up close, the pile of stones became a ruined hut, bound in dead vines. A long-abandoned hermit's home? A forgotten hunter's shelter?

The crusted snow crunched below his boots as he strode past the hut to the frozen corpse.

She was a young woman, small, pale-skinned as all northlanders were, and long dead. A weathered shift of gray wool hung down from her shoulders. Her hands had been bound behind her back, and her bare feet dangled at the height of his chest. The toes the dogs had not worried over were black with frost.

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