The Ring and the Raven
Millicent was striding through the city in a skirt the colour of spring and a blouse that was lower than it should have been when the heavens opened, unleashing a downpour unlike anything she had ever seen. Within seconds her blouse was soaked, and her feet (along with her sandals) were splashing up puddles as she tried to find shelter underneath the overhanging roofs. Suffice to say, it was a grim day, and Millicent frowned as she turned the corner to find that her once beautifully plaited hair was now dripping down her face in ruins. Wringing her dark plaited hair in her hands, Millicent walked slowly down the pavement, which was quieter now that she’d turned off the main road, and stood rather disappointedly outside The Raven and the Ring upon noticing the ‘closed’ sign hanging forlorn on the doorframe.
Raising her hand, Millicent rapped on the door with her knuckles insistently, until footsteps sounded from inside the pub. She stood elegantly, with her hands folded in front of her and one foot behind the other, as the keys rattled around in the door lock and all of a sudden the door flung open, revealing an aged man with thinning white hair and a stained white apron. Ben smiled down at Millicent, his silver tooth flashing in the light.
“You’re early today,” Ben said in a way of greeting, and that was the only invitation that Millicent needed to hurry into the warmly lit pub behind him. She shivered against the sudden rush of heat from the freshly burning fire, and proceeded to unclip her sandals and leave them near the fire to dry. Inside, the smell of freshly baked bread and homemade cinnamon rolls wafted through the air, and a small smile tugged at her lips as Millicent claimed a seat on one of the bar stalls. Ben came around to the other side of the bar and began preparing a mug of orange chocolate milk.
“Anything interesting happening in your life?” Ben asked in an attempt to start conversation.
Millicent frowned, “No.”
“Well then,” he replied, handing her a wooden mug filled with dark liquid, “I suppose we can get on with the gossip.”
At this, Millicent sat up in her seat, her hands clasping the mug in front of her.
“Tell me,” she prompted, eyes glazed over with hope.
Silence filled the room. The only sounds that could be heard were from the bustling streets beyond.
Millicent swallowed the lump in her throat, “gone?”
Ben, who was previously wiping down the counter, paused and looked at her with what could only be grief in his eyes.
“The City Council received a letter last night. It spoke of a man in his early thirties, dark haired, broad shouldered. The letter made it very clear that he is highly dangerous, but he did it, Millicent. Kane is free.”
Kane. The word echoed in her head, like something lost that had just been found. Kane. Her brother. Her brother who had not cared when he and his revolution had the Mayor’s daughter assassinated on the rooftop of his own home. Her brother who had seemed high when he lit fires on the outskirts of the city, sending monsters that she could only dream about towards the flames. Her brother, who was sent to the prisons Beyond Shalom to serve a triple life sentence, and now, after only four years, has escaped.
Millicent didn’t know whether to be happy or terrified.
Ben must have seen the thoughts echo across her face, because he placed his hand gently on her arm and gave it a squeeze.
“He’ll survive,” he told her, “he’s survived for the past four years in that shithole, I don’t see what would change that now.”
She nodded in agreement, but they all knew what was out there. They all knew why the City Council had built Shalom almost two centuries ago, and what had scared them enough to do so. Sighing, Millicent took a sip from the mug in her hands, savouring the taste of chocolate and orange and warm milk before slipping from her stool. She paced over to the fireplace and nudged her sandals with her foot before deeming them dry enough to wear.
When she turned around, Millicent found that the mug she was previously drinking out of had now been replaced with a brown cardboard cup.
Ben looked at her and smiled, his eyes crinkling, “In case you get thirsty on the way home.”
Millicent thanked Ben quickly and stepped outside. The rain had stopped, but the cobblestone streets were still wet and strewn with puddles. She grimaced as she stepped out onto the busy street, shielding her cup with her hands so that the warm liquid didn’t spill.
As Millicent walked through the labyrinthine streets, she began to form her plan. First, she would need time. Time to prepare things such as money transfers and a will, but most importantly, time to build strength. If she were going Beyond Shalom, she wouldn’t stand a chance of survival without the strength to kill.
When Millicent arrived at her front door, she had decided that she would allow herself three months to prepare. And then she would go Beyond Shalom and find her brother.