Second excerpt from Mark Charan Newton's NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR

Now that the novel is available, here's another extract for you to sample and see if Nights of Villjamur appears to be for you. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.


The hardest cynic, Investigator Rumex Jeryd thought, is often fundamentally the most romantic person, because he so often feels let down by the world. He couldn’t detect much romance in himself today, but all the cynicism he could wish for.

He could hear the rain driving against the old stone walls. He liked the sound: it reminded him of the outside world. Lately, he’d spent far too many days in this gloom, had begun to feel a little too disconnected from Villjamur. Everything the city stood for these days was something he found a struggle to perceive.

The rumel looked down at the returned theatre tickets in his right hand, then his gaze switched to the note in his left hand.

It read: Thanks, but it’s just all a bit too late, don’t you think? Marysa x

Jeryd sighed, his tail twitched. It was from his ex-wife. They were a rumel couple, and had been together for over a hundred years. There were benefits in not being human. Not only was rumel skin tougher, but because of their longevity they could take time with things, have some patience. As a rumel you never ended up running around frantically after matters. You let them come to you. However, it made his being away from Marysa all the more painful, because it was as if he’d lost half his life along with her.

He folded up the paper, placed it and the tickets in the drawer of his desk. He would have to find someone else to take to the production. Or not go at all, just forget about it.

The Freeze was going to be cold enough without spending it alone. He sighed.

She’d hinted she was going to leave him, before that final day, but that was during one of the months of fighting between groups of the newly arriving refugees and Villjamur’s far-right protesters, so a period where nothing really registered in his mind. The Inquisition had hauled in and executed several men - all disillusioned ex-soldiers of the Regiment of Foot - just to set an example, and it was known secretly that the soldiers were sympathizers with these extremists. But it all meant Jeryd had been ignoring Marysa.

She liked antiques. In a city as old as this there was a plentiful supply. Sometimes, she told him, she hoped she would find a grand relic, one that the cultists had overlooked, maybe make a fortune with it. But Jeryd had his head in the real world, or so he said. It was only his job, after all. He brought home the trauma of these ancient streets, carried it as his own burden. Keeping order in a city of over four hundred thousand individuals was partly his responsibility, and when he came home there she was: parading some new item around the house, telling him eagerly about what its history might have been, researching it in those pointless books she purchased.

A luxury! The Jamur society was the latest in an endless line of civilizations, and each had left their own funk and detritus. Of course, the cultists would have long claimed anything useful from the Dawnir remains. All that was left now was a hint that things were once greater - that life in Villjamur today was more primitive and less civilized than life under those ancient societies, the Qintans, the Azimuths, despite the city’s constant attempts to hide that under the veneer of Imperialism.

It was only natural the couple would drift apart. One night she looked right at him, through him, continued that fixed stare, as if she was weighing up there and then whether to leave him. There was no argument, no discussion, and he didn’t even want to ask in case he found out some harsh truth.

When the truth did arrive, it wasn’t such a bitter exit, and that somehow made things even worse. Sometimes when he closed his eyes he could hear her footsteps as she departed, the sight of her tail trailing out before the door finally closed. The stillness of the room afterwards. He didn’t think there was another rumel man involved. He supposed there had never been any real man in her life, which was why she went. She had left only a forwarding address, and an instruction for him not to follow her there.

Jeryd was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with his life.

Not only that, but those kids from further along his street had been throwing stones at his windows again. Every winter they’d regularly arc snowballs into the door, and he’d end up answering it to encounter nothing as they vanished with urban skill down lanes and backstreets. They knew he was a member of the Inquisition all right, and that prestigious honour only made him more of a target. He had become a badge of honour, a snowball medal, the ultimate highlight of their day.


He looked up from his desk in mid-yawn as his aide, Tryst, entered his office. ‘Work keeping you up late, Jeryd?’

‘Like always,’ Jeryd replied. ‘But I try my best.’

He studied the young human form of Investigator-Aide Tryst, though didn’t linger on his athletic physique, bright blue eyes or his thick dark hair. He wasn’t even envious, strictly speaking, but the young man was a reminder of times long past - a hundred years ago, or thereabouts, when Jeryd had kept himself trim. Still, Jeryd retained a sharp mind, and he had his experiences.

Something wasn’t right, however. ‘What’s wrong this time?’ Jeryd asked. ‘Is it about the promotions? You know I think you’re one of the best aides there is. You’re nearly family to me by now, but you’re a human - and rules are rules.’

Jeryd felt bad for not actually nominating Tryst to be promoted, considering the young aide had shown great promise, had done well to even achieve his current position. They’d worked on hundreds of cases together. Jeryd genuinely wanted to nominate him, but knew how the powers-that-be would frown upon it. Humans were simply not allowed to achieve senior positions in the Inquisition. They didn’t live long enough, and it was as simple as that. A rumel
averaged around two hundred years, which meant truly great wisdom could only be achieved by that species. It was an ancient ruling, decreed by the first Emperor, to help smooth over the uneasy coexistence of the two hominid races. You couldn’t break tradition, so Tryst would go no further.

‘It’s not that,’ Tryst said, with a glance to the floor. ‘That’s fine. I understand.’ Clearly, it was still a sore point, whatever he might say. ‘No, you’d better come and see for yourself. Warkur is out of the city, so they need you to take a look at the scene.’

‘I hope it’s not the refugees again,’ Jeryd said. ‘We could do without another scene there.’

‘No, not that. It’s a murder.’

‘Murder?’ Jeryd said, standing up, his tail perfectly still.

‘Yes. Very high profile.’ Tryst said. ‘We’ve only recently heard the banshee’s keening. It’s a councillor, this time.’

* * *

Randur studied the rumel investigator and his aide. They both wore official-looking robes in dark red, although the rumel wore brown breeches underneath, as if he never really liked his uniform. They were taking notes at the scene of the death, where Randur had been told to remain as a witness. He hadn’t encountered many rumel on Folke and now wondered if it was a result of their evolving alongside humans that resulted in both species becoming so alike in their thinking. Was it nature or nurture? It was probably a result of both.

The rumel was black-skinned, and you could see the coarse creases of age even from a distance, so Randur guessed he’d seen more than just a few winters. There were the usual rumel broad features with sunken cheeks, black, glossy eyes. He meandered around the alleyway as if with no real purpose, his tail waving back and forth with each step. Every now and then he’d turn his head to the sky, as if to check it for snow.

The iren behind was busy with traders and customers. A food stand was starting to cook thick hunks of seal meat, the smoke rising between the bridges and balconies higher up. Furs were available straight off the hide - bear, deer, lynx - so that you could craft them yourself in any number of ways. There were shoddy tribal ornaments and spurious island craftsmanship on display. They were manufactured on the cheap, but the people of Villjamur couldn’t tell or, if they did, they certainly didn’t show it.

Randur paid special attention to clothing, noting all the latest styles - tiny collars with little ruffs, pale earthy tones on the women that did nothing for them, two brooches worn where possible right next to each other. The swords people carried tended to be short messer blades, and he thought that they must be more efficient to kill with in the narrow corridors and pathways of Villjamur. The Inquisition had eventually sealed off the area around the dead body, and they were now beginning to erect wooden panels to hide the death scene.

The rumel approached him, a cool and graceful individual.

‘Sele of Jamur to you, sir. I’m Investigator Rumex Jeryd. Could you tell me your name please?’

‘Randur Estevu, from Folke. Just arrived this morning.’

‘You’re from out of town? I thought I could detect an accent. You speak Jamur well, though. I’m surprised the guards let you in.’

Randur shrugged, a lock of hair falling across his forehead.

‘Do you mind if I ask what you’re here for? People from outside aren’t generally admitted because of the Freeze, you see. We get all sorts of trouble here.’

‘Not at all. I’ve got employment at the Emperor’s halls, and I’ve shown my identification at each of the three gates. It’s all official.’

‘Right, well, we can’t ever be too careful. We’ve got a bit of a refugee problem, as you’ve no doubt seen on your way in.’

‘Yeah, poor guys.’ Randur pulled up the collars on his cloak. ‘Are you, y’know, letting them all in before the ice comes?’

‘It’s not up to me, but the Council assure the people of the city that the matter’s in hand though. So, can you now tell me everything you saw? Please, leave nothing out.’

‘Well, not much to say really. He came running and screaming from up there somewhere.’ He indicated an alley at the opposite end of the iren. ‘Beetles were already swarming all over his wound, then he just collapsed on the ground, right where he is now.’

The rumel scribbled some notes in a small book. ‘Nothing else that seemed odd or out of place?’

‘Everything seems a little odd to me today.’

The rumel grinned. ‘Welcome to Villjamur, lad.’

* * *

Jeryd crouched by the body, taking in the details of the wound, how the blood trickled across the cobbles. A while later he glanced up at Aide Tryst, who was stepping carefully around the confines of the alley. At the far end lay several broken frames and pots of paint from the adjacent gallery.

Around Cartanu Gata, especially where it intersected with the Gata Sentimental, nothing had changed for thirty or forty years, ever since it had been arrogated by the evening bohemians.

All along its lower walls were scribbles etched deep by knife blades over the centuries. Odes to lovers. Threats to all and anyone. Who watches the Night Guard? So-and-so sucks dicks. That sort of thing. Some of the cobbles were splashed with paint, too, and you could smell stale food despite the dampness. At night, lanterns cast long, feral shadows down here, and if there was no breeze the darkness was suffocating in such narrow confines. And there were always rumours of cultist-bred animal hybrids walking along here with awkward gaits before sunrise.

Weighing up all these possibilities, Jeryd was trying to build a picture.

Delamonde Rubus Ghuda. The victim - a human male, in his forties - was a senior member of the Villjamur Council. His ribcage had been open and exposed in a most bizarre way. The robes had just melted away around the wound, and some of his flesh appeared as if it had been scooped out. There were no traces of anything else around the corpse. Jeryd had never seen such an injury before. This made a difference from the usual crimes he investigated. An old rumel like Jeryd could easily become bored with his job: people only ever committed the same few misdemeanours. You had murders, usually affairs of the heart; people stole things because they couldn’t afford them; then you had the excesses of drug addicts. Generally it was about people either snatching more from life, or people trying to escape it completely.

But this crime had indications of something else . . .

Tryst paused alongside him.

‘Not a pretty sight,’ Jeryd observed.

‘Indeed not.’

‘What’s this?’ Jeryd shuffled over to one side, dabbed his finger to a cobble. A blue substance stuck to it.

‘Must be paint,’ Tryst suggested, ‘from the gallery. Load of paint pots stored back there.’

Jeryd stood up, wiped the finger on his robe. ‘No witnesses yet from there?’

‘I’ll get someone to ask questions. Knock on a few doors, maybe. I’m not hopeful, though.’

‘Get one of the others onto it immediately. I need to know if there was anything remotely strange going on here. Anyone unusual walking by. Any scuffles or swordfights, anything. And we need find out what he was up to last night and earlier this morning.’

‘OK.’ Tryst turned to go.

‘Meanwhile don’t tell anyone about this,’ Jeryd continued. ‘I’ll contact the Council myself, let them know. We can’t do with this getting out just for the moment. The people who witnessed him die didn’t necessarily realize his position, and I don’t want Emperor Johynn finding out via rumours. Bohr knows it’d just become part of a conspiracy in his head.’

Jeryd walked slowly to the far end of the alley, glancing up through the morning drizzle at three spires visible in the distance, and at the bridges that arced between them.

Tryst interrupted his thoughts. ‘Investigator, should we take him back to headquarters now?’

Jeryd slipped his hands in the pockets beneath his robe. He was studying the dead-end behind, where a heap of garbage lined the side wall of the gallery. Considering himself a man of the Arts, he had always wanted to visit all the galleries, but had never quite found the time for this one. Marysa had often mentioned it, painting a wonderful picture he never quite got to see. Then, again, she always did exaggerate. He’d seen far too much crime here over the years for
him to look at this part of the city with naivety. Especially nearby Caveside, where the buildings themselves breathed decay.

‘Yes, get him back now,’ Jeryd said. ‘We could do with wrapping this up as soon as possible.’

1 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

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