Excerpt: Ground of Insurrection

When Ruse stepped outside that morning, he saw that Dahlia was already in the square, her wooden basin for washing clothes and a full wicker basket of dirty laundry set up next to her. She was pulling water from the large stone well in the center of the square by the time Ruse reached her side. Her strong forearms bulged with muscle as she easily lifted the heavy bucket from deep underground and carried it over to her basin. It took ten buckets to fill the basin and Ruse knew Dahlia did it every morning without difficulty.

It wasn’t something Ruse would be able to do every morning, but Dahlia never complained. Her auburn hair was tied tightly to her head in a series of braids that kept it safely out of the water. It made her look severe and dangerous too, but that was probably just an extra bonus. No one messed with Dahlia because otherwise they wouldn’t have clean clothes to wear. She did all the washing for the village.

Three feet to Dahlia’s left, Ruse saw a dead body lying on the ground. Poor Stan had been disemboweled sometime during the night and his body was left where he had eventually fallen. It probably hadn’t been a slow death, judging by the dragging marks his legs had left behind him in the dirt as he struggled towards the tavern across the square. The ground was soaked with blood and his intestines poking through the wide gash in his stomach glistened in the morning sun.

Dahlia was ignoring Stan, as everyone else in the village was also doing. If Stan were weak enough to get caught by a knife in the dark then he deserved his death.

Someone had alerted Ruse that he had work to do, of course. A body couldn’t be left lying like that for too long, not if the village wanted to avoid pests gathering and the potential for disease. Besides, Ruse knew Dahlia wouldn’t tolerate the body when it began to steam and bloat and mess up her washing schedule. If it got that bad, she would blame Ruse and then Ruse wouldn’t get his rations that day. He hurried to collect his tools from the storage area, which included his wheelbarrow, a shovel, and a rake he had been allotted for his job.

The air smelled like yeasty baking rolls from the tavern and moldering blood. It was an unpleasant combination, but Ruse was used to it. He rolled the wheelbarrow over to Stan.

“If you’re going to sleep with the spit-boy, at least kick him out early enough that you can get to work on time,” Dahlia admonished as she dropped the empty bucket back on its metal hook next to the well. She turned her back on Ruse and leaned over her basin, dipping her fingertips into the water briefly. The water began to steam as her magic took hold and she stepped back to get a cake of soap and the first of the shirts.

Ruse grumbled under his breath at her words. He had only slept with Ethan once or twice and it was just to scratch an itch. There was someone else he would much prefer to be sleeping with, of course, but since that wasn’t possible Ruse made do with what was available. Once he and Ethan both got tired of their own hands, they would probably have sex again, but Ruse hadn’t been with Ethan last night.

“I think Lettie’s new concoction at the tavern did me in,” Ruse replied. “There’ll be a lot of people with sore heads this morning.” He bent down and gripped Stan under the armpits. Ruse wasn’t particularly tall or strong, just five foot six and wiry, but there was an art to moving dead bodies around that he had long ago perfected. The body would flop whichever way gravity took it, so all Ruse had to do was lever Stan high enough that he tipped easily into the wheelbarrow.

Dahlia grunted. “That explains Old Dave. He’s still face down in the street that way.” She pointed along the street towards the tenement house most of the town’s residents lived in. It was along Ruse’s route towards the dumpsite so he’d stop and see if he had a second body to collect this morning.

Ruse used his shovel to get all the large pieces of intestine into the wheelbarrow with Stan then raked at the blood-soaked ground to try and remove as much blood from the soil as possible. Once he had done as much as he could, Ruse gripped the handles of the wheelbarrow and pushed.

Old Dave was still lying in the dirt of the road when Ruse trundled past him. Ruse could see the gray hair from his unkempt beard flutter over his mouth as he breathed, so Ruse left him alone. Live bodies weren’t his responsibility.

The dumpsite was a spot of ground just outside the town. No one lived there, of course, but Ruse usually ran into one or two townspeople as they brought their personal trash to the site. There was a spell in the capital city that emptied the city’s trash receptacles once a week and that spell had been replicated in the dumpsite for the village. The city wizards took everything away, bodies included. It was also where the wizards left things for the town. The tailor came to the dumpsite to collect bolts of cloth while the group of farmers came for the seeds every spring. Ruse came for the bodies.

Of course, the tailor had been convicted of killing people, dismembering their bodies, and then sewing them back together out of order before leaving them lying out in the middle of a busy street. The farmers were an entire gang of thieves who had chosen to make a homestead with their members instead of joining the rest of the town.

Ruse was just Ruse, but he fulfilled a vital role in their community. Admittedly, he didn’t just cart around bodies; his other role was behind the scenes working with Moe to keep the village running smoothly. The community they lived in only worked because everyone took an active role. Dahlia washed laundry, Lettie cooked meals for the community, and Moe ensured they always had something to drink. Ruse couldn’t hide behind a job that was practically invisible, so he carted around bodies.

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