Last time, I decided it would be cleaner to keep out some backstory details to keep the focus of the scene on the execution.
The rest of the prologue introduces characters and relationships:
Such was the crime, and the Shah had come to watch the punishment carried out, standing elevated at the execution gate with the Shah Consort at his side. The Shah Prince was, as ever, not in evidence.
Also in the silent audience as the camel was led on its display around the City of Brass was a true Consort, wearing the red leather and carrying the small silver dagger. Even without the stories she might have excited notice, with her black rich hair curled about her face, and her eyes of the gazelle.
But, the stories said, Ro Manus had handed her a full golden cup of vinegar-and-pearl in the instant before his arrest. It had happened only once in all the history of the Consorts in the City of Brass, and that had also been a dying man to his lover. The half-cup happened a good deal more frequently, that which was an offer of marriage, but even that was still accounted rare.
But the full cup gave everything the man owned to the Consort for a single night of her company, and that simple gesture from Ro, if he had really done it and the thunderous faces of the Shah and his Shah Consort hinted he had, took everything of his that might have been confiscated on his arrest as a traitor, and put it into the hands of the Consort.
That included the secret of making paper, which Ro had brought back with him from his latest journey. And it included the last great artwork of old Nabadiah, whose daughter and apprentice had escaped the Citadel of the Dog-Headed with it, and given it to their son, whose vinegar-and-pearl drink had gifted it to the Consort. The Consort wearing red leather amongst the crowd was the richest woman in the City of Brass.
But she left the square when the camel did, and did not return. The young girl in the white robe of the Scribes watched her go. They said she was Ro’s daughter and she had his colouring but Ro had never acknowledged her and his vinegar-and-pearl gift left nothing for her even if he had. She stayed in the square, waiting like the rest of them for the return of the white camel and its agonised passenger.
Beside the Shah and the Shah Consort waited the Lady Physician to the Shah Court She wore the yellow of her profession. Her eyes marked the departure of the Consort and the stillness of the young Scribe but she said nothing.
Normally the cries and jeers of the citizens would have signalled the progress of the camel along the circular streets of the City of Brass, but the crowd at the execution gate waited in the heat of the early morning sun and heard nothing. The rest of the city mourned as they did.
But when the camel at long last returned via the third bridge to the execution gate, a great cry when up from the crowd nearest the beast. For Ro Manus, who had taken all that had befallen him in stoic silence, lay with his head slumped upon the back of the camel. The breaker of ties had claimed him, said the crowd, dead mercifully and spared the indignity of dismemberment.
The Lady Physician of the Shah Court fought her way down from the dais and through the crowd until she reached the white camel. She confirmed what the crowd already knew, and turned and shook her head at the Shah. The man was dead, that signal said. Leave him be.
But the Shah must have his revenge, and the body was duly torn apart and beheaded. That too, the City of Brass witnessed. Then the tide changed and the City went on as it always did.
But the young scribe, her white robes muddied with the water and soil as she planted a karri sapling in the Forest of the Dead for her father days later, knew only that he had died intact and with his own personal honour.
She had none of his ashes to mix with the soil as she planted his tree among the stumps of other karri, but here, with no witnesses under the enormous sky, she let tears mingle with it instead.
Now the execution’s being told from the point of view of an attendee, some of this information logically can’t be put in, as he wouldn’t know it or have the opportunity to observe it. And some, as before, needs to be removed to make the execution scene cleaner and more gripping. I find, re-reading this prologue, that it has a very distancing effect, a very poor effect indeed for something meant to draw a reader in. In re-writing, I will be looking for something with more flavour and impact.