The Witch of Castile

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Chapter 12: The Fifth Brother

The misery of their defeat sank in as the hours passed. Diego was unsure how to weigh his fortune. He and Nekayah were still alive, but the shame at losing her to that monster stung worse than the cut on his cheek.

Diego’s masterwork rapier now hung from the hip of the bandit in front of him. But even if he had his sword and freed his hands, it would still be useless. He just saw the Bull King sunder a seasoned warrior with one good swing. Diego knew he had no chance. There was no choice but to accept their fate. They were all property of the Bull King, for now.

The rogue trudging beside him seemed less strained by the ordeal. He was busy looking up, peeking at the orange sunlight filtering down through the canopy of twisted, ghastly trees.

“You seem awfully calm about this,” Diego whispered. All around them crickets chirped a contorted melody of strange notes. Nothing about this forest could give the swordsmith peace, it was all so abhorrent, yet here was this oily-haired knave, comfortable and unnerved.

“I’m alive,” the rogue whispered back, his large eyes still staring upward. “Can’t ask for a better gift considering recent events.”

“You think he’ll really keep us alive for long?”

The rogue shrugged. “Well, all I know is if he wanted to kill us outright, he’d have done it by now.”

Diego grunted, unconvinced by Benito’s logic.

“Sorry about your devil-wife, though. Our new king looks like he’s taken a liking to her.”

“Devil-wife?” After a second of confusion, Diego realized what he was referring to. He shouldn’t have been surprised. Nekayah didn’t try to hide it. Diego just assumed everyone else was too busy fighting at the time to notice. “You saw?”

The scoundrel nodded. “Just out of the corner of my eye, but I couldn’t mistake it for anything natural. Giant worms don’t normally grow out of people’s hands.”

Diego leaned close to the rogue, glancing in either direction. Their captors were too busy talking amongst themselves to notice their little conversation. “We need to find a way to save her.”

“She’s out of your reach now. Besides, witch or not, unless you’re willing to share her, I don’t have much concern for another man’s woman.”

Diego kicked a leg out, sweeping Benito’s feet. The rogue fell flat on his face.

“Cut it out!” a bandit barked, shoving Diego in the back of the head.

Benito stood up, trying to rub the dirt and pebbles off his face as best he could with his bound hands. Once their captors returned to their own conversation, they resumed their own. “I reckon I deserved that.”

“That and more…” Diego wanted to punch him in the face. The rogue’s calmness was unsettling—a mockery of his own anxiety. Maybe it was easy for scum like him to take it all so easily, he thought. “I will get Nekayah back with or without your help. You’ll see. I’ve been in worse situations before.”

The rouge chuckled and looked Diego right in the eye. He must of hit his nose hard when he fell. A trickle of blood was dribbling out of one nostril. “No, you haven’t.”

“How would you know?”

“I saw you in the battle back there. You were crazed, shaking in your boots. Not saying you were scared, but you were certainly excited. Just another novice with a lick of talent thinking he can take on the world when in reality you haven’t taken on shit. I’ve seen men like you, men like the old soldier, guys who think they have something to prove. You all end up the same way. Dead.”

Diego pursed his eyes. “You’re not really a cobbler…”

“I am Benito Turcious, and if you haven’t heard of me then I’ve done my job correctly. I am, as long as I keep breathing, the fifth brother of the Thieves Guild of Madrid.”

Diego’s eyes widened. “The Thieves Guild?” He had heard rumors of the organization, but only in hushed murmurs from the unsavory corners of Toledo. He never gave it much credit, dismissing it as a legend, and even now it was hard to believe. “If that’s true, why tell me?”

Benito shrugged, gesturing to the forest. “The name means little so far from civilization. Trees cannot arrest me.” He looked back at Diego with a cocked eyebrow. “And, if you touch me again and we escape this ordeal, you’ll know better than to ever set foot in Madrid.”

Diego never liked Madrid much anyway, so punching him was still on the table as far he was concerned. “I’m—”

The swordsmith was cut off by a wave of Benito’s hand. “Diego, I already know.” He then gave a sly nod. “I heard your wife call you by name.”

Diego, out of habit, checked over his shoulder. The bandits behind them were preoccupied, discussing the finer elements of tying knots. He looked back at Benito. “What does the Thieves Guild want so far out here then?”

Benito pointed his chin to the heavy wooden chest on the floor of the wagon bed. “Something valuable, obviously.”

“It’s a shame.”

Benito looked at Diego with curiosity. “What?”

“Villains like you get to live while good, honest men die.”

“Honor and honesty will get you killed faster than anything else in this world. It was a miracle that old soldier lived as long as he did. May the fool rest in peace.”

Disgust was written all over Diego’s grimacing face. He never considered himself a paragon of virtue, but the soldier deserved better remembrance than the sour words a jaded pickpocket.

“Alcazar del Almawat!” shouted the Bull King. “We’re home!”

In the middle of a clearing, atop one of the higher hills that overlooked the rolling forest was a decrepit, old castle. It was a relic from an older era, when the Moors still held dominion over the land. A forgotten castle reclaimed, at least in part, by the horrid wilderness that grew around it. From its grand archway, to its spire-tipped watchtowers, vines and weeds slithered through every gap in its sand-colored walls, choking the masonry. It was as if nature was dragging the structure back into the earth over course of a hundred years. Still, despite it’s war with the elements, the fortress still held fast to some of its bygone splendor.

“Hopefully they’ll have some blankets for us in there,” Benito said. “It looks a bit drafty.”

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