Shield of Brown
The drudge didn’t mind taking meals to
the prison quarters, she didn’t even mind the rank smell which made most other voluntary or involuntary visitors to the prison hold their noses and breathe slowly in short gasping pants for a while until
they got used to it.
As far as the drudge was concerned the kitchen pig herd stank worse in the summer, and his High Stinkiness the Keep Cook often forgot to wash for days on end. That was until the Master of Ceremonies reminded him with disdain dripping from that scratchy whiny noble voice and contempt in those sharp cold eyes.
The reminder irritated the vinegar and piss bucket of giblets that masqueraded as the Cook so much that it resulted in slaps, and kicks to any of the unfortunate underlings within reach of those thick pudgy hands and even ruined puddings for the Lord until the sullen stupid Cook regained his temper or the Lord had him thrashed, whichever came first.
No the prison wasn’t the worse place to
go in the Lord’s keep as long as she stayed out of reach of those bastard brown breeches, the Shielders themselves. Brown leather glad Keep guards who also manned the prison.
They were a bit too free with their fists when they were bored, and it was only because the bundle of rags she wore stank worse than the prison itself and muffled her shape, that they didn’t find other things to do with her that would distract them from that boredom.
She didn’t think they even knew if she was cock or hen, but having lived in the isolated Keep for most of her life, Kai knew the small matter of her gender wouldn't stop them doing what they wanted. Small, young and weaker just meant a convenient hole for the bastards to use. They didn’t even care for pretty faces, they couldn’t see if a face was pretty or not when the poor sod they were using was belly down and arse up.
So dirty and smelly was good, she had no need to tempt fate, or a determined Shielder with an itch in their breeches to scratch and no need to be thrown out of the Keep for being forced to bear a Shielder's bastard against her will.
Oddly the prison actually made her feel
lucky for the mercifully little time she was normally there. She felt pity for the poor damned
souls locked in that frightening and dark place. Her life was hard and cold and
mean, but when she went into the prison she knew she had a life. She had food
for her belly, she had a place to sleep winter and summer, and she had wages,
meagre as they were, that she could spend on herself come time for the quarter
There was always something or someone interesting for her to watch because she was only noticed when there was a dirty job to do. Most times she could walk round the Keep without anyone even seeing her, because she was so far beneath their notice, and that suited the little drudge just fine. She did not want to draw any kind attention which would only make her life more difficult. Small dirty stinky and wrapped in rags but invisible, fed and sheltered. It was the best she could hope for.
It always took her a good ten minutes to walk from the kitchens to the far end of the keep where the stone two floored prison building was partly hidden by the ten feet tall thickets of thorny and spiked hedges. With the weight of the pot she was carrying she was slower, she didn’t dare spill any because the Cook would not refill it and the Shielders on duty would take any loss of food out of her hide. The pot was very heavy today, they must have more prisoners locked up but she hadn’t heard anything about it in the main Keep.
The prison was not hidden away in the
dungeons of the main building. The deep dark cold walls of the dungeons
were kept for the Lord’s collections of fine wines and rare and precious herbs.
No the prison had been deliberately sited as a bleak unmistakable warning and a curse to any that dared to disobey, rebel or break the Regent’s laws.
The path to the prison from the massive Keep was not well trodden, only the men of the Lord's Shield of Brown and the lowly kitchen servants made
regular trips there and back.
The poor doomed souls inside only made a one way trip walking on their own two feet. When they finally left the prison it was on their backs dragged by their ankles to the common burning grounds. Wood was too precious to be wasted on boxes and burials for the likes of them.
“Do you know who’s in that one?” Ersk asked the only other brown Shielder on duty with him at the prison as he nodded his head towards the largest cell. Sale had just come on shift and of course that bastard Ersk was there before him. He always had to know exactly what was going on and lay in wait for any display of weakness by his fellow Shielders.
Ersk was average height but stocky, built like the garrison shit house, but with oddly long thin fingers on delicate hands which were deceptively strong when they managed to get round a neck from behind or when they were throwing a punch at an unprotected face or stomach. He wore that gormless smirk he seemed to think fooled everyone into believing him harmless but which only deceived the raw recruits when they joined the Shield of Brown. Everyone else at the Keep knew that when Ersk was wearing that smile, it was time to find another place to be, as far away from him as possible.
The younger dark haired Shielder looked warily at him. He hated sharing shifts with Ersk, as did most of his fellow brown Shields. There was a strong barter market for the Ersk shifts, this time he had lost out because that damned fancy pants Southerner Rafi had offered singing lessons to old Frony, singing lessons for the love of the Great Green One, what value could there be in singing lessons to that hoary old shuffler?
Now because of the sneaky southern bastard and the musically demented Frony, he had to endure a day and night in the company of the sick and vicious Ersk, with his nasty habits and nose picking, his sly innuendo and smarting tongue, guarding not only the poor condemned sods in the Keep’s prison cells who were never going to see the light of day again but also his own virgin arse. Ersk was a big bastard, and he was impossible to fight off if he ever got someone beneath him, the struggles only seemed to excite the evil tosser more and he made sure he enjoyed himself one way or the other before letting the poor sod underneath him up.
Sale might be young but he wasn’t stupid, he had seen enough of his fellow Shielders scowling and limping back to the barracks after a night shift with Ersk, whilst the big ugly bastard watched them leave with a satisfied smirk, lazily palming himself as if challenging anyone to take issue with his actions.
It was a good job being a brown Shielder for
the Lord of the Keep paid proper wages and unless you were a complete moron, it was a job for life,
though sometimes young Sale wondered if it wouldn't be a better deal if he was a moron, especially when he had to be part of the Execution squad.
Only the sadistic bastards like Ersk enjoyed that work, most of the Shielders found it hard to sleep the night before an execution if they were part of the squad. They all had to take their turn so that they understood that the job wasn’t just about sitting on their arses in the Shielders room and peeping into the cells to make sure the prisoners were still breathing every so often.
Sale was grateful for the job in these
hard times even though he knew it was not as exciting as being one of the Regent’s elite battle hardened black Shield warriors. A future the lad had dreamt about for
years since he had first seen the wondrous sight of a cohort of those heroic
men and women tie up their huge battle steeds outside his father’s mostly
respectable Inn and swagger into the building as if they were bursting at their black leathers and purple silk seams with glorious stories of high adventure to tell their
eager provincial audiences, young and old alike.
His father had eyed them with a cynical but careful air as if he was handling the tusks of a dying boar and he hadn’t been as impressed when they had drunk the cellars of his Inn dry. Nor when they had started brawling with the local lads and lasses, and then broken all the good furniture in the nice room his Da set aside for the gentry when they came to refresh themselves after a ride. Any inclination to awe and wonder which may have resided deep within his father's soul had fled at the same time as they had when the Regent's Shield of Black troop left without paying him for any of it.
The young Shielder had thought maybe his Da had been a bit too hard on them but he had changed his tune slightly when he discovered that they had also taken his beloved Dray horse, Daffy. The horse he was allowed to use to make the barrel deliveries. He couldn’t understand what a cohort of the Kings warriors would want with a common Dray horse, or the rest of the beasts who had been left stabled overnight. Daffy had never come back.
But still, they were a glamorous splendid
lot and could be forgiven for a few minor misdemeanors, he had thought
generously. He really couldn’t complain, the Shield job was a cushy well paid
number except for that serpent’s shite hole Ersk, and he could even afford to
send money back to his parents.
It was needed these days after business at the Inn had taken a turn for a worse since the introduction of the Green Priest’s temperance laws. No one fancied getting flogged because of slaking a dry throat by taking a pint, in a public place, so his resourceful Ma and Da had hidden the still and now sold the prohibited drinks direct to the homes of a certain trusted few villagers.
They all knew that the laws would be repealed once this Green Priest was replaced by the next, the incoming priest would want to make his mark on something else. So young Sale sent his parents half of his pay, he didn’t need much for him to be happy, in fact right now the only thing standing in his way of perfect contentment was the ugly mug of that bastard Ersk.
Ersk liked to inflict pain, he normally contented himself with the prisoners but sometimes relished a challenge, maybe one day one of the other Shielders would try and fight back but it hadn’t happened yet. They merely postured with some snarling and lots of grumbling but didn’t dare do anything else in retaliation. It always gave him great satisfaction to know he had them right where he wanted them, especially on the night shift when he allowed them to help with his manly urges.
As for the brown Shields, they knew he was a nasty manipulative wretch and a few bumps and bruises were better than suffering the kind of inventive revenge that unnatural walking slug from the Porth Swamplands back east would come up with if they did try and fight back.
Although Ersk hadn’t tried to test Rell, the dour muscular Sergeant at Arms, he practised too much with that sword stick of his for Ersk’s liking and the sergeant’s backhander could knock even that lumbering great lump Parfi on his fat arse. Those stern unsmiling silver eyes of his would bore into the unlucky idiot who had earned his ire and he seemed to be able to read their thoughts with no effort at all, then he would utter the kind of vicious scold that had the hardest bastards in the Shield trembling like naughty children waiting for their Dadas to take a birch to their backsides.
Rell was also responsible for the work
rosters and Ersk had once spent a month in the winter season on shift watch at
the Grey pass. The least popular way into the Lord’s territories for the same
reason it was called the Grey pass. The weather was awful even in the summer
the sun never shone there and the wearing of warm underwear was essential. So
no one was stupid enough to attempt the way through the treacherous mountains
in the winter, but that did not stop Rell sending a detail up the every season,
normally composed of any stupid tosser who had pissed off the Sergeant at Arms
and therefore needed to have some “solitude” to “reflect” on their choices and
whether they wanted to remain in the Lord’s Shield.
The fact that Rell made regular visits to check up on them and still force them into training sessions just showed how much of a stone cold bastard the man was. So Ersk tried to give the man the least ammunition possible, although the thought of that muscular handsome silver haired man bloody and cowed and bent over for him after receiving the gift of Ersk’s blows was something he fisted himself off to on a very regular basis, especially if he didn’t have anyone else in his bed to do it for him.
Ersk frowned at Sale when he didn’t
answer immediately. The frown made his narrow sludge coloured mean eyes glint
in the gloom of the Shielders room. Sale starred impassively at him, not showing the older man how nervous he made him but he stayed well
out of the reach of the ugly bugger.
He was meeting up with one of the friendlier scullery maids after his shift ended and he wanted to enjoy it, not wince and whine with every movement. Sale intended to take his time and enjoy her before the border troops came back for the winter and then appropriated all the available females and males until they set back out for the snowy, avalanche risky mountain passes nearer spring.
Ersk heaved a put upon sigh but despite
his irritation, he couldn’t resist sharing the news. Ersk loved to gossip, he
often found out things before anyone else, knowing things increased his sense
of superiority over the other Shielders and he loved to prove it.
And this piece of news was going to give the stupid Innkeeper’s by-blow the same stunned look as when Ersk managed to get close enough to give him a little tap on the head. In fact this was probably going to make the young fool shit his pants, Ersk smiled with vicious amusement. If the lad did, he would make the soft young bugger walk around all day without his breeches so he could watch his pretty little arse sway tantalizingly until Ersk had him over the table in the Shielders room.
Ersk easily ignored the fact that the
news had given even him a thrill of fear, then his mind had soared with the
possibilities at having the likes of them at his mercy. The things he could do
to them, the noises he could make them utter, the bruises that would bloom and
fade before anyone else could see what he was doing. And
there wasn’t a damn thing they could do about it whilst they were collared,
bound and hidden deep in his cells. He had moistened his lips when his mouth
had dried with sudden fierce anticipation.
It would be much more fitting for his station, he was the most experienced and longest serving Shielder next to Rell but he hadn’t been promoted, so if he did a good job on them, there could also be some sort of promotion in the air.
The Lord might be so pleased that he replaced Rell with Ersk. It wasn’t even as those in power seemed to care, else why would these notorious traitors and enemies of the Regent be kept in the jail of a forgettable provincial Lord. Oh yes the possibilities for entertainment were endless but first things first, one should never neglect the little pleasures, they always helped to prepare for the larger feasts, so now he got to watch the insidious fear seep into those distrustful brown eyes of the skinny young Shielder beside him. He was so going to enjoy this.
Before he could open his mouth and enlighten his curious fellow Shielder, Rell himself walked through the door, just ahead of one of the filthy kitchen drudges who was hauling a steaming pot with the faint fragrance of stew. Smelt nice and meaty too not the pitiful thin vegetable broth they used to get before Rell had a conversation with the Cook who had always declared that the prison Shielders didn’t need the good meat to fulfil their duties as they only ever sat on the arses all day or shagged each other useless. That bastard Cook kept the good meat and left them the scrag ends if he deigned to put in any meat at all. Now meat was a staple of their diet and sometimes even the prisoners.
The very last time the Cook had short-changed the stew and Rell had eaten it, he had made the fat arsed old gobshite eat the disgusting pig’s swill and then told him that the Shielders were always to be given good meat or the Cook’s own juicy flesh would be feeding them in the stew after Rell had dismembered him and spit roasted him while he was still alive.
The tall muscular Sergeant at Arms
motioned to the drudge to put the pot on the table and then waved it back
towards to the door.
"Oi, where's it going? The scum in the cells will need to be fed." Ersk grunted, watching the drudge edge its way to the entrance with narrowed eyes.
Sale's eyes widened in disbelief as Ersk seemed to ignore the Sergeant at Arms as he watched in satisfaction as the drudge come to a halt. Sale couldn't tear his gaze away from the Sergeant and he nearly forgot to breath. The way he slowly turned his head finally had young Sale tuck his chin between his shoulders and avoid looking at Rell, finding the state of his booted feet to be fascinating and trying to keep as silent as a mouse.
Ersk truly was stupid to try Rell’s patience. The Sergeant at Arms didn’t have any. Sale edged backwards slowly to be out of the line of fire, his breath stuck in his throat.
Rell’s ice cold gaze drifted over Ersk
and he smirked, “Bout time you earned your pay then Shielder” he said
Ersk frowned, apparently uncaring of Rell’s tone
“Is that pot for the prisoners, why are they getting the good stuff? Where’s ours?” he growled, his tone menacing.
Sale’s eyes flew back up unwillingly to
watch the impending conflict between Ersk and Rell, although he would admit to
himself that seeing Rell take Ersk down would be worth any punishment his
Sergeant decided to meet out.
His gaze found the drudge hesitating near the door as if it wasn’t sure what to do, technically Rell was their leader but Ersk would be the one waiting for the poor wretch on its next visit to the prison. The drudge knew better than to expect any mercy from that brute if it had disobeyed him even for the Sergeant at Arms. The way things were going Ersk wouldn’t be in any fit state or possibly even alive to exact any retribution so the lowly servant was better off out of it.
He motioned at the drudge silently to obey Rell and leave, its head dipped in an oddly graceful movement, which he took to mean thanks and then scuttled away out of the door and down the path to the Keep's kitchens like a little fox cub hiding from baying hounds.
Sale turned his attention back to the two Shieldsmen who were facing each other down. Rell’s expression was still
impassive even as he buried his fist into Ersk’s fat nose. The other man was taken
by complete surprise, Rell always normally made his orders and displeasure
clear using his words, violence was a last resort.
Sale finally got over his shock and listened to the hissed words of warning spilling from the Sergeant at Arms mouth like poison into a condemned man’s cup.
For long moments he didn’t understand the words, or his mind refused to let him, when their meaning finally flooded his brain, he thought his heart was going to stop and he was thankful that he had already been for a piss that morning or he would have soaked his trousers. It wasn’t true. It just couldn’t be true. How the hell were they going to survive this nightmare? He had just been told that the world was coming to an end. The Winged. The cursed soulless Winged were in the cells.
Ersk must have heard his stuttering
heartbeat because he turned to look at the younger Shielder, still with his
hand holding onto his broken and bloody nose and sneered mockingly
“Aw Rell, you are frightening little children, shame on you.”
This time Sale expected the punch that Rell threw and Ersk went down like a windfall apple from a tree, as Rell’s hard first met his stomach with as much venomous force as it had met the man’s nose.
“Stay down and shut your foul mouth you cretinous bitch, because the next time I will put you in the ground forever”
The rage on Rell’s face was as much a
shock as his words and Sale knew then with a bone deep certainty that it was
all true and the entire population of the Keep was going to die.
He whimpered with terror, not even hearing the noise from his own mouth as he was caught up in nightmare visions of the future. The whimper drew Rell’s attention.
Something like pity crossed the Sergeant’s hard face as he saw the young Shielders white faced expression.
“We do our duty boy, take comfort in
that, and if the Gods are willing we will survive.”
The boy nodded his head jerkily, eyes enormous in that white frozen face and Rell sighed again. It was fucking Ersk’s fault, he was the biggest gossip in the Lord’s territories and Rell had orders to keep this under wraps. Their only defence was stealth and cunning, they couldn’t afford to have this spread about the Keep and then out into the wider territories.
It was why Rell had intercepted the
drudge, when he had seen the ragged creature making its way to the prison from
He had yet to inform the Cook of the change of duties as only the Shielders would see to their new prisoners, so he had allowed the drudge to continue and then after the food had been set down, had dismissed it and sent it on its way.
No one must know who the new inhabitants of the jail were, no one. Now he had Ersk and Sale to deal with. He would hate to kill the young lad, he had a good heart and a clever brain even if he was a bit too soft now and then, but Ersk’s death would be a pleasure, a long time awaited pleasure.
Rell needed to nip this in the bud now. If he didn’t kill them, then Ersk and Sale would become the part of the roster of Shielders permanently stationed guarding these prisoners. The other four Shielders he had hand picked himself for their loyalty, strength and their ability to keep their mouths shut. One from each of the seasonal rotations, ones who would not hesitate to sacrifice themselves for the Shield, and truly believed their sworn triple oaths. They would not have permission to leave the Prison for anything. If that old fool Frony hadn’t messed about with the rosters, neither Sale nor Ersk would be here now.
Rell walked towards the young lad, smoothly and silently unsheathing the slim dagger from the hidden leather holster in his breeches , the weak light from the window slits high in the walls dancing off the engraved silver and making it sparkle. Such a pretty thing with such menace.
The lad’s eyes widened but to his credit he
didn’t move. Rell wondered idly if he was fear stunned like a long eared forest
coney faced by a snarling hunting caracal or if he was too stupid to understand
the danger he was in.
Sale hadn’t struck him as a fool even though he was young. Maybe the third option was that he was too trusting. He wouldn’t or couldn’t believe his Sergeant would harm him. The lad would find out soon enough.
Sale waited for his Sergeant to approach him until Rell was so close he could feel the lad’s shallow frightened breaths against his own skin. He allowed the dagger to skim the young Shielder's throat, as his implacable grey eyes stared into those fearful young brown ones. The normally cheerful innkeeper’s lad stayed still, hardly daring to breath, tears forming in his eyes as he begged in a whisper “Please, please Sergeant, please don’t”.
Rell stared into those pretty pleading terrified wet eyes with no expression for long seconds, allowing the lad’s fear to take a strong hold of his mind until the Sergeant spoke again.
“This news cannot be spoken of Sale lad.
I have two options, you shall make the decision for me. I can either kill you,
and it will be quick. I can make sure you won’t suffer or I can let you live
but I will take your tongue to ensure that you never speak of what you have learnt.
One way or another you will be silent boy”
Rell’s voice was a deadly low rumble and the lad knew he was not joking. Sale whimpered and the tears in the lad’s eyes overflowed, he made no move to wipe them away, he made no move at all, knowing how fast his Sergeant at Arms could react.
Rell was close enough to feel the lad’s body shaking. Sale still made no move to get away as he pleaded hoarsely, his young voice thick with terror and tears. “Please Rell, I won’t say a word to anyone, please”
“I can’t have you try to warn anyone boy, not your parents, not your friends, no one do you understand?” For a second Rell’s tone seemed full of pity but then the implacable remorselessly hard voice returned and the Sergeant pushed his face closer to the terrified lad, his large hand wrapping itself around the boy’s thin throat. Sale was a good young Shielder with potential. Rell would regret the lad's death but it would not hold his hand from delivering the strike. This was too important. One young life for the safety of all the inhabitants of the Keep was a sad but necessary price worth paying. Rell didn’t include Ersk because his death would be the only boon in this utter calamity.
The slightest whisper on the wind of what the Lord was entertaining in the dank prison cells would bring destruction on them all. Rell didn’t give two fucks about the politics behind it but he did care about his people and the ultimate destruction of his home. They were not all going to die agonizing hideous deaths because two fucking stupid Shieldsmen could not keep their tongues from flapping. They were not going to die at all if Rell had his way. He might not be able to stop his vainglorious naïve Lord from agreeing to this insanity but he could and would do all that was possible to prevent utter disaster overtaking his homeland. Unfortunately that now included dealing with the terrified boy and the vicious back stabbing pain in the arse gossipy Shielder lying strangely silent on the floor, as if he finally understood that his life depended on the outcome of the interaction between the Sergeant at Arms and Sale.
“Tell me your decision boy” Rell
continued, no change to his tone as he tested the lad one last time. His strong
fingers stroked the lad’s throat in an odd sort of encouragement. His skin was
as soft as a lass, and the frantic movement of the boy’s Adam’s apple was oddly
Rell tightened his grip fractionally and the boy felt the threatened restriction to his breathing as he peered pleadingly up at his Sergeant through the kind of lashes that would fit better on a girl.
If the boy failed this test, he would slit his throat there and then, quick clean and merciful, the lad would hardly feel a thing before death came for him and then he would remove Ersk as a threat as well. He would have their bodies burned not buried and would spread the rumours of Ersk pushing the lad too far before they both succumbed to their wounds.
He would make sure the lad’s parents received a blood payment for their loss. There would be no need of blood payment for Ersk as the bastard had driven off any family he had left years ago.
The terrified young Shielder opened his mouth obediently and closed his eyes like a child, tears silently running down his face. His fist clenched by his sides, and his shoulders were shaking. Shudders racked his young frame as he spoke softly. “Please Rell, please Sir, take my tongue, not my life” he begged and slowly, so slowly he forced his trembling tongue out of his mouth.Start writing here ...