A Silent Game of Spies

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The King’s Royal Torturer – if King Rhutgard actually called him such – was placed in possibly the best position they could have arranged. A spy as the Torturer – Rhody wondered who had placed him. For clerics, diplomats, cabinet members, Healers and other household staff not only ran the risk of being discovered but were often unable to turn conversations to such that they might glean information worth sending home. Nor, Rhody, pondered as the pain sent shivering up his body, were they even able to get close to individuals who had information of the sort King Hewart found of interest.

Rhody had known that he would be tortured, for that was the mission. He and Wyngroth both had trained for this. But Wyngroth, twat that he was, had gotten wounded enough during capture that he had died during torture, and now the entire mission rested upon Rhody’s shoulders.

They had trained for much worse, of course. Over the years, Ambsellon had heard a mixture of rumors float north from Romeny. That they never tortured anyone at all, of course, was predominant. But also, that, since the changing of the guard, with the new pup Rhutgard on the throne, the torture was so bad men died within hours, barely able to speak of the crime they’d committed, be it treason or even simpler crimes. Occasionally, spies reported that it was merely a hoax, a ruse, to frighten and discourage such espionage in Fairview, even Romeny itself. No one believed that, though. They believed the new pup had the set of balls his sire and aye, even his grandsire before him never had. Others said it was merely just the rack he used.

And so, Rhody and Wyngroth both had prepared for the worst of torture devices before they left Ambsellon, in the event that their man here was not in place as expected. But Rhody was relieved to see only the rack. Other torture devices of a horrendous nature did sit in the room, he’d seen when he was dragged in, but they did not look used of late, at least not in the fashion Ambsellon used their own.

The Torturer and Rhody had exchanged a great deal of coded information. However, Rhody was concerned that the Torturer had taken a bit too much pleasure in the physical job. Rhody, once he had felt that pop! in his lower back, decided to end the charade. Lack of control had never been a strong point of his.

The Torturer had, of course, tied his rope bonds loosely, but nevertheless, he should have stopped the rack by now. Rhody had been prepared for just such a situation and had worked his wrists and ankles nearly free, though the rough hemp of the rope had scraped skin away until blood ran freely. Rhody wasn’t sure which was worse, the tickle of the blood trickling down his skin, or the pain of the rack, both of which he was powerless over.

He eyed the Torturer’s set of knives, set out upon a set of brown linen, undeniably old bloodstains. Any of those knives would serve once he broke free.

Finally, Rhody pulled his wrists free, then yanked his ankles out of their rope bindings and jumped away from the rack. He knew the Torturer had already reported all the Ambsellon information to – whomever his contact was, or so he’d indicated as he rolled the rack this morning.

Pain lanced through his body as his bones slipped back into their rightful places, and he panted. The Torturer, surprised, stared at him. Undoubtedly, a prisoner had never escaped him before. Clearly, the Torturer had been down here too long.

Rhody sprang forward and grabbed one of the knives from the table, ignoring the pain his movements took. Before the Torturer could move, Rhody had plunged the knife into his gut and then across the man’s neck. Arterial blood sprayed forward, and Rhody took great pleasure in watching the man who had planned to pull his body apart clutch at his neck and slide to the stained stone floor. His eyes bulged, his head lulled to the side then in death. Asshole. Rhody shoved the man with his bloody foot away from where he’d fallen again against his legs.

Then Rhody took in several deep breaths. His time from here was extremely limited. He glanced about. Ah. The Ambsellon uniform he’d arrived in. And Wyngroth’s. Pain medication had been sewed inside the upper hems. He bent and slipped the knife the knife between the thread, then immediately chewed on some of it.

Though Rhody nearly gagged at its awful taste, he knew he would savor it in just a few minutes. Something had popped in his lower back and that would make his trip over the Mantle Mountains a rougher one than he could have hoped for. He found Wyngroth’s medicine as well, vowing to ration it after today.

Rhody slurped thirstily from the water bucket, for it had been probably two days since he’d had liquid to drink. Once he stood again, he immediately had to bend back over, for he was lightheaded. Twat, he thought. He’d received training on just this. How was he going to get of this fucking dungeon, this castle, much less back home? Lightheaded! You fucking pussy, stand up and get your fucking ass out of here!

Rhody splashed water across himself to wash the dirt and blood from his hair and body, for he knew he stank of two days’ worth of torture. Naturally, there was no soap here. But to pass muster upstairs, he needed to look – and smell – decent. Hopefully, the bruises on his face had not yet blackened. He believed the Torturer had left his face alone now that he thought of it, though his body was another story. Broken ribs, something in his spine broken, black and purple bruises all about his body….

After the fastest bath he had ever taken in his life, Rhody finally smelled free – or so he hoped – of dirt and blood and urine. He could not, of course, don his Ambsellon uniform, though he looked fondly at it.

Rhody took a deep breath to hold in the pain, and then bent to pick up the Torturer’s arms. He grit his teeth and started pulling the man toward the farthest torture machine in the back of the room. There, against the wall in the dark with the cobwebs, he dumped the bastard. It wouldn’t do for them to find the asshole immediately. If Rhody hadn’t been wounded, he’d have strapped the Torturer up on the damn rack himself and then tortured him.

Panting, Rhody studied the device the Torturer lay against for a moment. Even he did not recognize it. Well, give some credit to Romeny, then. And a good resting place for this asshole.

Rhody knew there was a guard stationed outside the Torture Room. What a shitty post, he mused. But were there ever two, he wondered? He doubted so, unless any prisoners were dropped off or transported. Wearing the Torturer’s uniform to escape in was a last resort only, for the man had stood a foot taller and had sported several more inches about the waist. Aside from which, Rhody thought with disgust, the pervading stench of perspiration and unwashed body odor would definitely raise eyebrows, even if the ill-fitting uniform did not.

He’d take his chances with the guard outside. Rhody snatched the keys from the dead Torturer’s belt and then stole forward with the knife toward the door. He searched through the keys for what he hoped was would fit in the dungeon door and held his knife ready, for as soon as the guard saw him, Rhody would need to spring into action. This would be either a very quick encounter, or a painful and bloody one. In his weakened condition, he hoped for the former.

The metallic chink of the key in the lock of the dungeon doorway alerted the guard, though he only turned his head slightly in Rhody’s direction, a passive expression on his face. Of course, thought an idle part of Rhody’s mind as he reached out toward the dungeon guard, who else would be coming and going but the Torturer?

Rhody placed a firm hand over the guard’s mouth to silence him and squeezed his neck in the crook of his elbow so tightly that the guard lost his breath. He sagged, unconscious, though he would wake with quite a headache. Best of all, he had not seen his attacker, thought Rhody with pride. He dragged the guard back inside and pulled the man’s uniform off. It was a bit tight across the chest, but otherwise fit well enough. He leaned the man against the Torturer and chained his arms and legs to the torture device. If he was loud enough, someone would check on him.

Rhody glanced down with distaste at his Rommish guard uniform. Red, blue, and gold. Soon enough, it would be red, gold, and silver. Any country who had chosen a rose, even if fit was wound round a sword, deserved to be conquered. Rhody scoffed. Pussies. Fucking Romeny. He could not wait until they finally owned this stupid country. He belted his uniform and attached the keys properly.

He walked carefully up the stone corridor. Rhody hoped against hope that no one would recognize him for the prisoner he was. Finally, he ran into a young guard at the opening to the dungeon level, but Rhody merely looked down and coughed when the young guard saluted.

Rhody wanted nothing more than to be on his way out of this stinking castle before his imprisonment was discovered, but he had one last errand to complete. Based on the coded directions that bloody Torturer had given him, he knew how to get to the pigeon loft.

Twice, two younger soldiers snapped to and saluted him with a stiff hand, which he dismissed. He wondered what his predecessor had done to get stationed down in the dungeon, for clearly, he was of rank enough to be saluted as uniform denoted when seen.

Finally, he stepped out into the green and found the pigeon loft. He crossed the grass as quickly as possible without calling attention to himself. Once he ducked inside, Rhody glanced about. Ah. Both Ambsellon birds, right as the Torturer described. Up on the second level, set apart from the rest.

He glanced about for parchment, then set to writing his messages to King Hewart. Coded, of course. When Rommish birds flew in, their communications were immediately brought to the King, never read by anyone first.

A trickle of sweat ran down Rhody’s neck, and not due to nerves. This miserable country’s heat was intolerable. When they did take it over, he would stay behind. Bears did not belong so far south. Rhody loved the cold and the snow and even the ice, he supposed as he dipped his quill into the ink.

“Bared the bear. Look for the cub in the cave beside the spring.”

He wrote both parchments with the same message and stamped them with the Castle Seal of Romeny. Rhody affixed the messages to the pigeons’ legs, then tossed them both into the air. If one didn’t make it to King Hewart, the other would, or so he hoped.

It was not his place to speculate how King Hewart planned to explain this move toward Romeny without informing Ormon. As such long-time allies, they rarely made any militaristic moves without informing the other, and certainly not one to such a measure as King Hewart was planning.

But Rhody himself heard the King say that “While Munsolrysche has had his asscheeks frozen to that ice chamber pot of his, we have waited these many years for him to ready a plan with us to move against the Eastern Shield. No more! Let us ahead! We have the troops, we have the Navy, and we need no Ormons! We are the BEAR!”

And now, now Rhody could leave. He found his way to the stables. Rhody patted down a fine-looking stallion. It would be a shame to sell him later on the journey, as he’d probably have to, but at least the beast would fetch a good price.

The stable hand stood staring at him, his mouth open.

“Well, what are you looking at?” The castle idiot, probably. Well, he seemed to keep the horses in good order. He tossed the boy a copper from his predecessor’s pouch. Surprised, the moron caught it. Huh. His reflexes weren’t bad for a moron.

Rhody turned and led the stallion out of the stable. He kept his head down, hoping none of the guards would stop him on his way out.

Luck was with him as he walked toward the gatehouse. He swung up on top of the stallion and urged him through. The clop-clops of the hooves on the cobbles was the sweetest sound Rhody had heard in days. Sweet escape. “Yah!” He urged the stallion into a gallop down the cobbled street.

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