A Harvest of Broken Stars

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Chapter 2: Prison

One hundred and twenty-four steps, a turn left or right, and a walk of thirty beats. No doors, no locks. Except for the one on the cell door. So close. The chance will come. Has to come. With Owen on night duty, there will be no better opportunity. Not for a week. Owen, small and fat, hardly ever makes rounds. He stays in the guardroom playing cards. Losing at cards. If only I could get out that door.

Stop fooling yourself. Even twenty-four steps are too many. You would not make it. You are already dead.

Gilmir shook his head. Or rather, he thought he did, but the cold stone pressing against his left cheek told him otherwise. The left side of his body ached. He considered moving. Turning on the other side. On to his back? He braced his hand on the floor. Feeling the rotten straws against his bony fingers, he started pushing. The effort woke the slumbering pain. Pains. The stabbing from his missing fingernails. The burning from wounds across his back. They should have healed a long time ago. The dull throbbing in his head. He abandoned the plan.

For a moment, he wondered what was worse. The pain from the external world, or the voice in his internal realm, telling him to give up? Give in. Stop struggling. Just stop. He knew he could stop the voice, the suffering, the pain. End it all. Stop. Die.

A strange thought.

Gilmir shook his head. In the internal realm, at least. He went back to planning. Sustaining.

One hundred and twenty-four steps, 134 for Owen, 111 for the cruel Northman called Magnus, a turn and a walk of 20 beats. Give or take. The lock on the cell door is the only thing keeping me in. Maybe I have become so slim, I can slip through the bars?

He opened one eye to glance at the cell door. No. No living person was that thin. His head would not fit between the bars. Something flickered. There was movement outside the door. A small figure stalking across his field of vision. He closed his eyes again. It was of no consequence for him. Gilmir’s heart skipped a beat, and then—thump, thump, thump. Quicker. Harder. His body was telling him something. He opened his eyes.

‘Hey, halfling,’ Gilmir said. Tried to say. It came out like a croak. Barely a whisper. The small silhouette kept moving. Slow and steady, without a sound. A staff in his hand. Some kind of scarf around his neck. A sliver of light fell over him. His wrists bore no shackles, but they had. The skin was red and chafed. He is a prisoner. Moving. Free. Gilmir had to stop him. It was almost too late. Already too late?

Do not fool yourself. Even if he opened the door and let you out, it would not help. You are as good as dead.

‘Hey! Halfling! Stop!’ This time, words came out. Like speech. The halfling turned. Put a finger to his lips and continued. No, no, no! This is it. The one chance. The one I have been waiting for. Stop, you stupid little … ‘You are going the wrong way, you idiot.’

This time the little figure halted, and turned. He took four steps towards the bars. ‘Keep quiet, man!’ he hissed. ‘What do you mean, the wrong way? You have ten beats to explain yourself.’

Gilmir got up on his elbow. His heart raced. ‘I know the way out. The other way that is not through the guardroom with the five guards, and the sleeping quarters for the other ten. Which will take you to the stairs …’

’Tell me about the way I should take, then!’

‘Let me out, and I’ll show you.’

‘Let you out? And … carry you? You are shaking, man! From the effort of keeping your head up.’

‘One hundred and twenty-four steps. Help me with that, and I’ll show you the way out. Afterwards, you can worry about yourself, and I’ll worry about me.’

The halfling glanced left and right. He muttered something about his kind heart and the end of something. Coming to the door, he started picking the lock with something looking like needles. Gilmir braced himself for the effort, the pain, and the incredible challenge of getting to his feet. Inch by painstaking inch, he got to his feet. In time with the opening of the door. The halfling put his arm around Gilmir’s waist and helped him make the first steps.

‘How long have you been here?’ the halfling asked, his tone incredulous.

‘Two years, one hundred and sixty-seven days,’ Gilmir answered between lumbering breaths.

Gilmir tipped his head to the left, in the opposite direction from where the halfling had been heading. To his credit, the halfling did not protest, stop or ask questions. They passed the other cells in silence. Someone whimpered from a cell, but the words were indiscernible. After about one hundred and twenty-four steps, they came to an intersection. Gilmir raised his head and pointed left. About twenty beats later, they found a hatch in the floor. The halfling opened the hatch and frowned.

‘The sewer?’

‘Yes.’ The foul smell assaulted Gilmir’s senses.

‘Going where?’

‘I have no idea.’

‘You first, Stick Man.’

‘That’s Stick Elf to you,’ Gilmir said and sat down, his feet dangling through the opening in the floor. With his hands on the edges, he planned to lower himself down before letting go. He did not get far before his feeble strength betrayed him.

He fell.

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