Chapter 5: Night with a Guard
Evening meal was special today: there was a bread basket. Thank God for busy bakers who overcook their loaves! I grabbed a chunk of bread and held it close. Bread was so filling, and with the soup’s help even the burnt bits weren’t too bad.
Jordan kept glancing at me as I sat to eat my food and giving me this knowing smile that sickened me. I hated him, every inch of him from his bald head to his thick legs and large feet. His smirk was making me feel extremely uncomfortable.
I’d never felt so relieved to see Scar-Face in my life. “Konjack’s group,” he said. We all stood up. “No one needed whipping today so you are dismissed to your cells.”
I started walking immediately hoping I could avoid walking with Jordan, but he quickly caught up to me.
“Liv, whatever happens tonight don’t fight it. Be a good girl and don’t fight. I have a good reputation with the guards and I don’t want it ruined because of you.” I tried to speed up my pace but he continued to follow. “At least your guard is young and handsome.”
Sometimes I wished I was strong enough to strangle him. “Please, just shut up. I’m not your daughter and you don’t need to act like I am!”
He was already walking away, his warning delivered.
He would never be half the man my father was. Just thinking that brought up painful memories.
I was there again; trapped behind the bars of an iron cage, starring out into a sea of faces below the raised platform my cage was sitting on. Casia was in a cage next to me, huddled in the back next to our mother’s cage. Her face was hidden behind her arms and she was making little mewling noises. Mother was saying something. I couldn’t quite hear her over the roar of the city.
Why were we up here, why had they taken us here? Why were the people below screaming and crowding around?
“Elizabeth, hide your eyes, cover them and don’t look!” I finally figured out Mother’s frantic words.
Don’t look at what? I glance out into the crowd which suddenly grew silent and parted as if letting a king through. Six guards were leading Father toward the platform. “Papa!” I cried out. Was this some strange ceremony for him?
“Elizabeth! Look away!” Mother screamed at me. Why would I look away.
Curiosity latched my eyes on him. I watched as he walked up the wooden stairs. His eyes bored holes into me.
“Elizabeth, turn away!” I could hear Mother’s agonized cry, but I couldn’t look away.
The crowd roared like a hungry beat. Father kneeled down at a block with a semi-circle cut out of it. He put his neck into the semi-circle. A man covered from head to toe in black with only eye holes cut out lifted up a huge axe, and then let it wing downward. It bit deep into my father’s neck, and his whole body jerked.
My scream rang out against the silent crowd and Mother’s sobbing. The man lifted the axe, and swung again, and again. It took three swings, and the last little bit of neck the man sawed through with his ax as Father’s head hung there spurting blood.
Then it tumbled to the ground covered in red, and the ground was a pool and the stump where his head had been… I couldn’t look away as the headman grabbed his head and held it in the air. The crowd bellowed, and this time the noise didn’t quiet down. If anything it seemed to grow.
I was pulled out of my cage and dragged toward the front of the platform. Were they going to cut off my head too? Was I going to die? I pulled and fought, trying to go back to the safety of my cage. I focused on the bloodstain under the block.
Suddenly they cut through my beautiful dress, catching skin. They tore it off along with my underclothes. I remember the words that were said quite clearly. “Just as her clothes have been stripped away, so has her honor, her caste, her title, and everything she holds close. She stands before us naked and dishonored.”
I remember crying. I wasn’t sure what was happening. Someone struck me across the face and forced my first sack over my head.
I looked up and saw the guard standing over me. I jumped to my feet.
“Sorry, sir. Didn’t mean to sit down, sir.” Would he have me flogged for sitting down? Some guards wanted their women to be standing up waiting for them.
“Nothing to worry about. Come on.” He grabbed my hand and led me toward the guard’s chambers. I wasn’t sure what to think of him. He seemed kind enough, but he was a guard and guards were never kind.
We got to a door and he pulled out a key. He opened the door. “After you my lady.”
My lady? I was no lady anymore. I stepped inside. It wasn’t super fancy, but it was better than the cell. The room was plain with only a plain wooden wardrobe and bed. The bed was a comfy looking double bed with blue sheets and a solid wooden dresser.
“I know it’s not much. I eat at the guard kitchen, so I can’t ever offer you too much extra, but I got you some extra bread.” He seemed nervous, as if he wasn’t sure what to do with me now that I was in his room.
I didn’t know what to say or do, so I said the first thing that came to my mind, “Your bed has blue sheets.”
“Yeah.” He laughed. “I umm… I like the color and my mother’s a seamstress. She sent me with the sheets…” He shrugged and shifted his weight around as if looking for approval from me.
“Blue’s a nice color.” I had already lost my honor. I was a slave. He didn’t need my opinion.
“Look, I know you’re eighteen. Your sister told me. She asked me to protect you and to help you. She said you were scared of men. I don’t know what I can do to help that much, but at least now you can get a good night’s sleep. I can’t keep you safe forever. The other guards are going to want you.”
“What?” This was not what I was expecting. What was he talking about?
“Sorry, I’ll start at the beginning.” He stopped for a second to make sure the door was closed properly. “Go ahead and sit down on the bed. Sorry but we’ll have to share it. I promise I won’t do anything to you that you don’t want. I’m going to get ready for bed while I tell you this story. My story.”
What was he talking about? Shit, he knew my age. And he didn’t care. He was different- different from what I thought. Should I believe him? What other choice did I have? I could feel my legs trembling, so I did as he suggested. I walked over and sat down on his bed as he stripped off his light armor and clothing that went under the armor.
“I guess it started with me growing up in the city. I didn’t want to learn to sew like my mom or harvest fields like my dad. I decided not to follow their footsteps and instead went to the guard academy to train in the art of fighting. I was assigned the prison.” His face crinkled up in disgust and he balled his fists up. “I wanted to be a guard for nobles, or the king, or just a street guard. I wanted to be anything but a Dishonoreds' prison guard.” He slammed his first against his armoire.
I scoffed. He glanced over at me as if surprised to see me sitting there. He shook his head and continued. “So I ended up here. As a welcome-to-the-group gift, I was given a couple nights with your sister. She is the most beautiful woman I have ever met. I love her, but she went on to other more senior guards after me. She was sad to leave me. She told me I was the gentlest and the kindest guard she had ever met.
“She told me all about you, and then begged for me to take you in. She wanted you to live with me so that you would become less afraid of a man’s touch, so you could handle what would come next. When I asked the other guards about you they told me you were off limits till you were eighteen. I promised them I wanted nothing more than company, and here we are.”
I stared at him with my mouth open. He was blushing furiously.
“So we won’t… you know.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” I wasn’t about to let him get away with not telling me.
“I umm… I can’t, umm, make love to you.”
Yup, he was definitely an innocent city boy, but maybe my sister was right to tell him. He seemed gentle. At least I would sleep more comfortably at night. He pulled a blue pair of lose pajama bottoms. I guess it was his seamstress mother who made them for him.
He laughed nervously. “This just got really awkward, didn’t it?” He ducked his shoulders as if he was ready for me to laugh at him.
I tilted my head. “I think it's only awkward if you say it is. You’re… well… different. I didn’t think…”
“You didn’t think a guard could be kind or caring, did you?” His voice was bitter as if he highly disliked what he was saying.
“Well, yes.” I thought they only hired the meanest and nastiest people for this job.
“We’re required to by our superiors to treat the dishonored badly, but it doesn’t mean we all enjoy it. I wanted to be there to protect and help people, not harm them. But I got this job, and I have to do as commanded.” I had never wondered what was required of the guards and who they were outside of this place.
“Why allow them to assign you this choice?”
“I didn’t have a choice. I signed away my ability to make choices in the matter.” He looked around and then came over to the bed and sat down.
I sat and reevaluated him in my mind. I still couldn’t understand. “Why be cruel to us, then?”
“I told you, my superiors watch me carefully. My family needs the money I make to survive. Your father isn’t just an informant on the Dishonored. He also informs on us, to make sure that the younger and newer recruits can at least act cruel toward dishonored.” His eyes glanced around the room as if even now looking for an informant.
“Don’t trust anyone, ever. Half your friends are probably informants because informants are treated well in any caste. Most people don’t realize how littered with informants this city is.”
I had never really wondered who turned him in or how he had ‘planned to kill the king’. It was simply what we were all told was his crime.
“Are other guards here also kind?” I wondered if he would try and convince me every one of the guards here was actually a kind and gentle man underneath.
“Not everyone, but some of them are.” He looked down at his hand folded up on his lap as if even afraid to speak of them.
“I think you know one of them. A good friend of mine. His name is Kyle, Kyle Raidinor.”
“I don’t know the names of guards. Hell, I don’t even know your name.” He was still sitting there, slightly hunched over and playing with his fingers in his lap.
He laughed again - obviously a nervous habit of his. “Sorry, my name is Bryan. Bryan Whitamor. And well Kyle… I don’t know if I should tell you who he is, if I can trust you or if you’ll go running to my superiors for favors.”
“Well, Bryan, I’m not an informant. Never have been and never will be. I am my actual father’s child. I’m not that sniveling bastard’s child. I prefer to be my own person, making my own decisions.”
“You think you are independent and strong, but you fear people caring about you and helping for you.”
“I’m not afraid of people.”
His hand reached out and grasped mine and I yanked away glaring at him.
“See, you can’t even stand my touch. Relax, I won’t hurt you.”
I placed my hand back onto his, unsure of what he wanted to do with it, but I wouldn’t let him prove I was afraid.
He simply sat there and held my hand. I shivered. I hadn’t had someone simply sit there and hold my hand before. My palms felt sweaty. I wanted to yank my hand away, but I simply sat there. “So, who is this Kyle guy?”
“And you grab a bone like a dog!” He laughed again but this time it wasn’t nervous but free and open and warm.
“Will you just tell me who he is?”
“He’s the Konjack group guard.” Scar-Face? Scar-Face was his example of a nice kind guard?
“You think Scar-Face is kind? He just had us whipped!”
“Wait, what did you call him?” Uh oh. I hadn’t let my mouth get me in trouble in ages. Now the nice guy act would go away. Now the mean guard he was hiding inside would come out.
Suddenly he laughed. “Poor Kyle. He even gets teased amongst the guards for the scarring on his face. His wound was so terrible that the people in the wall eventually took pity on him and healed him, but his skin still bears the scars. He’s a good guy though.”
Good guy? No! “I think you’re not hearing what I said, he just had us whipped for no reason.”
“He had to. Jordan snitched on that Dishonored woman and it was expected of him.”
“So what? He still could have just not had us whipped. He could have easily made up an excuse.” He could have been a decent person instead of a mean guard.
“He couldn’t. We are trained to seem excessively mean for the dishonored prison. We are told we must seem cruel and unreasonable to the point where even normal citizens of the city fear us. Kyle hates putting people down. He became a guard to help people: to make better the lives of those who were bullied. But he was assigned this place. No one assigned to this place ever gets away. We are all stuck here, pretending to be cruel until our old selves fade away behind the mask.”
“Why do you and Kyle trust each other if everyone is an informant?”
“Your sister. When I first came here, she told me to talk to Kyle, and I did. He taught me how to survive in this place. He taught me how to pretend to be cruel. Your sister is an angel. She told me to help you. That you are so strong and unafraid, but that you are breakable too.”
Me, breakable? I hadn’t broken yet. Suddenly I realized I was still holding his hand. I wanted to withdraw it, but I didn’t.
He sighed. “We can talk more tomorrow, but we should go to sleep. We both have a long day tomorrow.” He let go of my hand and I quickly pulled it back to myself. I didn’t want him to think I enjoyed holding his hand. I didn’t want him to get the wrong impression of me.
He stood up. “You can have this half of the bed. I’ll sleep on the other side.”
I looked down at the bed I was sitting on like it was a snake. I hadn’t slept on a bed in ages. In fact, I hadn’t sat on something cushioned in ages, not even in Kevin’s presence, and now I was about to sleep in Bryan’s bed.
Carefully I slid under the covers and laid my head against the pillow. I heard his voice from the other side of the bed as he said, “Sleep well.”
I wasn’t used to the soft bed underneath me. I kept waking up during the night, but I must have slept more than I thought because before I knew it light shined down on me.. I blinked heavily. There was an electric light in this place?
“Come on, up and at 'em. We get up earlier than the prisoners. The lights have timers so they turn on when it's time for us to get up. The people in the Wall keep the lights running. You don’t like mornings?”
“I’m usually kicked awake these days,” I growled at him. Why was he cheerful? Mornings sucked. Why did morning people exist? I just wanted to pull the covers back over my head and hide under them.
I got up and out of the bed. “I’m ready.”
He laughed. “I forgot you literally do nothing to get ready. Well sit on the bed while I get ready, but don’t go back to sleep.”
“As if I could with this blasted light,” I mumbled. I looked up from under my lashes and suddenly realized he was naked. I quickly looked back down. I’d seen plenty of men naked before, but I’d never been alone in a room with them before.
I looked back up when I heard clanking. He was grabbing his armor.
“Hey, since you are here, you want to help me with this blasted stuff?” I realized he was talking to me because there was no one else in the room.
I stood up and examined the armor plates.
“The strings are so hard to work with,” he said, trying to reach them. I pulled the laces tightly, bringing the front and back plate together and tied them in place. He put on his belt and I saw the holster for his pistol, the sheath for his short sword, and the clip for his whip, but none of the items were actually there.
“Where are your weapons?”
“I had to turn them in for the night because you were coming to my room. I’ll grab them after I lead you back to your family’s cell.”
“Oh, of course.” You wouldn’t trust a dishonored to be in the same room as unsecured weapons.
He laughed. "Come on, let’s go.” He cleared his throat and suddenly became gruff. His eyes hardened. He grabbed my wrist and dragged me forwards. “Stop fighting me. I don’t want to actually hurt you. I just need to look like I’m being rough when we leave this room."
I swallowed and let him yank me out of the room. When we reached my family’s cell block, there was a guard handing out the morning bread to ladies of the guards first. Bryan let go of me and I made my way toward the line, careful to not look and watch him leave. None of the other women watched their guards leave and I had to be like them.
I grabbed a handful of bread and stuffed it in my mouth. Food was always so good, so delicious. Another woman knocked into me, and I realized it was my sister. That mysterious figure I hadn’t seen in ages. Her curly brown hair had gotten long enough to be an afro.
She turned and glared at me. “Who are you? You’re new? Don’t talk to me, loser.” She said it loudly and the guards laughed. I stared at her in shock. In an undertone whisper, as she was turning away, I heard, “Hi, sister. Bryan will look after you.”
She stalked away from me like a queen. All the women moved out of her way. She grabbed three pieces of bread but the guard said nothing. She smiled at him. “See you tonight, Regan. I’m all yours, right?”
He started to smile, then stopped, unsure of how to react. “Umm, yes, of course. See you tonight, Casia.” Even the guards respected her. She turned and went toward the collection point, and as she passed me she winked and whispered without looking at me. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
What did she think I was going to do? And what was she doing? She seemed to have all the guards wrapped around her little finger.
I followed in her powerful wake toward the collection area and spotted one more familiar face: Reese. I guess she must be older than eighteen.