Chapter 7: Ruined
Bryan walked up and grabbed my arm pulling me along behind him. He dragged me back outside to the well. “Wash up girl, and wash that sack a little. I don’t want anyone that dirty in my room.”
I striped off the sack and quickly dumped a bucket on myself to get the bits of manure off. It was cold and I started shivering from the night chill and the cold water on my skin. I pulled up a second bucket and scrubbed the sack in it. When I finished I put back on the dripping wet sack. I hoped that Bryan had some plan for me to dry off.
The second my sack was back on Bryan grabbed my arm and dragged me back along through unknown corridors till we reached his room. He opened the door and shoved me in in front of him. As soon as the door was closed he let me go and bolted the door.
“Wait there, I’ll grab you a towel to dry of with. And you can wear it so your sack can have time to dry. He walked off leaving me standing there by the door, and then he came back with a soft gray towel. He held it out to me, and for a second my hands hovered over it, afraid to touch its soft material, but then I grabbed it, feeling the soft texture caress my hands. I stripped off the sack and quickly dried of with the towel and then wrapped it around my body.
When I finished I realized that Bryan was staring at me. “What are you looking at?”
He flashed a devious looking grin my direction, “A woman with a beautiful body.”
I wished I hadn’t asked. I could feel my cheeks heat up instantly and I looked down at the ground wishing I could hide my blush. I had to change the topic, “Why did sc-Kyle shoot that girl two days ago if he is such a good guy?”
Bryan’s smile disappeared in a second. “He, He told me about that. He did it out of mercy and pity. She’d been being whipped a lot because she wasn’t completing her tasks. She was getting weaker and weaker, and her body wasn’t able to handle the strain on what little food they were feeding her. He was requesting her almost every night and taking care of her and feeding her extra, but she was asking him every night to put her out of her misery. Finally when she collapsed and couldn’t get up he finally got the nerve to do it and end it quickly for her so that she didn’t have a long drawn out death. He was pretty upset about her death.”
He was silent afterward, staring at the ground. “I had to kill a young man the other day. He was only about fifteen. He tried to kill me with a shard of glass he found, and I slashed his throat with my sword. He had no chance against my training, but my training took over, and I even if I hadn’t killed him then he would have been executed.”
I didn’t know what to day. How do you comfort someone who has killed in close quarters? My mother always comforted with hugs now, but she hadn’t when I was a child. When I was growing up she hardly ever looked kindly at my sister or I. It was always lectures on being a proper lady. When bad things happened she would simply say we had to hold it together and we couldn’t be upset or cry. I didn’t know how to comfort.
Now she would awkwardly hug her children with Jordan, and she would even try and hug my sister or I when things were tough for us, but neither of us were good at accepting hugs. But I didn’t know what else to do other than stand there awkwardly.
And the moment passed because Bryan went to take off his armor, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I carefully hung my sack up on a hook near the door so that it would dry. I walked over toward the bed and stood there in his towel waiting for permission to sit down on the bed.
He quickly took off the armor and then the uniform underneath. I turned away so I wouldn’t have to look at his naked body and see his muscular abs. I could see his strong arms and shoulders well enough with his armor on. He did have a nice body, and even that thought made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be thinking of him as having nice anything.
He came over and stood in front of me, and I realized he was in a gray robe that was tied at his waist. He lifted my head up to look up at him and I found myself looking into brown eyes. I could remember Kevin lifting my head up to look at him as well, but I wasn’t looking at Kevin now.
“You don’t hug people much do you?” He asked. He had freckles over the bridge of his nose. I had never noticed those before.
“Umm, no.” I was just barely managing to keep my composure at our close proximity. Suddenly his arms wrapped around me and I just stood there awkwardly unsure of what I was supposed to do.
“Now, you wrap your arms around me.” I slowly lifted my arms up and wrapped them around his body. I felt uncomfortable and wanted to simply leave his embrace, but he was sitting there holding me. I could feel his muscles and it was strange. There was a small part of, a very small part of me, that liked this contact and didn’t want him to let go or for me to let go of him.
Suddenly the towel started to drop and I quickly released him to hold the towel up. He started laughing much to my chagrin, and released me. “You know I’ve seen you naked. I’m not sure why you insist on clutching at that towel.”
“You weren’t touching me when I was naked.” I must be as red as a torch. I could feel my cheeks burning. Only Kevin had ever made me blush before.
“Let’s get to sleep. I’ll even let you sleep with the towel if it makes you more comfortable. You can grab your sack tomorrow. And you can thank Kyle for the bath. He’s the one that warned me that you girls were required to roll in the horse manure since you got to work in the house.”
I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to reply to something in that string of statements. Bryan went around to the side of the bed he had slept on last night, and I secured the towel on my body before slipping into the side of the bed he was letting me sleep on. The bed was so soft that it was hard to get comfortable because nothing was making me uncomfortable.
I heard banging on the door and realized I had fallen asleep. I wasn’t sure how long I had been out for, but it was obviously long enough, and the lights were out in the room. I looked over and saw Bryan sitting upright on his side of the bed.
He motioned for me to get out of the bed, and I did making sure to bring the towel that had stayed on me with me. He silently moved toward the door and grabbed my sack. He yanked the towel from me and forced the sack over my head and threw the towel over at his armor. “Stay.” He whispered.
Then he went to the door. “What? I was trying to sleep. I don’t know what could be so important that you need me in the middle of the night unless there has been a prison break, but where would an escapee go?”
“No Whitamor, we need the girl in there with you. We have a report that she is a traitor. So open up now.” A traitor? What? I hadn’t done anything… Was it mistress Lianne? Had she realized, or maybe Jordan. Maybe that was why he was working with our group. Maybe Reese had told him by accident not realizing he was an informant. Maybe she had only told him about me, and Kevin and his family were still safe.
Suddenly there were hands grabbing my wrists and forcing them together. Iron links were attached to my wrists forcing my hands to stay behind my back when they released me. I hadn’t even heard Bryan open the door.
“Do you want me to come with you and help you handle this traitor?” that was Bryan’s gruff and unfriendly voice.
“No, the night guards will handle this. You have work tomorrow. Get some sleep. We’ll probably get to watch a fun execution tomorrow unless this witch chooses exile, but no one chooses exile. No one is stupid enough to want to die from the poisons these walls protect us from.” I didn’t know this guard, but his statement gave me an ounce of hope.
I could always choose exile. There was a small chance I might survive if I was only exiled. I should have listened to my sister. I shouldn’t have moved on the plan until I knew what my sister was doing. Why had I been so certain that I couldn’t stay here any longer? It wouldn’t have been too terrible. Bryan was a nice guy.
I was being pulled along, and when I stumbled or tripped and lost my feet they simply dragged me, but I barely felt anything. My mind was still reeling from being caught. Exile or execution? I could still remember my father’s head being held up after it was cut off.
I would go with exile. I wouldn’t give these guards the satisfaction of my death being their fun.
We were in a narrow corridor with cells with iron grates on either side. “Where are we?” I asked unable to keep my curiosity down now that I was facing death and staring it in the face. It was like everything I had learned as a dishonored over the years had completely disappeared in the face of my new situation.
“Shut up girl.” Once of the guards slapped me, but I didn’t even feel the sting of it.
“Why not tell me? I’m going to die anyway.” I couldn’t stop. I should have been pleading for my life, or swearing up and down that I wasn’t a traitor, but that didn’t seem to matter anymore.
“Shut up.” The guard slapped me again, but another guard laughed.
The laughing guard spoke after he finished laughing as we slowed down. “She has a point. Girl, you are in the death row corridor. Once, when this place was a prison under the country our city was once a part of, people on death row had to wait years to die and they had to go to a trial and all sorts of annoying things. These cells used to be full. But with overpopulation the king of the city realized that killing the extra prisoners was a good way to get rid of extra people and get rid of a drain on our resources. That was also when he started up the labor policies for prisoners. Eventually a different king realized that if he dishonored the whole family he got even more workers for the city that didn’t need a lot of good food and could die and nobody would care. This again helped solve the problem of over population.”
He paused as if for effect. Or maybe he was done. Maybe that was all he was going to tell me about this corridor and the history of the dishonored, but then he continued as I was pulled into a cell. “This corridor is empty because we only use it to store dishonored waiting for execution or exile. You’ll have a friend soon though. There were two names turned in by the informant. Welcome to the modern death row sweetheart.”
The guard that had told me to shut up yanked my wrists and I felt a thick metal band going around one wrist, and then a thick metal band went around my other wrist. Then the handcuffs came off, but I was left shackled to the wall.
There were three guards; one who stayed silent in the shadows and the two that had hauled me along, information guard and hitting guard.
Information guard leaned down toward me, and suddenly kissed me, and I stood there in shock. I hadn’t been expecting it, and if I had been I would have tried to bite him. He laughed as he pulled away, “I half expected you to bite me, but I guess that is why you were with Whitamor, to learn manners. At least I got a little bit of payment for the information I gave you, even if you didn’t return the kiss. Your last kiss before death and you sit there like a block of wood.”
He started to walk toward the door and I called out, “Wait.”
He turned back toward me and I continued, “Do you…” I took a deep breath, “Do you know the name of the other person? I can promise you, no one else was involved.”
He started to turn away again without answering and I did the only thing I could think of, “I’ll give you another kiss, a real kiss this time. It’s wrong for a girl to die without ever having kissed a guy, isn’t it?”
I wasn’t sure why I said that. He disgusted me and I would rather bite him, but I remember Jordan saying how a girl could use her body to get things, and my sister owning the prison. I just wanted to know who the other name they had was. Had I accidentally gotten Reese in trouble?
He turned back and smiled at me in the dim light, “You have a deal girl. Kiss first and I will tell you the name.”
He walked back and I steadied my nerves. It was just a kiss. I found myself wishing Bryan had gotten to teaching me about this, but I would have to do my best. As soon as his lips touched mine I kissed him, and it was strange. I felt nothing. No revulsion that I expected to feel and at the same time no pleasure or anything that could make me understand what made kissing special. It was messy and weird, and I am pretty sure I did a terrible job, but I did my best.
The guard pulled away laughing again. He laughed a lot. “You really have never kissed anyone before. I can tell that. One day you might have managed to become a good kisser, but you are obviously not natural at it. Hmm should I give you the name…”
He stood there for a moment staring at me, and I prayed that he would tell me the name, and then he spoke, “His name is Kevin.”
I stared at his retreating back shell shocked. I hadn’t thought, but they couldn’t. Kevin wasn’t. It wasn’t Kevin’s idea. Kevin was only involved in my plot. We had made sure he would seem innocent. Jordan couldn’t have known unless Reese had a really big mouth and had mentioned Kevin. But why?
And why wasn’t she being put in here as well? Had Jordan not mentioned her because he was getting valuable information out of her unsealed lips? I felt all my energy seep out of me. I sagged again the shackles and realized that standing up with my hands at my side I couldn’t move my hands forward, which meant… I tried to sit down and found my hands pulled up as a kneeled, and as I sat they went straight to being held tight above my head. If I wanted to rest my legs my arms were above my head. If I wanted to rest my arms I had to stand. At least the chain that connected my arms to the wall moved through a link so that I could get more chain for one arm if I put the other arm up to the link.
Despair replaced the numbness, and suddenly I truly realized that I was going to die. I didn’t want to die! Not now. I hadn’t… I couldn’t die. Not now. I didn’t want to die now that I faced its ugly and frightening face. I felt tears leaking down my cheeks but I didn’t care. I was going to die.
I heard more footsteps coming in. And then I heard his voice, Kevin’s voice. “I swear, I had no clue. I didn’t know I employed a treasonous dishonored. You have to believe me that I knew nothing about their plans. Please. I wasn’t involved in this and neither was my family. I was falsely accused. Someone has slandered my name, but I swear that I have done nothing to deserve this. I have been a good loyal servant of the king.”
My own frantic thoughts froze and I realized Kevin sounded like a wimp. Then I heard information guard’s voice, “The girl you were using in your plot faced this more bravely than you. The king doesn’t care if you were involved in the plot or not. He’s been looking for an excuse to dishonor your family and has been filling your dishonored ranks with informants. He’s been waiting only for the slightest whisper of a plot to dishonor you or execute you, and if he didn’t find one he was going to manufacture one, so at least your plot was real.”
The guard laughed and I could hear Kevin whimpering, “But my brother. You can’t dishonor him, or my father. My father won’t last a day dishonored. Please. We had nothing to do with this plot.”
“As I said. We don’t care.” I heard them open a cell door that sounded like it was mine, and it was because a second later information guard and hitting guard entered dragging Kevin on his knees. Again, there was the third guard in the shadows watching. Now I realized this guard had a cloak.
I watched impassively as they chained Kevin in his fancy clothes across from me. There would be no golden haired wife for him now.
Information guard spoke again, but it was directed at me, “Now your company has arrived. We were going to chain him in a different cell, but decided you might like the company, though I’m not sure how good company he is. You really chose a whiner to plot the destruction of a castle with, but I must say, your plans were really well laid out, and if you hadn’t trusted the wrong people, you might have succeeded.”
I said nothing as he left. I didn’t know how they knew the specifics, but I felt a little better. They had been looking to kill Kevin. My being involved was just a plus for them. It made me wonder if my father had actually said anything and if Annie’s father had actually been planning to get him into the castle to kill the king.
I could hear Kevin crying, and it reminded me of how my mind had gone frantic earlier. Now I was numb again, and calm again. Somehow seeing Kevin so upset calmed me down. I remembered how, when they originally dishonored me, and I was standing there naked in front of the crowd; they had cut off my dark blond hair. Now my hair was an ashy brown, but back then I had had beautiful honey blonde highlights on dark blonde hair. I had seen my hair in their hands like my father’s head, and I had cried with fear and uncertainty. They stuffed me in a cage, and I realized there was another person in there. A girl my age who was also naked and with recently chopped off hair. It took me a second to recognize her, but then I realized it was Annie, my father’s secretary’s daughter.
“Annie?” I whispered.
“Liv?” she whispered back my childhood nickname, and suddenly we were clinging to each other crying. She had lived in my family’s cell because we had claimed her as our “sibling” when we were documented at the gates of the prison. My mom had named each of us, even Annie, as her children. She had named my sister and I as a year younger than we were, but couldn’t lower Annie’s age because otherwise Annie couldn’t have been her child as well as me.
Had Annie been in this same cell before she died for honor? Did she think death was worth refusing a guard? Was she afraid and praying to God, or was she only wishing that she had company in her last days. Now here I was with Kevin in a cell on death row. Was she so honor bound because of me? Would she have been different if she hadn’t gown up with my bull-headed, stubborn refusal to give up honor? Maybe she would still be alive. And now, Kevin and I were both scheduled to die. What a strange and messed up world it was.
Kevin took both of us into his house. He had set up his own demise with two girls who wanted revenge more than anything else, and he had promised to help them. What a strange world. They now called Kevin the ring leader, but it was really me. Kevin was just a pawn in my plot.
They had never broken me. All the whippings. All the put downs and suffering. I had simply hidden the fire, and controlled it so that I could focus it on my revenge. I was the cause of my own demise. I could have survived and not been a part of the Konjack’s fall from favor, but it was my own desire for revenge that had brought me down.
I suddenly spoke up, “I plan to be exiled.”
Kevin didn’t respond. “You should come with me. Maybe they are lying and there is something beyond the radiation zone. Maybe if we find it, we can come back and take your family and my family there so they don’t have to live as dishonored.”
There was still hope. Exile wasn’t certain death. They told us that it was a painful death where you slowly coughed up your innards, but maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was simply lies to convince everyone to simply die instead of brining hope back to a population under forced control of a king. I was staring at hope’s face instead of certain death. This was an opportunity.
“Exile is a certain painful death.” That was Kevin’s scratchy voice. Finally he had come out of his terrified state.
“No, that’s what they tell us. That is what a king that tries to control his subjects tells us. Imagine, the blue sky of legend, and being under it somewhere beyond the wall.”
And the cell door opened. The cloaked guard walked in and a light turned on. “Hello my favorite conspirers on death row.” Was that…
The guard pulled down his hood and I gasped, it was Reese. How… but… women weren’t guards. How could she… She was dishonored.
I found myself stammering, “You… but… your father…”
And she laughed, or it was more like a superior sound of pure evil, “I am a spy. We are placed in the best positions to find or create traitors. I was placed to bring down the Konjacks, and you played right into my hands, but how could you resist me? I’ve been trained since birth to act a part. I knew just how to act to make you trust me. Given a little more time I could have had you believing I was your best friend ever, but you caved early and gave me the information I needed. I must say, the whipping I had to get was painful, and the scars will be annoying, but it was part of the part I was playing.”
“Are you, is your real name even Reese.” That was all I could think of to ask. Even though Rachel had warned me, I had never suspected the full extent of her treachery. I had thought it was anyone other than she.
“No. I don’t have a real name. I’ve been playing parts since I was born.” Her chin was lifted high and I realized the part she was playing now was just another part. She needed us to incriminate ourselves, and she was now playing the part of a guard. I could save Kevin if he didn’t say anything stupid.
“It was all me. Kevin had no knowledge of this. Kevin told me that he had plans to send me and another girl to the castle so I came up with plans for revenge.” I was already dishonored, and this was my chance, but maybe I could give Kevin another chance.
Reese narrowed her eyes at me and pulled out paper, “Then how do you explain these plans you showed me?”
“I was storing them in his room. No one else cleaned his room. He had nothing to do with it. You can’t prove that he was involved unless he admits it, and since he isn’t guilty he won’t admit it. You need us to admit in front of people. Well I admit. It was all me. When I learned he was sending you as well I asked you to join my plan in his room because I knew no one else went in there. Therefore he is not guilty and his family does not deserve dishonor.” He would still hate me for dragging him into my plot, but if I got him out of it he might at least forgive me.
“You don’t seem to understand that if he refuses to talk we have methods of making him talk. And if he doesn’t talk we can also torture you and make you incriminate him in this. We will find incriminating evidence. My mother was in charge of the operation against your father, and your father never actually even said he planned to kill the king. My mother created evidence and forced his secretary to talk. It was the most beautiful operation I’ve ever watched, and I will have such a perfect ending to my own work.”
She was crazy. All she wanted was us dead, “Well you can’t force us to lie. No matter how much you torture us we will stay strong in the truth. The truth is that I have been planning revenge since that king first killed my father. You can’t make me say anything different.”
She turned and smiled at me, “I’m sure I can’t make you say anything different Liv. And that probably is the truth that you want revenge. Revenge for that, revenge for Annie, but you dragged your friend in with you. Did you ever wonder why you were assigned to his house? We knew you were friends. You were planted to cause him to question the king’s ways so that he would plot against the king. You two just took longer than we expected. You were less rash than we thought you were. But we got what we wanted in the end, and Kevin isn’t used to pain. Knowing the nobles and how easily they will say anything to make the pain go away he will give up in about an hour or maybe even less. You could have saved yourself. You could have put all the blame on him, and we would have accepted it. You are dishonored and if he was ordering you around no one would blame you for following orders. It is what dishonored do. But you took the blame and have incriminated yourself, and he will soon admit to his guilt, so you have lost either way.”
It was a long explanation, but she was right. He had never felt the pain of the lash. He hadn’t seen death up close. He hadn’t slept on hard floors even once before. She might not even have to torture him. He might give up after the first night of sleeping chained up like an animal. She didn’t have a long wait.
Reese pulled her hood back up, and swept out of the room taking all of her disdain and her entourage of guards with her. When I couldn’t hear her footsteps anymore I turned back toward Kevin who had slumped forward against his chains.
He looked up and his voice was filled with despair, “Why did they chain us in the cell? We are already their prisoners.”
He was silly if he didn’t understand, “They want our confessions. They could care less about our comfort. If you want your family to stay honored you have to be willing to die a painful tortured death. They will torture you till you die without saying something. Then they will torture me until I die. If we both die without saying anything then they will release your family with an apology for killing you and for thinking you were a traitor.”
“But… I don’t want to die. My engagement to Linda Richardson was to be announced in two days. I…”
“You are going to die either way.” I cut in. “It matters if you die in honor or in dishonor as a traitor with your head being held before a crowd. I can stick to my story under torture, can you? If you can’t just remember that you are going to die even if the pain stops. Don’t let them make you talk.”
“I don’t know. I could always go for exile like you were saying.” His voice was shaky and scared. He had never faced real hardship I reminded myself.
“Don’t think about that. It’s not an option. Think about Felise and your father having to survive as dishonored. Remember how terrible it was for me. Don’t do that to Felise.” I wasn’t sure why I wanted to convince him to not dishonor his family, but I couldn’t stand to think of young Felise living in the conditions I lived in and growing up with either hate or despair in his chest. And Rachel. She might either be assigned to the new family or she would be cast to a public group, and she was older and would have trouble handling it. She had always been like a mother to me.
“I guess at least I wasn’t engaged to Linda yet. She won’t be dishonored because of me.” He already sounded defeated. I wasn’t sure I would be able to convince him to stay strong.
“Go ahead and sleep Kevin. You’ll want your strength for tomorrow.” He pulled himself up to a standing position and tried to just lean against the wall. I shook my head and this time told him exactly what to do, “Kevin, sit down and let the chains hold your arms up. It will be tiring and uncomfortable, but at least you will be able to sleep and the chains will support your arms.”
I watched as he gingerly lowered himself into a sitting position and his arms went up and were held over his head by his chains. He let the chains hold him, and within seconds he was asleep. It must have been a long day for him. It had been a long day for both of us, but I watched him for a while longer trying to make out his face in the dark. I didn’t want to be scared, but I didn’t know what Reese would do to him. I had never heard of a spy before, so obviously only traitors and the people who served her had heard of them. Eventually I couldn’t hold my head up anymore and I let it sag forward and my eyelids droop.