Note: I didn't get a good chance to edit this as I typed it offline and while away from home, so my apologies for any incompleteness if I left off anywhere.
Chapter 5: The Guildsman
Rodhero was the first to notice the rider as he approached. It did not take Enlil and Govad long to follow the smith’s gaze up the road. Govad fanned out, away from Enlil, as he put his left hand upon his sword hilt. He did not draw his blade. Enlil took the lead and raised his hand to wave the rider in.
As the rider brought his horse to a stop he reached up and pulled back the hood of a rain-soaked cloak. Beads of water trickled down the stitched seam, down the laces of his boots, onto the underside of his horse, and eventually raced towards the ground in alternating plops. The distinctive crimson star upon the white of the band about the rider’s head revealed him as a King’s man. A messenger no doubt.
“Captain.” The rider nodded. “I seek the one in command here. Is that you?”
“I suspect I still command.” Enlil paused. “At least the little bit that is left here.” Enlil swept his arm out to point at the destruction that lay about the camp to ensure the rider had noticed. “Bit of a storm rolled through here a few days past. Most of my men are back in Gray Court while we survey our losses.” It wasn’t a complete lie. The men were back in Gray Court or scattered to the winds. Whether they were truly his men any longer or whether they ever had been his men was debatable.
“Vigor.” The rider pounded his chest and gave a salute as he procured a scroll of parchment from his undercoat.
“Mortalis.” Enlil returned the salute, stating his half of the confirmation and acknowledging his station. He took the ornate scroll from the rider. A wax seal featuring a crimson star sealed the scroll shut. Thumbing through the wax, he knew almost instantly that it was not a message, but a writ of passage and supply penned by the King’s own scribes.
“The Thunderer travels from the north by King’s command. By dark his host will be through the storm.” The rider stopped and handed the scroll over to Enlil. The rider looked over the miscellany of the camp. “Where shall he be received? He requests it be of distance from the latrines.”
Enlil motioned towards his command tent which seemed to be the lone solid structure left. “Not much left standing. May I ask his business?”
“That should suffice.” The rider failed to acknowledge Enlil’s question.
“If you can take a message back to your lord, I will draft one quickly. I would like to prepare him for the state of the encampment here.” Enlil motioned for Govad to get quill and parchment. However, something in the reaction of the rider’s face told him it wasn’t necessary.
“I provided the writ as a heads up. Not that there is much this camp can surrender in the King’s name.” The rider again looked over the camp. He continued, “The host will set camp on the grounds as well. I’m here to lay the groundwork and plan out the camp. Do you have a guildsman among you?” The irony of the question hit Enlil. He had petitioned for a member of the Guild to oversee the camp months prior and been rebuffed at the request.
“Rodhero there is probably the closest we have, but he’s a simple smith. Not a right King’s man either.” Enlil didn’t bother to point out Rodhero. It was evident the rider understood Govad was a paid man, leaving Rodhero to be the only possible craftsman among the trio.
The rider dismounted and removed his cloak. The notches on his sleeve and the bronze crossed hammers attached to his collar revealed his membership in the Guild. “Rodhero” the rider shook the smith’s hand, “good to meet you.”
Rodhero stepped in and spared Enlil and Govad from the monotony of laying plans for the Thunderer’s arrival. Rodhero and the Guildsman seemed to build immediate camaraderie as they labored over details and spent copious amounts of time drawing detailed maps on the few dry sheepskins that Rodhero had stashed away. Chuckles could be heard as the two counted off paces near the former latrine pits which had all but washed away in the storm’s passing.
After observing the pair for a while, Enlil retreated to his tent motioning Govad to follow. Once inside the tent, Enlil discarded the scroll and dug a cup out of the scattered items at the end of his table. “Find me a drink.” The words were depressed.
Govad found a cask of ale nestled near the bedside and worked the stopper out. He poured it slowly into the glass that Enlil held. Enlil tipped it back and with an audible gulp emptied the cup. Govad did not hesitate to refill it.
Enlil took a little longer with the second cup. Standing near the entrance of the tent, Enlil pulled back the flap and looked out again on the two men he had left out in the camp. Rodhero and the Guildsman had moved on from the latrines and appeared to be evaluating the stability of the stockade walls that now hugged the earth.
On his third cup now, Enlil watched through the folds of the tent as the sun began to set. “We’re right fucked my western friend.” Friend. Govad did not much care for Enlil’s use of the word. The crack of thunder howled in the distance as lightning raced across the interior of the formidable storm wall.
Gurley awoke to the rumbling sound of thunder and the smell of fresh horse dung. Aches throttled him from every limb and muscle. A distinct and sharp pain emanated from his bum leg. He moaned as he lifted his head and found himself sprawled across the back of a horse. A moment later the reality of the situation dawned on him. His hands and feet were bound, tied crudely together with rope. A brief moment of struggling convinced him of his predicament.
“Is funny story.” The voice was familiar to Gurley, but the waning light of early dusk combined with his restraints prevented him from looking his captor in the face. “A funny little man fell down and no fat ben broter around to pick him up.” Jacco. Gurley’s heart sunk in his chest. “Good ting Jacco was dare.”
Chapter 6: The Prisoner
Gurley didn’t struggle as Jacco eased him off the horse. The ground was a welcome relief to what had been an uncomfortable eternity on the back of Jacco’s stead. Tears drew silver lines down his dusty cheeks as his face nestled into a nearby clump of grass. The silhouette of Castle Black in the distance was barely visible as he looked through the blades of grass encompassing his face. His eyes slid shut as sleep set upon him like a wave upon the beach.
The looming darkness at the bottom of the stairs did not scare Gurley. There was a renewed spring in his step as he bound around the final corner in the stairwell. He felt the darkness wash over and cover him. “Orten.” He called into the shadows. No response came.
He continued down the hallway as his eyes adjusted to the lack of light. It didn’t take long before the underkeep’s features came alive to him in the darkness. It was not often that his sibling chose to play games with him, let alone treat him a brother. Even though mother had cautioned him to keep away from Orten, Gurley craved Orten’s attention. He was convinced Orten was drawing him into a game of hide and seek and he was going to take advantage of the rare opportunity. The crypt was a perfect place to play as long as the boys did not stray near where the prisoners were kept. The guards did not care much for meddling children.
Gurley cleared the immediate area he was used to before continuing around the final corner before the hall that lead to the cell block. He meticulously checked every nook and cranny up and down the hallway, each more painstakingly than the last. Orten was nowhere to be found.
Taking silent footsteps Gurley approached the cell block entrance. The ancient, heavy oaken door was held open by a stone that had been rolled over. Curiosity took over and he looked further into the cavernous hall that held the various imprisonment cells. The guards were nowhere to be found. Their swords stood idle leaning against the table. A discarded meal could be seen on the table as well. Maybe there were no prisoners to watch? Gurley took another step letting his eyes readjust in the presence of torch light.
What he saw next froze him in his tracks. Orten sat cross legged outside of one of the far cells. His voice echoed outwards through the entrance door. He was talking to someone. Mother would not be pleased with Orten. Gurley took a step back, but fear struck him and before he could think he burst into a run.
He scrambled up the stairwell and back into the bright sunlight of mid afternoon. His eyes could not adjust to the speed at which he exited the underground entrance and he was momentarily blinded. Before he could see he slammed into the wagon that he knew was near the fence. With hazy vision he struggled up into the cart and relied on his blind judgment to secure a foothold on the fence.
He felt a pair of warm hands heft him from behind. Without time to look he pulled himself upwards and he knew he was cresting the fence. The hands suddenly changed the direction of their assistance and pulled him sharply backwards. The screeching rip of cloth
Gurley screamed as dark crimson stains sprouted around the impaled fence post sticking through his upper thigh. He floundered as his body lay stretched across the top of the fence. He forced his eyes open and searched for his assailant half expecting to see find Orten running from the yard. However, the yard sat idly by, not a soul in sight. No one heard his screams.
Gurley awoke in a cold sweat clutching at his upper leg. You bastard Orten, where are you now?
Enlil looked to his left. The sour look on Govad’s face told him everything he needed to know. Bloody Thunderer is all he could think before another fist struck his face. “I’ll ask you again Captain. Where are the Fravashi.” The brusque voice rang in Enlil’s ears as the man standing over him fixed his hand back into his ironed gauntlet.
“They said…” Enlil spat blood and watched as it congealed in the dirt below his face. “They said they came for the justice of the Thunderer. They were not to be found after the storm.” Enlil shook his head hoping for a moment of reprieve from the pain. “My paid man here, the truest of trackers could not even find them.”
“You are not a true King’s man.” This voice was different. It came from a different direction than the man who had been striking him. It was neither as harsh nor tormenting as his abusers. This one had a soothing quality about it. “No true man for that matter loses sight of the Fravashi.” A thin grain of laughter coursed through the gathered crowd.
“Albs sir.” His abuser spoke up again. “Not much more than pretty feathers.”
“Clydas let us not be inhospitable. It is not often we find much company following a good storm.” Clydas: Enlil took mental note of the name. He had saved enough strength to lift his head and look this new speaker in the face. Swept backward by the wind, the man’s hair shined with a dusty gold coloring. It was neatly cropped below the tips of his ears. Solid features highlighted his squared jawbone. The handsome, powerful man stood at least a half stone taller than any other that Enlil could see. “Captain, I suggest you start making some sense to Clydas.”
With a wave of his hand, the man disappeared back through the crowd. Enlil’s head sagged down again, while his wrists continued to burn in the restraints that suspended him between two poles. He could hear as Clydas slipped his gauntlet off again.