Ethan, I’ll take your word for it. I’m sure I would want to finish as quickly as possible, too.
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Sons of Callow – by Joel
The spoon was worn to a nub and he would need another soon. The guards had searched him and his tiny cell quite thoroughly, but they had never found it. Stealing the spoon had earned him a beating that had taken a month to recover from and he was loath to have it repeated. It would have to be done though, and soon. There was no way to tell the passage of time and he needed the spoon to remember how long he had been there. It was important to remember, to record each year, each week, each miserable forsaken moment in the cell. Those lost moments were etched on the back of his brain and his conviction, his desire to make someone pay for each of them was what carried him through, what drove him, kept his withered body warm at night on the cold stone of the cell’s floor.
He sank to his knees and ran his fingertip along the wall, following the seam between the rough stone blocks nearest the floor, counting the notches there as his long jagged fingernail caught on each one. There were a hundred and twelve in all, small and hidden by the dim light of his cell. A hundred and twelve months, or near to it, each painstakingly chiseled with the spoon. He added a notch each time the guards came to clean his cell, though to say they cleaned it was a generous statement. The whole affair amounted to little more than a nozzle being thrust through the narrow slot in the door and a torrent of water being pumped in at high pressure. The water would scour the interior of the cell and him alike before draining through the ten centimeter hole in the corner—his toilet. An arm’s length down that hole, the pipe angled, leaving a small flat lip where the channel was misaligned. Shoddy workmanship, but he wouldn’t complain. Wedged against that small lip, hidden in his own filth was where he kept the spoon.
Footsteps echoed in the hall outside and he froze, his throat tightening at the approach of heavy boots. Was it cleaning time again? He wasn’t ready. The spoon was still in its hiding place. The draining water would dislodge it and wash it down the pipe. It would be lost. He scurried across the cell and thrust his arm down the hole, its coarse opening tearing at his flesh. The footsteps drew closer as he fumbled for the spoon with growing desperation. Its curve, sharpened from countless hours against the stone, sliced the side of his forefinger as the footsteps stopped just outside his door. The jingle of keys in the hall drew his attention and as he twisted his body to look back at the door, the spoon slipped from between his fingertips. It clattered down the angle of the pipe and was gone. His heart sank and he rolled onto his back, drawing his arm from the hole just as the cell door opened. Two guards stepped in, each clad in the leather and green canvas garb of his captor, each wielding a meter length of battered ironwood. One of the guards tossed a set of iron shackles on the floor at his feet and he sat up, staring at them. This was new.
“Put the shackles on, scum,” the guard said. “You have a visitor.”
“A visitor,” he repeated thoughtfully as he stared at the shackles. Indeed, this was new.
“Put them on or you get the rod.”
He reached for the shackles without getting up, dragging them closer and slipping his emaciated hands through their broad iron cuffs. In a hundred and twelve months, he had never had a visitor. It might have been a trick, an attempt to fool him into shackling himself so that they could beat him more easily, for he had been known to fight back. But he doubted they had the capacity for psychological cruelty, their primitive minds preferring old-fashioned physical abuse instead. Masochists, weren’t they all? He clicked the shackles and they locked around his wrists, then he waited silently.
One of the guards, the one that had been doing all the talking, pressed the microbead in his ear and said, “He’s ready, sir.”
More footsteps approached, louder this time and more distinct through the open cell door, and he tilted his head to consider them. There were two—the first were light and awkward, short strides suggesting hesitation. The second were long and steady, displaying audacity.
A boy of no more than fourteen or fifteen appeared in the doorway. He was draped in rich dark clothing, his fingers and neck laden with fine jewels and gold. His hair was a tangled mop of golden curls and he wore an expression of disgust on his handsome face. “This is him,” the boy said, shying away from the doorway and covering his nose with the back of his hands. “The smell is horrible!”
A man stepped between the boy and the doorway, tall and thin, his features gaunt in the flickering torchlight of the hall. Unlike the boy’s rich garb, his clothes were plain and black and his steely hair was slicked back along the curve of his skull. He didn’t share the boy’s hesitation and stepped confidently through the open doorway, his hands clasped behind his back as he considered the cell’s interior. The man’s gaze eventually fell to the shackles. “So you are Solomon Drake, Scourge of Callow.”
He squinted up at the man, his eyes still adjusting to the torchlight. “Now just Drake, honored guest of Count Vanderpoole.” He held up his wrists and the shackles chinked together. “He’s been a most gracious host.”
The man in black gestured to the guards. “Stand him up.”
The guards threaded their ironwood rods beneath his arms and hoisted him to his feet. The quick heat of anger rose reflexively in his chest at their indignant treatment and he jerked his arm away from one of the rods. The display of defiance earned him a crack on the side of the head with the guard’s knuckles and as he lifted his gaze, the sting of the blow still ringing through his brain, he caught a brief smile on the man in black’s thin lips.
“Still some fight in you, I see,” the man said. “Good.”
“I don’t like the way he looks at us,” the boy said from the safety of the hall, considering him with no small amount of boredom. “Bring me his eyes.”
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