The boys waited.
They shivered in the darkness of the corridor until eventually their need for warmth outweighed their fear of the grey-robes and Orinius and they finally broke the line to find others to huddle together with. Some seemed to know each other already; there were lads who’d run together on other streets, in other cities. They formed small conspiracies of whispering misery, but Harl stood close to no one. He still stared down the corridor after the long gone Cole, letting his eyes un-focus and his mind wander himself out of the present and back into the past. Harl was just remembering the golden taste of stolen King Apples when the warped wooden door was thrust open and a grey-robe suddenly revealed and then just as quickly blocked the warm orange candle light spreading from Orinius’s room. The boys jumped to their feet, reshaping the line but moments too late. A thin hand snapped out rapidly and caught a near lad by his oversized tunic and yanked him inside, ignoring all of his struggling.
Harl braced himself for the boy’s screams. But none came.
Instead time tortured them all until the same grey-robe appeared again and took in a more complacent child from the line. The first boy did not return.
Their line was slowly eaten away, one boy at a time over what felt like days but was most likely only a few hours. Legs aching, skin still raw, and frozen to his sharp woods-voln bones, Harl was almost relieved when the line was gobbled all the way up to him and he finally faced the warped wooden door alone. Only a few more grim-faced lads waiting behind him. When the grey-robe grabbed at him he did not resist as some had weakly tried, only to gain more welts for their efforts. He chose instead to walk in meekly, and smiled a hidden smile at the welcome warmth of Orinius’ study.
The door bumped close behind him, and Harl stood stock still on the spot the grey-robe had indicated, just in front of Orinius’ desk. The copper skinned man had moved from there, however, and had been replaced by another grey-robe who wore much simpler versions of Orinius’ spectacles. Laid out in front of him was the largest book that Harl had ever seen, which was maybe not saying much in his case! He saw tightly written short phrases of numbers laid in strict lines and grids, many of which were struck through with inks in varying hues of black and brown.
Orinius moved by his side and Harl jumped, then tried to regain his composure fast. The scholar – Harl assumed Orinius was some sort of scholar, like the book lovers in the temple in Bara – was however ignoring him, and instead was peering close at his collection of books, a crooked finger tracing the words written on their spines and muttering to himself.
“Begin.” Orinius said simply, not looking up from his task as three grey-robes surrounded Harl and reached towards him, one with a length of birch, one with a set of metallic pincers and one with… a piece of string? He almost flinched from the old familiar threat of the birch wood and the new sharpness of the metal, but he allowed them to use their lengths and angles to measure him. They figure out the length of his forearm, the differences in reach of his fingers, the space between his eyes. On and on the grey-robes measured, finding new aspects of him and speaking the numbers they found to the spectacle wearer at Orinius’ desk, who was apparently noting down all of the dancing figures in some logical order – to him at least. When they stripped him, Harl again fought the urge to pull away, knowing full well that the measurements would continue with or without his consent, and certainly after a beating if he resisted.
Orinius reacted to the numbers, huffing a little at those that seemed to displease him, darting towards a particular book to feverishly consider a few pages within it when a number or combination appeared to intrigue him. He scampered up a small ladder, hefting his robe with him, to reach for higher texts, or ducked down, the thick robe keeping its stiff shape, to grab at a book on a shelf closer to the floor.
Finally, the men seemed done, and one threw him his rough robe to redress himself. As he did, Harl looked to the book. In there was perhaps every number that made him… him.
“Tell me woods-voln boy, do you worship the one true god?” Orinius asked abruptly.
Harl paused. What would this man want to hear? Woods-voln were generally assumed to be blasphemers, living beyond the city and therefore away from the fine temples of the pure god Lios. But not all woods-voln paid duty to the bastard gods either. Harl though was city-born, and he should be subservient to the blood of Lios and the demands of his temples. He should be.
“No, sir.” Harl enjoyed the smugness in Orinius’s eyes at his manners, false as they were.
“Which do you follow amongst the impure? Which take your fervent prayers?” There was more than smugness, there was victory. Almost as though Orinius was pleased with himself, or pleased with having some unknown victory over Harl. What the scholar had won, the lad could not yet guess.
Orinius darted to the desk, dragged some loose leaves of cheaper paper towards Harl and pushed a basic cropped quill into his hand.
“No doubt you have their shapes to mind? Yes?!”
Harl nodded mutely, and brought the quill to the empty page to outline three figures. Outer wrist to shoulder, neck, head, and then down the other shoulder to the other wrist. On one he added a crown hovering above the simple, featureless head. On the second he drew three arrows, one above the head, one through the neck heading in the opposite direction, and one bisecting them both up through the middle of the body. On the last he shaded half the body and head black, occasionally returning the quill to a pot of ink to refresh it.
Orinius snatched the page from him even before he had finished the last scratch, and the gaunt man’s frame shock with sudden, vicious, mirth.
Harl’s eyes flicked to the three grey-robes around him but they did not react as Orinius had. They stood perfectly still, and for the first time, now he was not trying to block out the bloody weird experience of being measured by them, he had a chance to see them truly. All of three near him were deformed by an old and savage injury. One lacked an eye. One had a torn face that faked half a twisted smile for him. The third had three scars that began above his eyebrows and tore upwards and backwards through his scalp, his short cropped hair not growing where the indented pink skin marred his head. The last one spotted Harl’s curious eyes and grinned a brown toothed grin at him before sticking out the grey pink stump of a tongue at him. Harl shuddered.
“Nothing remarkable at all!” Orinius was muttering to himself, peering over the shoulder of the seated grey-robe and frowning at the summary of Harl in numbers that the man had written. “Cole and his mother’s milk story! There’s nothing remarkable about your numbers. Plain, old numbers I’ve seen a hundred thousand times before” Orinius’s eyes snapped to Harl through their spectacles, boggling through the warped glass. “But I will give you a new number to take with you.” He moved closer, and hunched close to Harl’s ear. “Five, Six, One.” He stared into Harl’s eyes. “You got that boy? Have you even got your numbers?! Or was your whore mother too busy to teach-”
“Five. Six. One. Sir. Five hundred and sixty-one.” Harl recited back abruptly, and Orinius nodded.
“Good. Now, go through the recessed door. Find the red rope and keep a hand to it until you reach its end. Don’t stop. Don’t take another path. And don’t come back here!” Orinius smirked, “I don’t expect I will see you again, no matter what Cole, the blessed prophet, thinks.”
Orinius turned his back on Harl, returning to his books, and the lad left the sneering circle of grey-robes to walk alone to the door in the alcove. Stepping into its cooler darkness he immediately spotted the dyed red rope; it was no thicker than his little finger and it wove its way through metal rings hammered into the stones of the walls. It swept away into the black ahead of him.
The fingertips of his right hand touched the fine line before starting their path along the undulating length of it, pulling the reluctant boy behind them. The door remained open behind him, but the warm orange light of Orinius’ room shrank and shrank away to nothing until there was only blackness.
Sometimes in the darkness Harl knew that the thin rope was a snake, and any minute it would turn and jab thin bone needles into the back of his hand, just as Bara’s hissing Stone Scales were likely to do when an incautious lad disturbed their sunbathing on the flat rooftops.
Sometimes, it was a rope leading him to a noose his head would go into, and the darkness would be with him for ever.
Sometimes though, the thin rope was a line leading him back to his mother, a line of her blood that she had woven with woods-voln cunning. It had found him here, and as sure as blood was blood, it would bring him back to her.
But most of the time the rope was just a rope, the corridor was just another part of the maze of the castle, and Harl was just another lad sent along it after a strange experience of being measured and written into a book.
So Harl followed it down long straight lengths of stone corridor and traced its path around their corners. He stumbled onto the bottom steps of stairs going up, and near fell to his doom the few times that it swept down roughhewn steps. In the darkness he could feel the emptiness often opening out into other corridors, but he was not stupid enough to get himself lost down those. His fingertips also skimmed across rock as the bricks and stones of the corridors stretched out towards the long rope. And interspaced with the reaching stone was wood, his nails dancing over the whorls and grains of yet more doors. Once he dared to let his hand leave the safety of the rope and trace fingers upwards over the door to where he remembered the numbers had been on those doors stuck shut, standing by the crashing waves of the sea. Three, three, seven, eight, these numbers read, three thousand, three hundred and seventy-eight. But a deep line was scored right through them.
He found that he was relieved that this door was not five, six, one. But he wasn’t quite certain why.
A light caught his eye in the distance, flickering and waving. As he followed the rope and got closer he saw that it was a torch and in front of it was a line of lads, the same line that had waited for measuring outside Orinius’ study. One by one the boys had followed the rope and found themselves here at last. Although… Harl assumed that they had all made it. Perhaps somewhere back there, in the dark, there was a lad who’d left the rope for the dark open spaces of other corridors. And they had swallowed him up, greedily smug that it had taken the small boy shaped meal that its eternal enemy the sea had failed to catch for its own supper.
Harl took his place at the back of the line, noting that not much had changed. There was still drying snot and red eyes, still shivers and whimpers. Dresick was there, somehow shrunken into himself and half the size he’d seemed on the sea road. Weasel, with no wooden cart to flee backwards into, was making do with the shadows another larger boy was casting. That boy threw a fist at the Weasel, less out of malice than frustration thought Harl, and the smaller woods-voln simply took it, the dull thud of it making none of the boys look around.
Then there was movement at the front of the line, and a flood of light blinding them as two great doors groaned open, now visible to Harl as they swung out into the torchlight. Noise followed the great doors. The clatter of bowls and forks and spoons, and people.
A grey-robe ushered them into an immense hall, long tables stretching off towards shadowy corners and a high ceiling lost to black. To Harl’s right hand was a patchwork of large and small panes of glass with black frames. They took up most of the wall, facing inland and showing him a grey and black night land outside. Draughts swayed candle flames, pushing wax to drip down next to the hundreds of young boys hungrily scoffing from plain bowls and plates. They were ignoring each other as the food was swept down into bellies, and sometimes laps.
“Take seats!” The grey-robe barked and Harl and the line dispersed quickly to squeeze onto benches, fitting in snugly between other lads in the same dirty tunics. Harl found a small space and slide like a knife in next to two city-voln who thoroughly ignored him and chowed down. He was about to ask where the food was coming from when a grey-robe near threw down a bowl of stew in front of him, splashing his face. A wooden spoon in hand, Harl investigated the mix, and found recognisable root vegetables, meat without fatty gristle and a rich red-brown broth that smelled faintly of the herbs his quick fingered mother had once stolen from a merchant and flavoured their own weak broth with once. This was good food. Far better than the crones had given the lads on the road. This was the kind of fare that working men got, hearty and fortifying. He ate quickly, not even looking about at the other boys until all the fine stew was buried deep in his belly like a chest of gems and coins he was hiding from his co-conspirators.
Then he did look. There was a range of ages, just as there had been on the carts. He wasn’t the oldest, wasn’t the youngest. But he, and the other new lads, were somehow still younger than the lads who had been here a while. There was no spark in their eyes, and as Harl looked with his own keen, alert, eyes, he started to notice how many were… damaged.
A missing clump of scalp here. A mouth puckering in over missing teeth. An arm in a sling. An arm…. just gone. None of the lads who’d been here when they’d come in were entirely whole. Just like the grey-robes in Orinius’ study. Panic started to rise in Harl’s throat, along with the good stew. He fought it down. He weren’t bloody well going to waste food! Especially not now.
After the clatter of bowls had died away the boys were made to stand and to lift the long tables, pulling them apart from each other and then stacking them against the far wall of the great hall. Then sagging grey bed rolls were brought from somewhere and laid out in rows across the cold stone floor. The lads were held back until all were out, and then let loose like dogs from a trap after a hare. The old residents went straight to those nearest the inner wall, the new lads were left with those lying underneath the uneven patchwork of windows where the wind whistled in to chill their bones, working hand in wicked hand with its friend, the stone floor. And that’s if they could get to one in time. Harl saw Weasel shoved away from a lumpy straw filled mess, falling back heavily onto his arse on the hard stone. The boy who’d claimed the small victory of a bed right underneath the chill coming off of the glass lay down and defiantly turned over as the smaller boy curled up where he’d fallen and tried to pull his oversized tunic about him, already shivering.
Harl had made it to a bedroll further in from the window and was just crowing to himself about his success when he felt the light patter of a drip of water on his hip. He tried to shuffle to first one side and then the other, getting closer to two lads who punched and kicked him back to where he’d been. Right back under the drip, drip, drip. He tried to sleep.
Harl woke to grit in eyes and cold aches in his limbs. He blinked in the dimness of the hall, the light coming in from a low sunrise that was turned ghostly grey as it was filtered through the mosaic of window panes looming above them. Mounds of bodies were scattered about, holding defiantly onto fitful sleep, their faces buried behind hands, arms, and even turned downwards into the hard stone floor itself.
He spotted the red of Weasel’s hair, scab brown in the half light, greasily flopping down onto the same bedroll that he’d been pushed away from last night.
Harl’s eyes searched about quickly and found another larger body near the Weasel, this one lying flat, uncaring, on the ground. A pool of dark red blood had spread out towards other nearby bedrolls that had been hastily moved away from its creeping liquid fingers, a circle of sleeping boys who no doubt had seen nothing, would say nothing.
The tiny Weasel slept on peacefully.
Then they were all pulled to wakefulness by the arrival of the grey-robes who put them to dragging over the long tables again and setting up the bowls and wooden spoons for thick steaming porridge that was brought in great drums, coming in from behind a door in a dark corner. This was more than Harl’d had for his morning feed in a long time, and he savoured the sweetness of the honey that the boys splurged over their oats without anyone even shouting at them for being greedy or wasteful. However, when one boy tried to ask a question of the older resident next to him and got a fist in the gob for it. No one else spoke or made eye contact.
But in the faint morning light Harl surreptitiously looked over the other lads again. It was still clear that those who’d travelled with him in the carts were different to those who had already been here when they arrived. His lot were more… whole. He wondered if the others had noticed the wounds and the bandages. But they were all like pigs at the trough, barely taking a breath let alone a look about.
A chill ran down his spine, this time one not brought about by the coldness of the hall. Were they being fed up like great porkers for a reason?
When the bowls were finally empty they were lined up again, facing the tables and beyond them, the great window and the grey dawn over scrubland and trees in the far distance. Harl’s sharp eyes spotted a smaller pane, lower down, where some of the draughts had been coming through in the night. Shattered glass, broken into a spider’s web of angular pieces radiating out from the centre. Eight pointed pieces of a pie. Or rather, seven and a gap.
He looked at Weasel out of the corner of his eye. The lad was wiping milky oats from his chin with the back of his tunic’s sleeve. The small boy smiled at Harl.
“You have been given your numbers!” A grey-robe barked at them and Harl looked away from the woods-voln boy’s dead green eyes. “Each of you will be given a tray. Each tray will be loaded up with food by the masters. You will not eat the food. You will not touch the food. You will follow the masters to where your numbered door lies. You will go in. You will be locked in. You will deliver the food. And you will… stay inside. At the height of the sun the door will be unlocked and you will return here for a mid-day meal. After that you will return to your assigned room, until the sixth hour past the height of the sun. Then you will be let out to return and eat again. You will NOT eat the food on the tray. Is that clear?!”
The boys nodded, shuffled their feet. Harl felt as full as a ripe gourd at the moment, but he wondered if he would be able to resist the food as that changed later on in the day.
“If you need to relieve yourself you will find a pot by the door. Bring it out with you when you return for meals. Do NOT leave it in there.” The man spoke by rote, even if he was shouting at the top of his voice. He had only one arm, the left sleeve of his robe flapping emptily.
Harl felt the boy next to him fighting against questions inside him. Harl had enough of his own, but he whispered urgently to him, “Don’t… don’t… don’t”
“What’s in the rooms… sir?” the fool stammered.
The grey-robe’s eyes shot towards the poor city-voln and both Harl and the lad on the other side of him made as much space appear between them and him as they could.
But the grey-robe merely smirked and rolled up his sleeve to reveal a long ago healed puckering sump where his elbow would have been.
“If you’re lucky boy, nothing. If you ain’t… Well, best you can hope for is a life as a master. And that ain’t bloody saying much.”
Harl thought back to the other grey-robes, the other men in Orinius’ study, had they also been lads like him before… before what?!
Grey-robes came and passed out trays, followed up by plates of hot food brought out from the same doorway that their breakfast had appeared from. Rich gravy spread over prime cuts of beef, warm balls of floury bread, thick cut carrots and parsnips. Even though he was full Harl felt the starving street rat inside demanding that he take advantage of this meal, right now. But there would be another meal waiting for him once he came back from five, six, one. If he came back.
The boys filed out of the great hall, filtered by a grey-robe just outside who snapped out “right” or “left” at them depending on the number that they gave him. Another was stood at another junction, and then another, and another. Harl counted seven grey-robes until he reached what was a final turning and one told him to wait outside his door, his words falling through a crooked, broken mouth.
He took position in front of five, six, one. Behind him was another door and another lad facing it. They exchanged nervous looks. Another one from the carts, another new one. Other boys filled up the positions next to the doors to his left and right that were staggered all the way into the shadows of the corridors. One by one they were let in by the grey-robe at the head of the corridor, a heavy ring of keys at first the only noise as he let them in and then locked up behind them. Then Harl’s ears caught the sound of screams, of crashes and bangs, and then dreadful silences. The boy next to him on the room went into his room shaking his head, but only silence came after he had disappeared. The boy behind him shook so violently ripples flew across the gravy on the plate on his tray. After he was locked in Harl thought he heard a terrible tearing sound that made his porridge rise painfully in his throat.
Then the grey-robe was unlocking Harl’s door, and he walked in, holding the tray ahead of him like scant armour.
Pure blackness greeted his eyes as the door was solidly locked behind him. His cautious feet found the piss pot to the right of the door, although his nose could have led him to it too. He took three steps from it and carefully laid down the tray where he thought the ground might be, holding his breath, waiting for something to hit him, tear him, hurt him.
Nothing. No noise, no light. And no pain.
He sat down cautiously, crossing his legs and waiting just behind the tray. He counted his breaths to slow his pounding heartbeat, and still his voice, before he whispered. “Is there anybody there?”
Harl found himself running his fingers over the stony ground, a distraction from the lack of sound and light. He craved them already, thirsted for knowledge he could use to get himself out of here. All he had was the light touch of cold stone, the smell of slowly cooling beef, and of stale piss. His traitorous stomach sent its complaints to him. But there was no way he was going to eat the food on the tray. No way!!
He went back to the play of his fingers, gently tapping out an old woods-voln rhythm his mother had taught him. When he stopped he almost expected a response, his heart trying to escape from his chest at the thought that something in the black room would respond, completing the beaten verse with its own reply. But there was no noise.
Boredom started to creep in. He stretched out to one side and then the other to feel along the ground to find the walls. If they were there they were further out than he could reach. He crawled to the right on hands and knees until he reached one side, pulling himself up to span it once, twice… seven times, using the stretch of his arms to measure out the length of the room. At the back of the room, where he expected anything hiding to be all he felt, as he held one hand to the wall and swept about with the other was empty air. Again, he measured the back wall as he had done the one to the right of the door. Five arm stretches. A long rectangular room with the door in the middle of the bottom wall. He tried to reach up to the ceiling and felt nothing, which he had partially expected. Well, it was much larger than the squat he and his mother had shared, and as far as he could tell he was all alone in here. So, at least in one sense his position had actually improved! He stifled a madcap laugh at that thought but it slightly sneaked out past his tightened lips. Eventually he gave up on standing aimlessly by the further end of the room and traced the left wall back to where he had started, sitting down crossed legged again just behind the tray.
“So. This is all there is.” He spoke out loud, shocking himself with how loud his voice was in the dark.
“Very well. But I will not eat the food. I shall wait right here until my door is unlocked. I might use the piss pot at some point I suppose.” He didn’t know why he was still speaking out-loud but the sound of the words piss pot amused him suddenly.
“Piss pot. Pissssss pot. Piss potototot. Poss Pit. Pit. Pit.” He played with the words, rolling them around the pitch-black space, feeling his attachment to sanity wobbling. How long had it been? Minutes, hours? When, by the bastard gods, were they going to fetch them for mid-day feeding?
“Piss Pot” He said lamely, bored again.
When the door was finally unlocked Harl was lying on his back, absentmindedly talking out the story of the great woods-voln bandit king Kur Gyreblack, a tale his mother had told him some years back. On the ending he was unclear. Either Gyreblack was hanged from a cankernut tree in front of his love, or he escaped hand in hand with her to start a life away from his city-voln pursuers. Harl supposed it didn’t really matter. His mother had likely made up the tale to entertain him one night before sleep. She had told tales like some people breathed.
The door opened just as he was deciding whether Kur would live or die and the half light of the torches in the corridor washed in. He blinked quickly, trying to clear his eyes to see what was in the room, but the grey-robe pulled him to his feet, stuck his tray in his hands, looked him over, and shoved him out.
“The piss pot.” Said Harl weakly, sick of the bloody words.
The grey-robe grumbled. He was a new one, ol’twist-mouth was gone. This one had but one arm and as he darted back inside to grab the pot with his one remaining hand yellow piss sploshed slightly onto his robes, unseen. Harl held in his laugh as the pot was set on top of his tray.
On top of the now near empty plate. No meat, no gravy. Only a few limp parsnips remained. That’s okay, thought Harl deliriously, I’ve never cared much for them either.
He stood as his door was locked and the next unlocked. The robed man spent scant seconds looking inside before he shut and locked the door again, a green cast to his dullard face. The smell of blood, hasrsh iron hitting the back of his nose and throat, spread out from the next room. Eventually all the lads that were coming out of their rooms, all that were able, were out and standing with their trays and piss pots in hand, pale and shaking.
Some stumbled out, blood streaming from various parts of them. Other grey-robes appeared from their hidden posts about the castle and dragged or carried the wounded boys away in the opposite direction that Harl and the unwounded were being herded. He and the others who were still walking went back down the confusing corridors to the great hall where other lads were slowly filtering back from their rooms. Harl wondered if he looked as pale as they did, as dejected and dead eyed.
One by one they returned their trays to a grey-robe, took seats and counted the absences. There was no shoving as there was plenty of spaces for those that had returned, even when more came back as the first were silently eating a fine pie with mashed roots and tubers. The second wave contained the lame, the limping and the patched up. Harl saw Dresick, a bandage all about his head, blood seeping from where Harl thought his right ear had once been.
Of Weasel, there was no sign. Even when they were lined up again to receive another tray and another meal for the rooms, he was not there. Harl did not think he would be back. As sure as blood is blood, sharp pointed glass had not helped him this time.
Suddenly one boy wailed and threw his tray to the ground. He was dragged away screaming by two grey-robes and a third carrying a birch. The others were silent, defeated.
Harl thought on the plans for escape he had started to form in the room. There had been time enough to think even between reciting stories, singing sea-voln cant he’d overheard from his mother’s gents, and drumming out woods-voln drum patterns on the floor to keep the dark at bay. His plans ranged from the crazily ambitious to those with not even the slightest hope of succeeding. If he could get a hold of a grey robe might he be less conspicuous roaming the corridors, he wondered? But wouldn’t he get lost? Doomed to walk and walk and walk like the spirit of a man out of the light of Lios, afraid all the time of finding himself back where he’d begun. Room five, six, one. The dark place where something had eaten the food on the tray, without making a noise, without even disturbing the air hanging about Harl as he had filled the dense cotton-like silence with words. So many words.
Then he was there again. Outside five, six, one. He steeled himself for the dark, but no amount of steel he shot into his spine through sheer will worked when he was locked back inside again. The black was eating away his defiance even as he began to stumble madly about the room, frantically looking for the thing that had eaten the meal. But then he tripped over the tray on one of his shambling pathings through the room, knocking the meat skidding across the cold stone.
“Oh no. Oh no!” he muttered, bringing his hands and knees to the floor as he searched for the hunk of pork. When his fingers tips were made greasy and warm by its touch he smiled, then held onto the meat, cradling it like a newborn, as he scampered back to the tray on two knees and one hand like some strange misshapen creature.
“I’m sorry. I’m sure its fine.” He rubbed at the top of the meat, dislodging the odd fleck of stone and masonry that had become stuck to it. Then a whisper of air touched his hand, so slight he was almost certain he had imagined it. Perhaps he had. No other movement in the room betrayed the presence of its captive. Because if he was locked in here, then surely it was too. And not just for hours a day, but all day, every day.
“I want to escape. Do you?”
No answer. Harl sat down heavily by the tray, crossing his legs and staring blindly into the black again.
“I didn’t finish the tale of Kur Gyreblack did I?” He coughed a little theatrically and raised his voice. “My mother told me the tale of the bandit king Kur Gyreblack, and now I tell it to you. Then you can tell it to another, and another, and… well, perhaps you might. Because you are there aren’t you, in the dark? Locked away from everyone?”
No answer. He frowned.
“You haven’t maimed or killed me. I suppose that’s something. But I also suppose this doesn’t end until you end me, sure as blood is blood. The other wounded ones still went back to their rooms. If they were able. So does this carry on until you slit my throat?”
“Do I spend my mornings and days in the dark until you decide to kill me?”
He sighed in an over the top fashion and continued the story, but found his mind wandering the corridors of his memories. “And Kur Gyreblack was a woods-voln. Sharp of face and sharp of mind. He wore brown leathers and greened his arrowheads with Gyreblack, the strongest poison the woods-voln have ever known. My mother taught me that. But she would never tell me what our poison was. Perhaps you don’t know this, oh quiet one, but families make their own poisons from secret recipes of woods found ingredients, and they take their names from them. So, I should be Harl…. Harl something. But she never told me. How about that for an effing story?! Got only one name when I bloody ought to have two! Cole was woods-voln, I’m sure of it. And Weasel. I think he’s dead. Never got to know either of his names. Wonder what his family poison was? I wonder if there are woods-voln out there greening their arrow heads with it right now about to avenge the theft of him by Cole? Or did they sell him, like my whore mother sold me? Sold into a dark room with a silent something inside that eats meat so silently. So silently.”
He took a breath and started again. “And Kur Gyreblack was a woods-voln. Sharp of face and sharp of mind. He wore brown leathers and greened his arrowheads with Gyreblack, the strongest poison the woods-voln have ever known. And he was a bandit. He robbed the plump and stiff necked city-voln. Took their gold and their jewels on the roads that began to wind on through his woods, sent out by Lios from the centre of the world. He took them and strung up the stupid city-voln who’d thought they owned the land and the trees. I could do with some Gyreblack and some sharp metal now to be effing honest. I could… I could…”
He stopped and took a deep breath. What could he really do? What could he do while buried alive in this castle, so immense even the sea wanted to eat it up so it wouldn’t be such an abomination on the land anymore?
“Kur Gyreblack was a woods-voln. Sharp of face and sharp of mind. He wore brown leathers and greened his arrowheads with Gyreblack, the strongest poison the woods-voln have ever known….” He continued.
And the darkness was silent still.