Saturday, September 10, 2011

In the Despair of a Dungeon: Freedom's Sword


There would be a window slit high in the wall. If he waited, it would get light. It had to get light. It had to.

He lay huddled for hours, quiet. Thinking thoughts he could have done without. Like that, he'd heard of prisoners left to starve to death in dungeons. Like that, men were sometimes gnawed by rats as they died. Like that, he might go mad if it didn't get light.

It didn't. He counted his breaths to keep from screaming. Pressed his fists into his forehead. Nothing changed. He had to move--to know where he was. He licked blood off his lips, his tongue so dry it felt like leather. Perhaps he could get to the water dripping somewhere. Perhaps...

On his hands and knees, he crept across the clammy floor, pressing a shoulder against the rough stones of the wall. Otherwise, he might crawl in circles. He swept his hands ahead as he went. A well or hole could be in front of him, and he wouldn't know. He trembled, half from weakness and half from fear of what he would find. A few feet of crawling brought him to a corner. The next wall was rough stone set with mortar as well. Pressing against it, he explored that way. He came almost at once to another corner. Around that one. A few feet down that wall and he knew where he was. The wooden door they had thrown him through. He stroked his way up it, the greasy wood slick under his palms, fingering wide strips of iron when he came to them. Solid.

Merciful God. He clamped his teeth on a whimper.

In the fourth corner, he came upon a clay pot. A slops jar, empty but still reeking of old piss. Surely that meant he wouldn't be left here to die. Why would they give him a slops jar and let him die of hunger and thirst? He realized it must have been a day since he'd pissed. He inched his back up the wall and breathed a sigh of relief as his heavy bladder drained. He'd not known how much his belly had been aching until that moment.

He shook off the last drop of piss. The stink added to the musty smell.

Then he sank down onto the floor, arms around bent legs and head on his knees. His head was pounding again. His mouth was parched. Curse them. Trice-curse them. What had he done but follow his king? What any knight was sworn to do.

Cressingham's face seemed to float before him in the darkness. His fat lips sneered as he pointed and pronounced: ...traitors and criminals... "No," Andrew whispered.

He had fallen into a doze when footfalls echoed in the quiet. At first, it was part of his dream. It seemed years since he had heard anything but the distant, tormenting drip of water. They couldn't be real. He shivered with chills, his lips cracked and leaking blood. When the heavy wooden door creaked open, he raised his hand to shield his eyes from the glimmer. A gaoler bent, watching Andrew closely, and put a bowl and cup on the floor.

"Is it day?" Andrew croaked.

The gaoler was a barrel of a man with a pebbly face and beard down onto his chest, clad in a dark leather jack studded with metal. "No talking." He slammed the door.

Andrew blinked as the light vanished. On hands and knees, he crawled towards the precious cup. It was cool and beaded with water. Grasping it with both hands, he took a mouthful and let it dribble down his parched throat. Careful not to let a drop escape, he sipped until it was gone. He used a finger to wipe out the last drop.

A wave of despair washed through him. How could he do this? It was too much. He leaned his forehead against the wood of the door and choked down a sob. He had to get through it. That was all.

The bowl had beans in it and a lump of bread. He scooped them up with his fingers and shoveled them down. Then he wiped the bowl clean with the bread, too, and licked the juices off his fingers. He crawled back onto the straw and curled up in a ball. He was cold... so cold. After a while, he slept.

Eons seemed to come and go. He couldn't tell when he woke if it was day or night. He could feel that his eyes were open when he touched his face. Open or closed, there was no difference in the darkness. He lay huddled against the chill and sang "Turn Ye to Me" to hear something besides the drip of that water he couldn't reach. He hummed every tune he could think of. He took to cursing to make a change.

Another gaoler came to leave another bowl and cup. This one was a scarecrow of a man. Andrew begged him to say if it was day or night. A blow of a truncheon was his reply.

He lost track of how many times they had come--of how many days he had been here. He had no sun and no moon. He had nothing to make marks on the wall. His stomach ached with hunger, the bowls of beans never quite filling his belly, but his fever and chills passed. He sat up and realized that the pounding in his head was gone. His muscles were stiff and every move hurt, but no worse than from a fall in a joust.

It had to be faced. It would go on.


Freedom's Sword, the story of Andrew de Moray's desperate struggle to defend Scotland's freedom, is only $2.99 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.

No comments: