The Bandit Prince
Feral Dog Free
“Hey! So yer finally goin’ out on yer first raid huh, yabu?”
Joclun-Harr snapped his head toward the voice, and as he did his long black hair whipped around and brushed the middle of his back. He glared at the rider who had his horse canter up next to him and frowned at the familiar sight of a tall bandit with red hair that spilled down to the small of his back and eyes that were hard as pebbles.
“What is your point, Dromar?”
“Shorn it yabu, I was pillagin’ wit’ the best o’ them when I was a foal eh? What are you at now, fifteen?”
A couple of the bandits around them laughed. They were traversing the tricky trail off Raneth’s Palm – the plateau that held the bandit’s fortress. Joclun-Harr turned forward and stared ahead, skillfully holding the reins of his temperamental mare with one hand while feeling around for his weapons with the other. His hand rested on the hilt of the broadsword strapped to his waist.
“Well it ain’t like I never killed a man,” said Joclun-Harr, letting a growl of threat slip into his voice.
“Yeh? Well you ever killed a girl? Or a baby? Besides you slip in and stab a man in the back like some farm girl. Dunno what pa sees in ya, why he sends you out to kill off those what sour on a deal. What’s that say about the bandits eh? That we’re scared to fight head to head? You maybe.”
Joclun-Harr’s long fingers tightened around the sword hilt. Dromar registered the movement and looked down.
“Ha! Green as absinthe you are, Joclun-Harr. D’you know where we’re goin? Purra, and that’s right on the edge of Geibyn. Means there’s a good chance we’ll run up against some imperials – we’re hittin’ a village right on the edge of a capital city.” He said the last part with the air of talking to someone who was mentally slow. Joclun-Harr continued to stare straight ahead, absently reaching forward to stroke the neck of his mount. He was dimly aware of the bandit at his side fumbling at his belt.
“You wanna use this,” said Dromar, shoving a small hand axe at the assassin. “It’s nice and light. Scares them imperials sumthin’ fierce to see you comin’ at them with an axe. All they ever train on is broadswords see?”
Joclun-Harr eyed the axe in suspicion. Dromar grunted in annoyance.
“Take it, elf. Can’t have you dyin’ on me. Pa’d gouge out my left eye.”
Joclun-Harr snatched up the axe without a word of thanks.
“You’ll need this buckler too. Might as well take off the broadsword, it’ll jus’ weigh you down. If you need one you could always steal it off an imperial.”
“I like this sword,” Joclun-Harr growled defiantly. Dromar shrugged.
“Suit yerself then. Just don’t look to me when you dodge just a heartbeat too late an’ a soldier hacks off the point o’ yer ear an’ makes it look normal.”
The axe switched into the hand still holding the reins, and the broadsword swung angrily through the air and landed with a dull clunk in the scrub off the side of the narrow trail.
“And what will you use?” asked the younger bandit, squinting his eyes at his foster brother as he slid his other arm into the strap of the shield held out for him. The man shrugged.
“A dagger? A wooden plank? A rock? Don’t matter, yer the one what needs the help, not me.”
Joclun-Harr glared at his brother, and deftly switched the axe back into his free hand. He held the axe up threateningly, annoyed when the other bandit only smiled in return. Joclun-Harr scowled, and turned his attention back to steering the beast underneath him along the steep pass meandering down the plateau.
* * *
Shorn it! I can’t hardly hear my own thoughts wit’ all this screamin’!
This was a raid? It was chaos! This was nothing like the ordered sparring on the training grounds, or even the harsh group competitions to determine the twenty fiercest bandits – the king’s personal guard. And it was surely a far cry from the subdued gurgle of a man who suddenly found himself with a slit across his throat.
Nirayr had tried to warn him about what to expect, but nothing the mage said could have described it. The bandits had run at the small cottages like children set free to play, breaking the doors and windows with their axes and running out with whatever they could carry. Anyone one who got in the way paid dearly. Cries and moans and curses flew like arrows at the raiders – the villagers’ only defence. In one ear he heard a woman wail for her child, her voice escalating to a mind-numbing crescendo of pain. In the other ear he heard the same child, or perhaps another, desperately shrieking a mantra, mama, mama, mama, over and overuntil it stopped mid-call, the ensuing silence sinister. And on top of it all the bandits roared their delight. Joclun-Harr stood square in the middle of the madness, his ears throbbing and his shoulders heaving. People ran everywhere. They ran toward him, away, in flight, and in pursuit, registering as gusts of wind to his tortured consciousness. A woman slammed into him hard and he stumbled, grabbing onto her shoulder to keep his balance. She looked up at him, gaped at the sight of ears which stuck through a curtain of black hair, and then saw that same hair hung down well passed his shoulders, and screamed, wrenching out of his grasp and running.
But even all that, the panic and calamity and the noise, were not the reason behind Joclun-Harr’s paralyzing shock. The…essence overwhelmed him. The “feelings” that he sensed from others, essence as he had come to call the phenomenon, were pummeling his mind in wave after wave of sensation, and he was on the brink of going under. He was an instinct, he was bloodlust. He was that desperate mother, the urge to run into the fray and find his baby so strong he dared not move.
Shut it out. Shut it OUT!
“Ha! Look at the elf!” someone shouted.
Joclun-Harr gritted his teeth, shaking with the effort of getting himself under control.
“Yer useless yabu! Now everyone finally knows it!”
The voice, rough yet somehow whiney, pulled him back. The anger he felt was his own, and he clung to it and used it to haul himself up out the morass of empathy that suffocated him.
He turned to face Drocan, his chest heaving, his teeth bared, his blue eyes almost luminescent in their intensity. Drocan’s red eyebrows turned down slightly in uncertainty.
“Defence! Where’re the crossbow men?
“Fire on the horses! Fire on the horses!”
The noise doubled. Random shouts preceded the heavy pounding thud of hooves and the rattle of armor added to the beat. Then came the “thwip” of bolts, which led to high-pitched equine cries of distress as horses thrust their hooves skyward and fell over heavily, their large eyes wide with pain.
Joclun-Harr was pulled back as the bandits allowed their crossbow men to the front. He watched as a couple of imperial guards went down with their steeds. One screamed as his leg was crushed under his beast. The rest learned fast, and began jumping down off their animals in flashes of Geihsillite blue and black.
It was what the bandits had been waiting for. They roared as they charged forward to meet the imperial force, which was small by comparison. Blade clashed against blade and Joclun-Harr found himself facing an imperial soldier who bounced nervously left and right, a broadsword clutched in his white knuckled hand. The colour of the soldier’s eyes was hidden in the shadow of his helmet, but he saw them go wide by the increase in whiteness. Then the imperial’s broadsword came swinging at Joclun-Harr’s side. The assassin easily side-stepped right and even as the soldier was still swinging Joclun Harr’s axe was coming at him. But with a surge of strength the young bandit did not expect, the soldier brought his broadsword up perpendicular to the axe, saving himself being hacked in the shoulder. The axe head came down instead on the edge of the blade with a jarring clang.
Joclun-Harr stood for a shocked half-moment and the soldier faltered, off balance as the axe head came clean off and soared into the air.
Dromar! That shorn son of a whore!
Joclun-Harr instantly darted forward and smashed the buckler against the left side of the imperial soldier’s head. Thought the helmet deflected most of the blow the soldier was still stunned, but to Joclun-Harr’s annoyance he didn’t lose his grip on the sword. In fact he fought through the pain and swung at him.
Joclun-Harr frantically darted out of the way but the soldier swung again, and again, with Joclun-Harr jumping and ducking nimbly away from the blade every time, but he had no way to retaliate.
No, I’ve a way that’d more’n likely take out every imperial here, but I can’t chance it.
Yet even as he thought it a heady energy pulsed down out of his brain, like trickles of liquid pleasure, running down his spine and pushing their way to the surface of his mind. It would be so easy he thought, as he continued to dip and weave around the blade. Just one word and it would be over. He dropped the useless axe handle he had been clenching unconsciously and his fingers hooked into a claw seemingly on their own. Joclun-Harr clamped down on his magical reflex, sending the energy back into himself, and with no outlet the energy redirected to his muscles, giving him something far beyond the rush of adrenaline.
Suddenly, everything around him seemed so incredibly slow. Joclun-Harr could make out every detail of his opponent. There was a wild desperation in his swings and the bulge of his eyes within his helmet. Joclun-Harr would be wary, except that the man seemed to be moving at the speed of the moons at night as they leisurely made their way up from the edge of the world and back down again. He let the soldier swing, almost bored with the wait, and once the blade passed the point of no return the assassin moved in, grabbing the man’s arm and twisting.
He heard a snap and a long low scream and dimly, the sound of the sword thumping on the earthy ground. Joclun-Harr gazed in awe at the soldier’s arm, which looked odd with the extra bend in it.
Huh, I didn’t mean to do that…
He looked up and saw a group of five soldiers running – if it could be described as running they moved so slow – straight at him, followed by his fellow bandits. He reached down for the broadsword, ignoring the wounded soldier who spit curses at him but retreated. It was like lifting a sword-shaped twig. Joclun-Harr slashed the sword unceremoniously across the stomach of the first soldier he met, and just as easily yanked it back and swung at another, aiming with uncanny precision for the gap between his breastplate and thigh plate. A red gash appeared on the soldier’s leg and he stumbled and went down, and was instantly swarmed by bandits.
* * *
Drocan felt something close to fear as he observed what shouldn’t have been. He’d sparred with the elf countless times and never seen him do anything like this. He watched Joclun-Harr finish another imperial soldier, and then turn and find the next one, the broadsword aiming straight and true for the weak point under the breastplate and killing that one as well, and then even before that man could cry out the elf was striking at the next soldier, slicing the blade across the exposed backs of his knees. He had taken out five men in the space of about five heartbeats. How could this be?
Then Joclun-Harr turned his gaze on Drocan, and smiled. Drocan’s breath hitched, and he gave his axe a couple of skillful twirls in one hand. The elf looked crazed, his eyes were darting in every direction, his ears were twitching, but the oddest thing was that at the same time something about him seemed very calm. His breathing was slow and even.
“Shorn, would you look at these swords and armor eh? I love it when the imperials come out,” shouted Dromar over the screams and sounds of battle. He crouched down next to his brother and dumped a few pieces of armor into a pile at his feet. They were relatively safe for the time being as the bandits around them fought off the few soldiers left.
Drocan turned to answer his younger brother, but stopped at the strange look on his face. He followed his brother’s attention to see him looking at the elf, whose scattered gaze had honed in one target: him. He stared at Dromar with a concentration that suggested he was aware of nothing else, and all the while he smiled that disturbing smile. Dromar cleared his throat.
“Eh, the imperials what’s left are tryin’ to retreat,” he said hoarsely, though Drocan wasn’t sure who he was talking to, his eyes were still glued to the elf. “We killed most of ‘em but a couple rode away. They’re, uh, most like to come back with more, so, uh, we’re best to get what we can and head out.”
“Yeah,” agreed Drocan. He stood up. “Back to the palm!” he hollered. The cry was taken up by those closest to him and spread throughout the village. Those who heard would heed the call to retreat, and those who didn’t could fend for themselves. Bandits began to trudge back toward the grassy stretch that lead to the wall of trees they had come from. Their mounts would be waiting obediently in the forest beyond. Their arms were full of all kinds of valuable and semi-valuable objects. Most had weapons and armor but one had a solid gold ladle, while another walked toward them carrying an unconscious woman over his shoulder.
“Got me a princess,” he said with a grin that displayed more space than teeth.
“That ain’t the mayor’s daughter is it?” said Dromar darkly, still very aware of the way Joclun-Harr stared at him, smiling.
“That she be,” replied the bandit.
“Put her down! We never take noblewomen!”
“You know that ain’t true! Yer ma was noble, that’s how yer princes an’ all!”
“Is you the King’ o Bandits? Eh? I said leave her!”
“What’s it matter! Her pa’s dead anyway. She’ll be all alone unless I takes her with me.” The bandit grinned wider. Drocan and Dromar stared at him, and then Drocan stood up and without a word of warning jammed the blade of his axe right into the bandit’s skull. The bandit fell to his knees, his eyes glassy and a trail of blood dripping down his forehead. Drocan caught the woman before she fell, and set her almost gently on the ground.
“Take this jackass to the mayor’s house, Joclun-Harr. Arrange the bodies an’ make it look like the mayor killed him. That’ll give them enough reason to leave us alone. He’s jus’ the mayor of a stupid little village an’ all. They ain’t gonna care all that much.”
Drocan turned to see if Joclun-Harr was listening. He still stood grinning insanely at his brother, but he bent down and slipped the dead bandit’s arm across his shoulders and hauled him up. The bandit was twice the size of Joclun-Harr, but he lifted him up with ease and turned, still smiling, to start back toward the mayor’s residence.
“Shorn freak,” Dromar muttered while staring after him.
“Yeah,” agreed Drocan. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt very uneasy. “C’mon, let’s get the hells out of here.”
* * *
He was dismounting. He was in the stables. It smelled like horse dung, and also hay. He liked horses. He ran a hand across the back of his own steed, Stealth, while still clutching the reins in his other hand. Stroke, stroke, stroke. He’d never told anyone he’d named his horse. It was odd enough he kept using the same one. He scratched behind her ear. He knew she liked it. Scratch, scratch. Someone was coming up to him.
“Oh, it’s you, elf. The others were back more’n an hour ago. Hand over the reins then,” said a young stable hand. He started as Joclun-Harr turned to him. The assassin’s blue eyes were wide and his lips stretched in a grin. He didn’t surrender the reins, but continued to stare at the stable boy.
“Uh, the reins, I-I need to get yer mount stabled…”
I feel good, thought Joclun-Harr. But wait, there was something he had wanted to do.
Joclun-Harr dropped the reins suddenly, turned and walked purposefully from the stables.
“Take good care of her,” he tossed absently back at the stable hand, who reached up to unfasten the bridle with shaking fingers.
* * *
“The dog’s gone feral, I think we’ll have to put him down.”
The laughter that followed was sparse, like the gnarled briars that thrust up out of the stretch of the Forgotten Plains, and it echoed in random bursts through out the hall. The joke did little to ease the tension among the bandits who had heard the tale of Joclun-Harr’s antics in Purra.
“Mmm,” Dromar mumbled into his cup. He slammed it down on the table, causing it to vibrate slightly. A moment later he raised it up, and a small, sickly looking young man hurried forward with a pitcher to refill it with a drink that smelled strongly of rum, and then bowed his head as he retreated back to a recession in the wall. The hall doors creaked slightly as they opened. Another bandit was coming to join the feast.
“He ain’t natural. D’you see how he picked up that guy what killed the mayor? I mean what in the hells, he’s just a scrawny little yabu.” He grinned suddenly, leaning in with an air of conspiracy across the smooth, oak surface of the table, pushing aside a plate of stewed pork. His brothers leaned in also, ignoring the dancers who twisted and writhed to sensual music on a dais at the far end of the table. Footsteps told them another of their brothers was making his way over, but they ignored him as well, caught up in Dromar’s theatrics.
“It’s magic is what it is, it’s gotta be.”
“He’d lose his eye fer that fer sure!” cackled their brother Drodun.
“Yeah, pa’d have no choice,” growled Drocan, eyes shining in glee like pieces of onyx. “That’s the ultimate breach ‘o the code, usin’ magic. ‘Cept for Nirayr o’ course.”
“But who else but Nirayr could show him eh?” Dromar’s expression of excitement faltered as he saw the worried looks on his brother’s faces. Drocan’s chair scraped as he pushed it back from his place at the head of the table to stand.
“What’re you doin’ here yabu? It’s only royalty what eats in this hall.”
Dromar turned in his seat at the other end to find himself nose to nose with Joclun-Harr, whose eyes were wide and shiny, and whose lips were pulled back in a maniacal snarling smile, and whose fingers were hooked into a claw and moved slowly through the air, like the legs of a crab tied up for sale. Dromar jumped out of his seat, causing it to topple over with a clatter.
“Shorn it you mental elf! What are you lookin’ for, a kiss? I always knew you was funny. No wonder you hardly ever lie with the concubines…”
“Smohlsteb,” said Joclun-Harr, his voice rough and breathless. His fingers curved as if he was holding something, a handle. “That means ‘dagger’,” he rasped, and he plunged it right into Dromar’s chest. The bandit screamed, the sound continuing forever in the large hall, flying high up to the rafters and bouncing back. The dancers screamed as well, twin female cries of fear. They ran from the hall, shouting for the king, the tassels of their skimpy costumes flying behind them. A darkness spread across Dromar’s loose linen shirt, turning the brown a deeper shade.
“He’s bleedin’ from nothin’! He stabbed him with nothin’!” shrieked the youngest of the bandit princes.
Drocan grabbed in vain at the spot where a dagger should have been, his hand closing around nothing but air. He turned and glared in rage at Joclun-Harr.
“Grab the elf!” screamed Drocan over his dying brother’s moans. Joclun-Harr felt himself slammed down on the hard stone floor and felt a heavy weight settle on top of him.
“Ooph,” he groaned, as the wind was knocked out of him.
Why am I in the royal hall?
“Pin down his arms! He can’t do his bleedin’ magic wit’out movin’ his arms!”
I never eat in the royal hall.
Joclun-Harr gazed dazedly up into the frenzied face of Drocan, which was just as red as his hair, as two bandits grabbed each of his arms and pushed them painfully into the stone, and another sat on his legs. He saw Drocan reach down and fumble at his pants pocket then pull out a switch blade. He flipped the knife up and waved it in front of Joclun-Harr’s nose.
“You broke the code, you whoreson, unnatural yabu. You know what’s the price.” Drocan was panting, huffing stale breath into Joclun-Harr’s face and every one of his teeth were visible his smile was so wide. Joclun-Harr’s mind began to clear and he realized the danger he was in. He was defenseless. He panicked and struggled, his eyes crossed as he stared at the tip of the knife that edged closer.
“Hold his head still,” growled Drocan. Joclun-Harr groaned as his head was smacked against the hard floor, hair matted with sweat falling into his eyes. Drocan pressed one clammy palm down hard on Joclun-Harr’s forehead, while with the other he pressed the small knife against the bone underneath the assassin’s left eye. He dug the tip into the dark-haired boy’s flesh. Joclun-Harr yelled in pain and struggled again. The bandits pushed down harder. Drocan slowly dragged the little knife along underneath Joclun-Harr’s eye, creating a dripping red welt.
Nirayr strode into the hall in a swirling of midnight blue robes, his steel gray eyes were livid and one of the dancers struggled as he held her firmly by the arm. Drocan glanced up and just as quickly glanced back down. He stuck out his tongue in concentration as he continued to cut.
“You’ll be next Nirayr,” he said casually. Joclun-Harr screamed through clenched teeth.
Quite suddenly Nirayr was gone, vanished from in front of them leaving the dancer slave to stumble forward. Drocan felt his long red hair being tugged roughly back, and a cold dagger was pressed against his throat.
“Drop the knife. I have nothing to lose. Don’t any of the rest of you try to interfere. Let him up.
The bandit princes glared up at Nirayr in hatred, but slowly got up off of Joclun-Harr. Drocan remained frozen in place.
“Let go of the knife!” hissed Nirayr as he ever so slightly increased the pressure on the dagger. Drocan’s hand slowly opened from around the knife handle. It fell against Joclun-Harr’s face and then onto the cold stone floor. Nirayr tugged hard on Drocan’s hair as a sign to get up from his squatting position on top of Joclun-Harr. He stood, and Joclun-Harr scrambled back and got to his feet as well, the whole left side of his face underneath his eye glistening dark with blood. He gasped.
“You idiot!” spat the mage. “I thought you were above them. Have you no control of yourself? You could have been great. We could have been great. The magical potential you possess…” Nirayr shook his head in disgust. “You’re a bandit through and through Joclun-Harr.”
“I’m not,” snarled Joclun-Harr, still weeping blood. “I’ve never felt it that strong before is all-”
“I had planned for us to leave once I felt we could fend off the bandit force Racour would surely send to follow!” shouted Nirayr. He tugged harder on Drocan’s hair in agitation and the bandit prince yelped. Nirayr ignored it. “You could have sailed through the mage academy, you could have been the king’s mage, his arch mage, do you know that? We’d practically be running the kingdom, but you have, no, CONTROL!”
And once more the hall doors groaned open, Racour marched in a few steps and froze at the scene before him.
“NIRAYR!” he bellowed and drew the long sword at his side. He rushed toward the mage.
“You’re on your own, elf.”
Nirayr dropped the dagger and at the same time pushed Drocan forward, causing him to fall on his hands and knees. Then he turned on his heel, fingers crooked, and in a sweep of robes he was gone, and Racour was left slashing at nothing. He spun around, glancing at the faces that stared at him.
“What’re you all gaping at!” he screamed. His eyes bulged when he caught sight of Joclun-Harr.
“Who did that to my elf?” he said softly. Drocan got up off his knees, but he could only bear to bring his eyes up to his father’s chest.
“He killed Dromar pa…”
“What in the hells am I supposed to do with a one-eyed assassin?!”
“He killed him with magic! He broke the code!”
“Fifty lashes!” roared Racour. Drocan opened his mouth in shock.
“You jackasses standing around, take your brother to the stocks. Give him fifty lashes, not one less, I’ll be counting the marks. If he survives, take him to the Royal Wing.”
Drocan’s brothers grabbed him by each arm without looking at him and carried him off, screaming and struggling.
“An’ you slaves!” he shouted to the young men who huddled into the rectangular crevices in the walls. “Get rid of this body!” he gestured to his dead son. He then thrust a grubby finger at Joclun-Harr, who was bent over on one knee, exhausted from the use of magic and the loss of blood. “Somebody clean him up, stitch up that wound. And you,” he pronounced, his boots clicking a slow march as he approached the black haired bandit boy. He came to a stop right in front of him. Joclun-Harr eyed Racour defiantly from under his mop of black tangles.
“Bad!” Racour yelled, and punched him hard across the jaw. Joclun went down, blood now trickling from his mouth as well from where his own teeth had cut him.
“You’ll need yer left eye, but I’ve been thinkin’. Yer hardly ever over at the concubines anyway.” He smiled. “Yer smart, keeps you from getting’ distracted, so imma make a eunuch outta you, that way ye’ll never have to worry about the temptation again.”
“…Marielle,” Joclun-Harr groaned in desperate panic from his position sprawled on the floor.
Racour stared at him a moment before answering. “I can’t have my only daughter wedded and bedded to some yabu. I’ll find some noble for her. They should be grateful for the chance to ally themselves with the might o’ bandit guild.”
Racour turned to leave and as he did he tossed a few words at the guards that had come with him.
“Stay back and watch that the slaves fix him up. Once they’re done take him up to his room, and stay outside the door. I’ll be by at first light to neuter ‘im.”
The boy moaned on the floor.
* * *
Joclun-Harr lay flat on his back on the small cot that was his bed, staring into darkness. His head hurt.
Shorn it, how long was I asleep?
He glanced out the window. The sun had made its round, and it was night. The moons were in full reign of the sky, Gralis the purple giant hot on trail of Drelis, the small white dwarf.
I’m leaving, now.
He had maybe two hours before first light. He needed to make an escape. His magic was an advantage, but he no longer had the element of surprise. He blew out a frustrated breath, shifting a lock of dark hair that hung across his face. For the thousandth time he cursed himself for letting magic get the better of him. He’d never lost control like that before. Was Nirayr right? Was he just another bandit?
I ain’t! I’m not.
His clothes stunk of stale blood, and the cut under his eye itched to the point of being painful. He pressed two fingers to it, wincing but feeling the stitches there, another scar.
I need to make it passed those two outside the door, down two flights to the first floor out the back through the kitchen without Nirayr noticin’…
He froze up, a burning sinking substance melting through his insides. Nirayr was gone. There would be no more magic lessons. No more of that satisfaction at the look on the old mage’s face when he’d mastered some new spell. The dark hair in front of his eyes began to shiver, and he realized he was trembling.
I need to make it out of this shorn room, down two flights of stairs to the first floor, out through the kitchen, across the sparring grounds to the other end of the fortress, up to the third floor, along the hall to Racour’s suite, and kill him, and then Drocan, and every bleedin’ person what gets in my way.
Joclun-Harr eased up on his elbows, the rough texture of his dingy sheet grating along his skin. The world tilted. He closed his eyes and muttered a couple of the juicier curse words.
I can’t sculpt spells like this, but I can’t wait ‘round until morning neither. I don’t care, I’m outta here tonight. I’ll deal with problems as I come to ‘em. I got no weapons, I got no magic, but I’ll do it.
He slid out of bed and over to the slim, sliver of a door that closed off his narrow cage – for it could hardly be called a room – from the rest of the fortress. He grasped the large steel ring that was the handle in both hands and turned, hoping for that familiar give and click but no such luck. The handle merely rattled and stalled. The door was locked and bared from the outside.
“Yer not goin’ anywhere, boy,” said one of the bandits outside as he heard the handle trying to turn.
“’Tho you won’t be a boy fer much longer,” chimed in the other. “I say Racour should room him wit’ the concubines.”
The two laughed like it was the funniest thing they ever heard, fists pounding the wood of the door, which shook like it may well have broken were it not reinforced with strips of iron. Joclun-Harr pressed his mouth to the crease, waiting for their noise to die down.
“I could kill you both if I wanted,” he whispered as the laughing faded.
“Not bleedin’ likely, yabu!” cried one of the bandits on the other side.
“You are both…inferior to me… in every way,” continued Joclun-Harr, a little louder. “An’ I’ll prove it to you…”
“Shut up you crazy monkey!” Joclun-Harr could swear he heard the flecks of spit fly from the guard’s mouth as he shouted. “I’d crack yer scrawny back like a pole nut!”
“You can’t touch me,” Joclun-Harr said softly. “Racour won’t let you, but even if he would, you’re afraid to test me…” He heard scuffling and muffled grunts, and the door rattled.
“Let me open this bleedin’ door!”
“If Racour finds him dead…”
“I ain’t gonna kill him! Just add a couple more wounds to him is all. What’s a couple more?” he growled.
Joclun-Harr smiled in satisfaction as he heard the scrape of the thick wooden bolt sliding out of place. He darted back, grabbing the sheet off the bed. He jumped up onto the cot and slid back against the wall, pressed tight into the corner, parallel with the door.
The guard he had offended stormed in, axe twirling, the other one on his tail. They could only fit single file into the tiny space. Joclun-Harr threw the sheet and the guards heard it fluttering towards them in the dark, but too late. They cursed and struggled as it came down on them, writhing like a great cow fallen over and only getting more tangled. Joclun-Harr let out one short bark of laughter before scooting around them and out the door. The bolt echoed thunderously as he slammed it into place.
He walked low to the ground, trying to stick to the shadows cast by torches bracketed at intervals on the walls. He wasn’t too worried about meeting anyone else. Racour housed him away in the very back of the east end of the fortress with the servants: stable hands, kitchen staff and laundry and milk maids, with the prettier of the last also doubling as concubines. Joclun-Harr knew that at night, and in the day if they could get away with it, the servants stuck to their quarters, to avoid extra attention.
Once he reached the stairs at the end of the hall he jogged lightly, rounded the corner and hobbled down the next flight to the bottom floor. He started down the hall towards the kitchen but stopped abruptly as he was passing the laundry room. He flattened himself against the wall and listened at the door…silence. He pulled the door open slowly, telling it silently in the language of desperation not to squeak. He slipped inside, not making a sound. Vats of hot water bubbled on modest fires set into the floor, making the room warm and steamy. Laundry maids slept spaced out haphazardly on makeshift beds made of clothes and sheets. He tiptoed in between them, looking for something he could use. He stalked over to one of the vats and crouched down to sift through a pile of clothes next to it. He grabbed something dark.
This is perfect.
He pulled out a black hooded tunic, and slipped it over his blood stained clothes. As he tugged the shirt down over his ears he heard a whimper.
“Who’s there?” a high pitched voice whispered. He froze.
“Pim, is that you?” the voice continued hopefully. “Are we goin’ tonight instead?”
Joclun-Harr made not a sound.
“I got the weapons like you said. Got ‘em last week when…when I weren’t on laundry duty.”
“Where?” Joclun-Harr whispered.
“I hid ‘em in a pile under the third wash bin, the one against the wall,” the soft voice replied. “It’s throwing daggers. That was the only thing small enough to steal without him noticing’ and small enough to hide easy. I got one for each of us…Pim is you getting’ sick? Yer voice sounds all scratchy-like”
Joclun-Harr didn’t reply. Instead he crawled over to the vat she mentioned and rummaged around in the pile there, wrinkling his nose in distaste at the stench of sweat and blood like a metallic stinging that burned the nostrils. His hands touched cold steel and he snatched up the blades, grinning just like his monkey counterpart at his good luck. He felt a clear, uncomplicated essence pushing tentatively at his mind, almost as if asking for acknowledgement. A small hand came down on his shoulder.
Joclun-Harr spun around and grabbed the girl by the waist, slamming her down into the pile of dirty clothes. She caught a glimpse of him by the firelight and he clamped a hand over her mouth before she could scream.
“Not a word,” he said, his voice menacingly gentle. He slowly lifted his hand off her mouth. Timeless seconds, the ones that feel like years in disguise, marched past and the musical bubbling of the vats did it’s best to cover the snores of the other sleeping women. Joclun-Harr and the laundry maid stared at each other, the girl’s chest heaving in fright, the boy as still as a notched arrow.
“Take me with you,” the maid finally breathed. Joclun-Harr slowly shook his head.
“You’ll only slow me down,” the young bandit ground out, his voice raising ever so slightly, a fraction of an octave. If the girl noticed she didn’t let on.
“If you don’t I’ll scream,” the girl warned. “I’ll scream and let everyone know yer here.”
Joclun-Harr’s breathing was more ragged, coming in short pants. His fingers tightened instinctively around a dagger hilt.
“Please elf,” the maid said softly. “You ain’t like the rest of them around here.”
“No,” the boy panted hoarsely. “I’m worse.”
Another timeless second, one so fast it later failed to exist, and his hand was on her mouth, and the dagger was slashing across her neck. He laid on top of her, to stifle her screams and stop her spasms. Warm liquid splashed his hand. He could see her eyes by the firelight, wide and green and frightened but slowly losing focus, seeming less real. Finally she stopped moving, but Joclun continued to shake as if she still jerked underneath him, His neck stung. He was dizzy, still suffering from his earlier blood loss. The last tendrils of her essence fell away, but not without taking something of him with them, as if wiping away wet paint, or blood. And a single phrase played over and over like some catchy minstrel’s tune in his mind.
You ever killed a girl? You ever killed a girl? Killed a girl?
He pushed himself up on his knees and gathered up the daggers, wiping the bloody one against the pile: slide forward, flip, slide back, flip, again and again long after it was clean.
I said I was getting’ out tonight. I said I’d kill anyone in my way. I did her a favour anyway. She’d never get out. She’d ‘ave tried and failed, and they’d torture her and kill her, and her shorn boyfriend, and stick their heads on the east gate. I helped her. At least I made it quick.
He stood finally, listening for signs that anyone else was awake. He heard nothing but snores and bubbling. He forced himself to look down at the body. The women would scream fit to shake down the walls when they found her. And he would be gone. He glanced back up and quietly, holding one dagger in each hand, stalked his way back out of the laundry room.
* * *
Joclun-Harr was almost amazed none of them had spotted him. He was flat against the wall, just around the corner, not ten feet away.
“Drocan, yer pa ain’t gonna like this…”
“I’m the prince an’ I’m ordering you to let me see him!” screamed Drocan, he was hunched over, an impressive testament to his will that he was standing let alone yelling orders after his earlier fifty lashes. One of the guards turned and grudgingly lifted the knocker, banging it hard three times on the door.
There was a crash and a roar from inside, and thundering steps that came louder and closer. The double doors were thrust open, and Racour stood fuming like an incensed bull.
The guards stood for a few moments in stunned shock, not quite sure what had happened. Racour had fallen onto his back and his eyes stared up uncomprehending at the ceiling while he sucked for air like a fish. At last one of them noticed the throwing the spread of blood from dagger lodged in the bandit king’s left shoulder, and his throat. The guard turned to Drocan.
“THE YABU!” screamed Drocan, and pelted down the dagger that was hidden in his own sleeve. He then thought better of it and bent down, gritting his teeth in pain, and grabbed it back up, then darted as fast as his injury would allow down the hall in the direction the daggers had come.
“Yer highness, the king!” called the guard after him. But Drocan ignored him. He cast a glance back at his partner then took off after Drocan, while the other guard ran in the direction of the infirmary.
But it was far too late, Joclun-Harr was gone.