Thread

                                            By 

                                         Arthur 

 CHAPTER 3



It was of course the smell that hit me first, it still seemed that the humans had been born with the smell of unwashed bodies and other less appetising odours, the streets of the large town were mainly of cobble stones mixed with the sight and smell of animal droppings, human waste was thrown out any convenient window or doorway into the centre of the street, this all added to the overall stench of large towns and later, I would find, cities as well.

It came to me that I would never get used to this odorous way of living at any time of my life, the fresh scent of plains and forests were harder to remember the further I went into the land of the humans, even the bodies themselves had either an unwashed odour or were covered liberally in some type of scent to disguise their lack of hygiene.

I pulled my hood up and set my magic to cover my face as well as keep the worst of the odour out as I made my way through the thickening throngs towards the centre of town, the hustle and bustle of a town this size was more than I had yet encountered, everyone seemed to be in a hurry, I was pushed and shoved by the larger adults as they went about their business, to them, a young boy was just an inconvenience to their passage.

When I reached the centre of town there I saw the central market place, it also, was filled to overflowing with people as they set about their trades, food, crops, cloth, shoes, even rough wooden furniture, all was on sale here, everything could be bought as long as you had the price.

I stepped back until I found a small niche to rest and watch the goings on of this new place, it was as I was contemplating what to do that I heard the loud yelp and the sound of running feet closely followed by the louder bellows of an angry adult, the lighter footsteps came towards me at a rapidly increasing pace.

Behind the lighter footsteps came the heavier sound of rough boots and the heavier step of a grown human adult, shouts and yells followed the progress of the footsteps as they drew closer to the place I was resting at, suddenly, without any notice, a young red headed boy crashed into me, his startling green eyes met mine for a fraction of time and then he was back on his feet and running as I still sat on my rump leaning against the stone wall.

I was still dazed by the sudden contact and the startling eyes of the boy when a large hand closed vice like on my own arm as I struggled to get to my feet, the smell of bad breath filled my nostrils as I tried to look up at the figure above me, why had he taken hold of me, I was just an innocent bystander, one glance at his features soon put that idea to the side as his rank breath and heavy hands hauled me upright as he yelled to the men and women who were following close behind.

“I’ve got one, I’ve got one, let’s hang him high like any thief.”

I tried to free myself from his strong grasp as the other humans gathered around us, would I have to openly use magic to free myself, while I was well capable of doing damage to each and everyone of these townsfolk, I would also give away my own self, not something to do in the middle of the humans lands, not only was there danger in being an Elf, there was also the danger in being a Mage, I was partially saved by a new loud voice arriving on the scene.

“Hold there, there will be no hanging in this town without the judgement of Lord Denvis, step aside there.”

I looked up at three new humans; each was dressed differently from the normal townsfolk in that they wore large swords at their waist and were dressed in similar clothes, green jackets with brown trews and long black boots of leather, on their heads they had metal helms that had open face plates but on top of the helm was a tuft of blue feathers, my feeling of being saved lasted only as long as it took the newcomers to lay their hands upon me.

I was quickly manacled with heavy cuffs of steel and a long chain was attached to the centre as one of the, what I soon worked out to be, town guards, took hold to keep me from running, the leader then turned to the man who had “captured” me and asked what all the noise was about.

“This urchin and his partner stole coin from me.”

“Where is his partner?”

“I don’t know, he slipped away when I laid hands on this one”

“So this boy was not the one that stole from you?”

“No, but I saw the other one stop and I am sure he gave the coin to this one to put us off the scent.”

The leader of the town guard looked down at me; he had already pulled my hood off so he could see that I was young.
“Well boy, do you have this mans coin?”

“No sir, the small coin I have belongs to me; it is only a few coppers.” I had soon learnt to keep my Elvin silver coin in another place within my robe where it could not be found, one can not be to careful in these human towns.

The leader looked up at the man.

“How much did you have?”

“One gold and seven silvers, also twenty coppers, I’m sure this boy is part of the gang of urchins that steal from everyone.”

“Well we will take him to his Lordship and make a search of his person, if he has your coin then we will return it to you and he will swing for his troubles, now stand aside and let us do our duty.”

The large crowd that had gathered was not entirely happy but grudgingly opened a way for us to leave, the leader in front with the chain in his hands, another beside me and the third behind so I could not run, I was led away like some common criminal to be presented to his Lordship, not a good first day in the town for me at all.

It was then that it hit me, if I was to be brought before is Lordship, what about his now crippled Duke, this was not a good idea, although to free myself from the manacles was no real effort, to do it in front of the town guard was not a good idea, I would have to wait for a more opportune moment, as long as I got a better moment.

As I was led away, many of the townsfolk decided it was a good idea to give me a going to jail gift in the form of rotten fruit and vegetables as well as a few that thought it better to spit upon me, while none of this could hurt me because of my cloak, the torrent of hateful feelings did upset my stomach.

It was a long walk through the market as rotten missiles were sent my way until the guard had had enough and called for a halt, no one seemed to notice that my cloak and I were not covered in the least by their efforts of gift giving, the walk was longer than I first thought as we began to make our way upward towards the large stone tower that overlooked the town, this is where the Lord and his minions lived, I wondered if they had found the Duke yet, if their system of honour was similar to us Elves then the Duke was probably a member of the Lords family, this did not bode well for me if it were true.

As we closed on the main gate of the tower, a clatter of hooves and the loud voice of a soldier called out to us.

“Make way, make way, the Duke is injured, stand aside there.”

I was pulled to the side of the road as a troop of six riders surrounding an open coach clattered loudly past us and into the tower, I almost felt sorry for the young Duke as I could hear his groans even as they passed, well if nothing else, I was sure my trial would not be today, I was soon proven right as we were directed to the door of the dungeon by one of the gate guards.

The dungeon was far underground, a number of times I almost stumbled in the semi dark as I was pulled down the long stone stairway and into a wide and somewhat filthy passage, on each side were thick wooden doors with small barred windows set in the centre, from each door came the moans of men in distress.

The long passage was presided over by a number of large men, all wore the same type of clothes and had a heavy wooden club hanging from the thick leather belts, one look at these men and you knew not to give them a chance to test their clubs on you.

One of the cell guards regarded me as I was led to them.

“What you got there, another of them stinking urchins?”

“Looks that way, he was caught stealing, throw him in a cell and then he can go before his Lordship.”

The cell guard gave a ‘harrumph’ and looked closer at me, his look was not friendly nor was it open and honest.
“That’s a nice cloak for an urchin, did he steal that as well, it would look good on my boy.”

This startled me, my dragon cloak did look well made but as long as I wore it, it only looked like a good quality wool cloak, if it was taken off me then it would revert back to its real state and they would see the shimmer of dragon scales, not a good position to be in at all.

“You know you can’t do nothing till his Lordship says, if the cloak’s not his then you can have it if his Lordship says so, he will probably swing for his crime anyhow so you might get it then.”

“Pity to wait though, but you’re right, no need to get on the wrong side of his Lordship.”

The chain was handed to the cell guard and I was roughly pulled further down the passage until we came near the end, from the soft sound of whimpers from inside, it appeared that there were other boys in there, the door was unlocked with a large metal key, the manacles were removed from my wrists and I was unceremoniously and roughly pushed inside the dark cell, only the faintest of light was projected into the cell from the burning torch out in the passage.

With a little magical enhancement I was able to look around the cell with ease, there were another ten or fifteen boys of all ages in the cell, its walls were of rough hewn and raw stone, in one corner was a round hole for the boys to do their business in, on the floor were small piles of old stale hay, in the corner closest to the door was a wooden bucket of slimy looking water. It was obvious that this was all they got to drink.

From what I could see of the mass of young bodies, they were all infested with lice and other un-nameable things, some were scratching and others were trying to ignore the infestations, it looked like the dungeons of the Lord were not a good place to be, one larger boy stood up and approached me, he was probably in his sixteenth year and had muscles to spare, it didn’t take a seer to know he was the leader in this small world of the cell.

“Who’re you, what’s your name, you got too listen to me, I’m the boss in here, gimme your cloak, I’m cold, you can find something else.”

I knew his type, while we Elves did not need to use this sort of intimidation, I had already worked out that humans had no qualms about using strength to get what they want, all I had to do now was decide how he was going to pay for his mistake, while I thought about it I decided to rile him up a little more and see where it would lead.

“My name is Alexi, now what were your other questions, there were so many I didn’t get them all?”

“You heard me half pint, now cough up the cloak.”

“The cloak, oh I don’t think so, besides it is too good for you to wear.”

“Whatcher mean, too good, listen girly boy, give the fucking cloak over or I’ll pound you.”

“Pound me? With what?”

The boy held up his closed fists, they were the size of a full grown humans hand; if I let him he could undoubtedly pound me with them. I looked at him with a serious expression on my face, I still hadn’t made up my mind what to do to him, it would have to be something that could not be seen nor heard by the guards outside, it then came to me, most bullies have a deep fear of something, that’s what turns them into bullies because of their fear of being found to have a weakness, I looked deep into his mind and found the answer.

I began to make my small spell as he stood over me, when I was finished, only he would see the results, to the other boys in the cell I would just be the same as when I entered, it took little magical effort to change my looks in the eyes of the bully, seconds later and he was screaming and almost paralysed with fear as he took in the result of my magic, I suppose four foot poisonous spiders will do that too you, especially if you are terrified of any form of spider.

The bully was soon a quivering hulk in the far corner as I found somewhere almost dry, to sit and rest while he shook with fear, the other boys gave me strange looks as they had not been able to see any of the bullies terror, to all of them I had just been standing in the doorway and the bully had gone into screams of fear and loathing.

As the day progressed, I became more aware of my surroundings, slowly the other boys began to thaw as they watched me, by the time of mid afternoon, they were starting to talk to me, it was the beginning of many, many questions, who was I, where was I from, why was I here, why did the bully cower away from me, was I going to hang like all of them.

I gathered from all these questions that they had already been to receive the Lords justice and were only now waiting for their sentence to be carried out, it appeared that the Lord Denvis liked to make weekly spectacles of the sentences, it was the only reason they were still alive.

The normal sentence for almost any infringement of his Lordships rule, was met with hanging, for less serious offenses, such as calling a rich man a bad name or throwing a stone at a merchant, you would be very severely whipped, for every other offenses it was hanging, it seemed that the human world had little patience or compassion for the less fortunate.

Time passed slowly as I sat alone in one corner of the cell, it was a long time later that I heard the heavy footsteps of one of the guards as he neared the cell in which we were waiting, I could hear the soft grumbling of his words as he fitted a key in the lock, next the door opened and he stood there with a large black pot on the floor beside him, in his spare hand he held his wooden club.

“Ok, one of you filth come get this, hurry up and don’t waste my time.”

A tall thin and grubby lad ran to the doorway and took hold of the black pot, as soon as he had turned to the rest of the cell, the guard slammed the door shut and grumbled his way down the passage, the boy quickly set the pot in the centre of the floor where all the others rushed to dip their grubby hands inside.

The pot contained some form of rancid gruel, there was no way that I was going to eat that but, for the other boys it was all they had, under my cloak, and away from the sight of the boys, I conjured an apple and began to take small bights as my cell mates pushed and shoved to get their share of the rancid gruel.

The bully was the last to join the boys, at all times he kept one eye on where I was just in case I became a poisonous spider again, I sent him a small smile as I bit down into the apple, the bullies eyes widened as he saw what I was eating, the cell became quiet as he whispered something to the other boys, they all stopped eating the disgusting mess and turned to look at me and my apple.

It was a dark haired boy who finally built up enough courage to ask the obvious question.

“Where you get that apple?”

I had to think quickly, I had not thought about the consequences when I had conjured it, I had to have an answer and quickly.

“I had it hidden in my cloak, they didn’t search me yet.”

“You got any more, ain’t never had an apple for years?”

I smiled and decided I could conjure a couple more for them to share, if I was going to make friends, even these temporary ones, then I should do something to help their predicament.

“Yes, I have a couple more hidden, let me see.”

I held my apple in my teeth as I made an act of searching my cloak while I was conjuring, after a short time I produced three more apples and began to break them apart into smaller pieces so all would have some to go with the gruel they were forcing into their mouths.

Each boy took only one small piece of apple and stuffed it into a fold or pocket as they went back to the rest of the gruel, after the pot was empty, the thin boy took it to the door and placed it down then, with little thought, kicked the door a couple of times, it must have been the signal that they had finished, the boys then all found somewhere to sit and began to eat their piece of apple, the looks of delight on their grubby faces gave me a warm feeling.

When they had finished the conjured apples, there were only the stems and pips left and the boys all had a look of bliss on their young faces, later in the evening, one of the guards arrived and took away the empty pots but, not before pulling the thin boy outside, it was an hour before he returned, he was walking very strangely and had the remnants of tears on his grubby face, it was not hard to guess what had been done to him by the cell guards, it seemed that they would pick a different boy each night to fulfil their base needs, I only hoped I would not be here when they tried to pick on myself.

For the life of me I could not see what they had to smile about, if what they said was true, these young boys would not live to see the end of the week and yet, the took delight in the smallest of gifts, it was at this point that I decided I had to do something to save them all, even the bigger bully, I just could not reconcile the act of hanging for nothing more than a mouth full of food, his Lordship was not a very nice man and, if the Duke was of his blood, then it made sense why the Duke acted like he did.

When I felt the time for sleep sneak upon me, I set a thin ward around myself like I did every night and dozed off, my mind was still in a turmoil as to how to save these boys, while they had not been over friendly, they had also not done me any wrong, all except the bully and he had well and truly paid for that little crime, even now I could here his sobs as he tried to sleep and at the same time keep one eye open for any change I may make to my appearance, such as a spider.

For the next two days and nights, nothing happened, everything went as before except for the change of boy that would be taken by the guards, for my own trial I heard nothing, the only difference was the continuous sounds of pain and anguish from the other cells, one of the boys told me that the guards often tortured the older inmates for their own pleasure as most of the inmates were already condemned to death, on the third day it would be my turn to go before his Lordship for trial, if it all went as usual, we would all meet the hangman the next day after the trial.

I sat that night and thought of what I could do, for myself I had no worries, there were many ways I could disappear before the hangman got too me, it was for the other boys that I had to think of something, I decided that I would need more information, to this end I asked in general to all the boys.

“Where is this cell, are we far underground?”

It was the thin boy who mumbled an answer.

“Nah, we’re on the outside wall at the base of the tower, see the tower is built on the top of a hill as you saw when coming here, but the walls go down part way, while the rest of the tower is higher than the dungeons, they can’t go deep as the base is solid rock so they built it on top of the rock base, the dungeon is on the outside of the main tower walls, if we could dig these stones out we would be free, but we cant do that, these here stones is two foot thick and it would take a hundred men to lift one.”

This was all I needed, after my trial tomorrow I would set my plan in motion, firstly I would have to swear them all to secrecy but add a threat as well so my secret was safe until I left the town, to this end I set about working out the best plan of action, it would have to be late in the night for the best chance as the guards would be bored and tired from the long day, the boys would be rested and ready to run.

The next day was the day of my trial, at mid morning, one of the guards came to our cell and roughly grasped my shoulder and hauled me upright, with little said he half dragged and half walked me outside, as we came into the full light of day, I saw the centre of the courtyard filled with townspeople, at one end was a large wooden table, one each side of the table were a number of the guards that I recognised as town guards, at the centre of the table sat a fat middle aged human, his clothes denoted status and wealth, in front of the table was the large rough man from the early time in the market, he was speaking in aloud a sure voice.

“Yes, my Lordship, there was two of them, one escaped but the other I got for you to set an example of.”

His Lordship answered the man in the bored voice of a man who has heard it all before, at this time I was pushed forward by the guard to stand in front of the table, the townsman leered at me as he turned back to the Lord Denvis.

“This is him, my Lord, caught him red handed I did.”

“Are you sure this is the boy?”

“Yes my Lord, sure as day light I am.”

The Lord Denvis gave a harrumph and looked at me, at last I would have some say in this farce of a trial, or so I thought.

“Urchin, you have been accused of robbing this fine townsman, I find you guilty, you are sentenced to be hanged on the morrow.” He looked at my guard. “Take him back, how many for the hangman tomorrow?”

The guard lowered his head in a semi bow as he spoke.

“This one will make seventeen, my Lord.”

“Ah, a good days work then, I do hope it will be more entertaining than the last lot, very good my man, take him down.”

That was it? That was my trial where guilt or innocence is decided, my blood began to boil, there was wrong here and I was not about to let it pass, as usual with the impatience of youth and a mind that could see little good in the human race, I set my sights on the night, one that this rough town would never forget, it was going to stretch my magic but I would leave this place of falsehood and injustice in a state they would not soon forget.

I was roughly manhandled back to the cell, the look on the other boy’s faces said they knew already what the outcome would be, it was time to put into action some of my plan, to this end I gestured to the thin boy and went to a corner of the cell a little away from the others.

“What’s your name?” I asked the boy.

“S..Simon.”

“Do you want to get out of here Simon?”

“How, there’s no way out but the door and you know what the guards are like.”

“I have a way but, you must keep my secret at the cost of your life, do you think any other boys will come if I can open a door?”

“They will all want to get free, there is no chance after the morning, we will all hang if we stay here.”

“Will you talk to them for me, they will have to take a blood oath to keep my secret though.”

“Let me ask them, I will come back soon.”

The thin boy left me alone in my corner as he went to called all the others to gather around him in one of the other corners as far from the door as they could get, even with my Elvin hearing, I could not pick up the whispers of the boys as they talked, as Simon talked there were many quick glances towards where I sat alone but still I could not hear their words, I suppose it was the nature of their lives that they were able to talk in such low tones.

After a while, Simon stood from the others and came back to me.

“There is only one question.” Simon said.

“And that is?”

“Will you take all of us, even Gregor?”

“Who is Gregor?”

“The..ah..the boy who you scared.”

“Yes, if they want to leave tonight then even Gregor will come but, first they must take a blood oath, it is binding and can not be broken, if they try to tell my secret they will meet a very painful and bad end, do they fully understand this?”

“I’m not sure, I did tell them about the oath and they agreed but I did not know how serious it was, even so, I think they will all go with you, what else do they have but he hangman to look forward too.”

“Good, bring them all over here, let’s do this now and then we can get ready for later.”

Soon all the boys were sitting around me with expectant looks on the grimy faces, I began to tell them what would happen and what would be the effect of they broke their oath.

“This oath is for the rest of your lives, it is a blood oath and can never be broken unless you want to lose your life, if you are not prepared to keep this secret for the rest of your life then you can leave this circle and sit over in another corner.”

None of the boys moved but all kept their young faces looking at mine.

“Very good then, all of you hold out your hand face up, I am going to make a small nick in your finger and then mix your blood with your oath, it will only be a small prick but your words are the important part, you say the words as I tell you, do you all agree?”

Every boy nodded his head in agreement and held out their right hand face up, conjuring a small knife under my cloak, I quickly nicked each finger until a small drop of blood showed on each hand, the boys had not even flinched, lastly I put a nick in my own finger and then looked at all the expectant faces.

“Say after me all together, this oath is binding from this moment to the end of your life, I, ‘say your name’ do give this blood oath to Alexi, in that I will never in my life tell of his secret on the pain of my own death.”

Each boy said the phrase perfectly, then rubbed my blood with each of theirs, I felt the heat of the magic as my blood touched each of them, I did not know if they felt it as humans do not have much knowledge of ,magic but for the boys it was now too late, the oath had been said and bound with our blood.

The boys looked at me silently until Simon spoke for them.

“Is that the oath finished then?”

“Yes, the oath is binding and every word you spoke is now sacred, if you try to break the oath you will suffer like you have never suffered before, if it is serious it will mean your death, now for my secret.”

I rose from my place and went to the door, with a wave of my hand, I sealed the door so it could not be opened, next, I put a veil over the window so no one could look inside and then turned to the seated boys, first I pulled off my leather cap and feed my hair, pushing it back behind my pointed ears so the boys could see them clearly, next I conjured a small globe of light to brighten the cell, while all this was going on the boys sat with awed looks on their faces, it was Gregor that spoke first.

“You’re one of them, one of the Northern folk, my dad said you were real and I never believed him, I thought it was just a sea-mans tale to scare young children, but.. but you’re real.”

“Yes Gregor, we are real, there have been Elves around for longer than any of your history can tell, now you know my secret, if you tell of me then you can now see why you will die terribly.”

For the next hour the boys fired questions about my life and why I was here, what I was going to do and how could they help, it was the innocence of youth that they did not fear me now that they knew my secret, being all urchins of the street they seemed to accept my difference, after all they had little else to believe in.

When it was close to the middle of the night, I began to put my plan into effect.

“Now, I’m going to draw a circle for you all to stand in, whatever happens, do not go out of the circle, there is going to be a lot of noise and destruction around us but as long as you stay in the circle you will be safe, everyone understand?”

I watched as they all nodded, taking the knife I had conjured earlier, I again nicked my finger and let the few drops of blood hit the floor, with a wave of my hand I made it form a large circle in the centre of the cell floor, once done, I told all the boys to stand in the centre and again not to move.

When all the boys were tightly in the middle of the circle, I began my spell, drawing power from the very stones of the cell and from the ground underneath, I started the first of the earth shakes that would eventually enlarge until the very walls of the tower would crumble, for the humans inside the tower I had little thought or care, this was for myself and my new friends.

Slowly I pilled more power and the shaking began to get harder and the first cracks began to appear in the walls, in the distance I could hear the groans of the heavy stones as they too began to disintegrate, the groans of the walls took on a life of their own as the moved under the more and more powerful shocks that were sent from the very bowels of the earth.

The boys were now very frightened and clasped tightly to each other but, not one of them tried to remove themselves from the blood circle, they at least now believed me, it would also go to reinforce their oath.

The shaking of the earth increased rapidly, the first of the stone wall shattered with a loud resounding crack, it was son followed by more and more as, far away we began to hear the first of the cries and screams of those trapped outside, turning to the outer wall i let one solid blast of power flow from my hands, the wall split and we could now see out into the open night air, I quickly raised my hand to stop the boys from moving towards the opening.

“Not yet, there is still danger, wait until I tell you to go.”

Around us the walls were crumbling like rotten rock, the screams and yells of fear now filled the night air as more and more of the tower fell into ruin, at last, when I thought I had done enough damage to stop any pursuit, as well as being exhausted by the effort, I stopped the power flow and turned to the boys.

“Ok, now follow me closely, stay together until we are well away from the tower, there is still danger of falling stones but I can keep you safe for now.”

So saying, I led the boys through the hole I had made and into the night, away from the cells of death, behind us we left a ruin and a darkness filled with cries and screams of the injured and displaced, there would be time to look back when we were safely away, i was sure there would be no guards around to stop us but I did not want to take any chances, if I was caught now then my journey to follow the Thread would be over.

TBC.
Artcart65@vodafone.co.nz


 

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