Chapter Three, Part Five: [SOW] Chapter Three, Part Five: The Beggar’s Threat
Godspine bustled with life in the early morning. The streets filled quickly after they’d passed through the gate and made their way to the first stop, Icehold Prison. The fortress loomed far above any of the other structures in the district, towering over even the watchman’s posts. All along the walls small windows were constructed for archers to fire from, and where the windows were not, the wall was covered in thin metal spikes. Assuming them to deter escape, Snow looked over the complex with a pit in his stomach.
The carriage came to a short stop before a massive wooden gate manned by four heavily armored guards weilding halberds. Standing in the cracked doors was an elderly man with similar plate mail draping his frame, but he wore no helmet as the other guards did.
As soon as they’d arrived, General Vandruss hustled them from the carriage and to the gate. Snow and Heindor were placed at the front of the line, ahead of Ammrack Veihn, a friend of Heindor’s and a pudgy woman. Beside her Vandruss appointed Sidgi Koll, whom he’d never spoken to. Behind them, other soldiers from their platoon were instructed by Vandruss’ second in command while he approached them.
“The four of you are assigned duty at Icehold. Warden Garris Lohks is your commanding officer, report to him for further instruction.”
They each nodded, and Vandruss put a hand on Snow’s chest before leaving.
“I expect you to treat your new position with the respect it deserves, Private Snow.”
He swallowed hard and the General sniffed the cold air and pushed off of his chest, headed back to the carriage.
The armored man with no helmet approached, his bushy facial hair wrapped tight beneath a red scarf as he extended his arms as if to welcome them to a party.
“I am the aforementioned Warden of Icehold.” He smiled beneath the scarf, and his rosy cheeks peeked from beneath the wool wrapping. “Garris Lohks. Welcome to Icehold, privates.”
Heindor coughed in the cold air.
“Thank you, sir.”
The Warden waved at Vandruss and watched as the horses dragged it down the lane.
“Come with me.” The Warden snapped his fingers, his mood souring immediately as Vandruss left eyesight. He whipped around and passed through the doors of the prison and Snow didn’t wait to follow.
The Warden said nothing as he led them into a large courtyard, the snow covered ground stained red with frozen blood. Guards marched through the grounds from one of the three connecting doorways, beside him he noticed a watchtower with multiple locks freshly attached to the door.
Warden Lohks led them into the far side of the complex and turned down a long hall, outfitted with multiple cells.
“Welcome to your new home.” He gestured to the rusty bars and turned to face them. “Each of you will be assigned to two cell rows. With four of you and six rows, one of you will be assigned the easiest duty per week.
He looked over each of them briefly, first pointing at Veihn.
“Rows five and six.” The Warden gestured to a nearby guard who approached.
“Sir.” The guard offered a salute.
“Take this fat woman with you to Row Five and Six, get her acquainted with her new companions and show her the coming duties.”
The guard nodded and grabbed the woman by her arm. She shoved the guard quickly and turned to follow.
“I don’t need led like a dog on a leash.” She spat.
The Warden dropped his arms to the side and stared at her, his nostrils flared.
A thick silence brewed in the room for a moment, with no one moving and only the sound of short breaths between them before he approached her and placed a massive palm on her steel helmet, gripping it in his fingertips he tore it from her head.
“You will do as commanded here, I am no Vandruss. You do not get second chances.” Lohks pointed down the hall, where a single cell remained unlocked. Inside of it a man a few years Snow’s senior sat, his arms chained to a wall covered in small metal pins.
“Do you see him?”
Veihn didn’t answer.
“I said,” Lohks gripped her jaw and turned her head to face the cell. “Do you see him?”
Snow’s stomach churned.
“Yes, sir.” She replied through clamped cheeks.
“He nearly let someone escape last night.” He looked to the guard sent to orient her to Rows Five and Six. “Soldier, what happens when your duties are forgotten or missed?”
“A night in the Nail Ward, sir.”
The Warden grinned again beneath his scarf, which he hadn’t cared to remove. “Correct, under what condition?”
“With,” the guard began. “With hot water poured on your skin after every meal.”
Snow glanced down the hall at the chained soldier, whose shoulders and neck sported burns he hadn’t noticed, the blisters from which had been torn and ripped thanks to the pins in the wall.
“Correct.” The Warden replied, shoving Veihn’s face away from him. “For you, disobeying me means you will have plenty of water, but you don’t need the food.”
He waved his hand, and Snow tensed himself in anticipation of another remark, but to his surprise Veihn lowered her head and returned her helmet as she followed the guard out the door.
“You.” He pointed at Koll. “Row Three and Four.”
He shoved the man toward another guard who caught him and led him out into the courtyard. As Koll vacated the building, Lohks eyed Snow and Heindor carefully.
“I’ve heard about you two. Vandruss has had some difficulty with your recent behaviors, has he?”
“Yes, sir.” Snow replied, keeping an eye on Heindor.
“You saw what happens to the disobedient here, didn’t you?”
The Warden crouched, his breath hot at Snow’s nose. So close he couldn’t see the scarf donned man clearly.
“Yes sir.” Heindor replied, saluting.
“Good.” The Warden stood up and clapped. “I trust the two of you will follow orders, then?”
Snow nodded in tandem with Heindor as the Warden paced back and forth.
“Heindor, you will begin your rotation in Rows One and Two. Go.”
A guard emerged from a side room and summoned the boy while the Warden dismissed the rest of them from the room. When no one remained but he and Snow, the Warden dragged a stool from a nearby table.
“Kerrick Snow, I believe the General told me?”
“Where do you come from, Snow?”
“I was raised here, sir.” He raised his fist to salute.
“Strange thing, that.” The Warden slipped a long cigar from his pouch and struck it with a golden plate attached to the tip of his glove. It ignited immediately, and he drew in a deep breath. “I don’t recall a family named Snow in the city.”
He stuttered. “I don’t know why that is, sir.”
“What do your people do?” The Warden flicked ash onto his exposed arm. The sting faded quickly to a tickle as a nearby draft carried the charred Greenleaf into the room.
“My father is a tailor.”
Lohks raised an eyebrow. “Tailor, you say? With what company does he hem jackets?”
“None, sir. He works independently.”
The Warden remained silent for a time, the crackle of his cigar the only noise in the room until eventually, he exhaled a long stream of smoke and leaned forward.
“You remind me of someone, Snow. An old soldier friend, left the military a couple decades ago to settle down with a strong lass on a far somewhere, but kept his stake in his company until the hard seasons came.”
“I’m sorry?” Kerrick stared forward, unwilling to make eye contact with the Warden.
“I believe his name was Arni Windvar, but it’s been a couple of decades and a couple thousand drinks since I saw him last. Used to run the Windvar Company until they went under.”
Kerrick fought a creeping tickle in his throat. “Why’d they go under?”
“They were taken over. Had to sell their contracts in order for them to stay afloat. Ol’ Arni made it a point to sell to the highest bidder. Nobody expected the bidder to be a Dragon Hunter.”
His heart skipped a beat.
“What was the hunter’s name?” He asked, genuinely curious.
“Klauven, that blonde war machine your troupe got tangled with up there on the ridge. You know, you four should be thanking me for saving your bacon. The rest of your troupe is out working the streets, you four are the only ones with a roof over your heads.”
Snow nodded. “We did speak, briefly.”
“He’s a friend of mine. A bit rough around the edges, though.” The Warden took another long drag and slapped Snow’s back with the palm of his hand. “I must be wrong, you do bear a pretty stark resemblance to old Arni, though. Maybe he had another brat with one of the courtesans when we were on leave. You know your mother?”
He shook his head.
“Shame, If you were a Windvar, I’d tell you to keep your hands clean of the rest of your little group. Nobility has no business with the likes of the commoners.”
“And if I’m a commoner?” He replied before he could stop himself.
“Then I suggest you don’t fraternize with the fine blood in the city. You’ll have two days off a week, keep your nose clean. I know of a few shops you could visit if you wanted to, you know, spend quality time with someone who isn’t Private Veihn.”
“I’m not interested.” Snow fired, his pulse tightening.
“Oh I’m not surprised, a lass of her size—“
“I meant, I’m not interested in continuing this conversation, sir.”
The Warden stopped, the butt of his cigar smoldering.
Kerrick’s mind raced.
“That was wise.” He chided himself, staring forward while he waited for his commanding officer’s reaction.
“Good joke, Snow.” The Warden finally replied. “Just remember, I know who you really are. Company men are all the same even if we don’t want to admit it.”
He balled his fists.
“What are my duties?”
The Warden knocked on a side door and a guard stepped into the room, who wore a different uniform than the others. His plate replaced with chains and he brandished a pair of swords rather than a halberd.
“This way.” The guard pointed through the door, toward the Nail Ward, where the other guard had been locked away.
Snow obeyed and followed the man who marched silently through the halls. He maneuvered through a small stone gate and deeper into the group of cells Warden Lohks had referred to as the “Nail Ward” to find it sparse with prisoners, in the whole of the cell block there were three. The guard, an elderly man with eyes whose color did not match, and at the far end behind a massive steel door, Snow spotted a young woman, a year or two older than he with long blonde hair that curled infinitely upon itself. Her cheeks dotted with freckles beneath pale blue eyes. She was lying on her back, stretched across a bed of pins and as he passed by her door she glanced at him through the eye slit.
“She’s beautiful.” He thought, and as if the guard heard his mind the man stopped on the other side of the door.
“She’s the most dangerous prisoner we have. I heard you say you’re from Godspine?”
He nodded as the guard turned down a hall and passed through a door into a large barracks where other guards were in the process of changing into and out of their uniforms.
“Out here, every once and a while we come across one foolish enough to be beset by the will of a dragon. They go by many names, most of us just call them Dragon Riders, she’s one. A few months back there was an attack on the city. A golden dragon came from the skies in the middle of our welcoming party for King Harama.”
“I know, I was working patrols that night. A bunch of fires were set, they ended up capturing the dragon.”
The guard nodded and pushed through a door on the other end of the barracks into a kitchen hall with sparse visitors. The few who were there smoked their own greenleaf and looked to be avoiding their superiors.
Snow’s guide continued on without so much as a glance their way.
“The dragon came down and ignited a bunch of Noble Houses before it was caught. She was bonded to the beast. One of the biggest we’ve ever seen. It didn’t have a strong hold on her, however. When it went down she continued to fight.”
Kerrick paused, a word from the guard caught in his ear.
“The dragon didn’t set fire to the houses.” He caught up to the guide, who pushed his way past a group of cooks waiting for the lunch bell.
“Of course it did.” The guard laughed and gestured for him to look into the kitchen.
“No, I was there. Someone from The Camps set the houses alight. I only saw one of them, a woman with long black hair, like down to her knees long.”
The guard shook his head. “I don’t think so. I was with Harama when it happened, and his personal guards were calling about the dragon fire.”
The guard stopped short of a small room with a gilded doorknob.
“Doesn’t matter in the long run, the point is, her dragon is dead and she’s here with us. We’re pressing her for information. She is in league with the group who robbed Lord Tilliak around the same time, and that brings us to why you’re here.” He gestured at the door. “That’s the Warden’s Office. You need a meal, or a break, or a weapon, go anywhere else. Come find one of us. Only bother him with the most important updates.”
“You saw the Nail Ward, didn’t you?”
He shook his head. Despite the guards certainty about the events from the dragon attack, Snow knew better. He watched that woman, with the tattoo behind her ear set fire to House Tilliak. That had already begun before the dragon arrived. He’d already made his way to The Camps to find her.
“Yeah, I get it.”
“Good.” The guard turned back and gestured toward the entrance to the kitchen. “Your patrol will be these rooms. Each of us rotate on a fortnight. After fourteen nights here, you will move to Rows One and Two, and the rest of you will move down the list. On your rotation you’re in charge of everything here, including the Nail Ward.”
He nodded. “And?”
“And, if there’s an issue, report it to me. I’m Captain Fane. At the end of your day, you will be shown your sleeping arrangements while you are assigned here. We are on high alert presently due to rumors of a coming jailbreak attempt.”
The guard offered him a sword that hung on the wall beside the Warden’s office. He took it and looped it around him, making sure it fit securely.
“How does one hear a rumor about that with any credibility?”
“Because,” The guard began, “That guard locked up in the Nail Ward was paid a handsome purse by a tan woman, with long black hair and a unique tattoo behind her ear for a copy of our master key.”
Kerrick laughed out loud. “You’re joking.”
“Not remotely,” The Captain replied with a dour look. “He decided, after some convincing, that it would be worth it to exchange the information in place of… more severe punishment.”
Kerrick nodded and turned on his heel.
“Before you go,” Captain Fane stopped him. “I don’t suggest making friends with the witch out there. She’ll poison you with her words alone. Don’t be misled by her allure, Private.”
Snow nodded and stepped away to his first patrol.
Captain Fane didn’t call after him and, as much as he feared the new assignment he realized being off of the Summit was revitalizing for his mind. He’d been stationed in the snowy wilderness for months and in such close proximity to Heindor and the others, he’d not realized how much it grated on him to be so seldom alone.
In the bitter cold upon the summit each morning was a fight for survival. Despite the condition, and the smell, of Icehold Prison it was a far cry from the necessity of his prior outpost.
Kerrick took his leave and returned to the Nail Ward where he passed by the blonde woman’s room. A surging desire to look, in opposition of Captain Fane’s warning, burst through him. He fought the sensation and instead, stepped past to the third prisoner held within. He’d barely stepped past the enclosed cell when a creaking voice called out to him.
“I smell new blood, boy.”
He paused for a moment, and took a step back to meet the discolored gaze of the elder.
“I’m surprised you smell blood at all.”
The man giggled quietly, and pushed his hands down into the pins to lift himself from the floor.
“They’re scared.” He remarked, taking a barefooted step toward the door.
“So are you.” He placed the palm of his hand on the hilt of his weapon, prepared for the man to do something.
“I rather enjoy it here, if there is a jailbreak I won’t be leaving. You can carry on about your day, child.”
He gritted his teeth.
“What kind of man prefers this?” He gestured with his eyes down to the room covered in sharp gleaming pins.
“It gives me time to think.”
A guard entered the hall at the opposite end and waved for Snow to approach as he stepped into the open cell. The elder prisoner grunted when Kerrick left the door and met his partner at the feet of the prison guard.
He took a moment to look over the man who’d been strung up and chained to the wall for numerous hours. Hundreds of tiny cuts and incisions marked his bare legs and back, flakes of dried blood fell, some of them carried away by the dripping of new blood as the guard who summoned him knelt and placed a hand firm on the prisoner’s shin.
“McEarry, you know why I’m here.”
The prisoner stared down at his shin, and the hand covering it. With a whimper he urged.
“I told you, I did it for the money.”
The guard pushed on his shin, piercing it a thousand times with needles. Kerrick remained at the edge of the cell and watched new drops of blood splash onto the floor.
“But who did you sell the key to, and why do we still have it?”
Snow cocked an eyebrow as the prisoner cried out.
“I don’t know her name! She’s from the south, a migrant, she offered me a healthy reward. She wants the barkskin.”
“Barkskin?” Snow interjected.
“One of our prisoners,” The guard replied, shoving down hard on the prisoner’s leg. “He’s a thief from the Isles. We caught him the night of the fire.”
Snow drew the memory from deep within his mind, and couldn’t recall anyone with bark-like skin fleeing the scene. If they’d been there, they likely would have been consumed in the blaze.
“Tell me what you know, McEarry.” He knelt at the foot of the prisoner and motioned for the guard to remove his hand.
“You new here? You must be my replacement.” The prisoner laughed. “I’d tell you to get on with killing me if that were a possibility, but I know what happens here, I’ve already said everything I know.”
Snow reached out and pulled the guard’s hand from the shin to receive an incredulous look from the guard.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
He waved the air beside him.
I don’t know.
“If you’ve already told them everything, that’s fine, but I want you to tell me. I was there the night of his capture, but I didn’t see him. Tell me more.”
The prisoner sighed and launched into a well rehearsed confession.
“The girl came asking about Icehold, she wanted to know if there were any ways to buy the barkskin out of the prison. I told her no, but she pressed me a lot. She wouldn’t leave me alone, kept showing up to the taverns I frequented and made it a point to single me out. After a couple weeks of this I started to get scared.”
He sucked in a deep breath and continued.
“She is dangerous, kid. I don’t know what you two think you’ll accomplish by routing her. She’s a warrior, at least, carries herself like one. The day of the trade she scared one of the merchants away, a high seller whose been peddling cheap weapons to new recruits.”
Snow stifled and upwelling of questions about the merchant and focused himself.
“So, she is a tan skinned warrior from the south with a tattoo on her neck? How many people fitting that description live here? It couldn’t be that hard to find her.”
“Oh,” the guard interrupted. “We know where the girl fitting his description lives. She’s in the camps. She’s around here a lot.” He brought a fist down on the prisoner’s ankle, driving pins deep into his heel. “The thing is, McEarry here wouldn’t have dealt with her in a million years. He’s afraid of her.”
“What would there be to be afraid of, McEarry?” Snow reclaimed the interrogation. “You’re a part of Icehold, your training as a warrior should count for something, shouldn’t it?”
The prisoner looked at him and started laughing.
“You really don’t know what I’ve gotten us into, do you?” He fought to contain his laughter. “I swiped the key, she requested the master for quite a few Scales. When we made the trade, she pulled out this glove. I’ve never seen anything like it, it was metal and heavy. It looked like part of a suit of armor, but she could do things with it. Like she was a witch.”
The guard nodded.
“Yes, the woman from the camps is not only a trained warrior, a nomad and a soldier, but she is also a witch. Naturally, you chose the most presently deadly woman to do crooked business with and managed to escape with your life, is that right?”
“I didn’t know until after we’d made the trade. I started to threaten her, let her know where she ranked. I’d give her the chance to come pick up her friend but wasn’t going to let her get out alive. I was making a little extra money on the side.”
“That’s what you thought.” The guard leaned down, pressing on his other shin again.
Kerrick immediately reached out and caught him in the crook of his arm, knocking him off of the prisoner.
“Do it again, and I’ll lock you up.” He snarled.
The guard rose to his feet.
“What did you say to me?”
Kerrick met his gaze and stood, his hand on his sword.
“You clearly have tried everything in your wheelhouse to get information from him, and it isn’t working, so you should consider changing your game plan. If pain isn’t going to help you, maybe a different approach will.”
The guard drew back his arm and shot it forward, faster than Snow could react as it slammed into his side, between the gap in his armor. He doubled over as blood trickled from the wound. The guard withdrew and he saw, tucked between the center knuckles was a small blade, barely longer than his own thumb.
“You know, we never change, do we?” The prisoner laughed from the floor, his own blood painting the ground.
Kerrick braced himself against the doorframe and stumbled.
“Welcome to Icehold. We’ve all heard about you, Kerrick Snow. You’re a pretender, and you will not step on my feet during this investigation.”
Snow coughed, the pain in his side flared, and he dropped to a knee.
“So, McEarry,” He struggled to speak as the warm blood soaked his shirt. “Tell me more about this woman.”
His mind raced as the prisoner rattled off the beginning of the story, up to the day of the trade. Kerrick recognized her description, he knew who had been looking to instigate the jailbreak and he needed to tell Vandruss, or Fane, but he couldn’t do it without a name.
“So the day we exchanged, and I threatened her, she started using her gauntlet and water was coming out of it and crawling up my arm, like she could control it and tell it where to go. The whole time, she was distracted, she seemed scared of something. Then, after it was done and I took the money and she left. When she did, the scales inside the bag turned to water. I’m telling you, I’ve never seen anything like this before. I tried chasing after her but she was gone.”
Snow leaned back against the wall as the guard loomed over him, staring with furious eyes.
“Are you ignoring me?” He shouted down.
Snow looked up, still clutching his side.
“No, I’m doing what I came here to do instead of picking petty fights.”
The guard swung down on him, and in a flash, Kerrick caught him by the elbow. His blood stained hand pinched between the man’s leather undercoat and his plate as he rolled, tipping the guard over and sending him crashing onto the floor.
Kerrick dug his thumb into the crux of the man’s wrist, finding a tendon that ran through as he shoved. The guard grunted, but with a push, Kerrick bent the tendon and the man’s hand popped open, dropping the weapon. He scrambled to pick it up and brought it immediately to the man’s palm.
“Don’t try it.” He growled. “If you move, I’ll take a finger.”
The whelming anger inside of him was strange, he’d managed it well on the Summit, even in the face of Heindor’s inflated ego.
Then, Verrita’s frozen visage flashed in his mind.
The guard reached forward with his free hand and he shoved down with the small knife, piercing the guard’s hand.
“I told you.”
The guard screamed in pain as his pinky finger fell, rolling along the uneven stone and coming to a stop against one of the many pins nearby.
“I’m going to kill you!” The guard screamed, but Kerrick whipped the knife across his hand and sent blood gushing onto the pins.
Across the room, the prisoner had tucked himself close against the wall, watching with a sick glee.
“You will do no such thing.” Captain Fane’s voice boomed from outside the cell.
The guard scrambled to his feet and with his four fingered hand, raised it to salute.
“Get up.” Fane spat at Snow, who obeyed immediately.
“Explain yourselves.” The Captain gestured at the bloody finger on the floor.
Snow didn’t speak, and instead gestured to his side, drenched in blood.
“Vandruss will be hearing about this. Both of you, go to the infirmary.”
He nodded and stepped past Fane, when the prisoner called out behind him.
“Hey, kid. I’m impressed.”
He dropped the knife without a reply and shoved his way out of the Nail Ward with his hand on his side, making his way out to the dining hall.
What are you doing?” He thought. “You’re going to get yourself killed, or imprisoned.”
Verrita’s face returned to his mind as he passed through toward the infirmary.
Inside the frail double doors, he came upon two rows of beds. All of them empty save for one, where he found General Vandruss sitting with his arms crossed.
“Kerrick Snow, once more getting yourself into trouble I see? It’s a good thing then, that I was so close, wasn’t it?”
Thank you for reading Sisters of Westwinter! Chapter Four kicked off with the culmination of part one. At the end of this chapter, we will be entering a new era of Sisters of Westwinter.
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