Chapter Five, Part One: [SOW] Chapter Five, Part One: A Taste of Hope
Content Warning :: Suicide/Self Harm
(Most folks won’t consider it that bad, but I want to be wary for those who are sensitive.)
The sudden shock of the last few hours had dissipated from Kerrick’s bones, the jailbreak proper over with save for a few stragglers remaining who shouted obscenities at the guards left alive. He and Heindor, among a few of the official Icehold guards, had been instructed to drag the bodies to the courtyard and organize them so that a headcount could be made.
He dragged one such body, that of a young boy who’d been imprisoned for, judging by the look of his ribs through his abdomen, being hungry. Kerrick hefted the young corpse carefully upon the mound of prisoners while Heindor worked on the other side of it, pulling them one at a time and lining them up to prepare them for the mass grave.
On the other side of the courtyard, the Icehold guards who lost their lives were similarly being organized under the advisement of General Vandruss. Captain Fane had been laid out, the arrows pulled from his corpse and piled to the side, save for one which rooted itself between the joint in his shoulder and arm.
Kerrick turned back and made his way into Row Six to tend to the bodies still within. Inside, Veihn sat with her back to the wall. Still behind the cell door which he’d locked after the clamor died down.
“What will you get by serving these people?” She scoffed as he dragged another lifeless corpse out of the hall.
“I will know that at least I tried to help some of them.”
She replied, but he didn’t care to hear her as he pulled an elderly man with long gashes in his chest from the prison wall and out to the pile of bodies.
Vandruss rotated through the courtyard to the pile of prisoners where he spoke to Heindor and Koll who both stood before Warden Lohks. As he deposited the old man’s body, Vandruss waved him over.
“Snow, we are moving your assignment.” Vandruss stated quickly.
“He gets to move?” Heindor asked, a look of disgust on his face likely due to the stench of the bodies.
“All three of you will be moving to a new post. Now that the rumored jailbreak is more or less over with, we will be reassigning each of you to the city itself. I’ll have your new assignments when we are finished here.”
Koll nodded, his eyes darted back and forth between their General and the Warden.
“What do we do now?”
“Prepare the carriages.” Lohks replied with a wave of his hand.
At the far end of the courtyard, beyond the massive doublewide wooden gate stood a series of carriages with wagons attached at the end. Led by plump horses eager and waiting to run.
“The Charnel Yard is unprepared for this number of bodies. There is not nearly enough room for them in the city.”
Koll nodded and obeyed his instruction, slinking away toward the carriages to assist the grave keepers there who unfurled long leather coats stained with dry blood.
Vandruss turned toward he and Heindor.
“Where is Private Veihn?”
Kerrick swallowed hard.
“I locked her in a cell in Row Six, sir.”
The General cocked an eyebrow.
“Any particular reasoning for that?”
He shook his head. “She was slaughtering prisoners left and right, torturing them. She didn’t want to help contain the break, she wanted to kill them.”
“You’re a bleeding heart, Snow. If a few more of them died as a result of their actions, what loss is that for us?”
Kerrick’s face flushed.
“We will not be having this discussion. You had orders. They were to prevent the rumored breakout, and if you could not, they were to put a stop to it. I see that Veihn used whatever means necessary to slow the process and for that, I am grateful. She was able to follow orders.”
Vandruss shot a glowering look to Kerrick before he changed the subject.
“The two of you will continue until the halls of Icehold have been cleaned. When you are finished with that duty, come speak to me and I will see to your new assignment.”
The boys turned back to their duty and Vandruss called out to them.
“Private Snow, go release Private Veihn before you continue. I must speak with her.”
He nodded and spun on his heel toward Row Six.
Inside Row Six once more, he made his way to the cell holding Veihn to find her in the same position, though nodding off. He hadn’t noticed the paleness of her face or the bags beneath her eyes.
He jammed the key into the lock.
“What has you so exhausted, Veihn.”
“Nothing.” She answered. “Am I a free woman.”
“Vandruss wants to speak with you.”
The paleness of her face grew paler at the mention of Vandruss and she nodded.
“Did he mention what it was about?”
Snow released the door which fell gently closed, the deadbolt of the cell propped against the locking plate as Veihn made her way down the hall of Row Six taking care to step over the bodies of the soldiers, but with the same steps trampling the hands of the prisoners.
“No, just that he wanted to meet with you. We are apparently getting new assignments.”
She frowned. “I rather enjoy things here, to be honest.”
“I know you do.” Snow fired back before he returned to the courtyard where Heindor steadily hefted bodies to their place.
Veihn followed him out and once she’d spotted Vandruss broke out into a light jog to meet with him. Kerrick returned to his orders and found a nearby body, a prisoner who’d lost a hand. Likely to his companion in the chaos.
He gifted the corpse and dragged it to the pile as he’d done so much already. Heindor tossed another prisoner into the line as the grave keepers approached the other side and began raising the dead to the bed of a wagon.
“Snow,” He started, not looking at him.
“We should have died today.”
The somber words coming from Heindor, who rarely spoke with anything other than a sense of arrogance threatened to knock Snow off of his feet.
“I should have.” He agreed.
“No, that woman…” Heindor grunted, rolling a heavy set woman into the line. “She was a force of nature, like she was all destruction. She could have killed every single one of us if she’d wanted to.”
Kerrick moved to the other side of the bodies and began aiding Heiindor, carrying them to their position in the line.
“She likely could, yes. She had no problem eliminating Fane.”
“That’s what I mean.” Heindor rolled the body of a teenaged girl onto the worn grass of the courtyard.
“So she chose not to, what of it?”
“Why wouldn’t she just eradicate us all and be done with it?”
He shrugged. “Someone who can do the kind of things she was doing shouldn’t be questioned, Heindor.”
He grinned. “I suppose you are correct, but, it still begs the question. Not only could the woman have accomplished the jailbreak, but she could have put down a host of city guards. Ourselves included. This was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.”
Kerrick nodded, helping Heindor with a particularly fat corpse.
“I suppose she knew the extent of her strength. Eventually, somehow, it will run out and then she would have died. Or the prisoners would have, whichever came first.”
The pair hefted another body into the row as the grave keepers approached to collect it.
“I’d rather not remain to find out.”
The pair continued as instructed in a fragile camaraderie, and Kerrick was thankful for once they weren’t at one another’s necks.
Vandruss returned from some unknown business shortly after they pulled the final body from the Rows of Icehold and summoned Veihn and Koll to meet them in the courtyard.
“With the recent goings on within Icehold, I suspect it will be safe here for the lot of you, however, you are needed elsewhere. The four of you are expanding your duties beyond merely that of Icehold itself. King Harama has requested that my force be spread across the districts surrounding Icehold and the Fortress, where the King still is visiting. He has mentioned to me that the woman who arrived in the prison this morning was in his chambers begging for assistance in The Camps only a day or two ago. This is concerning for many reasons, but I’m sure you can imagine the possibility.”
Vandruss lit a roll of greenleaf and led them back to the barracks as Kerrick glanced around to his companions, sharing looks between one another.
“What does the King expect us to do more than any other soldier?” He asked.
Vandruss laughed. “Oh, boy, nothing. But you are more bodies to put in the way in case that woman decides to attack the crown.”
Her words echoed in his mind, and he realized he’d not told Vandruss the message she’d requested he deliver.
“Tell your commander: I will not stop until my people are free.”
He shivered in the cold, but not because of it.
“Vandruss, who was that woman?”
The General shook his head.
“We don’t know. Which makes her actions that much more frightening. Besides her various appearances around town, no one knows her name.”
“I recognize her.” Kerrick muttered.
His companions gasped faintly.
“How do you know her?” Koll asked.
“I was on patrol, before we got assigned to the mountain. She set fire to House Tilliak. The same night as the dragon attack.”
“Do you think they were connected?”
Kerrick considered the young girl they made it a point to free, not to mention the old man Dragon Hunter.
A puff of greenleaf smoke wafted over Vandruss’ head as he led them through the barracks.
“I suppose there is a possibility, but more often than not, coincidences are simply that and nothing more.”
Vandruss stopped before the hall which led to their rooms.
“Tomorrow, Kerrick and Heindor, report to me at the gates before dawn. I will be taking you to meet King Harama.”
His heart skipped a beat.
He’d never considered meeting the king, even after hearing of his stay in Godspine far from his home on the other side of the world, Harama was a fable to the people of Godspine, even Atla as a whole.
“General, pardon me, but I feel like you are not telling us something.” Veihn spoke with a meekness she only used when with to the him.
“I’m not telling you many things.”
He pinched the tip of his greenleaf and slipped it into the breast pocket of his tunic before he turned to face them.
“Before dawn. Don’t be late.”
Heindor froze in place as Vandruss walked past them and out of the barracks.
“You two get to meet the King?” Koll huffed. “I want to go.”
“Go in my stead.” Heindor spoke through glassy, frightened eyes.
Kerrick entered the barracks and made his way to his bed. Through a stroke of misfortune, the Icehold guards who’d been sleeping in their room had all lost their lives in the events of the day. The vacancy of the room crawled through him in a way he couldn’t name. The absence of the gruff, standoffish men and women of the prison left a void that he’d been ignoring in the aftermath of the events from the day.
Across from him, Heindor stumbled to his bed and kicked his boots onto the floor. His eyes wide and nervous.
“I would love to, but if I show up tomorrow instead of you, Vandruss will skin me alive.” Koll unbuckled his chest plate and slipped it over his head while Veihn did the same beside him.
Heindor glanced at Kerrick, who offered a faint smile. Despite their frequent butting of heads, he sympathized with his companion.
King Harama was a legend in Godspine, and not for any reasons he thought were worthy. The stories of Harama’s bloody conquest upon the throne across the seas in Eastern Athella resounded in song and poem all over the world.
Harama was not known for his kindness or his mercy. He was the kind of king, according to the stories, that would sooner kill a man to spare a bed than to bring him another.
“Do you think he is going to ask us to hunt her down?”
Heindor’s words came through shaky breath, revealing his fear.
Kerrick hadn’t considered the possibility, but, it was there.
“Why us?” He replied. “He would be better suited to call Klauven and Ginu, or any of the other Dragon Hunters. He is the king, he likely has droves of mercenaries and assassins waiting for him to send them somewhere to do his bidding.”
Kerrick gulped. At least, he hoped that was the case.
“But we have seen her the most, especially you, Snow.”
Heindor turned to face him, still in his armor.
The demeanor of the boy was a laughable change from the soldier who’d fought Kerrick on the mountain. A wide breadth from the aggressive and boastful ‘dragon slayer’ he presented himself to be.
“If that is the case, he will not send us alone.” Kerrick replied. “And we will be expected to complete the job regardless. It would be best to get some sleep.” He sucked in a deep breath.
Heindor nodded absently and moved his hands to the buckle.
“What do you think we will be doing?” Koll asked, glancing around the empty room. The crisply made beds of the dead soldiers a haunting reminder to them all.
“That isn’t for us to know.” Veihn replied, already beneath her sheets. “We are soldiers. We follow orders.”
Kerrick slipped out of his armor and laid it on the ground beside the bed. Dried flakes of blood fell from the steel.
He slipped out of his trousers and into the bed without bothering to put on a fresh pair of sleeping pants. Across from them, Koll dimmed the lanterns and climbed into bed himself.
The darkness swelled around them as the events of the day set in. The death, the bloodshed. The piles of bodies flashed through his mind, and across the room he heard Heindor and Koll sniffle. Their sniffles turned to gasps and then to tears.
He held his own in for longer than he thought possible, but before long, he joined the men in their sorrow and began to weep.
As the minutes turned to hours, they continued to sob until Koll’s whimpering voice died out and turned to snoring, then Heindor’s and finally when his own tears had run dry he rolled to his side to clear his nostril and realized Veihn was still awake.
He kept his eye trained on her as she sat up in her bed and slipped a knife from her pack. Without caring to be silent, she stood from her bedside and stepped across the room, moving toward the barracks door.
As she passed by his bead, he closed his eyes enough that he would appear asleep, but Veihn didn’t stop at his bedside, or Kolls or even Heindor’s. She marched with bare feet across the room to the door and put her hand on it.
Kerrick flipped the sheets off of him and whirled to his feet.
Whispering, as to not disturb the others, he called.
“Veihn, what are you doing?”
She stuttered, her eyes red with lack of sleep.
“I don’t answer to you, Snow.” She pushed on the door and took a step out.
He shot from the side of the bed toward her, and caught the knife as she raised it, pointed at him. He gripped her fist and clamped down as hard as he could.
“Tell me what you intend to do.” He whispered.
“It is none of your concern.” She growled.
Her elbow jammed into his ribs and sent him stumbling back as she ran out of the room. He growled, plucking a lantern from the door and lighting it before he chased after her.
Nightfall within the prison cast a vague and uncertain silvery light across every stone in the building. The moon was full, and bright above them, illuminating his steps as he chased Veihn through the darkness of the prison.
Despite her stature, she moved quickly. Her light footfalls on the wooden floor popped ahead of him in the dark, and he had trouble keeping up with her as she twisted and turned through the barracks halls.
He didn’t call out to her, for fear of disturbing the guards who still slept. Once they’d made it out of the barracks he would call out, with any luck he would attract a guard in the prison proper.
Veihn sprinted from the barracks to the kitchen and cross, toward the Captain’s Office, near the back of the dining hall. Kerrick followed, his lamplight casting a flickering orange light as he moved through the gore drenched room. The stench of death still thick in the air.
Veihn shoved open the Captain’s door, which to Kerrick’s surprise remained unlocked.
He followed her, bursting through the entryway as she leapt over the desk and crashed into the large stool the Captain had worn to splinters. She caught it before it hit the floor and shoved it against the wall. Under her breath she began muttering something. Words he’d never heard before. The dialect sounded Eastern, but he couldn’t be certain.
“Veihn, what are you doing?” He shouted this time, hoping to be found.
She interrupted her own chanting to reply.
“Kerrick Snow, you should leave Icehold.” She muttered. “You will die if you remain here.”
He shook his head.
“What are you talking about?”
He set the lamp on a shelf and crept around the desk as she took the knife and sliced across her wrist.
She fell to the ground as blood poured from the wound.
Kerrick dashed to her side, pressing his hand frantically on the gash which ran up the length of her arm, far larger than his hand.
“Veihn!” He shouted, “Someone help me!”
She grinned at him. “You’re soft, Kerrick.”
Her warm blood pooled around his fingers and soaked into his tunic cuffs as he gripped her arm tight. In her other hand, she kept the knife.
“Why? Veihn, why?”
She smiled, her yellow, stained teeth appearing almost clean in the moonlight.
“You know why, Snow.”
She took the knife and pressed it against her abdomen, slicing a second time. Her eyes teared from the pain.
“No, I don’t.” He said before shouting for help a second time. She plunged the knife into her side and pulled it out, ready to stab again.
Outside the Captain’s office, guards murmured. Their footsteps distant, coming from the main hall on the other side of the Kitchen.
“Help me!” He called again as Veihn took the knife to herself a third time.
He grabbed the blade with his hand and yanked back, his fingers slipped slightly along the edge, which glided through his flesh effortlessly before she released the handle and laid back, relaxed.
He threw the knife across the office and put his hand back to the wound, trying in vain to prevent the bleeding.
A guard pushed into the office with a brightly burning lantern.
“What’s happening in here?” He paused, seeing Kerrick leaning over her body, long wounds in her arms and stomach and his hands covered in blood.
A second guard ran into the room and tore Kerrick off of her body.
“What is the meaning of this?” The second guard shouted, dragging Kerrick out of the office as the first tended to Veihn’s wounds.
“She got up and wandered into the Captain’s Office with the knife in her hand and started stabbing herself.” He shouted.
Weakly from beneath the Captain’s desk, her voice came muffled as the other guard helped her to her feet.
“That’s not true, he is lying to you.” She sputtered, coughing up blood. “He chased me, I tried to get to the office to protect myself and he got in, and then he started stabbing me.” She coughed more blood as the guard walked her out.
The second guard who bound Kerrick wrapped his free hand around his throat.
“What would possess you to do such a thing?” He growled. “After everything we’ve lost today?” He lifted Kerrick and threw him as if he weighed no more than a stone into one of the kitchen tables.
He slammed into the thick wooden tabletop and crashed down onto the ground, bouncing against the bench before he came splayed out on the stone. The guard reached behind him for manacles and approached.
“You have to believe me, I didn’t do any of those things.”
The guard loomed over him as Kerrick looked for the other guard and Veihn, and found them rounding a corner, a wide grin on the woman’s face as she was escorted out of view.
“You will have to prove it to us, then.” He slammed his boot onto Kerrick’s left hand, crunching bone as he did so, and knelt to latch the manacles to his wrist.
“Dont’ struggle, soldier.” The guard spit the words and dragged his free arm to the manacles before latching them together.
“Get up.” He stepped off of Kerrick’s handed waited at the end of the table.
Kerrick grimaced, pushing with his face on the filthy stone floor to stand.
“You’re spending the night in a cell, and tomorrow, we are going to call your General to see if you are worth keeping alive.” He spat, shoving Kerrick with his palm toward the Cell Rows.
Behind them, Veihn and the other guard were nowhere to be found.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of Sisters of Westwinter!
There is much more coming, and here in a few days I’m going to begin celebrating my 30th birthday with a slew of writing and stories and things the world has taught me in my short time here on earth. I hope you’ll stay tuned and stick around for the event. 🙂
If you haven’t already, make sure to follow me over on Facebook and Instagram! I’ve got many things on the way.
More From Me:
Breaking a Promise (My Favorite Flowers: 2)
In a garden somewhere, not quite here and not quite anywhere, there is a boy who has cried his eyes away.
Seeing Someone Learn (My Favorite Flowers: 1)
In a garden somewhere, not quite here and not quite anywhere, there’s a boy who is afraid of eyes.
SOW: Chapter Five, Part Five: A Single Spark
The Nail Ward, as they called it, was as miserable as it looked from the outside. The thousands of needles covering the floor and walls made it impossible to relax, and sleep was terribly out of the question. So Kerrick stood in the corner waiting, patiently, for the sunrise.
[…] Chapter Five, Part Two: [SOW] Chapter Five, Part Two: Bloody Ties […]