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    lomax61
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Although the genre of fantasy, and this sub-genre of political fantasy, is a new one for me here on GA, I have been developing the world of Mulia in which this story takes place (and other stories in this world) for the best part of 20 years, so we are like old friends.

A link to the world map is included here, although I provide many descriptions in the story.

https://www.brianlancasterauthor.com/general-8

Stranded: Heart of Black Ice Bay - 15. Millflower

Leonmarkh leaves Brathay to fight alone.

By the time Brathay reached the kitchens, Mrs Sturridge and Marietta had everything under control. Instead of serving lumps of meat straight from the fire, Marietta had suggested making wild boar and mushroom pies using her own recipe for the pastry crust. Already the kitchen smelled wonderful, the marinated meat searing on the open fire before being cut into chunks and added to bowls of pie sauce. Two of Mrs Sturridge’s staff chatted happily together, each with flour-speckled cheeks, rolling out sheets of pastry, while Marietta looked on in supervision. Brathay did very little, feeling unneeded.

Looking on with folded arms, he brooded over Leonmarkh’s plan, still felt uneasy about what he proposed. Since he had arrived, the keep had never been in better shape. So why did such a dark sense of foreboding still hang in the air? But then surely two days away from the keep could do no harm? Not with all the captains still in residence and villagers everywhere to witness anything untoward. If he were in Leonmarkh’s position, would he do otherwise? No, of course not. He would want to know what this wrongly disgraced soldier had to tell. A stern voice brought him from his musings.

“Mr Brathay. You’ll do nobody no good standing there glowering like a rusted pail handle,” said Mrs Sturridge, clearly noticing his mood. “Come with me. I have just the thing to help keep your mind better occupied.”

In one of the rooms, crates of vegetables sat against one wall. Bhod already sat on a low stool, peeling potatoes and other root vegetables and dropping them into a bucket of scummy water.

“You want me to peel potatoes?” asked Brathay.

“Well, they ain’t going to peel themselves, are they?” said Mrs Sturridge, making Bhod giggle.

Rather than argue, Brathay accepted a small knife and sat on a stool opposite Bhod. Once Brathay had peeled his second potato, Mrs Sturridge left them alone. They worked companionably, chatting occasionally, and Brathay found the chore enjoyable. Bhod made short work of the vegetables peeling at least three to Brathay’s one. He noticed she did not use a knife but rather something that scraped away the peel without losing too much of the potato flesh.

“What are you using there?” he asked,

She giggled and held up what looked like an oyster shell, wrapped at one end in a cloth. “Mr Sturridge let me go to the beach with him and his lads. Before the cold set in. They lets some of the horses gallop free early morning. I found this shell down there on the shore. Sharpened end goes straight through the peel, see?”

“Nice. Will you get one for me next time?”

“Why? You planning on doing more peelin’?” she asked, followed by a giggle.

“Fair point,” replied Brathay, smiling back.

“When the snows came, before that heating machine of yours, he stopped us going down. But now Myx tells me the ground nearby is not too hard and slippy. They’re going to head down again tomorrow to check things out. Take a couple of the horses.”

“You enjoy the sea?”

“When it gets warmer, I’m gonna swim out. I can swim faster and further ‘un any of them boys. They challenged me to see who could climb up highest on the outside keep wall. I beat Morrent and Phorm.“

“And Myxel?”

Bhod pulled a face and shrugged.

“Morrent reckons Myx has lizard blood in him, the way he climbs. All over the place.”

“But he beat you?”

“Only just. But he scraped his knees and hands, and I came down clean.”

Brathay chuckled and continued working on his vegetables.

“How does it work?” asked Bhod.

“How does what—oh, you mean the heating device? I wish I knew, Bhod. My guess is that it reacts to snow because that is when the crystals seem to fire up.”

“I heard one of the chambermaids saying it was forbidden science and shouldn’t be used.”

“And that may well be. Nobody knows. All I can tell you for sure is what Lord Leonmarkh told us. That machine—or whatever you want to call it—has been here for centuries and is as much as part of the operation of this keep as the beacon or the kitchens or the stables.”

“Well then,” said Bhod, nodding once decisively, before dropping potato pieces into the bucket with a plop. Her words felt like a final endorsement. Brathay merely chuckled.

They continued in silence, filling three buckets, but after a while Brathay’s hands and fingers started to ache from the peeling. After cutting a potato in half and dropping the pieces into the water, he put down his knife and kneaded one hand with the other.

“Do you get along with Miss Millflower?” he asked, hoping he was not overstepping any mark by asking her to comment.

“Does anybody?” said Bhod, without looking up at first. When she finally did, she did so with a sly smirk. “You know she’s soft for Captain Haycock, don’t you? Prissy Miss Mill Fly? Our Lady of the Bed Linen, as Ma Sturridge calls her. Always makes a big fuss of cleaning his room herself, she does. Won’t let any of the other maids near him.”

“Does she now?” asked Brathay, intrigued. Was Millflower talking to Haycock the night he overheard her complaining about the extra work? “And how does Haycock feel about her?”

Just then, Mrs Sturridge shouted Bhodhlo’s name from the other room.

“You think he talks to the likes of me?” she said, putting the shell into her apron pocket and getting up from her stool. About to leave, she turned and grinned at him. “But the chambermaid Flod says he wouldn’t give her the wax from his ear. Says he likes ‘em younger. Much younger.”

Brathay nodded slowly while picking up another lumpy brown-skinned potato from the pile. That much he already knew from a personal encounter. At any other time, he would have used Leonmarkh’s absence to further his connection with Haycock, but the thought sent a wave of repulsion through him, as though he would be betraying a trust to Leon by using himself, using his body with Haycock, to gain information.

Pushing out a sigh, he shook his head at the mysterious feeling, something he had never felt before and took his frustration out on the vegetable, hacking away pieces of potato skin.

** ❄︎ **

At seven bells, Brathay helped the kitchen staff bring platters of pies and vegetables out from the kitchen into the excited buzz of the refectory. After their long and tiring day, the villagers sat together and spoke quietly while the soldiers sat at their usual spots filling the front of the room, talking loudly and occasionally laughing raucously. Brathay had hoped the two might mingle, but as Marietta pointed out, with very few of the villagers able to converse in the common tongue, they would feel more comfortable not having to try too hard—at least not on their first night together.

“Smells like you worked another miracle, Mr Brathay?” called one of the soldiers as he made his way down the middle aisle with the platter. The good mood in the room was as tangible as the odours coming out of the kitchens.

Brathay noticed only Mrs Sturridge and Marietta—coordinating the kitchen staff and the village helpers—and Khraxwall standing against the refectory wall. They would both have eaten already along with the rest of the house staff, which would explain the absence of Millflower and Mr Sturridge. Both most likely had better things to do.

“Are you talking about the food or Mollik’s hygiene?” said Brathay, causing a table of soldiers, which included Mollik, to roar with laughter.

“Your fault, Mr Brathay,” called Mollik, grinning. “Got no excuse now we got hot water flowing into the soldier’s wash area. And one of the villagers gave us supplies of their fancy oils to wash with.”

“I tell you, Mr Brathay. He smells like my old mam’s garden.”

“Now, if you could only do something ‘bout his snoring,”

“One miracle at a time,” said Brathay, amid the laughter, chuckling happily as he carried on down to the front table.

“Did you make them there pies?” asked another soldier.

“Not me this time. A collaboration between myself, Mrs Sturridge, and Marietta from the village.”

“Enough to feed everyone?”

“More than enough. For seconds and thirds. But I would advise against eating too much or too quickly. Wild boar can play havoc with the digestion. And you do not want to be too full to miss out on the special surprise the ladies have prepared to follow.”

Excited rumblings rose from the soldiers as the kitchen staff placed the food down in front of them. Not long afterwards, the table fell silent. One thing Brathay had learnt from his time at the keep was that good food shut them up more effectively than a stern word from a captain.

Earlier on, Marietta had told him how the villagers had not expected to be provided with food and had been prepared to cook their own. Mrs Sturridge was having none of that. With the help of Mjaj, they offered instead to share the kitchen duties with Mrs Sturridge’s team and even offered to take turns in cooking meals. Mjaj had also made good on his promise, and ten carts of produce had arrived, containing assortments of seafood and other locally caught or harvested crop. Even if they stayed throughout the winter, Mrs Sturridge had said, there would be food enough for all.

Once the last of the food had been laid out on the tables, Leonmarkh welcomed everyone briefly—leaving a pause for Mjaj to translate—before the feasting began. Once again, Brathay sat next to Fleming, who—during a moment when all around busied with their own conversations—brought him up to date in whispered tones with their plans. Brathay still felt uneasy about the ploy but understood how getting secret information might help Leonmarkh better prepare for whatever threat awaited him.

At the end of the main meal—before they served dessert—Leonmarkh stood and gained everyone’s attention. Once again, he thanked those involved for the meal before moving on to the critical part of his message.

“And finally, before dessert is served, I regret being the bearer of sad news on such a joyous occasion, but I have something important to impart. Many of you met my brother, Lord Jacomine, and I am sure you will be as saddened as I to learn that he finally succumbed to his long illness. He passed from us the day before yesterday.”

Soldiers had clearly known Leonmarkh’s brother because gasps of sadness and incredulity went up among them, some shaking their heads while others nodding grimly. Only Leonmarkh’s captains did not react, already aware of his sad announcement.

“As I am sure you can imagine, this news has weighed heavily upon me. Due to our remote location and the adverse weather, I am unable to return to Khloradich to mourn his passing as our tradition dictates. Our villager friends may not know of our Braggadachi ritual of Rebirth isolation, but as a close family member, I would normally be expected to go into total seclusion and mourning for a month, away from my daily life and human contact, to work through the process of absorbing, transforming and restoring.”

“At any ordinary time, I would choose a remote location. But these are not ordinary times. So instead, I will spend only two days of Rebirth alone in my quarters, starting immediately after I have finished speaking to you. Naturally, I will still be here in body, in the event of any major incidents, but I know I can trust you all to respect my time of contemplation. In my stead, Captain Zhorman has agreed to take charge. I hope you all understand and will give him your full support?”

Leonmarkh paused a few moments to let his eyes scan the room, and Brathay noted the nodding heads of every one of the soldiers.

“I promise to join you again at the meal on the evening after tomorrow. But I will leave you now to enjoy the rest of this joyous occasion, for which, I am told, the kitchen staff have prepared a surprise celebratory sweet course for you all.”

With a signal to the kitchen staff, desserts were brought out, raising a chorus of delight and effectively taking the focus away from Leonmarkh. Rising from the table, he shared a brief farewell with his captains and the village elders before addressing Fleming in their presence.

“Mr Fleming. I understand you are heading back to the village tonight with one of the locals to protect your precious medicines. While I cannot endorse your actions given this increasingly foul weather, I do understand them. But I fear I will not have the opportunity to speak to you again until this heavy weather has passed, whenever that may be. So can I say once again thank you for your assistance and for bringing us together with these resourceful villagers.”

“You are welcome, your lordship. And may I wish you peace as you reflect, reform, and restore.”

All of the captains and some soldiers nearby murmured their approval at Fleming’s use of an old expression widely spoken in Braggadach for those in mourning. Leonmarkh said a final farewell, a tiny smile and nod for Brathay, before turning and heading out of the refectory.

In Leonmarkh’s absence, the celebrations continued heartily. Zhorman took turns to sit and talk with each of the captains. Barely anyone except Brathay noticed when Fleming rose from his seat, nodded a quick farewell to Brathay, then went to give Marietta a hug and whisper a few words to her before disappearing into the night.

Even with the merriment around him and a bellyful of food, Brathay felt an emptiness inside, watching Leonmarkh then Fleming leave, felt as though something far bigger than him was playing out, and he had been stripped of his power and protectors. On instinct, he looked to the kitchen wall just as Marietta—standing chatting to Ms Sturridge—caught his eye. She smiled and raised a palm, a gesture he returned. At least he had her as a confidante in case anything were to happen. He only hoped Leonmarkh and Fleming made their way out of the keep unchallenged and, moreover, discovered something from the banished guard that would turn out to be worthwhile.

Rather than sit around chatting, he decided to sleep early, but first of all made a round of the captains, the soldiers and then the villagers, nodding a greeting to those he knew, before bidding Mrs Sturridge and Marietta goodnight.

** ❄︎ **

After waking in the early hours of the following day, Brathay briefly poked his head out of the door to note a guard posted along the passage, reclining on two legs of a stool against the wall. Brathay’s gaze was instantly drawn to the continued heavy fall of snow, illuminated by the band of moonskulls around the upper rampart, thick flurries being swept into the snowy whirlpool and channelled down into the grating. After a night of troubling dreams—probably due to the rich food—he had decided to remain in his room for most of the day and maybe even forgo an evening meal. To make the most of his time, he would spend the day reading through the black-bound notebook Leon had left with him to see if anything signified. After he had washed his face in bracing cold water, he popped the book into his inside pocket and stepped out into the early morning. He had decided to head to the refectory to collect enough breakfast items to last until the next morning when he would await the return of Leonmarkh.

On his way across the courtyard, he smiled and nodded a greeting to a group of villagers coming towards him. Behind them, a soldier he recognised as Chezikh, one of the group of good-humoured soldiers he liked to joke with, spotted him and came hurriedly over. Brathay kept the smile on his face as he approached but noted that the gesture was not returned.

“I’m sorry, sir. Captain Zhorman has asked me to come fetch you. Right away,” he said, breathing heavily from his exertions.

“I see. Is everything okay, Chezikh?”

“Sorry, sir. I been told not to say nothing. Captain Bhullard ordered me to come back on an errand, and to find and bring you. They’re down by the seafront. You’re to come right away.”

“Then you had better lead the way.”

Brathay followed obediently, trudging behind him down the frozen mud path towards the sea, wondering what could be so urgent. In the distance, he could make out six or seven figures gathered together near the shoreline, standing around what he could only assume to be a dark bundle of flotsam. Zhorman, Bhullard, Haycock, Khraxwall and Nokh Sturridge stood with their heads bowed, Ligger being the only captain missing from the group. Two elders from the village were also there, Mjaj standing beside Khraxwall and another hunched over the entity.

Only as Brathay drew closer did he hike in a breath of shock as he recognised the deathly pallor and unmoving body of Miss Millflower still in her black dress.

“What happened?” he asked to nobody in particular, his mind racing to remember the last time he had heard her voice.

“It seems the last time anyone saw her was at the evening meal before last. The night of the beacon fire. How can that be? What about you, Mr Stonearm?” asked Zhorman.

“The same. I did not see her all day yesterday,” he replied.

“Does she not report to you each morning, Khraxwall?” asked Bhullard.

“Usually, captain,” said Khraxwall, staring down at the body. “But after Leonmarkh charged her with preparing for the new arrivals, she informed me her team was going to be hard at work all day and would not have time to attend our regular meeting. As you know, all the house staff were rushed off their feet yesterday. I saw none of the chambermaids until the evening meal. When I talked to Flodhrum—the older of her maids—she said they’d all been given separate tasks the night before, and she hadn’t seen any of the others or Millflower the whole day. And when Millflower did not attend the evening meal last night, I simply assumed she had retired early from exhaustion.”

“A fair assumption,” said Haycock.

Nobody spoke again, and Brathay repeated his earlier question.

“But what happened?”

“Came down here this morning with one of my lads,” said Nokh, “to walk the horses in the surf. Found her floating in the shallows, we did. Terrible thing.”

“Mjaj,” said Zhorman, looking up as Brathay joined the group. “Can you kindly tell Mr Stonearm what your physician just told us?”

“Our physician says this woman did not die by drowning,” said Mjaj. The elder craning over the body looked up at Brathay and nodded, someone Brathay had met in the village and vaguely recognised. “She was prevented from breathing—uh, what was the word—?“

“Strangled,” offered Haycock.

“Ah yes, strangled. We do not have a word for this; we do not have this kind of death among our people. She was strangled with some form of thick strap. After which, her body was placed into the sea. She did not die from breathing seawater.”

Snow fell around them, constant and unyielding. Gentle waves broke on the shore around their feet, reaching for the head of the dead chamberlain. Brathay stared hard, disbelieving. Two days ago, he had listened to the living and breathing woman complaining about her workload. Now she lay before him, a tragic, inanimate object, looking so fragile. Strands of dark hair clung messily to the bloodless skin of her forehead and cheeks, something she would never have allowed to happen in life. Her precious keyring of black iron keys still hung from the belt around her waist. Either the body had been dragged up the shore by the legs or been washed up because her arms were arranged awkwardly above her head. Her trademark black dress had ridden up to reveal white undergarments and pale-skinned ankles above the black shoes. He wanted to find a blanket and cover her, to give her some respect in death. When he looked up, Khraxwall and the captains stood together staring hard at him.

“Bhullard,” said Zhorman, his eyes on Brathay. “Show us what you found.”

Bhullard leaned forward to retrieve something from the guard who had accompanied Brathay, then held out a leather belt to the elder. Brathay recognised the band immediately, one he had worn on his journey to Black Ice Bay and in the keep, until the day he had decided to adopt his local attire. A coldness beyond the winter morning seeped into his bloodstream. He watched on as the elder, who appeared appalled but seemed oblivious to the undercurrent of accusation around them, took the belt and examined the buckle and strap before addressing Mjaj.

“The elder says this is very likely what was used to kill the woman. The belt is consistent with the size, and the partial mark of the unusual buckle is still visible on the side of her neck. Do you know who this belongs—“

“The belt is mine,” said Brathay, as the full horrific realisation of the situation dawned. He had not been invited to witness Millflower’s corpse but to be accused of her murder. His gaze swung in the direction of the collective gasp of shock from Mjaj and the accompanying elder. Fleming had talked at length about the peace-loving Sjin-Shatir. Murder would be inconceivable to them. “But I swear I have not used it since I started donning this warmer clothing. I packed the belt away in my travelling chest.”

“Under the circumstances. Mr Stonearm, those words means very little,” said Zhorman. “Who gave this item of clothing to you, Captain Bhullard?”

“One of my soldiers. He was on beacon watch along the ramparts the night the heating device activated,” said Bhullard. “He says the moment the lights came on, he noticed the belt discarded along the sea-facing wall as he was going off duty and turned it over to me in case somebody reported it missing. Haycock is the one who recognised the item as belonging to Mr Stonearm.”

“I remembered you wore that belt on your first evening at the keep. And bearing in mind the importance of this discovery, I have also let the captains know about the little trinket I found in your bed,” said Haycock, stepping forward and holding out the brooch.

“And I told you I did not—“

A choke coming from Brathay’s right cut him off, and he turned into Khraxwall’s anguished gaze.

“We welcomed you as one of our own,” he said, the anguish etched into his face as he glared at Brathay. “Fed you and gave you lodgings. And this is how you repay us?”

“Khraxwall, I did not—“

“She did not deserve this. We worked together for over twenty-five years. Neither of us wanted this posting. She was my right hand, my captain. And this is how she ends her days. Washed up on a beach in this frozen hell at the hands of a murdering—“

“Hulm Khraxwall,” came Zhorman’s commanding voice. “Stay your tongue. Nothing is yet proven.”

“I did not kill Millflower,” Brathay repeated to Khraxwall and everyone standing around. But their stony expressions did not give him any assurance. Had Counsellor Brokerman been there, he would have advised Brathay to remain silent and listen. Protesting his innocence right now would be fruitless. He needed allies, and his nearest and most important ones were both gone. Had the perpetrator known and carefully picked this moment? Leonmarkh had spoken of deviously calculating adversaries.

He stilled his mind and listened.

“The two things could be unconnected—“ began Bhullard, a steadying hand now planted on Khraxwall’s shoulder.

“Or maybe not,” countered Haycock. “The evidence is not inconsequential.”

“Leonmarkh would agree were he here,” said Khraxwall. “The apprentice must be punished. His lordship had a guard publicly flogged for stealing produce. Is this not far worse? Give me the word, captain, and I will instruct soldiers to begin building a scaffold above the gatehouse. And I will also gladly go and fetch Lord Leonmarkh if such is your order—”

“Nothing is to be built, and nobody is to disturb Leonmarkh,” said Zhorman adamantly. “He has asked us to respect his isolation, and that is what we are going to do. So you will either hold your tongue, or I will have Captain Bhullard escort you back to the keep. Which will it be?”

Khraxwall nodded mutely. Zhorman continued on but only after glaring at Khraxwall for a few more uncomfortable moments.

“Leonmarkh left me in charge in his absence. Believe me when I say, I would rather not have to deal with this felony, would rather leave this until his return to us. But I have witnessed enough crimes in my years to know that gathering as much factual evidence as early on as possible is essential. Mjaj, would your physician have any idea when the murder took place?”

Brathay turned to see Mjaj staring incredulously at him. For some reason, Mjaj’s dismay hurt more than the accusatory stares of Leonmarkh’s captains or Khraxwall’s open ire.

“Captain Zhorman,” said Mjaj, after a brief word with the elder. “We would need to examine the body more closely to get an accurate assessment. But our physician says the initial signs put the death at no more than a couple of days ago.”

More words passed between the villagers as the physician began to say something, but Mjaj held up a hand to stay them, whatever they were.

”At evening meal on the day of the beacon fire,” said Haycock, oblivious to the exchange. “Which is the last time Millflower was seen.”

“Except by the murderer,” muttered Khraxwall, glaring at Brathay.

“Zhorman, the apprentice is not a subject of Braggadach,” said Bhullard. “I know that does not place him above the common law, but according to the overriding constitution of the realm, if he is to be accused of this crime, then he must be afforded a trial over which Leonmarkh should preside.”

“I am fully aware,” said Zhorman. “And in the meantime, what do you suggest we do with him?”

Brathay stood by listening mutely as the captains he had begun to consider friends talked about him as though he were not present.

“He cannot return to his chamber,” said Haycock. “If there are other items to incriminate him, we need to find them. We should not run the risk of him disposing of them.”

“His room will be locked and sealed. Bhullard and I will see to that as soon as we return. But in the meantime, where do we house him?” asked Zhorman. “All other rooms are presently occupied. And he will need to be guarded.”

“There are prison cells three floors below the keep,” offered Khraxwall. “Staff go down there on the rare occasion. We use them for cold storage. Previous Watch staff must have used them to house livestock. More importantly, some have locks on the doors.”

“Does heat reach those lower floors?” asked Bhullard.

“No,” said Khraxwall. “Which is the reason we store cold goods there.”

“Nevertheless, let us use one. We can afford him blankets. If there is a lock, we will assign one guard to the door. And the apprentice will only need to be held until Leonmarkh emerges.”

“What do we tell our people, Zhorman?” asked Mjaj. “About this incident?”

Zhorman stared at Mjaj for a long moment before nodding.

“That is a fair point, Mjaja. Let us refer to Millflower’s demise as a tragic accident until we have more information. I do not wish to worry the villagers and soldiers by letting them think a murder has been committed in our midst. As for Mr Stonearm, if anyone asks, he has succumbed to a highly infectious illness—a breathing infection which is not uncommon in these conditions—and is confined to his room. Captain Bhullard. When you and I seal his chamber, I want a sign posted to that effect. Nobody goes in or out until Leonmarkh has returned. And that includes the chambermaids.”

“What about Millflower’s room? Do you want that sealed, too?” asked Haycock.

“Yes, Haycock. Keep them both locked until Leonmarkh decides what to do.”

“Do you want a guard on the apprentice’s door?” asked Bhullard.

“No, that would raise suspicion. Just a notice will do. And I trust you will pass the word around among your people, Mjaj.” By way of acknowledgement, Mjaj nodded once. “The villagers on the same floor as the apprentice’s chamber will be our witnesses in case anyone tries to gain access. Is it me, or is this weather worsening?”

“There is ice in the sea,” said Mjaj. “The sea can freeze over during harsh winters, and this is the first sign. I fear this heavy snowfall will soon become a blizzard.”

“Then we should return to the safety of the keep. Khraxwall, show my captains where the prison cells are located. I suggest you head to the right from inside the courtyard and take the stairs via the northwest tower. You are less likely to be seen. Bhullard, Haycock. Escort the apprentice to his new home. I will find Ligger and brief him on what has transpired. Nokh, let your stableboy know this was a tragic accident, nothing more. Bhullard, once you have finished with the apprentice, come and find me, and we will seal his room.”

Finally, Zhorman turned to Chezikh, the guard who had accompanied Brathay. The man appeared bewildered by the turn of events but straightened up at Zhorman’s attention. Despite everything happening to him, Brathay could not help being impressed at Zhorman’s authority.

“Lieutenant, I want you in charge of guarding Mr Stonearm’s cell. Pick another you can trust and take turns to watch our detainee, day and night until his lordship returns to us. If anyone asks, I have charged you with protecting the surplus supplies gifted us by the villagers. Right now, I want you to go and fetch this other soldier and bring something to wrap around Millflower. Then take her body down to one of the other cells on the cold storage floor. Can I ask you, Mjaj, and your physician, to remain here until they return? Then I would ask that you follow the guards to the cell so you know where to find the body for a full examination when you have the time. Are there any questions?”

Nobody said a word, but still, Zhorman stood his ground.

“What about you, Mr Stonearm?”

Brathay had been gazing down at the pitiful corpse again but raised his eyes to find everyone staring at him. Even with him being afforded a trial, their guilty verdict was already assured. And yet he had so much he wanted to say, so many questions of his own. But rather than chance his voice shaking, he simply shook his head.

“Are you going to give us any trouble?” asked Haycock. “Because if you do, I, for one, will not show any leniency in restraining you.”

“Haycock—“ began Bhullard.

Brathay swallowed hard before deciding to respond. “You have my word. I will give you no trouble. And I will honour any justice meted out to me by Lord Leonmarkh. But, Captain Zhorman, I should also be allowed to speak to someone who will not judge me. Someone not native to Braggadach.”

“And who do you have in mind?” asked Zhorman.

“Marietta. From the village.”

“The kitchen hand?” scoffed Haycock. Brathay remained expressionless. One thing was sure. He had been backed into a corner and needed a close ally right now.

“So be it,” said Zhorman, readying to leave. “If there is nothing else, let us return.”

My regular Friday instalment. I hope you enjoyed reading. 

Any reactions, comments, observations, interpretations, or guesses at what you think is to come, gratefully received. 

And if you are feeling generous, go to the Black Ice Bay summary page and click on the Recommend button, so that others may be tempted to read the story.

Copyright © 2021 lomax61; All Rights Reserved.
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That you very much for reading.

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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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