It echoed, bounced off the chipped stone walls. Always the same, always an eleven count apart, always there, always constant.
Where it came from, she didn't know. Perhaps the ground above bled from over saturation during the heavy storms, it would explain the moss. It collected in a dip forming in the room's worn stone flooring. Sometimes she'd sit next to it, hold her hand out, allow the water to gently splash on her skin. Sometimes she'd cup her palm to collect it and bring it to her lips, drinking as slow as possible, reveling in its cool, fresh flavor.
She didn't do it often. The effort and time it took was sometimes too much. Reaching that far between the rusting, metal bars was strenuous. But, it gave her something to do aside from staring at the lone, flickering flame that burned on its sconce opposite of her cell.
She rubbed her neck absentmindedly, her middle finger trailing over the jagged, crudely healed scar that ran horizontally across it. She'd never seen it, she'd not seen her reflection in ages. Ever since she was brought down below...
Her cell contained little. A scratchy, soiled blanket that's color she could not hope to guess in the dank room, a bucket, pushed at the furthest corner of the cell, meant for her waste, and a thin rectangular window with iron bars that sat too high upon the wall for her to see out of. Water too dripped down from the window, making the uneven stone walls slick with moisture, which caught the torchlight from the other end of the room.
She kept to the front of her cell, huddled in the corner where the bars met the wall, soiled blanket draped loosely over a shoulder. Her other arm wrapped around a rusted bar as she watched the small puddle of water ripple when another drop splashed down.
She blinked when a sound traveled from the opposite wall that held the lone sconce. A dark wooden door sat there, reinforced with black, iron bands. She knew that door led to a set of stairs. The ones who held her here would come down from time to time, bringing a tray of food...or what they considered food anyway. It seemed more of a slop to her, bland and untextured. She wouldn't be surprised if it indeed was the same slop that swine would feed from.
The noise grew louder, shouting from what she could tell. Someone was very angry. A 'he' to be exact. She pressed her face between the bars, one resting on each cheek as she watched the door patiently. Heavy, uneven footsteps came down the stairs, along with several hard thumps and shouts, indicating a struggle.
The door burst open, slamming into the wall behind it. In came a man with a thick build, made thicker by the worn leather cuirass curving around his torso, and dark hair tied back with a bit of leather. At his greying temples, a vein pulsed with strain as did the rest of his gruff face while he struggled to pull in another man who seemed determined not to go through the doorway. A harsh shove from behind by a third man pushed the struggler through the threshold.
She recognized the two trying to handle the struggling man. They were two of the five that she knew occupied the place she was held in. Godane, the larger of the two, and the one she saw most as he usually dealt with bringing her meals and water, had the struggler by the wrist. The other, Anello, a younger guard with light hair cropped close to his skull, wearing similar though newer garb as Godane, gave the struggler another shove, moving to shut the door after. The floors stained with mud tracks from the struggler's filthy boots as he slid and dragged them along the stone, sending clumps flying in all directions.
"Oi, yuh fat bastard!" the struggler snarled at Godane when the guard started leading him to an empty cell adjacent from her own. "Ay've done noth'n wrong! Yuh can' put me 'n there! Git yer grubby 'ands off me, bloody scum! Who knows where they been. Prolly on yer arse all day cos yuh pricks don' do noth'n but stand' 'round an' scratch it! A more worthless bunch ay've never seen."
Her eyes widened as she watched the tussle. Her hands curled around the bars as she pressed her self as much as she could against the front of her cell, dirty face open with curiosity. Anello, who stood behind Godane, ready to assist if needed, glanced in her direction, brow raised at her curious stare. He caught her gaze, nodding his head toward the struggler who continued to spew at Godane in his colorful speak, and rolled his eyes comically. She grinned, cheeks pulling in her mirth, earning a wink from Anello before they both turned back to the newcomer.
"Na! Na! Yuh can' make me!" He started to panic once Godane began pushing him in the cell. The struggler gripped both sides of the cell entrance, refusing to go in. "This is baseless! Ay was only 'aving me a drink. Is tha' a crime nowadays?"
Godane gave him a hard kick in his lower back, sending him sprawling into the cell. The guard quickly moved to shut the iron door when the struggler leapt to his feet.
"It is a crime," Godane said, pulling out a ring of keys and sliding one into the lock, "when you were given money to restore your farm, yet chose to waste it all on tavern trivialities." He turned the key in the lock, looking the new prisoner in the eye and smirking slightly at the disbelief etched on his face.
The disbelief was soon replaced by fury, lips pulling up in a snarl. "Oh ho! So this be about 'is lordship, aye? Now 'ow do yuh expect me to 'restore my farm' when yuh gits 'ave snatched all me workers cos 'is lordship deems it so?" Godane opened his mouth to speak, only to be silenced by the prisoner snapping, "Try no' ta strain yerself, biggun. Ye'll pop in yer attempt ta comprehend." He leaned forward, sneering darkly at Godane who had not moved from the iron-bar door, before backing away from the cell front. "Ay'd rather no' be 'round when it 'appens. This pit be rank enough withou' yer scum soilin' it further."
Godane stared at the prisoner, eye twitching, then yanked the key from the lock and shoved the ring in his back pocket. Anello had taken to leaning against the wall, boots crossed at the ankles, watching the exchange with boredom. When Godane turned, Anello quickly straightened. The former glanced to his right, and caught her gaze. Her face, still pressed between the bars as much as they would allow, remained fixed with curiosity. His eyes trailed down, landing on her neck, more, the scar that marred it.
"My job is to uphold the law," he said quietly. "What 'his lordship' says is law, whether one likes it or not. You'd do well to remember that, Varou. If you are released, that is."
The prisoner only glowered at the guard's back before he turned and slid down to sit against the far wall of his cell, grumbling about 'fat guards' not making sense. But she, she blinked at Godane as he stared at the scar on her neck, even though his eyes were unfocused. She placed her hand over it, bringing him out of his stupor. He shook his head slightly, his eyes meeting hers. Her head tilted to the side, confused. Her scar was for everyone to see since the neck of her tunic, stretched from overuse, hung low on her sternum. Godane saw it all the time, but never had he shown such focus on the flaw.
Noticing her confusion, he gave a small smile, just a tiny pull of his lips and her features relaxed. He glanced behind him, at the new prisoner who still sat in the far corner of his cell, sulking. Anello had taken to looking bored again, head tilted back to stare at the ceiling. Godane met her calm gaze again, silently mouthing the word 'Alright?', lifting a dark brow to emphasize the question.
She nodded, resting her chin on the horizontal bar beneath it.
They left quickly after that, locking the door leading out. The new prisoner, Varou, continued to grumble and sulk. He stood after a few moments passed since the guards' departure, and walked back to the door of his cell. His hands gripped the bars, shaking them. His eyes traveled to the hinges as he shook them again and again, face steadily burning with growing fury, muscles straining, knuckles whitening. Eyes closed, he drew in a deep breath, chest expanding.
She gave a start at his sudden explosive behavior. He violently shook the bars, kicked them, slamming the heel of his palms into them. He yelled, guttural and voice wrenching, sounding his intense frustration. She flinched at the tone, swallowing nervously, unsure of what to do. His shouts echoed in the barren room of cells, so loud she could hear nothing else. She didn't know how to react to such a display. Confusion filled her again, and anxiousness set her nerves alight.
Over the years, she'd seen many brought down below to be locked in the cells. Of course there were those who let their anger be known, never in this way, never so out of control.
"Let me out yuh fuckin' bastards! Now! 'Ow dare yuh do this ta me! Pricks! Yuh can' lock me up! Ay'm innocen'! All fer a bloody drink? Fuck yuh! Fuck the wenches who spawned yuh! Com' back 'ere an' let me out!" Clang-clang-clang, the bars twanged as he kicked them with the tip of his boot "Let. Me. OUT!"
She pulled away from the bars of her own cell, fear creeping up in her chest. She moved back into front corner where her discarded tattered blanket still lay, and quickly wrapped it around herself, wide eyes never leaving the new prisoner.
Her movement had caught his attention though, silencing his aggressions abruptly. Surprise replaced the sneer on his face as he stared at her through his cell. She kept huddled in her corner, resting her cheek on her shoulder as she watched him warily.
"Oi," he said, moving to the front left corner, bringing him a little closer. There were three cells in the room. His was against the other wall, almost facing her own, and another remained empty, separating them. "Oi, girl," he said again, much calmer.
She only watched him, fingers fidgeting with a loose thread on her blanket, making no move to answer.
He gripped the bars, pressing his face between them as she had done earlier. His features looked younger than she expected from the rough tone of his voice. She could not tell the color of his shaggy hair that framed his face or sharp, perceptive eyes in the dull torch-light. Even his clothes, a roughly spun tunic with loose strings dangling at the neck, and dark breeches tucked into his thick, muddy boots. They all seemed the same in color, all varying hues of orange.
"'Ow come yer in 'ere?" he asked, sounding like a completely different person than when he was first brought in only moments ago.
She didn't answer, just gazed curiously as the earlier fear dissipated now that he calmed down and wasn't tossing a fit.
"Prolly somthin' stupid as 'aving a walk, aye?" He scoffed, shook his head, and continued, "Can' bloody cough 'round these pricks withou' them pouncin' on yuh nowadays. 'Up'olding the law' my arse."
He began pacing the length of the cell, rubbing the back of his neck roughly while shooting glances her way.
"'Ave yuh been in 'ere long?"
She blinked, lifting her head from her shoulder. Yes, she'd been there for a long time. How long, she couldn't be sure. Time was hard to keep when there was nothing to keep it with down there. She could only discern whether it was night or day by the lighting coming from the small rectangular window at the top of the wall. But sometimes the days blended into each other, sometimes she didn't care to gaze up at the window, choosing instead to keep her big eyes on the puddle in the center of the room, watching the water drops from above splash down.
She nodded, slowly, noticing his brow raise with interest.
"'Ow long then?"
Her eyes trailed to the puddle, shifting between it and the prisoner, making no move to answer. He became impatient, brows furrowing and lips pulling into a frown.
"Ay said 'ow long yuh been in this pit?" he repeated. She continued to silently observe him with a mellow expression, the drip of the water becoming louder and more of presence in the room as the length of silence grew after his question. Annoyance soon overtook his features, and he walked up to grip the bars again. "Oi! Are yuh deaf? 'Ow long yuh been in 'ere, girl!" Nothing. The prisoner huffed, glaring at her. "Well wha's yer name then?"
She blinked, glancing at the window, then back to observing him. His lip started to shake as he held back a sneer. The torchlight played across his features, the glint in his eyes hard.
"Ay'm Varou," he enunciated slowly as one would to a child who didn't understand. "Yer name?"
The silence was thick as the long, quiet seconds went by.
"Bloody hell..." He sighed, running a rough hand through his hair. "Do yuh ev'n 'ave a name?"
She tilted her head, a small smile tugging at her lips. His expression relaxed when she gave a short nod. "Alright well, let's 'ave it."
She simply stared at him, making no attempt to answer.
"Oh fer fuck's sake!" He kicked the bars. "Damn it, girl! Fine, keep it shut then. Ay don' care. At leas' tell me 'ow oft'n the bastards come down 'ere."
He growled, his earlier temper showing through as he balled his fists at his sides. She became wary once again, pulling the blanket tighter around her shoulders and wedging herself further into the corner.
"Wha's the matter with yuh, eh? 'Fraid ta speak ta me?"
Her eyes surveyed him for a moment while his own glared at her through the bars. Slowly, she shook her head, tilting her chin down to her chest, but keeping him in her sight.
The prisoner, Varou, closed his eyes, sucked in a frustrated breath, and struggled to keep his voice steady as he asked, "Then why won' yuh answer me?"
Still, she stayed quiet.
Another clang against the bars echoed in the room, followed by his harsh shout, "God damn it. Answer me!"
She bit the inside of her cheek, turning her gaze back to the puddle, wincing as he spewed his curses and yells.
"Why's this 'appening ta me! Ay don' fuckin' do anythin' ta deserve this! Ay was mindin' me own damn business!" he yelled at the ceiling, aiming his words at the people who occupied the above. "This place reeks of filth! Ay'm no' meant fer this!" His eyes snapped to her nervous expression and glowered. "Now, you..." He let out a humorless chuckle, shaking his head. "Yuh look like yuh belong 'ere. Right at 'ome, ain't yuh wench?"
Her head tilted, brow furrowing in confusion. It seemed to only anger him further when she stared unabashedly.
"Stop starin' at me!" he shouted again. But she didn't. He pushed himself away from the bars, letting out another chuckle. "Of all the bloody people Ay gotta get trapped with in this pit, they stick me with a fuckin' loon."
Varou stopped his rant after that and took to pacing the cell, shooting the occasional glare her way. The tension he brought thickened the air in the room, making her wish she could meld into the wall completely. If he would only sit down maybe, relax, then she could go back to relaxing as well.
She never did mind when new prisoners came down. She just kept to herself, and they did the same. Varou, however, made her uneasy, and she wished very much that they would release him already. But she knew that wouldn't be happening, as he just got there. His attitude towards the guards would only continue to make his chances of leaving anytime soon slim.
She frowned at the thought, sliding a cautious gaze his way.
He caught it immediately, snarling, "Keep yer damn eyes off me, girl. Yer pissin' me off."
So she directed them to the puddle, desperately trying to ignore the pacing man on the other side of the room, and watched the ripples that came with each drop of water. For the first time in a long time, she truly wished she was somewhere else than the dark room she'd called home for so many years.
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